Introducing Naamah, the “Mother of All Demons”

How the biblical figure of Naamah evolved into a terrifying demon that rises from the depths of the sea to seduce the men of the world

Four demonic mothers are mentioned in Jewish magical and Kabbalistic texts: Lilith, Naamah, Igrat and Machalat.  Only one of these, however, is dubbed the “mother of all demons,” and described as the mother of Ashmedai, the prince of demons. This would be the figure named Naamah—which happens to be a fairly common name among women in modern Israel.

Unlike the more famous Lilith, little has been written about Naamah. In this short article, we will try to review what we know of her and the beliefs and traditions surrounding her character.

Her name first appears in the fourth chapter of the book of Genesis. The text describes her as the daughter of Lamech and sister of Tubal-Cain, a member of a dynasty that originated with the infamous Cain, who murdered his brother, and continued with Enoch, himself a fascinating figure who “was no more, for God took him”, and who is sometimes associated with the angel Metatron. Like Enoch and the rest of his family, not much is written about Naamah in the Bible, a fact that has enhanced the sense of mystery surrounding her figure,  and which led storytellers through the ages to embellish her character with various biographical details. According to one midrash, Naamah was the wife of Noah. Another interpretation has her as the wife of one of his sons. Yet other traditions identify Naamah with another woman altogether. We will return to those a bit later.

And Zillah also bore Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron.  Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah” (Genesis 4: 22). From the Kennicott Bible, 1476, the Bodleian Library, Oxford

In the same midrash that mentions the marriage of Naamah, sister of Tubal-Cain, to Noah, the sages also give two seemingly contradictory origins of Naamah’s name. Some believed that the name was given to her because “all her deeds were pleasant [ne‘imim]” while the other interprets her name as “she would beat [min‘emet] on a drum to draw people to idol worship” (Bereishit Rabbah, 23). Another midrash states that Naamah was so beautiful that she was responsible for the incident mentioned in Genesis 6: “The sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.” In other words, claims the midrash, Naamah was one of the daughters of humans that caused the angels to descend to earth and to fornicate with them.

Her demonic character appears more clearly in the Zohar Hadash.

Yitshak said “Why is it written And the sister of Tubal-Cain was Na’amah?”

Well, Rabbi Yitzkak said , “She was a righteous woman and pleasing [ne’imah], in her deeds.”

Rabbi Abbahu said, “The simple sense of Scripture indicates that she was learned in metal-working, like her brother Tubal-Cain, as implied by what is written: he was the progenitor of every implement of bronze and iron – and the sister of Tubal-Cain, Na’amah. He invented this craft and his sister with him, as is written: and the sister of Tubal-Cain, Na’amah – she was skilled like him. The ‘and’ of ‘and the sister’ joins the preceding statement.”

Rabbi Bo said, “She was the mother of demons; she bore them. For look, the mother of Ashmedai, king of the demons, is named Na’amah

 (Zohar Hadash, Bereishit 33b; author’s emphasis)

Bronze amulet in Aramaic from the Byzantine period which mentions a demon described as a “Son of Naamah.” This is apparently the earliest extant appearance of Naamah on a magical amulet.

Evidently, there were two different traditions concerning the character of the biblical figure Naamah. The difficulty here is clear; it is, after all, impossible that Noah, “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time,” would marry a woman who became the mother of demons. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that in chapters 4 and 5 of the book of Genesis are two different lineages in which the names of Enoch and Lamech appear. Noah himself, according to the book of Genesis, is the son of Lamech—which, as we recall from the verses mentioned above, is the name of Naamah’s father. Apparently, it was difficult to reconcile the traditions, hence in later versions the characters split, and so Noah married another Naamah – Naamah the daughter of Enoch – a much more logical relationship, given the sacred nature attributed to Enoch over time. She is said to be the only woman in the generation of the flood who maintained her purity. If so, are these really two sides of the same Naamah, or are these two different women called Naamah—one “pleasant” and one an idolater? One a righteous woman and one a beautiful temptress? We have no definitive answer for now, so we will continue to examine the demonic version.

