No Children Allowed: Introducing Lilith, the Jewish Vampire Queen
Dracula? He’s nothing compared to the first vampire in history, the one and only Lilith. Among her many “hobbies”: hounding humankind, causing crib death and night emissions in men, and sucking blood.
Article by guest-writer and vampire-catcher Odelia Barkin-Kamil
On May 26, 1897, the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker was published. The novel caused a sensation and initiated an entire genre of vampire literature and culture, from the books Interview with a Vampire, to the film series Twilight, and the television series True Blood and even an Israeli Vampire series, titled Hatzuya (“Divided”), which was broadcast in over sixty countries around the world.
But in fact, vampires and demons were not created with Dracula. They have been part of human imagination since the dawn of humanity. Evidence of vampire-like creatures called by different names can be found as far back as Sumerian and Babylonian mythology. The Jewish source for vampirism is mentioned in connection with Lilith, the first wife of Adam—who even made a guest appearance in one of the seasons of True Blood. The series creators who were familiar with the myth, gave the Lilith of Genesis an honorary role in season five in which they suggested that God had created the vampires as a race superior to humans.
Two versions of the creation story appear in Genesis. The Midrash explains this by saying that first woman was created as man’s equal, and she was called Lilith (“Male and female He created them,” Genesis 1, 27). The two first human beings argued because Lilith wanted to be on top during sex, and when Adam would not agree, claiming that she was lesser than him, she pronounced the ineffable name of God and abandoned him in Paradise.
God sent three angels to find her סנוי, סנסנוי וסמנגלוף (Sanvay, Sansavay, and Smangalof), and when they reached her she was already deep in the ocean. She chose to become the wife of the king of the demons, Ashmadai, and she too became a blood-sucking demon. They begged her to return to Adam but she refused. As punishment they commanded that one hundred of her newborn sons would perish every day. In revenge for this terrible punishment she announced that she would pursue the human infants, the children of Eve.
Thus, according to Jewish tradition, Lilith is believed responsible for crib death. Boy are especially vulnerable to her influence until the ninth day after their birth, and girls until the twentieth day. To avoid her harmful influence, even today there are new mothers who carry a picture of the three angels in their purse or hang the picture over the crib of the newborn, for according to the Midrash the angels came to an agreement with Lilith that she could do any harm in any place where she sees their names. After Lilith left Paradise, Eve was create from Adam’s rib, as subordinate to him.
How to Protect Oneself against a Vampire
Garlic cloves can be used to protect against vampires. One can also use a crucifix, holy water, or a Star of David, since the Vampire being a Satanic, soulless creature, is the antithesis of holiness and is repelled by religious symbols.
In addition, if a vampire is chasing you, it is recommended to throw a handful of sand, rice or salt at it. According to folkloric legends about vampires in various mythologies – Chinese, Indian and Slovakian – the vampire is cursed with an obsessive compulsive disorder related to numbers (arithmomania) and must count any granules in his path. One of the ways to escape a vampire therefore is by distracting him by throwing a handful of rice or any other granules in his way, which will force him to stop to count them and thereby delay his pursuit. In the 1970s, this characteristic was adopted by the creators of Sesame Street for the character of Count Von Count. Besides the amusing pun with regard to his name (Count is an honorific title and also the verb “to count”), he is a Transylvanian vampire who speaks with an accent, wears a cape like Dracula as portrayed in the early film by the actor Bela Lugosi. This characteristic was also adopted by the creators of the Israeli vampire series Hatzuya.
Odelia Barkin-Kamil is a vampirologist. She lectures on vampires in popular culture, mainly in film and television as an inspirational and empowering figure.
Special thanks to Dr. Zvi Leshem and Yuval De MalachDemalah of the National Library of Israel’s Gershom Scholem Library Collection for their help in locating sources and in the preparation of this article.
A Rare Find: The Prayers, News and Blessings Concealed Within the Pages of Visitors’ Books from Rachel’s Tomb
The difficulty of daily life in the Jewish Yishuv, coping with the Holocaust and the breakout of the War of Independence revealed.
