A Practical Guide to Jewish Magic, Monsters, and Mayhem
Author: Jack Zaientz
Jewish nerd who not-so-secretly wants to be Bobby Singer from the Supernatural TV show or Mordechai Byreika from the Monster Hunters International book series. I'm studying Torah, Talmud and other Jewish writings to learn about demons, angels, dybbuks, ghosts, giants and Jewish magic. Because you can't be too prepared. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me at @adnesadeh
If you’re going to be ready to deal with demons and dybbuks, you need your gear. Right? Right! Last year I got to teach a class on Jewish monsters for the high school students at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, Michigan. To make the class more fun I built some gear boxes and filled them with everything a Jewish monster hunter needs.
I’m a big fan of Larry Coreia’s urban fantasy “Monster Hunter International.” One of the minor characters is a Jewish monster hunter named Mordechai Byreika, who was born in Poland and died during WWII. I had fun imaging that these were his gear boxes. I modeled them after vintage ammunition boxes. The front stencil reads, in Yiddish, “Religious Items. For Non-military use. Republic of Poland 1918.”
The first box is loaded with gear including a Jewish exorcism kit, hardwood ash for seeing demons, gear for dealing with estries (Jewish vampires), anti-Lilith amulets, and bunch of other great stuff. I’ll detail it in later blog posts.
The other box was loaded with books. Obviously. An old family Tanach, Sefer Yetzirah and Sefer HaRazim, the Sword of Moses and the Books of Enoch and a bunch more. Again, I’ll detail them all in later posts.
According to Jewish tradition, the world around us is filled with demons, ghosts, giants and angels, and creatures of all types. But the Judaism I was raised with downplays and rationalizes them away, to the point where they’re just forgotten dusty metaphors. They won’t go away, though. It’s impossible to read the Torah, the Talmud or any of the commentaries without being constantly reminded of them. And they still have lessons to teach us, whether or not you believe in them or not.
For millenia, Jews have lived with these creatures and have had practical means for coping with them. Avoid the wilds. Wear iron when you travel between cities. Place jam on a plate and leave it to be found. In this blog, I’m hoping to piece together this legacy from original sources and contemporary scholars. And, hopefully, to learn more deeply what it means to be Jewish, to love Torah and to understand God. And to have a lot of fun fighting monsters. Or, at least, learning how.
To close, in the words, of the Shlomo Luntschitz’ Kli Yakar (1602),
And there is also a third way [to know about the existence of God], but not every one is capable of it, and that is to come to know about the existence of God, may He be blessed, through investigation and knowledge of all that is to be found in all of the three worlds and this is their order:
At first, the researcher must understand the essence of things in the lowest world, since it is the easiest research [that exists].
And after knowing their essence, he should [seek to] also understand the essence of the creatures of the middle world. And from there, he should go up, [as] with a ladder going up the different levels, to know the essence of the highest world.
And from there, he should go up to know and fathom that there is God who is found to ride upon all of them [and] who arranged them in this fashion…