As we mentioned above, the demonic Naamah is called the mother of demons, and she is identified in particular as the mother of Ashmedai. Other stories give other genealogical details: sometimes Naamah is the wife of a demon king named Shamdon, and sometimes of other demons. Sometimes she is the mother of Ashmedai and sometimes of demons with different names. In any case, her name appears in quite a few genealogies of demons, such as: “Hanad begat little Hanad and took as his wife Naamah and she gave birth to Bilad and Bilad ruled from the seed of Ashmedai in the year four thousand eight hundred and forty to [the] Creation . . .” (Gershom Scholem in “New Contributions to the Discussion of  Ashmedai and Lilith” [Hebrew]).

And the sister of Tubal-Cain, Naamah, is the wife of Shomron, mother of Ashmedai, from whom demons were born who evoke her always during the demon oath taking” – Commentary on the Bible, Rabbi Menachem Recanati

Rabbi Bahya ben Asher wrote the following about the four demon mothers, among them Naamah, in his commentary on the Torah (Genesis 4):

We have a tradition that four women became the mothers of demons. They were Lilith, Naamah, Igrat and Machalat. Each one of them disposes of whole camps of followers and a spiritually negative aura emanates from them all. It is said that each one of them is dominant during one of the four seasons of the year and that they gather at the mountain Nishpeh. This mountain is located near mountains called Hoshekh [darkness] and each one holds sway during one of the four seasons of the year from sundown until midnight, they and all the members of their respective camps.

The gathering on the mountain is perhaps reminiscent of stories from European folklore about witches who would gather for communal celebrations at certain times of the year. Interestingly, the sages did divide the year into four periods, beginning in the months Tishrei, Tevet, Nissan and Tammuz. However, I have not been able to determine which demon is responsible for which period.

Naamah and Lilith appear quite often side by side in various writings. Like Lilith, Naamah’s main task was to seduce men in their dreams. In addition, she was Lilith’s accomplice in strangling babies. It is said that Naamah’s abode was in the depths of the sea. For example, in his Book of Mirrors (Sefer Mar’ot Hatsov’ot), David Ben Yehuda Hahasid (grandson of Nahmanides) writes: “And Naamah exists to this day, and dwells in the depths of the great sea and emerges and trifles with humans and seduces them in their dreams . . .” From there she would set off on her night journeys in the minds of human beings.

In the Zohar, it is written:

Rav Shimon: She [Naamah] was the mother of demons, having issued from the Side of Cain and was appointed together with Lilith over children’s diphtheria.

(Zohar 1:55a:7)

“I swear on all the families of the nations and sects of the demons and evil spirits . . . and all the sects of Igrat daughter of Machalat and Naamah and Zimzumit . . .” Naamah is mentioned here in an amulet for the “sick with urges and restless of body.” From Sefer Refuah Vehayim by Rabbi Haim Palachi, 10, 37b.

The demons Lilith and Naamah are considered so evil and frightening that they  are commonly identified as the two harlots (in other versions they are Lilith and Igrat) who seek a judgement before King Solomon in their quarrel over the child they each claim as their own, as described in 1 Kings 3.

The Jewish sages have not been able to reconcile the various traditions about Naamah’s character, and we will certainly not pretend to do so. Whether it was one Naamah or two, it’s always better to be on the alert…

Prof. Gideon Bohek and Prof. Yuval Harari assisted in the writing of this article. Special thanks to Prof. Elhanan Reiner for his help with research and writing.

