Serah bat Asher Part II: Werewolf Hunter

We grow, love, and die in the flash of a firefly on a summer evening. But not Serah bat Asher. She lives forever. As I described in my last post, “Serah bat Asher: Immortal Secret Keeper,” Serah had lived for two thousand years by the time she leaned into Rabbi Yohannan’s window to tell him that the Red Sea looked like lighted glass. By 2020, she’s nearing 4000. That’s about 130 generations of Jews for whom she’s looked out. Give or take. While the Jewish tradition doesn’t chronicle all of her adventures, there are a few more to share. Which is great, because each one has something deep to teach us.

Serah bat Asher, Werewolf Hunter!

The Tanach, in II Samuel, tells of Serah saving a city during the reign of King David and of her hunting werewolves! Sheba ben Bichri, a “scoundrel” of the tribe of Benjamin, was leading a rebellion against King David. David sends his army, lead by Joab, to smack down the rebellion. First, Joab applies some pre-game stabbiness to another of David’s generals (1). Then he and his troops catch up with Sheba, who’s hiding with his troops in city of Abel of Beth-maacah. Which is a great hideout for a scoundrel. It’s up on a hill, strong walls, lots of locals to use as human shields. Perfect! To support the kingdom of Israel, and to stop the conflict before Joab tears down the city walls and applies more stabbiness to the city’s inhabitants, an unnamed “clever woman” comes out of city and demands to speak to Joab. First she convinces him that attacking is a bad move (why destroy one of David’s cities? David might want it later). Then she convinces the people of the city to decapitate Sheba and throw his head over the wall (2). While the Tanach doesn’t identify the woman, Rashi does. The clever woman was, of course, Serah who “completed the faithful of Israel. (3).”

Here’s the full(ish) story from II Samuel 20. (4)

A scoundrel named Sheba son of Bichri, a Benjaminite, happened to be there. He sounded the horn and proclaimed: “We have no portion in David, No share in Jesse’s son! Every man to his tent, O Israel!” … And David (the king) said to Abishai, “Now Sheba son of Bichri will cause us more trouble than Absalom. So take your lord’s servants and pursue him, before he finds fortified towns and eludes us.”….

[E]verybody continued to follow Joab in pursuit of Sheba son of Bichri. [Sheba] had passed through all the tribes of Israel up to Abel of Beth-maacah; and all the Beerites assembled and followed him inside. [Joab’s men] came and besieged him in Abel of Beth-maacah; they threw up a siegemound against the city and it stood against the rampart. All the troops with Joab were engaged in battering the wall, when a clever woman shouted from the city, “Listen! Listen! Tell Joab to come over here so I can talk to him.”

He approached her, and the woman asked, “Are you Joab?” “Yes,” he answered; and she said to him, “Listen to what your handmaid has to say.” “I’m listening,” he replied.

And she continued, “In olden times people used to say, ‘Let them inquire of Abel,’ and that was the end of the matter. I am one of those who seek the welfare of the faithful in Israel. But you seek to bring death upon a mother city in Israel! Why should you destroy the LORD’s possession?”

Joab replied, “Far be it, far be it from me to destroy or to ruin! Not at all! But a certain man from the hill country of Ephraim, named Sheba son of Bichri, has rebelled against King David. Just hand him alone over to us, and I will withdraw from the city.”

The woman assured Joab, “His head shall be thrown over the wall to you.”

The woman came to all the people with her clever plan; and they cut off the head of Sheba son of Bichri and threw it down to Joab. He then sounded the horn; all the men dispersed to their homes, and Joab returned to the king in Jerusalem.

II Samuel 20:1 to 20:23 (4)

So, using her wisdom and long memory to save a city of thousands from being destroyed is pretty great. But I promised werewolves…where are the werewolves‽ As I keep saying in my posts, Jewish monster hunters have to read the texts carefully. And remember that reading Torah is about making associations. This story already has Rashi associating an unnamed person, the clever woman, with Serah, a well known woman. So I’m adding my own midrash to the Serah story that fills in the family drama and generational associations. Here goes…

Jan Cossiers – Júpiter y Licaón. 17th Century. (5)

Sheba ben Bichri wasn’t just any rebel. He was a Benjaminite. In my prior post, Benjamin is a Predatory Wolf, I talked about Serah’s grandfather Jacob blessing her uncle Benjamin as being a “predatory wolf” e.g. a werewolf. The Jewish tradition has always understood Jacob’s blessing to be as much focused on Benjamin’s descendants as on Benjamin himself. So if Benjamin was a werewolf, then some of Benjamin’s descendants are too. And Serah would know that. She was there when Benjamin was blessed. She would have recognized Sheba for what he was as soon as he entered the city. And she rallied the town to hunt him down and throw his head over the wall.

