Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

The Talmud’s Many Demons

Sages in a superstitious age accepted the existence of invisible devils and the use of magic to render them visible

Print Email
(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photo Michael Broad/Flickr)
Related Content

A Talmudic Journey Begins

Our book critic dives into Daf Yomi’s daily regimen expecting a law code, but instead finds a chain of questions

Literary critic Adam Kirsch is reading a page of Talmud a day, along with Jews around the world.

If you went to a Reform or Conservative synagogue, as I did, you were probably taught early on that Judaism doesn’t believe in demons and devils. The God of monotheism is a transcendent God, who leaves no room in the universe for other supernatural powers. And it went without saying that God was incorporeal, that he could not be imagined as having a human body. Both of these ways of thinking about the divine, we often hear, mark Judaism’s advance on paganism, with its pantheon of anthropomorphic spirits.

Reading the Talmud this week was a vivid reminder that this way of thinking about Judaism is in fact a modern invention. You can never pronounce on “what Judaism says” without specifying what Judaism you are talking about: post-Enlightenment, post-Reform Judaism may say one thing, where the Judaism of the Talmud says something entirely different. It becomes clear in Berachot 6a, for instance, that the sages of the Talmud not only believed in demons and folk magic, but that they never imagined such things could be theologically controversial.

Here is a baraita attributed to Abba Benjamin: “If the eye would be granted permission to see, no creature would be able to stand in the face of the demons that surround it.” We are all, apparently, constantly beset by invisible devils, and the rabbis of the Gemara go on to expand on the proposition: “Abaye said: They are more numerous than us, and they stand about us like a ditch around a mound.” “Rav Huna said: Each one of us has a thousand to his left and ten thousand to his right.”

The idea that we see only a fragment of reality, that our senses are not designed to perceive everything that is, has a surprisingly modern ring to it. Abba Benjamin’s dictum reminded me of a famous passage from Middlemarch, in which George Eliot praises human dullness: “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.” Taken as metaphor, the idea that we are surrounded by invisible powers is not hard to accept.

The problem is that the rabbis did not intend it as a metaphor. This becomes clear from the ensuing discussion of the effects of demons and the ways of making them visible. The evil these demons work is not metaphysical or catastrophic; it is trivial and bothersome, making them seem more like naughty sprites than devils. When your knees become tired, when your clothes wear out from rubbing, when you feel squeezed in the crowd at a public lecture—this is all, according to Rava, the work of demons. And there are magical ways of making demons show themselves. All you have to do is find a black female cat who is the firstborn daughter of a firstborn mother, burn her placenta to ashes, grind the ashes, and put some of them in your eye, and you will be able to see the demons. Be sure, however, to place the remainder of the ashes in a sealed iron tube, lest the demons steal it from you.

To my modern mind, there is something not just strange but scandalous about this. It shows that the rabbis of the Talmud could be at the same time geniuses of jurisprudence and men of their age, which was a pre-scientific and superstitious age. Most troubling, perhaps, is the way the rabbis never try to explain how these countless demons fit into a world picture where God is the source of all law and power. Did he create them, and if so, why? It is the taken-for-grantedness of demons and magic, the way they present no theological challenge, that seems most foreign to me in this Talmudic discussion. Perhaps I will discover a deeper treatment of the subject as I read.

Things get still more unexpected in the ensuing pages, where it is stated that God himself wears tefillin. On the scroll inside his tefillin, however, are different biblical verses from the ones in our tefillin: His bears the words, “And who is like Your people Israel, one nation in the land.” So, Israel’s tefillin contain the Shema, which praises “Adonai echad,” one God; in turn, God’s tefillin praise “goy echad,” one nation. It is a poetic idea, capturing the mutuality of the covenant, the special love that exists between God and his people.

But still, the question nags: How exactly can God wear tefillin? Can we imagine God with an arm and a forehead? The rabbis apparently could, quite literally, for in Berachot 7a we hear the story of Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha, a high priest during the time of the Second Temple, who saw God sitting in the Temple on Yom Kippur. God asked the priest to pray for him, and when he heard the prayer, “He nodded to me with his head.”