The Missing Tomes: Gershom Scholem’s Wandering Talmud

The story of how Gershom Scholem's Talmud set finally found its way to the National Library of Israel

Gershom and Fania Scholem in their Jerusalem apartment

The Gershom Scholem collection at the National Library of Israel is known as the world’s most comprehensive collection of texts on Jewish mysticism, including such sub-topics as Kabbalah, Hasidism, messianic writings and Jewish magic. However, it is worth noting that Scholem did not restrict his book collecting to this field only. His library was much broader and contained books and articles in all the classical fields of Jewish studies: Biblical texts, rabbinic literature, Jewish philosophy and even some halakhic books (especially those noticeably influenced by Kabbalah). Scholem prized this section of his library and thought it should not be separated from the main part. He even addressed this point in a note titled “Regarding my library after my death”:

As regards my library after my death, the university library [today’s National Library of Israel – Ed.] should be aware that outside of my collection on Jewish mysticism there are several comprehensive units on certain topics that should remain together. . . I list here such units in which I invested great effort to assemble. [Details in English]. General Mysticism, Schelling, Meister Eckhart, Neoplatonism, Gnosis, Ancient Magic, Demonology, Witchcraft, Indian Religions, Esoteric Cults in Islam, Christian Mysticism and Christian Cults, Jewish Philosophy through the Generations, Sources and Studies on the Aggadah and Aggadic Motifs, Walter Benjamin.

Indeed, perusing the Scholem collection, one cannot help but be impressed by the wealth of these and other sub-collections, such as German literature, Kafka’s books, Jewish history, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Festschrifts and Yizkor books (memorial books to destroyed Jewish communities). The rich selection of midrashic and aggadic literature includes critical first editions, and in addition to the huge collection of books by Scholem’s friend, Walter Benjamin, the library also contains impressive studies about the famous German-Jewish intellectual. As a side note, I recall that a few years ago a professor of religion from China  who was on sabbatical at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University, would devote a few hours each day to sitting in the Scholem Collection and reading books on Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism and Confucius.

On the other hand, an occasional peruser of the collection will sometimes marvel at a “basic” book or books that seem to him or her to be “missing” from the collection. Sometimes they even exclaim: “How can it be that Scholem didn’t have . . . ?

The truth is that this approach is fundamentally mistaken, for one must not assume what Scholem did or did not have in his book-filled apartment at 28 Abarbanel Street in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood based on the books which appear in the collection today. And why is that? In answer, we must consider another note Scholem wrote as an addendum to the 1965 sale agreement of his collection to the Hebrew University.

“Books my wife is permitted to keep.” (Arc 4 1599 02/22)


Books my wife is permitted to keep.

Reference books


All art and art history books


Maimonides, Moreh Nevukhim

Midrashim according to her choice

Literature in Hebrew and foreign languages, according to her choice

Books in Jewish Philosophy the Library does not need


The “wife” referred to in the note is Scholem’s second wife, Fania (Freud) Scholem (1914–1999).

Many of these books were eventually added to the Scholem Collection at the National Library. But not all. Note that the list also includes mention of a “Talmud,” and thus, Scholem’s Talmud was not in the collection at the National Library. The collection contains a different Talmud set brought up from the Library’s stacks.

Many years ago, at one of the events at the National Library held in memory of Gershom Scholem, an elderly couple approached me and introduced themselves as Jeremy Freud, Fania’s nephew and his wife Dr. Michal Zilberberg. Among the things they told me was that Scholem’s set of Talmud was located in the library of the Israeli Supreme Court! I could not understand the details of their story and was left wondering – why the Supreme Court, of all places? And when and how did the set get there? But more to the point, I decided to try to track down the books and return them to their original home—the Scholem Collection. I immediately called the Court’s chief librarian and asked her to look into the matter. Were the books in fact there? And if so, could they be transferred to the National Library in exchange for another set of Talmud? She promised to investigate the matter, but she came up emptyhanded to my deep disappointment. The physical books were nowhere to be found in the library, and a thorough check of the card catalog and inventory came up blank. Either the couple had relayed to me incorrect information, or I just did not understand what they had told me. I did not give up and consulted some of the Scholem Collection experts, but no one had any idea about it. Sadly, I decided to give up the search and forget about it.