Monster Hunter Pro Tips

1. Werewolves are vulnerable to decapitation. Particularly when in human form.
2. Stay vigilant. While we have no shortage of external foes, the enemy is also us.
3. Be a leader. Serah didn’t save her city by picking up a sword and going it alone. She rallied her town and taught them how to fight.

I love the idea of Serah as an eternal counterbalance to Benjamin’s curse. Monster hunter counterbalancing threat, all within the family. And it is a family thing. Serah is an Asherite, the daughter of Benjamin’s brother Asher. Asher had the opposite blessing from Benjamin, to receive royal rewards (6), and was known for his single-minded virtue (7). This single-mindedness for good, inherited from her father, is Serah’s third blessing, after God blessing her with wisdom and Jacob blessing her with immortality.

So Serah, as I see it, is a perfect example of a Jewish monster hunter, using deep Torah and mystical knowledge to protect Jews from the werewolves, and other threats, in our own communities. She’s not a warrior, the way Abraham was. She’s not a combat mage, the way Moses was (8). None of her blessings gave her that kind of fire power. She’s more Willow than Buffy (9). As a vigilant keeper of our memory, though, she’s what we need.

Abel of Beth-Maachah, near Metula, Israel. View of the tower, with its northeastern corner of large boulders and the layers of small stones, looking southwest. Tel Abel Beth Maacah Excavations. (10)

It’s worth noting that not everyone in the Jewish tradition agrees with my applause for Serah’s handling of the Sheba situation. As early as the 2nd Century CE, the rabbi’s who wrote the Tosefta debated the ethics of sacrificing a single person to save a group. In Tosefta Terumot 7.23, the rabbi’s are split (11). They seem to decide that in this case it was justified because Sheba was a criminal who was endangering in the city, that handing him over (or handing over his head) avoided the group being punished for his crime, and that Joab was a Jew. In other cases, particularly when the threat comes from outside, however it’s better to let the group die as a group, before sacrificing the individual. We’re not to be complicit in the crime.

Stay tuned for next post, when we hear about “Serah in Exile or The Death of Serah?