This direct anthropomorphizing of God clearly troubled later commentators. “It is, of course, impossible to see God optically,” write the editors of the Schottenstein Talmud; they cite the 9th-century sage Saadia Gaon, who rather anxiously explained that what Yishmael saw was simply a great light. But how can a light nod its head? This seems like apologetics after the fact; none of the voices we hear in the Gemara itself object to the literal accuracy of Yishmael’s story.

But here, again, it is possible to resist one part of a Talmudic story while being drawn to another part. For the substance of Yishmael’s prayer displays an acute knowledge of God’s difficult temperament, as we see it in the Bible: “May it be your will that your mercy conquer your anger, and that your mercy overcome your sterner attributes, and that you behave toward your children with the attribute of mercy, and that for their sake you go beyond the boundary of judgment.” God, it seems, needs our help or encouragement to control his anger. There is something very appealing, in a post-religious age, about the idea that God needs our blessings as much as we need his.

***

Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.

Print Email

COMMENTING CHARGES
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at letters@tabletmag.com. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

This is a brilliant and insightful response, Adam. I’d only add that the sages at the beginning of Berakhot seem to me to be wrestling with the difference between the actions of God and the actions of mazikin (demons), and also the way we relate to God as opposed to the way we relate to demons.
Demons require preventive tactics; God requires persuasion (helping God be what God ought to be, as you note). God inflicts yisurin shel ahava–one of the most troubled, and necessary, concepts, in these opening pages: “afflictions of love.” The notion of afflictions of love will be tested by the heartrending story of R. Yohanan and Reish Lakish (and here the sages in my view turn aside from the agony represented by Yohanan’s reference to leprosy and loss of children, by explaining that remark away). In any case, demons don’t give afflictions of love; they are simply obstacles, and so they must be handled in simple terms. The contemporary equivalents are annoying bosses, taxes, bureaucracy, bad shoes, etc. God is a parent, by contrast, and so cannot be bought off–not even by saying the shema at exactly the right time.
Does the sages’ literal belief in demons reduce the usefulness of the text any more than Dante’s or Milton’s literal belief in Satan reduces the usefulness of their texts? I would say no. In all these cases, we translate into our own idiom; but our idiom is in a (perhaps hidden) way continuous with theirs.

GordLindsay says:

First of all, good for you, Adam, for doing exactly what the sages of the Talmud did: question everything relentlessly, without fear of consequences. But, “superstition?” This is a prejudicial, unscientific bias on your part. Shakespeare said it best: “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Adam (OK, Horatio), than are dreamt of on your philosophy.”

    Gord Lindsay says:

    Just to expand on my previous thought — the doors of perception are notoriously selectively variable. Dogs and teenagers hear what adults cannot, and fruit flies can distinguish between two different molecularly identical chemicals where today’s science cannot. The Higgs Boson took an awful lot of work and money in order to enter into the realm of human perception (if we accept the recent experiment) — yet, all of these are accepted as real phenomena beyond the range of our perception. There’s clearly a lot there which we, as adult humans, cannot perceive, and there’s no reason to rule out Abba Benjamin’s assertion. If anything, given our understanding of our own perceptual limitations, it would seem plausible, perhaps even likely.

      Mars_Ultor says:

      Yes its obvious we cannot perceive it with human instruments, but the key difference is that things like HIggs Boson, or faint chemicals or atoms are testable and can be verified independently, and are observable through instruments.

      This key difference is all the difference that matters when looking at the world of science and facts and the world of superstition.

Diana Lipton says:

Thank you, Adam. For more on rabbinic demons — and why they are not metaphorical or (as I used to think) externalisations of the rabbis’ internal lives or something ‘acceptable’ like that — see Yishay Rosen-Zvi’s excellent 2011 book, Demonic Desires “Yetzer Hara” and the Problem of Evil in Late Antiquity. http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/14879.html

Actually, it doesn’t say that R’ Yishmael saw God there. He saw certain aspects of God there.

Also, a more common way of understanding anthropomorphisms is that using the word “hand” for God isn’t an analogy from our hands. Rather, our hands are an analogy to the actual concept of “yad”, which is an attribute of God. Also, when we speak of attributes of God, we’re not talking about actual descriptions. Attributes themselves are considered created things that God made. So that the “attribute” of Chesed (roughly: kindness) is akin to a tinted window God created so that when we perceive Him (to whatever extent we do) we see Him in that light.