That was . . . until a few months ago, when out of the blue I received a phone call from the Supreme Court’s current chief librarian, Talia Zonder. (I had spoken with the previous chief librarian, whom Talia had recently replaced.) She told me (without her having any prior knowledge of the above story) that Scholem’s set of Talmud is in the private chambers of one of the Supreme Court justices located in the Supreme Court building. The judge was about to retire (she would not tell me who), and would like to donate the set to the Court library. Immediately, I understood that what Fania Scholem’s nephew told me years ago had indeed been true, but just somewhat inaccurate. Indeed, Scholem’s set of Talmud was at the Court, but not in the Court’s official library, which explains the fruitless results of my search. At any rate, she continued, the Court library had no interest in keeping the set, especially since it was not in good condition and was in need of rebinding. She then asked whether the Scholem Collection would be willing to take the books!

I imagine you already know my answer! Eagerly, I filled her in on the entire story, and said that we would be delighted to receive the set, subject to the approval of Dr. Yoel Finkelman, the National Library’s Curator of Judaica (who of course immediately agreed). The next step was for the librarian to obtain the judge’s consent to donate the Talmud to the National Library. After some time, the judge agreed. At that point, I involved the Library’s Receiving Department to organize the transfer of the set of Talmud to the Library and its repair. After some more waiting, the coveted books at last arrived. Unfortunately, I then discovered that the set was incomplete, some volumes were missing. Nevertheless, it is indeed the set of Babylonian Talmud that belonged to Gershom Scholem (printed in Vilna in 1921, without the commentary of Rif [Rabbi Isaac Alfasi]), as one can see from Scholem’s stamp on the title page.

Frontispiece, Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashanah, Vilna, 1921

And finally, we can at last divulge the identity of the judge who donated the set…

Israeli Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, photo: Judiciary Authority of Israel Website

It is retired Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubenstein, who served as Vice President of the Supreme Court and before that as Attorney General as well as Cabinet Secretary. Rubenstein, who was apparently a close friend of Fania Scholem’s nephew, had received the set of Talmud from them as a gift, and made sure to record this fact in each and every volume.

“Donated by Dr. Michal Zilberberg and Jeremy Freud, nephew of the late Mrs. Fania Scholem”

The set is now undergoing disinfection. It will then make a few more stops—including rebinding and cataloging — after which it will reclaim its natural place among the books of the Scholem Collection. Researchers will be able to browse the pages and their margins in search of Scholem’s comments, which he famously jotted down alongside his thousands of texts and which often contain hints of links to other, related works. Perhaps yet another aspect of Scholem’s multifaceted personality (Scholem the Talmudic scholar?), will be revealed to us…

Eating by Example on Yom Kippur, an Epidemic Story

When cholera ran rampant, saving lives superseded all else

"Yom Kippur" by Jacob Weinles. Publisher: Levanon, Warsaw; from the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem via the National Library of Israel Digital Library

It once appeared in an Israeli newspaper and had the elements of a good story.

An epidemic.  A famous rabbi. Public eating on Yom Kippur to prove a point.

The epidemic took place somewhere in Europe, sometime in the 19th century.

The protagonist was Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser, better known as “The Malbim”, the scholar, biblical commentator and crusader against non-traditional Judaism who was once imprisoned and exiled from Romania following particularly heated ideological disagreements with his co-religionists. Formerly chief rabbi of Bucharest, the aged scholar spent much of the end of his life on the road, including stops in Istanbul, Paris, Prussia and the Russian Empire.

Sketch of the Malbim, possibly drawn by the noted Polish Jewish artist, photographer and writer Haim Goldberg (also known as “Haggai”). From the Abraham Schwadron Portrait Collection, National Library of Israel archives

According to the story, this staunch advocate of Orthodoxy commanded the normally forbidden act of eating on the holiest day of the year due to the dangers posed by an epidemic. The preservation of life, after all, supersedes virtually all other considerations and rules according to Jewish law.

When he realized that those attending synagogue had not listened to his instructions and were clearly fasting in any event, he had a bowl of grits and peas brought up to him. He made a blessing over his food and finished off the portion in front of his congregation, declaring:

“I said there is no obligation to fast at this time. ‘Preserving your lives’ overrides many commandments in the Torah, but I was nonetheless concerned that you would close your hearts and put your lives at risk, and so I had to serve as an example so that you would see me and do so yourselves…”

The problem?