Every morning, except for Sabbath and festivals, Shlomo Eliyahu would board bus no. 22 from Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem and arrive at Rachel’s Tomb at around nine o’clock in the morning. Armed with a pistol out of fear of attacks from the local Arabs, he would open the entrance door with his long iron key and receive the visitors who came to pray at the Tomb. This was relatively novel in comparison to his predecessors: in their time, the Tomb was open to visitors mainly during the month of Elul and during the festival period.
There is Hope for your Future
And they journeyed from Beth el, and there was still some distance to come to Efrata,
and Rachel gave birth, and her labor was difficult.
It came to pass when she had such difficulty giving birth, that the midwife said to her,
“Do not be afraid, for this one, too, is a son for you.”
And it came to pass, when her soul departed for she died that she named him Ben oni,
but his father called him Benjamin.
So Rachel died, and she was buried on the road to Efrata, which is Bethlehem.
And Jacob erected a monument on her grave; that is the tombstone of Rachel until this day.
Fifty eight words in the original Hebrew. Five verses. One of the most tragic events of the book of Genesis is told with familiar Biblical brevity: On the way to the house of Isaac, the father of her beloved husband, Rachel gives birth to her second son and dies in childbirth. She did not even hear her child’s (final) name – Benjamin.
The tragedy of Rachel’s death is intensified by the fact that Jacob’s voice is unheard. What did he feel? What did he do? The Bible does not provide details. The only tears to fall in the Bible are those of Rachel herself. In the book of Jeremiah, the third matriarch is mentioned as one weeping for her children’s fate: “So says the Lord: A voice is heard on high, lamentation, bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, she refuses to be comforted for her children for they are not. So says the Lord: Refrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for there is reward for your work, says the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. And there is hope for your future, says the Lord, and the children shall return to their own border” (Jeremiah 31: 15-17 – English translation from www.chabad.org).
It is this image of Rachel which has been preserved through the generations: the mother who prayed for her children throughout her life continues to worry about them after her death. So too the traditional place of Rachel’s burial is perceived as a place of prayers and pleading for the sons and daughters of the “tearful mother”s .
The Last Caretaker of Rachel’s Tomb
Shlomo Eliyahu inherited the position of Ashkenazi caretaker of Rachel’s Tomb from his father, Yaakov “Yankele HaShamash” Freiman, who served as caretaker for only two short years until his death in 1918. Shlomo Eliyahu had a lot to live up to and he was determined to fulfill the mission he had received.
From as soon as he began his role until it ended under tragic circumstances 29 years later, Shlomo Eliyahu conducted a daily record of the events at the Tomb in the visitors’ journal. The National Library of Israel recently received the last two surviving volumes of the visitors’ journal, out of 24 that are known to have existed. The period they relate to is a crucial period in Jewish history and that of the “State in the making” – the third and fourth decade of the 20th century.
The visitors’ journals were arranged in chronological order on a wooden shelf in the room where Rachel’s tombstone is situated. Most of the journals’ pages are full of the names of the various visitors. The many visitors and the varied places they came from show the significance of Rachel’s Tomb, not only to the Jews of Israel and the Diaspora, but also to the many Christian visitors – some of them pilgrims, others soldiers in the allied forces or commanders in the British Mandate. There were visitors who did not suffice with simply writing their names, and added requests from “Mama Rachel”.
Most of the names are unfamiliar to a modern day reader of the journals; others will immediately conjure up images of key figures in the Jewish settlement and in the future State of Israel: Dr. David Yellin, Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi, Henrietta Szold, and even a 7 year old Ezer Weizmann who came to visit together with his mother Yehudit and his sister Yael.
The anonymous visitors are objects of greater interest: What became of Rachel Frank from Lithuania who visited in 1932, a decade before the Holocaust? Was the couple Esther and Rachamim’s dream to have children fulfilled? Who were the visitors from Persia – new immigrants or tourists who returned to their native country? Each page brings more and more questions.
Eliyahu Freiman made slightly different use of the journals: dozens, and perhaps hundreds of his comments and observations in the two journals provide a more in-depth glimpse into the impact of the dramatic events in the Land of Israel and Europe on the Tomb’s activities. For him, the journals were a way to document the daily activity at the Tomb and his impression of the various visitors. They served as an account of the renovations and repairs, which Freiman himself (usually) carried out, out of fear of the Arab workers, and contain a description of his tense relationship with the local Arabs while mentioning the dramatic events taking place in the world.