Althelion says:

I enjoyed reading this article. I believe that it is important to remember that the the knowledge of the sages of centuries ago cannot be viewed through a revisionist’s lens. Those rabbis of old were wise men IN THEIR TIME. They would be lost in today’s world.

    It is true that there are discussions in the Talmud, such as demons, etc., that speak of a bygone age, and these tend to be magnified in importance by those who do not want to accept the authority of the Talmud. It is also true that well over two-thirds of the Talmud focuses on the Temple service and matters connected with it, things no longer practiced even in their day, indicating the deep devotion of the Sages to the renewal of that service in the messianic age, and their intention to preserve priestly knowledge about the service for later generations. This was to make sure that there could be a reconstituted Temple service by “the kingdom of priests.” Until then even the study of such matters is to a degree an enactment of the Temple service to HaShem. In any case it is their view that the Jewish people’s role even now is to lead priestly lives and dwell as far as is possible in HaShem’s presence, on behalf of all Creation and the whole of humanity their laity. In the messianic age this role will be known and honored by all peoples; the Talmud preserves that high calling in anticipation of that coming era, to which all the ethical and ritual observances that still apply are also directed. Modernity cannot cancel these deeper purposes of life itself before ultimate things.

    But the fundamental outlook on the human condition and often the specific comments of the Sages, as well as their guidance on halakhic matters still applicable to us, are in general very relevant to our own age. That means that they are also wise in terms of our own time, not just their own. Almost all of the many Orthodox and traditionalist Jews today whose lives are grounded on Talmudic and later Rabbinic teachings are definitely modern folk very well able as a matter of fact to navigate our society. As is well known, amongst the modern Orthodox many Chief Rabbis are also possessors of doctoral university degrees (Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has a doctoral degree in philosophy, for example), and both Modern and Haredi Orthodox people include many who are highly successful in their chosen fields.

    It is a singular trait of the Torah itself that although it comes out of the time of the ancient Near East, three millenia ago, entirely unlike the writings of ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian religions it conveyed and still conveys a very modern understanding of human life and destiny, so that billions of people around the world honor it as a guide to modern life. The Talmudic Sages continue that tradition, which is why it has been able to hold together and to instruct the Jewish people down through the centuries and in the modern period.

Yishmael’s prayer is moving, but the rest is demon stuff is 100% pilpul and essentially worthless.

Mars_Ultor says:

I am trying hard to understand why believing in jinns, fairies, demons or agents is considered ‘superstition’, yet believing in an ever-present, eternal, invisible deus-entity that hears your prayers and controls every aspect of your world is considered an ‘advancement’ and in no way a form of superstition. It seems to be that both cases were pulled out of people’s collective imaginations, and are based on absolutely no plausible evidence. So why use the term ‘superstition’ for one, but not the other?

If we take it a step further, the pantheonic view of gods, akin to the Greek, Roman or Indic beliefs, seems more in step with reality than anything formulated within Judeo-Christian monotheism.


    the pantheonic view of gods, akin to the Greek, Roman or Indic beliefs, seems more in step with reality than anything formulated within Judeo-Christian monotheism.” In what respect?

    As for Jinns and fairies I don’t know what to say. I guess that if believing that the Talmud is truth is a leap of faith, so is the whole concept of demons and such.

    On the other hand, if fairies were never mentioned in the Talmud, does that make them non-existent? I don’t know.

      Mars_Ultor says:

      Can this Leonardo Paor troll be blocked?

      As to the pantheon question, what I meant was that the behaviours that people usually attribute to a ‘god’, things like a beautiful sunset, images in the clouds, hurricanes, earthquakes, anything seen in nature, have the attributes of both goodness and evil. For example, a religious person seeing a beautiful rainbow may deduce its god’s creation, yet at the same time when an earthquake kills thousands of people, many religious see this as a punishment from a god.

      So in this sense, it makes more sense to think of a pantheon of multiple gods, some of who are benevolent and friendly, and others as wrathful and wicked. In other words, the great amounts of praise heaped upon monotheism as some sort of theological advancement or progress, is nothing more than an added limitation of previous beliefs.

      So in short, why is believing in 1 single god (who may exhibit characteristics of schizophrenia) considered a real fundamental advancement over believing in multiple gods each of whom exhibit a certain personality? Personally I think that one delusion is as delusional as another.