The story doesn’t seem to have been about the Malbim at all.

While a number of epidemics plagued Europe during his lifetime, a survey of works ranging from children’s stories about him to doctoral theses and scholarly books revealed no clear mention of this perhaps apocryphal story.

A nearly identical – and better documented – tale is told of another famous rabbi of the period, Yisrael ben Ze’ev Wolf Lipkin, better known as Israel Salanter, the father of the modern Mussar Movement, which emphasizes the centrality of ethics and personal morality and growth to Jewish practice.

Accounts of the Rabbi Salanter story, which took place in Vilna in 1848, differ.

Some closely mirror the very public display recounted above, with an additional element of the rabbi making blessings over wine and cake before partaking of both on the dais.  Though he doesn’t mention Rabbi Salanter by name, the well-known Hebrew author David Frischmann dramatized this version decades later in his short story “Three Who Ate“. Other accounts over the years, some first-hand, offer a more nuanced take on events where the rabbi encourages the infirmed to eat virtuously, but does not command everyone to eat, nor make a spectacle of it himself.

Cholera ran rampant in those years, killing some one million people throughout the Russian Empire in 1848 alone. In addition to the Yom Kippur ruling, Rabbi Salanter physically and practically helped those in need, instructing his many students to do the same.

Outside the Old Synagogue of Vilna. Publisher: J. Ch, W. Verlag, from the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

While his story may be the most well-known and provocative, Rabbi Salanter was certainly not the only major rabbinic figure of the period to condone and even encourage eating on Yom Kippur by those at risk during the seemingly constant cholera epidemics of the 19th century.  They were, of course, not arbitrary decisions, but ones often made after intensive consultations with leading physicians and based on thousands of years of Jewish legal precedent emphasizing the preservation of life over pretty much everything else.

That precedent is clearly laid down in the Talmud – the seminal work of Jewish law, philosophy and lore – which also includes many cases of stories for which the sages themselves debate the protagonist’s identity.

Ultimately, some would argue, it often doesn’t really matter who did what, as the story itself and the accompanying lesson are what’s truly important.

It is possible that, like Rabbi Salanter, the Malbim once ate in front of his congregation on Yom Kippur.

Perhaps he did it in a less provocative and less memorable way.

Perhaps it never happened at all and perhaps that doesn’t really matter.


This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to share stories and connect with people, institutions and communities in Europe and beyond.

The Ramban’s Prayer Unearthed and in English for the First Time

"Guide me in your truth and fulfill me from its delights"

The Iberian Peninsula was in many ways the center of the Jewish world in the Middle Ages, leaving a sustained literary, religious and cultural legacy. Catalonia alone was home to some of the most significant figures of the period, perhaps most prominent among them being Rabbi Moshe son of Nachman, more commonly known as the Ramban or Nachmanides.

An intellectual giant whose commentaries on the Bible, the Talmud and countless other texts complemented an array of original works, the Ramban’s writings, composed in the 13th century, are widely studied and cited to this day.

The Old Jewish Quarter (El Call) in Girona. (Original photo: Georges Jansoone; CC-BY-3.0)

He was also a leading Kabbalist, a persecuted defender of his faith, and (to use a modern term), an active Zionist. In his eighth decade of life, Rabbi Moshe was banished from his home following a religious disputation and decided to move across the world to the Land of Israel, where he helped rebuild Jewish communities and scholarship decimated by the Crusades, the Mongols and the passage of time. The Rabbi’s arrival in Jerusalem in 1267 CE marked the beginning of hundreds of years of uninterrupted Jewish settlement in the city, and the synagogue he established still stands.

The Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Old City, 1968. Photo: IPPA Staff; from the Dan Hadani Archive, Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

A famous letter written from the Land of Israel to his son in Catalonia teaches that humility and constantly maintaining composure are key to leading a good life and continual spiritual growth. This letter, known as Iggeret HaRamban appears in many modern prayer books and certainly reveals something deeply personal about the sage’s inner thoughts and worldview.