Notes and References
(1) David gave his generals Joab and Amasa a set amount of time to gather their troops. Amasa was late…so Joab stabbed him to death on the street and commandeered his troops. As one does. II Samuel 20 @ Sefaria.
(2) According to the midrash (Genesis Rabba 94:9), Serah convinces the people of the city using the following strategy. “The woman immediately came to all the people with her clever plan. ‘Do you not know David’s reputation?’ she urged them, ‘Which kingdom has successfully resisted him?’ ‘What does he demand?’ they asked her. ‘A thousand men,’ she replied, ‘and is it not better [to sacrifice] a thousand men than to have your city destroyed?’ ‘Let everyone give according to his means,’ they proposed. ‘Perhaps he would be willing to compromise,’ she suggested. She then pretended to go and appease him, and returned with the number reduced from a thousand to five hundred, then to one hundred, to ten, and finally to one, a stranger there, and who was he? – Sheba the son of Bichri. They promptly cut off his head [and threw it down to Joab]” The translation comes from Moshe Reiss’ essay “Serah bat Asher in Rabbinic Literature.”
(3) Rashi’s full commentary on this passage was “I am [from the people of the city] that are loyal and trustworthy to Yisroel. I am from the people of the city that are loyal and trustworthy to Yisroel and to the king. An Aggadic Midrash [states:] this was Serah, the daughter of Asher. I faithfully rewarded those who faithful [to God]: Through me, the location of Yosef’s coffin was revealed to Moshe. I told Yakov that Yosef was alive.”
(4) A slightly trimmed version of II Samuel 20 (Sefaria.org).
(5) Ok, Jan Cossiers painting Júpiter y Licaón is a scene from Greek mythology…. but you get the idea. Public Domain Image from Wikipedia Commons. I really need an art budget.
(6) See Genesis 49:20 (Sefaria.org)
(7) In The Testament of Asher the Tenth Son of Jacob and Zilpah, one of the Apocryphal books, Asher is quoted as saying. “All these things, therefore, I proved in my life, and I wandered not from the truth of the Lord, and I searched out the commandments of the Most High, walking according to all my strength with singleness of face unto that which is good.Testament of Asher @ Sefaria.org. The Testaments of Asher comes from The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, which is a bit of a muddy text. The text we have took its final form around the 2nd century CE and mixes Jewish and Christian thoughts. I’m citing this text because it’s a good example, but the sentiment shows up elsewhere.
(8) Yes. Abraham was a warrior and Moses was a mage. The tradition is pretty specific on both points. Abraham being a warrior is straight Tanach. See Genesis 14 (Sefaria.org) Not even Talmud. Same with Moses’s magic. Remember the whole rods to serpents and 12 plagues incidents? Oh, and his brass serpent? Yeah, that’s all at God’s direction so if we’re being Dungeons and Dragons technical, that makes him a cleric, not a mage. But my previous post about Serah, where Moses raised Joseph’s coffin from the Nile, is a good example of mage power. Abraham and Moses’s being badasses will come up over and over again. I’ll write both soon when I write about Og the giant.
(9) In case you don’t get the reference, I’m talking about characters from the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Which is a fantastic contemporary monster hunting TV show (and a meditation on what it’s like to be a teenager in America). It is absolutely not based on Jewish lore, but it does have Jewish characters including Willow, one of Buffy’s “Scooby gang” sidekicks. Willow is often the brains of the team. Buffy has the punch and the willpower, but Willow has the smarts and the lore. The show also happens to have a Jewish werewolf named Daniel “Oz” Osborne. Oz isn’t a Benjamite, though, he became a werewolf the ouch way.

(10) Tel Abel beth Maachah. Near Metula, Israel. The picture is a view of the tower, with its northeastern corner of large boulders and the layers of small stones, looking southwest. Photo by Tel Abel Beth Maacah Excavations. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons license. CC-BY-SA-4.0
(11) Tosefta Terumot 7.23 (Sefaria.org). Sefaria community translation. “A group of [Jews] to whom gentiles say, “Give us one of you and we shall kill him, and if not, behold, we will kill all of them”; they should let themselves be killed and not deliver them one soul from Israel. But if they designated [the person] to them – for example, Sheva ben Bichri – they should give him to them and not let themselves be killed. Rabbi Yehuda said, “When do these words apply? In a case when he is [inside and they are] outside [a fortified city]; but in a case when he is inside and they are inside, since he will be killed and the [other Jews] will be killed, they should give him to them and not let themselves all be killed. And so did it state (II Samuel 20:22), ‘And the woman come to all of the people in her wisdom, etc.’ – she said to them, ‘Since he will be killed and you will be killed, give him to them and do not kill all of you.’” Rabbi Shimon says, “So did she say [to them], ‘Anyone who rebels against the monarchy [of the House of David] is liable to [receive] the death penalty.’”

Adne ha-Sadeh, the Man of the Fields.

There is a race older than us, created before Adam and before Eve (1). They are said to be extinct, drowned in the great flood. But there are rumors that they survived (2) and live in the forests and the low hill country, out of our sight. You know you’re entering their territory when you cross from fresh to trampled grass or pine needles and see small animal bones and fruit rinds scattered where none had been before. And, according to the rumors, they’re delicious. A bit like broccoli.

Adne ha-Sadeh. Man of the fields. Wild animal. Ally. Diviner. Vegetable Entrée.

Artist’s rendition. And by artist I mean me. Eh. Someday I’ll be able to commission real art for this blog.(3)

Without a doubt the adne ha-sadeh is one of the stranger creatures in the Jewish tradition. Since first learning about them, I have become a big fan (hence my Twitter handle @adnesadeh.) The name “adne ha-sadeh” translates as “man of the fields.” In some Jewish sources it alternately called the yadu’a (4) or the yidaaoni (5).