        There is an email address to the web-managers that you can contact with a complaint. It is: info@tabletmag.com

        As for why monotheism is better than polytheism, just give it a bit more thought. If everything that happens reflects the arbitrary wills of a multiplicity of divine personalities, each tyrannically following their own interests, then: 1: the only fate for human beings is slavery, serving one or another god and hoping that the power of one’s master prevails over other masters, so that 2: political life is seen as hierarchical and tyrannical by necessity and brutal rulers are entirely justified, with everyone a slave of some sort, even kings being the slaves of gods; 3: the universe itself in its innermost workings is filled with arbitrariness and contradictory strife, so that there can be no secure objective and secular rational order to nature nor hope for universal peace and harmony; and 3: the moral consequences are dire — power is all, brutality is a final truth of life, and there is no refuge. The results are unsurprisingly what we actually see in Graeco-Roman times, with gladitorial games to the death being thought great entertainment, and constant war itself, along with genocide, being highly praised.

        Monotheism breaks with all of that. It frees nature from arbitrary variously irrational powers, revealing its unity under God, radically secularizing it by removing divine gods/powers from it and revealing it all as God’s unitary creation, and thereby opening it up to rational and objective study as a subject in itself, so these monotheistic breakthroughs provide a civilizational foundation on which all scientific thought can build and be sustained culturally (even the Greek philosophers who did develop scientific attitudes could only do so by being sceptical about the gods while not challenging their significance in the lives of more gullible people around them — but their rationalist heritage would have been swamped by polytheistic cultures if Judaic ideas had not transformed later Roman civilization in the form of Christianity). It extends morality to every person as equally a creature of the one God, and gives a universal vision embracing all humanity, freeing each person from the powers and circumstances that enslave the polytheist and making individual moral responsibility fully possible and thinkable. It opens up political life through the concept that every person is equally God’s creation and in the divine image, and thus must be given respect, thus initiating the journey to anti-authoritarian and more democratic political thinking. It provides a standpoint that allows for societal acceptance of prophetic criticism of the powerful, something not found in polytheistic societies. These are only some of the enormous benefits of monotheism over polytheism.

          Pam Green says:

          Your viewpoint of polytheism is very simplistic. You may not approve of polytheism but to make such bold declarations and accusations without a shred of factual support is – oh, what’s it called? oh, yeah – bigotry.

          This is mere name-calling, Pam, and unworthy of you. Actually, there is factual support for my assertions within my comment. Read it again, and then check with your books on Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian and Egyptian history and religions, or read Greek and Roman myths, plays and literature generally, and scholarly books on other Near Eastern religions and cultures, and you will indeed see universes fraqmented by arbitrary and wilful divinities at war with each other (and in these relations morality and moral conscience do not determine their interactions), the view that humans reflect the gods in their own interactions but are the gods’ slaves, so that humans depending on their status can enslave others in similar ways and make war and do violence and that this is part of the natural way of things and is even good, at least for those powerful enough not to fail, that there can be no legitimate transcendental prophetic criticism of society urging radical change and measuring the acceptability of a society on the basis of the treatment of the least powerful and most vulnerable, and of alien minorities (the “stranger who sojourns amongst you” that according to the Torah we are commanded to love), etc., etc. All of the points I made are well based on facts and indeed on wide reading in ancient Near Eastern cultures and the Greek and Roman ones too.

          Cultures do differ from each other, Pam, both individually and in general ways. They are not all the same, and some are radically different from others. The history of humanity and also of religions demonstrates this. I point this out, in case you are a cultural relativist who thinks all cultures and religions are at base really the same and have the same implications and values, no matter how much each culture in fact insists on and values itself for its own distinctive traits. Cultural relativism must hold that each culture lies and is therefore false as such, since the cultural relativist knows better than all particular cultures what each one actually teaches and thinks, and that those actual teachings and practices are all the same, “really.” Thus cultural relativism refutes itself, by generating a kind of elitist imperialism (similar to the theoretical imperialism of some earlier cultures and religions) in which all cultures are merely colourfully ignorant versions of its own superior uniquely enlightened culture.