Just last year, a prayer attributed to the Ramban was printed for the first time, appearing in Dr. Idan Perez’s Sidur Catalunya (see transcription in the comments section below). Perez’s work presents the first ever printed prayer book of the Catalonian liturgy and ritual used by the Ramban and the once thriving Jewish communities of Catalonia, Valencia and Majorca, which were ultimately extinguished by the Spanish Inquisition and Expulsion over 500 years ago.

The monumental project was completed by piecing together manuscripts and other source materials from institutions across the globe. The prayer attributed to the Ramban was found in a manuscript written just after the Expulsion, which was likely used by Catalonian exiles living in Provence. It is now held in Rome’s Casanatense Library, and is available online as part of “Ktiv”, the National Library of Israel-led initiative to open digital access to all of the world’s Hebrew manuscripts.

Prayer attributed to the Ramban. Casanatense Library, Rome, Italy, Ms. 2741; available via the National Library of Israel’s Digital Collection. Click images to enlarge

According to Perez, these types of prayers – referred to as “bakashot”, or “supplications” – were quite common among Iberian Jews of the period. Catalonian communities apparently recited them after the regular daily prayers, while other communities across the peninsula would say their bakashot before prayers.

“The text’s content and style, along with the fact that the manuscript’s author prefaced it with the words ‘A Bakasha of Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman’, all seem to indicate that this bakasha was, in fact, written by the Ramban himself,” says Perez, who heads the Rare Books Department at the National Library of Israel.

Illustration of the Ramban. Publisher: Sinai, from the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

To the modern Hebrew speaker, the Ramban’s poetic prayer – written some eight centuries ago – is surprisingly clear. It appears here in English for the first time, with a few notes and sources added in parentheses for clarification purposes:

Please, O Lord who creates without having a creator∙

And who conceived a thought and power from potential to action, brought forth light which illuminates all of the lights from the beginning until the end, for all of the illuminations∙

The words of God are pure words (Psalms 12:7)∙

Please, with your unseen, refined and pure power, establish my thoughts in your service, in awe, in trembling and in reverence∙

You have brought to light every mystery∙

Make me wise to know your commandments, and as a hawk soars over its prey (Job 29:36), allow me to understand and guide me in the path of your commandments∙

And in the ways of repentance (teshuva) instruct me∙

Because you are a God who desires the repentance of the wicked∙

And the spirit of grace flows forth onto those who know and those who do not know, and in the attribute of your beloved ones from ancient times, bless me with sublime favor, as my absolute light∙

And this is your favor that you shall do for me∙

And may I not tremble in fear of you (Job 13:21)∙

And raise me up on the balance of grace∙

And guide me in your truth and fulfill me from its delights∙

And from their great light, enlighten me∙

And like the mountain of your inheritance (Jerusalem), bring me and plant me∙

And between two cherubs, may your word come and console me∙

And desire me and receive me∙

And may the foundation of your world establish my soul and may it be bound up in the bundle of life, the pure soul you have placed within me, and in the great all-encompassing crown, may it be included∙

Include me in your exalted attribute of goodness, with every blessing and splendor∙

Please, with these crowns, which are ten in number∙

And in them lay the secret to everything∙

May my supplication come before you∙

And may your ear be inclined to my joy∙

And may my prayer come before the sanctuary of your holiness∙

And from the good oil of the two olives and the wellspring, pour upon the seven candles of the entirely gold menorah (Zechariah 4:3)∙

And shower upon he who longs for your kindness and sees your goodness through spiritual channels from higher wellsprings and lower wellsprings (Joshua 15:19)∙

And you are the one who knows that I do not unburden my plea before you due to my righteousness, but rather by the merit of my forefathers I have based it, and by the greatness of your mercy and your humility and the memory of your thirteen attributes∙


Many thanks to Dr. Idan Perez and colleagues at the National Library of Israel and the Ezra Fleischer Institute for the Research of Hebrew Poetry in the Genizah for their expertise and assistance with the translation. This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to share stories and connect with people, institutions and communities in Europe and beyond.