The adne ha-sadeh has human features but is actually an omnivorous plant connected to its roots via a long vine. It’s strong and wild, capable of chasing, catching and eating small animals and birds as well as scaling trees for fruit and nuts. Any individual adne ha-sedah’s range is limited. Out of necessity it always stays within the length of its vine, though in some cases older adne ha-sedah have vines almost a mile long. Longer vines are advantageous because they offer a wider hunting and foraging range, but long vines require greater skill and care because of the risk of getting the vine tangled. They’re thought to prefer Mediterranean and temperate climates.

Here’s one of the classic descriptions, from the Sefer HaChinukh (Book of Education, c.1255 – c.1285 CE). (6)

And [regarding] this animal…. I have seen in a book from the Geonim (early post-Talmudic authorities) that it grows with a large cord that comes out of the ground, similar to the cord of squash and pumpkins, its form is like the form of a man in everything – in the face, the body, the hands and the feet – and it is connected to the cord from its navel. And no creature can approach for the cord’s length, since it grazes around it like the length of the cord, and it devours all that it can reach. And when they come to hunt it, they shoot arrows into its cord, until it is separated, and [then] it dies immediately.

Sefer HaChinukh 514:1 (6)

From a Jewish monster hunting perspective, adne ha-sadeh are wild animals (wild vegetables?) and should generally be left alone (7). Unlike sheydim (demons) or estries (vampires), adne ha-sadeh are not a threat to Jews either physically or spiritually as long as we stay to our towns and roads and out of the wilds. Not only are adne ha-sadeh not a threat, but they are generally seen in a positive light by our sages. Rashi, for examples, makes this point in his commentary on the book of Job.

Job 23: But you have a treaty with the stones of the field, and the beasts of the field made peace with you.

Rashi’s commentary: “and the beasts of the field:  In the language of the Mishnah in Torath Kohanim, they are called “adne ha-sadeh.”

Job 23, followed by Rashi’s commentary (8)

That’s a pretty big deal. Job chapter 5 opens with “Now call; will anyone answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn?” Clearly, the expected answer is God, but jump down 23 verses and the adne ha-sadeh is added to the list, right after stones. Ok, coming after rocks isn’t super confidence inspiring, but it’s pretty awesome that wild vegetable people made the list at all. (9)

So how did the adne ha-sadeh earn this stature? By attacking pre-Exodus Egyptians during the 10 plagues! Exodus 8:17 describes God warning that wild animals will attack if the Hebrews are not released. But read the wording carefully (as Jewish sages and Jewish monster hunters do):

For if you do not send out My people, behold, I will send against you and your servants, and your nation, and your houses, swarms of wild animals. The houses of Egypt will be full of the wild animals, and so too the ground upon which they stand.

Exodus 8:17 Metsudah Chumash translation (10)

The common understanding of “the ground upon which they stand” is that it means the same thing as “the houses of Egypt”, i.e. an Egyptian will be attacked anywhere he or she goes. The Vilna Gaon, though, disagrees (11). He explains that phrase “and so too the ground upon which they stand” refers to adne ha-sadeh, who are anchored to the ground (12). Can you imagine being an Egyptian, walking outside your home only to find your gourd patch standing up on two feet and ready to fight? Now imagine this on a national scale. Yikes!

MONSTER HUNTER PRO TIPS

1. Adne ha-sadeh are not a threat outside their tethered range and should generally be avoided. But, if necessary, cutting its vine is always fatal. And delicious.

2. Adne ha-sadeh are tough fighters and good allies. Cultivating a community of adne ha-sadeh in wilds outside your community can be a prudent defensive move.

3. Protecting your local adne ha-sadeh populations from poaching will limit necromantic activity in your area.

While adne ha-sadeh are given respect for their service, they are also under threat. Loss of habitat and encroaching civilization is taking their toll, as with all wildlife. The adne ha-sadeh, though, has two additional challenges. First, they are considered a bit of a delicacy. There are multiple stories in the Jewish tradition of people being rather surprised to be served something that looks a bit cannibalistic but is actually a vegetable. For example, the Ma’aseh Book, a 15th century collection of instructional stories and tales, tells of a rabbi named Meir who was sent from Germany to Spain to visit and question a potentially heretical Rabbi Moses Maimuni (13). R. Meir visited R. Moses three times. On the second visit, he was served a surprising meal.