From 1940 onward, the terrifying descriptions of the Second World War and the decimation of the Jews take a central place in the journal. As well as the emotional pleas for help to which Freiman was accustomed. The Holocaust, which the Jewish people was enduring, awakened criticism of “Mama Rachel” as abandoning her sons and daughters.
It is doubtful that Freiman, or any of the visitors at the Tomb, were aware of the extent of the destruction taking place in Europe. Nonetheless, prayers for the salvation of the Jews “who are in danger of destruction” began to fill the journal’s pages. A fixed wording appears in the journal almost daily: a group of Jews comes to the Tomb, and they pray for the welfare of their brethren in occupied territory. One of the detailed examples is on the page dated April 5, 1943. On this day, Freiman notes there was a mass prayer of “several thousand visitors, including schools from throughout the country and several hundred soldiers”. Due to the crowdedness “there were several hours when it was impossible to visit inside due to the multitudes who stood and prayed.” In this emotional prayer “the cries and weeping…were unnatural.” The sights and things said in the Tomb were so disturbing that “several people fainted in distress upon hearing details of the anguish of our brethren who are suffering in the occupied countries.”
A few days before the end of the War, on April 26, 1945, Freiman records a touching event which took place, when “an historical parokhet [curtain for a Holy Ark] which was preserved from several dozens of synagogues in Poland from the time of the riots which took place in several cities, and still has blood stains on it” was brought to the Tomb. It can be assumed that the parokhet was brought to the Tomb in the early days of the War, as the Freiman family brought the parokhet to the Tomb for several years “And now, on the 14th of Iyar 5705 [April 26, 1945], it was mended and brought once again as a memorial in the holy place.”
Five days before the German surrender, on May 3, 1945, Freiman began the victory celebrations by drawing a large ‘V’ on page 314 of the diary. On the next page he wrote in large letters, perhaps in a very emotional state, the words: “Germany surrendered unconditionally, the war in Europe has ended, today was officially declared Victory Day”.
Frieman dedicated the following two pages to writing a blessing of thanksgiving for victory day and a prayer of thanks. The victory celebrations continue at the top of the next page as well.
Rachel’s Tomb as the Arena of the National Struggle
Even though many of the visitors expressed concern for the survival of the European and North African Jews during the Holocaust, Freiman dedicated the lion’s share of his writing in the journal to the Jewish-Arab battle around Rachel’s Tomb. Even some of his most banal reports contain expressions of the escalating battle around Rachel’s Tomb. Freiman, who tried to remain on warm terms with the local Arabs as much as possible, found himself, together with them, in an impossible situation. He tried to help his Arab neighbors whenever they approached him for help, but never denied his identification with the Zionist mission and the nation to which he belonged.
When the time came to carry out repairs and renovations in the ancient building, Freiman and his Sephardi counterpart were forced to do the work themselves, out of concern of creating a precedent supporting employment of Arab workers on the site.
Throughout his years as caretaker, Freiman was concerned that the Mufti and the Waqf would attempt to take control of the site by creating small de facto precedents. On March 26, 1936, the secretary of the Mandate government came for a visit and ordered the caretakers to file a report about the tensions with the local Arabs.
As the years passed, even the most encouraging visits turned sour. When a number of Arabs came to ask for water during Passover of 1940, they told him that they want “the Arabs and the Jews to live in peace”, and did not forget to mention that “the situation is very bad for them because they are not gaining.”
In 1946, a pipe bomb was thrown on Freiman and two Arab neighbors who he was spending time with. This was an omen of what was to come. As the security situation in the Land of Israel became increasingly unstable, and with the mutual preparations for war, the feeling of security at Rachel’s Tomb was lost.
In one of the last entries in the journal, Freiman copied the letter which he sent to the National Committee in March 1947, in which he informs them about the worrying developments: the appointment of an Arab guard by the Waqf. Ibn Hassan, the guard stationed in the nearby cemetery, antagonized the two caretakers and told the local Arabs that he is the guard of the Tomb. Whenever Ibn Hassan dared approach Freiman and threaten him with commands, Freiman made clear to the National Committee, “I shout at him and he leaves immediately”.