Daniel Ostroff says:

A underlying assumption in Kirsch’s thinking is reflected in this passage:
To my modern mind, there is something not just strange but scandalous about this. It shows that the rabbis of the Talmud could be at the same time geniuses of jurisprudence and men of their age, which was a pre-scientific and superstitious age.

Kirsch will never understand the Talmud if he does not “crawl into their headspace.” I realize that it is hard not to keep our “modern sensibilities” – but we moderns are also filled with hubris, as if we “understand” the word – we are enlightened, not like those superstitious minds of yore.

The haughtiness of “I know better” pervades Kirsch’s writing and prevents him, ultimately, from understanding what the Rabbis are trying to say.

Perhaps a dose of humility and skepticism of the “scientific mind” would serve the author well.

    4 BILLION JEWS SLAUGHTERED BY EMPEROR
    HADRIAN

    Over
    four billion Jews were killed by the Romans in 135AD… 64 million children
    wrapped up in Torah scrolls and burnt…. apparently

    The Jews’ last
    stand at Bethar, Judah

    in the final
    Roman Jewish war 135AD

    “The voice of Jacob': this is the cry caused
    by the (Roman) Emperor Hadrian who killed in the city of Bethar four hundred
    thousand myriads”

    Babylonian Talmud Gittin 57B

    Very true. This is already hinted at in the comments by Kirsch on the anthropomorphisms of God having tefillin, etc. Because the Rabbis really did live in a time when everyone believed in spirits, and therefore their statements about that were not just (or more truly not only) metaphorical but also literal, Kirsch is unable to recognize Rabbinic metaphors about anything else when he comes to them. He thinks the Rabbis were indiscriminately literalistic about everything, including their deepest beliefs. Of course that is not so, not of any culture actually, no matter how literalistically any culture’s members believed some things we think are fantastic. Every culture recognizes metaphors about some aspects of life, and make metaphorical statements as proverbs, etc.

    The Talmudic statements about God are altogether metaphorical; they are there to make a point, not because they are to be taken literally. Already in the Torah itself, Kirsch will have come across the statements that God is a lion, he is an eagle, he is a pregnant woman giving birth, he is a king, he is … etc. To this the Talmudic Sages add that God is space itself, HaMakom, or rather he is not contained by any space, etc.

    The various metaphors literally cancel each other out, but metaphorically they break through together into absolute transcendence of all imagery. The literal images break each other. To suppose that God is really a man is something explicitly prohibited by the Talmudic Rabbis, which is why they declared that no images can contain or convey God, and none would be permitted.

    Berachot says God has tefillin saying how marvellous is Israel, unique upon the earth, to make not a literal point but to suggest the truly beautiful and actually quite profound metaphorical truth that God joins in Israel’s prayers and reciprocates them, mirroring back at the time of morning prayers the very love that Israel devotes to God in its own Shema and tefillin declarations that God is One: the two declarations of uniqueness meet in active love, each is the treasure of the other, and the divine image is joined together and fulfilled.

Nice article! Some points:

1. If you look in the Talmud some more, you will see instances of demonry all over the place. One of my personal favorites is where R’ Acha (Kiddushin 29b) was in the study hall when a scary demon appeared to him in the form of a seven-headed serpent while he was praying. Each time he bowed one of the heads fell off (which leads one to believe that it was the Shmoneh Esrei where one bows a total of 7 times).
2. When Gd created the universe he had to create an equal amount of evil to balance the good. Hence idol-worship and demons.
3. The Sefer Yetzirah (Aryeh Kaplan’s edition) mentions that after the episode with Cain and Abel (Kayin and Hevel), Adam and Eve separated from each other for 130 years. During that time Adam bonded with Lilith to create the demons of the world. Clearly there was a necessity to maintain such a balance especially when “right and wrong” were not clearly defined since to Cain, killing was perfectly all right (when it was never done before in recorded history).
4. The Israelites were all prophets after the revelation on Mt. Sinai. Still, they worshipped idols, as was evident during the episode of Baal Peor. Also, during the first Temple when they had everything and were on a high level of holiness, they still worshipped idols and this was one of the three causes for the first Temple to be destroyed. Clearly, there was something to be said.
5. Chanoch (Enos) was taken away relatively early (he died at 205 when everyone was living beyond 900 years of age). One of the reasons was because he inadvertently introduced idolatry/witchcraft by teaching that if one worships an agent of Gd (such as the sun, a tree, etc.) with the intent on focusing on the objects’ creator than it’s as if one worships Gd. People soon forgot the “intent” bit and worshipped the objects as entities in and of their own.
6. The Talmud mentions how the Rabbis prayed for the urge of idol-worship to be taken away from the Jewish people. As a direct consequence, when the urge for idol-worship went away, so did prophecy from normal beings (and went to fools and children).
7. Even today in certain South American and African countries there are clear instances of real magic and witchcraft. Don’t understimate the unknown.