Then [R. Meir] went to R. Moses door and again knocked on his door, for it was getting dark. He was admitted at once, as it was time for the evening meal. The servant brought food to the table, which looked like human hands. R. Meir refused to touch it, saying that he felt unwell…

Ma’aseh Book 215 (14)

On the third visit R. Moses explained that the hands were just vegetables (i.e. adne ha-sadeh) and quite delicious. R. Moses was making a point about something important, but whatever the point was….R. Meir didn’t quite get it. He was still getting over being served what looked like human hands on a plate. He confirmed to his community, though, that R. Moses was not a heretic.

The second major threat to adne ha-sadeh is poaching. Like the rhino, which is poached just for its horn, certain adne ha-sadeh bones are valuable because it is believed that they can be used in divination (foretelling the future) and necromancy (speaking to the dead) (6). The Torah is very strict about banning both. Leviticus 19:31, for example, addresses necromancy. The Sefer HaChinukh, and other sources, make the connection to the adne ha-sadeh. (6)

Do not turn to ghosts and do not inquire of familiar spirits, to be defiled by them: I the LORD am your God.

Leviticus 19:31 (15)

And this matter is that the sorcerer puts a bone from an animal, the name of which is yidoaa (i.e. adne ha-sadeh), into his mouth, and that bone speaks through magic.

Sefer HaChinukh 514:1 (6)

Because of this, protecting the adne ha-sadeh is a great way to make sure that necromancers are missing key ingredients that they need to do their nastiness. It’s actually a shame about this association. Other Jewish sources, such as the Mishnah Torah, assert that necromancers use bird bones (16). It’s not clear if there are two different necromantic practices or if the adne ha-sadeh has been unfortunately mis-identified as an ingredient. But either way, they are in high demand.


Notes and References
(1) I’ve run across the idea that the Adne ha-Sadeh is older than Adam in a number of secondary sources, but haven’t found a primary Jewish source yet. Howard Schwartz, in Tree of Souls, points to Midrash Tanhuma, but I haven’t found the specific passage yet. Midrash Tanhuma: https://www.sefaria.org/Midrash_Tanchuma?lang=en Tree of Souls: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/tree-of-souls-9780195327137?cc=us&lang=en&
(2) After all, Noah did not need to take the seeds of all plants with him on the ark.
(3) My art is pretty poor, but I couldn’t find anything copyright friendly and I’d rather not swipe artists’ work. Someday I’m going to commission a friendly artist to do some real work. I can dream. For a fun rendering see The Book of Creatures https://abookofcreatures.com/2016/01/18/yedua/. For a more “I’m about to eat your face off” version, see https://imgur.com/gallery/RCUk1
(4) The adne ha-sedah is referred to as yadua in Siftei Chakhamim (on Leviticus 19:31) https://www.sefaria.org/Siftei_Chakhamim%2C_Leviticus.19.31?ven=Sifsei_Chachomim_Chumash,_Metsudah_Publications,_2009&lang=bi
(5) The adne ha-sedah is referred to as yidaaoni in Sefer HaChinukh 514.1 https://www.sefaria.org/Sefer_HaChinukh.514.1?lang=en&with=all&lang2=en
(6) This is the Sefer HaChinukh description (see 5, above). The Sefer ha-Hinukh (Book of Education), was published anonymously in 13th century Spain. It discusses the 613 commandments of the Torah, as enumerated previously by Maimonides.
(7) Midrah Kilayim talks about wild animals, including the adne ha-sadeh, and how to deal with the ritual impurities that come from interacting with them. https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Kilayim.8.5?lang=en
(8) Job 23. I’m referencing the Chabad website, because they offer the Rashi commentary inline. Make sure you hit the “show Rashi’s commentary” button https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16407/showrashi/true/jewish/Chapter-5.htm
(9) We’ll talk about our treaty with the stones of the field in an upcoming post when we talk about golems.
(10) Metsudah Chumash https://www.sefaria.org/Exodus.8.17?ven=Metsudah_Chumash,_Metsudah_Publications,_2009&lang=en&aliyot=0
(11) The Vilna Gaon is Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman, April 23, 1720 – Vilnius October 9, 1797. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vilna_Gaon
(12) Natan Slifkin describes the Vilna Goan’s linking of adne ha-sadeh to the plague of wild animals in his book “Sacred Monsters” but doesn’t provide his source. https://www.biblicalnaturalhistory.org/product/sacred-monsters/
(13) Nope. He wasn’t heretical. R. Moses is also known as Maimonides or the RAMBAM, one of the great sages.
(14) Ma’aseh Book. Gaster translation. https://www.amazon.com/MaAseh-Book-Jewish-Tales-Legends/dp/0827601891
(15) Leviticus. Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures. Jewish Publication Society translation. https://www.sefaria.org/Leviticus.19.31?lang=en&with=Halakhah&lang2=en