A few days after the U.N. vote on the Partition Plan, Freiman arrived at the Tomb and prepared it as if it was a regular day. The tremendous tension in the area eventually convinced him that he should pack up his belongings and leave. He did so, not before giving the journals to an Arab sheikh who lived nearby. This was last time he saw Rachel’s Tomb.
The two journals belong to an anonymous donor who chose to give them over to the National Library of Israel for safekeeping.
How Did Jewish Children Learn to Write a Thousand Years Ago?
How did children practice their Hebrew letters in Medieval times? A glimpse through the Cairo Geniza offers us an answer and reveals that not much has changed.
How do children practice writing the Hebrew alphabet?
By writing each letter, one at a time, over and over again, of course. This is common practice today and it was common practice back in the middle ages. There are several pages preserved in the Cairo Geniza which contain these types of children’s writing exercises. The Cairo Geniza is a famous collection of ancient Jewish manuscript fragments that was originally stored in Cairo’s Ben Ezra synagogue. It contained around 300,000 items, some of them over a thousand years old.
Often a child would learn the entire alphabet and practice writing all the letters in a row. You can see that kind of practice sheet here, accompanied by children’s drawings drawn on the margins of the page.
More skillfully written letters may have been inscribed by the Sofrim (scribes of religious scrolls) in order to teach the children the most correct way to write Hebrew.
As Geniza scholar S. D. Goitein remarks, “Even then they understood that the most efficient way to teach is by making it into a game. The letters were written in different colors, the teacher would stencil large outlines of letters and the child would fill them in with red, brown, green, and any of the other abundant colors… or the other way around, the teacher would draw letters in black ink and the child would give it a colorful frame.” (From S.D Goiten’s book: Jewish Education in Muslim Countries, Jerusalem 1962)
These practice sheets that show the methods used a thousand years ago were discovered in the Cairo Geniza.
Translated and abridged from the original Hebrew article by Prof. Shulamit Elizur, researcher of Hebrew piyyut and poetry from the Late Antique Period until the Middle Ages.
How Did Napoleon Bonaparte Invent a Rabbinical Court?
With the breakout of the French Revolution, the supporters found themselves having to face what was called “the Jewish question”.
With the breakout of the French Revolution, issues of civil rights, freedom of religion and from religion moved to the top of the popular agenda. The revolution’s supporters found themselves having to face what was called “the Jewish question.”
When they were not engaged in destroying the old world order and creating a brave new one, the Jewish question gnawed at the French revolutionaries until it came to symbolize the most difficult question of all for the Enlightenment: Is it in the power of man to change? The Jew, who more than any other group symbolized the “Other” (and mainly an “other” who was not Christian), was now at the top of the great “Renewal” project that the French revolution had intended for its people.
Bound up with the idea of “Renewal” was also a cold political calculation: it considered which of the groups in post-revolutionary French society will be prepared to accept political rights and contribute their share toward the establishment of a more enlightened, rational world that was free of prejudices. The initial inquiry carried out by the revolutionaries touched on the question of citizenship: whether France’s poor, among them the Jews, were entitled to “active citizenship” – that is, the right to elect and be elected to the revolution’s political institutions or whether they were entitled only to “passive citizenship” embodied most clearly in the defense of the patrimony of the Republic? Even for the most ardent supporters of emancipation of the Jews there was a precondition: France’s Jews must renounce any aspirations of Jewish nationalism and assimilate as individuals within the French nation. The Judaism of the Jews of France was, therefore to be solely an expression of their faith and nothing more.
The most interesting expression of the ambivalent, yet also positive, attitude toward the Jews in the revolution is found in an essay by the revolutionary Henri Gregoire who argued that the poor condition of the Jews stemmed from two main reasons: Christian discrimination against them and the ridiculous theories spread by their rabbis. He called upon the French nation to extend their hands toward its Jews in order to raise them up from the gutter, and for the Jews to respond in kind and make themselves over into more modern individuals.
