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