Benjamin is a Predatory Wolf

There are a lot of stories about werewolves within the Jewish tradition. In most cases that I’m familiar with Jewish werewolves were Jewish men who were cursed to take a wolf form. (1) And not a super-scary wolf-man, just a dog with big teeth. While you had to protect yourself against them, you didn’t want to hurt them if you didn’t have to. I’ll write more about this kind of werewolf later. Recently, though, I was pointed to a story of werewolves cited within in the Torah itself (H/t to the fine Jewish educators on the JEDLab Facebook page). My best contemporary source on this is Natan Slifkin, who writes about it in his book Sacred Monsters (2) and his blog Rationalist Judaism (3). I’m borrowing heavily from Slifkin here, as well as from Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein’s shiur (Talmud lecture)“Parashat Shemot: Werewolves in the Parasha” (4).

The story is anchored in the Torah in Parshat Vayech, Genesis 49 (5). Jacob has come to Egypt, been reunited with his son Joseph, and is dying. It is time for him to give his final blessings. As the last of the patriarchs, and the guy who wrestled an angel, his blessings are a big deal. They are prophecies, not just parental bequests. Jacob does it in grand style, saying “Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to come…..Reuben, you are my first-born, My might and first fruit of my vigor, Exceeding in rank And exceeding in honor.” Ok, pretty great so far. Simeon and Levi, though, get a head smack. Jacob says “Simeon and Levi are a pair; Their weapons are tools of lawlessness….For when angry they slay men, And when pleased they maim oxen.” (Hey, Levi….want to go cow maiming? Sure Simeon, I’m in!) Jacob goes through each of the brothers, and Joseph’s two sons in turn. The last of the brothers was Benjamin, who was blessed (or cursed?) with the statement “Benjamin is a predatory wolf; In the morning he consumes the foe, And in the evening he divides the spoil.”

Jacob’s statement is typically understood as a prophecy about the bad behavior of Benjamin’s decedents (e.g. Judges 19 (6)). But Rabbi Ephraim ben Shimshon, one of the Tosafists (early commentators on the Talmud), took it more literally. If Jacob said that Benjamin was a wolf, then he must have been a man who could turn into a wolf. A werewolf.

Another explanation: Benjamin was a “predatory wolf,” sometimes preying upon people. When it was time for him to change into a wolf, as it says, “Benjamin is a predatory wolf,” as long as he was with his father, he could rely upon a physician, and in that merit he did not change into a wolf. For thus it says, “And he shall leave his father and die” (Gen. 44:22)—namely, that when he separates from his father, and turns into a wolf with travelers, whoever finds him will kill him.

(Rabbi Ephraim, commentary to Genesis 44:29, Translation from Slifkin (4))
The Werewolf Howls
Werewolf in woodland at night. (7)

According to R. Ephraim, not only was Benjamin a werewolf but he killed his mother Rachel. Rachel, the beloved matriarch, dead by werewolf attack! In his commentary, R. Ephraim quotes a “writer from Ashkenaz”, saying

There is a type of wolf that is called loup-garou (werewolf), which is a person that changes into a wolf. When it changes into a wolf, his feet emerge from between his shoulders. So too with Benjamin—“he dwells between the shoulders” (Deuteronomy 33:12). The solution for [dealing with] this wolf is that when it enters a house, and a person is frightened by it, he should take a firebrand and thrust it around, and he will not be harmed. So they would do in the Temple; each day, they would throw the ashes by the altar, as it is written, “and you shall place it by the altar” (Leviticus 6:3); and so is the norm with this person whose offspring turn into wolves, for a werewolf is born with teeth, which indicates that it is out to consume the world. Another explanation: a werewolf is born with teeth, to show that just as this is unusual, so too he will be different from other people. And likewise, Benjamin ate his mother, who died on his accord, as it is written, “And it was as her soul left her, for she was dying, and she called his name ‘the son of my affliction’ ” (Genesis 35:18). (Commentary to Genesis 35:27)

(R. Ephraim, commentary to Genesis 44:29, Translation from Slifkin (4))

MONSTER HUNTER PRO TIPS

1. Werewolves are afraid of fire. Take a firebrand and thrust it around and you’re good.
2. Check that newborn for teeth. It might be a werewolf.