In September 1791, unprecedented legislation called for the abolition of any legal distinction between Jews and non-Jews in the French Republic. From a legal standpoint, during the decade of the revolution, the Jews had stopped being a distinct group. However, this step was both a blessing and a curse. Their unexpected emancipation allowed for Jews to more easily integrate into French society as individuals. However, as a society with a distinctly communal nature, there was no collective body – rabbinic or other – that could approach the government to bargain for its collective rights.
The French Giant Steps onto the Stage of History
In 1789, the glorious general Napoleon Bonaparte stepped into the revolutionary fray. In a military coup, he unseated the Republic and established the short-lived Consulate regime. At the head of this new governing body, which replaced the failed revolutionary directory, stood the first consul, Napoleon himself, along with two other consuls below him.
Out of a deep desire to learn from the failures of the revolution, First Consul Napoleon, who had meanwhile crowned himself emperor in 1804, sought to reach a series of historic agreements and compromises, among them reconciliation with the pope (the Concordat) in 1801, and recognition of the legitimacy of the Lutheran and Calvinist churches in France. Rabbinic authority in France which, with the revolution, had lost much of its power and its role turned to the new regime demanding a similar solution.
In an attempt to legitimize the dictatorial regime whose origins lay in an illegitimate military takeover, Napoleon chose the Jews as a case study in propaganda. After solidifying his position as liberator of the Jews with the abolishment of the obligation to reside in ghettos, on 30 May 1806, he invited an assembly of Jewish leaders that included rabbis, enlightened Jewish officials and leaders and other well-known figures. The meeting was arranged following a complaint filed against the usurious practices of the Jews of Alsace. Napoleon’s aim was to bring about the integration of the Jews and even to their full assimilation into French society. Napoleon was especially eager that Jews give up their erroneous ways – mainly the source of their livelihoods as moneylenders to the Christian populace – and adopt crafts and occupations that will benefit them and the French nation.
Between Church and State: The New Sanhedrin
In order to formalize, consolidate and expand the conclusions of the meeting, Napoleon convened an even larger gathering not only from France but from across Europe. As with everything the emperor did, behind this step was an ambitious vision for the future: Napoleon demanded the creation of a religious constitutional codex for Jews to which they would be beholden as they were to the Talmud. He called the new body established in February 1807, “The Great Sanhedrin,” and decreed that like its ancient counterpart it have seventy-one members. But unlike in the past, twenty-five of its members would not be clerics.
The document issued by “The Great Sanhedrin”, which was written in French and translated into Hebrew, offered twelve answers to twelve questions posed by Napoleon. The members of the Sanhedrin tried their hardest to offer solutions that would please both sides: they declared that Jews must work toward integrating into the realm in which they lived but must also preserve their religious identity. But when loyalty to state conflicted with loyalty to halakha, apparently loyalty to the state took precedence. An example of this is the sixth amendment in the document, which states that when a Jew’s military duties clash with religious observance, he may refrain from certain religious observance in order to defend his country.
In the rest of the amendments, an attempt was made to integrate the two authorities – the French state and the Jewish religion – and find a middle way. The most prominent example is the wedding ceremony: in order for the wedding ceremony to be “kosher” according to the Sanhedrin, the couple must register the marriage with a government official in addition to the religious ceremony performed by a rabbi.
With the Sanhedrin’s presentation of its learned answers to the twelve questions posed by Napoleon, the Emperor called it to disband and in its stead called for the establishment in France of six consistories, official bodies whose role it would be to enforce the rulings of the Sanhedrin.
If all this sounds somewhat familiar, you would not be mistaken. This was in fact the first modern incarnation of the “Chief Rabbinate,” an idea that made its way across various communities in France and Germany, and even to the State of Israel. As a mark of appreciation for the tireless efforts of the French Emperor (and of the French Jews), the Jews of Napoleon’s expanding empire composed dozens of songs, sermons and religious texts hailing Napoleon as “God’s chosen one.” The Jewish community used every opportunity to celebrate every positive event in the life of Napoleon: his escape from an assassination attempt, the victories of his army, his crowning as emperor, his birthday, his royal marriage, the birth of his son and more.