R. Ephraim and “the writer from Ashkenaz” (who was probably R. Eleazar ben Judah of Worms or a member of his circle) were writing in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Ashkenaz (German and France) and had a lot to say about monstrous creatures. They, and other Ashkenaz pietists of the time, wrote extensively about the acts and processes of physical transformation and applied them to answering challenging halachic (Jewish legal) questions. For example, R. Eleazar wrote about the transformation of the serpent in Genesis, saying :

The serpent [in the Garden of Eden] walked upright and somewhat resembled a man. Know that those that those who know how to change the form of a man into a wolf, or cat, or donkey – the eyeball does not change. Similarly the snake that changed [when it lost its legs] did not have its eyes change. Thus one who miscarries in the form of a snake is impure as if she had given birth for the eyes [of the snake] resemble those of a human.

R. Eleazar of Worms, Sefer Hasidim (8), quoted from David Shyovitz ‘s 2014 essay “Christians and Jews in the Twelfth-Century Werewolf Renaissance”(9)

R. Eleazar is wrestling a deep question that is still highly contentious today… what is a fetus? Is it human? If it is, then we must mourn with her for the loss of a child and we must wait for her until she once again is ritually pure. R. Eleazar comes to a conclusion by connecting werewolves, who change from man to wolf and back but whose eyes don’t change, to the serpent of Eden, to a miscarried fetus that looks a bit snake-like but has rudimentary eyes. It’s the eyes that mark it as human. While this logic is a bit Monty Pythonesque (“So, logically– – If she weighs the same as a duck, she’s made of wood, and therefore is a witch?)”, this was serious stuff.

Moving on to a more practical, monster hunting, perspective, all of this raises fascinating questions about Benjamin and his tribe. How did R. Ephraim and R. Eleazar believe that Benjamin became a werewolf? Was it a curse of some kind? Did the tribe of Benjamin inherit the curse? Were there more Jewish werewolves running around in contemporary 13th century Ashkenaz? The answer… yup. There were. But that’s for a later blog post.

Notes and References
(1) Yes, werewolves in the Jewish tradition were usually men. And vampires, called Estries, were usually women. I don’t know why.
(2) Sacred Monsters, Natan Slifkin https://www.biblicalnaturalhistory.org/product/sacred-monsters/
(3) Rationalist Judaism “Was Rachel Imeinu Killed By A Werewolf?” http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2011/12/was-rachel-imeinu-killed-by-werewolf.html
(4) Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein “Parashat Shemot: Werewolves in the Parasha” (Video). https://www.torahanytime.com/#/lectures?v=24754 (FWIW, this video is in English, but it’s really in Yeshivish. Yeshivish is English with a lot of Hebrew and Yiddish terms mixed in. It’s common in the Orthodox Yeshiva (Torah school) world. As an outsider to that world, it’s great fun to listen to and to try to keep up with. I do ok but get lost sometimes.)
(5) Genesis 49 https://www.sefaria.org/Genesis.49?lang=en&aliyot=0
(6) Judges 19 https://www.sefaria.org/Judges.19?lang=en
(7) Werewolf in the Woodland at Night. Main illustration for the story “The Werewolf Howls.” Internal illustration from the pulp magazine Weird Tales (November 1941, vol. 36, no. 2, page 38). Creative Commons License. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:WeirdTalesv36n2pg038_The_Werewolf_Howls.png
(8) Sefer Hasidim, https://www.sefaria.org/Sefer_Chasidim.1?lang=en
(9) “Christians and Jews in the Twelfth-Century Werewolf Renaissance,” David Shyovitz. https://www.academia.edu/8882537/_Christians_and_Jews_in_the_Twelfth_Century_Werewolf_Renaissance_Journal_of_the_History_of_Ideas_75_4_2014_521-43