drorbenami says:

hey, the habad movement, as well as AISH educational foundation, teach that Abraham, isaac and Jacob were not really Jewish, they were merely Hebrews…..so stupidity is not limitted to the dark ages….

Mike Shapiro says:

This is a wondrous journey that you are undertaking. I shall be following (and maybe even sticking in my 2c), as you go along.

I find it less than surprising that the writers of the Talmud believed in demons, folk magic, etc. As a very wise professor of mine once said: “All things in context.” We need to remember that there have been two millennia of scientific knowledge and philosophical thinking, since the sages wrote the Talmud. We have found reasons that many of the fearful, unknown things happened. We no longer fear such demons (well, most of us. Some now think that the “demons” are actually aliens sent here to probe us, but that is another essay) and try to assign logical explanations to everything, while the actual reasoning may be “merde happens”!

We also continue to have religious fanatics, that try and find an explanation for everything in the Talmud or in a bad, 4th hand translation, politically motivated English Bible. We have Atheists who won’t even have a conversation about religion.

Personally (and this is what much of such discussions are about), I believe in God, but have not seen a recent job description.

rita deutsch says:

I found this article interesting and informative. I come from a reformed background and Ms Hoffman offers a glimpse of the unseen and mystical perspective behind our rituals. The idea of ritual cleansing offers the modern woman, a way of reaching a spiritual level not available in daily life. It is quietly personal and in many ways elevates
the jewish woman to new paths, however ancient they may be. The relevance to
our lives in 2012 is pertinent, but ties us to our roots.

rita deutsch says:

this article reminds me of those of Jung and the Red book. the mystical ideology behind the collective, the unseen, the mystical. We as humans will seek answers to the unknown and as intelligent and questioning creatures, as G-d made us
will forever ask why. G-d will watch and observe as his creation asks and seeks,
as we always have. We in the modern age, are asking and seeking the way we have done for thousands of years. Our questioning now is an old and ancient rite…
and exploration may seem new, but it is as old as Adam in the garden. We are hardwired in this way, as new as the process seems. Human perception is
studied and explored, and when it’s time to be revealed, as in all things, we will
be given the right to the secrets of the universe.

drorbenami says:

I don’t understand why you attached this to my comment in particular. In all populations there is a percentage of disturbed people…rabbis are no different…I didn’t know all 50 examples, but I already knew certain rabbis have problems….

All of these cases with a 3 year old girl have to do with whether she “enjoys” it. The only way for that to happen is for her to have puberty at 3 years, which is an extreme case but apparently has existed.

Yes, girls sometimes mature much earlier than usual, which is why in some cases today they need to take something to slow their physical maturation process. Otherwise, letting them mature REALLY early can cause other kinds of diseases for them later on.

Bottom line, such a situation does exist, however this clearly does not apply to all 3 year old girls.

drorbenami says:

okay…i am sorry to hear about your problems, but in israel almost every month in the newspapers there is a story about some rabbi doing something wrong, either sexually or whatever, so the problem is not entirely hidden from view. ….
i was just confused what was the connection to my particular comment, but now i see you are just attempting to spread the word about this issue…
okay, no problem…i’ll keep it in mind….

Somewhere Talmud says that it is a sin to have sex with a gentile boy older than 13. He might enjoy it and it sinful to give joy to the gentiles. Hence, only have sex with gentile boys who are younger.

Since the web-moderators are very obviously not doing their job, I will just indicate here that the above two posts are based on nothing other than the false allegations and willfully malicious charges of extreme antisemitic websites.

It is a standard antisemitic claim on those websites that the Talmud endorses sex with three-year-old girls. This is false. The Talmud prohibits sexual relations with minors (whether gentile or not!!). Any such sexual relations would be criminal and judged as such by a Rabbinic court; marriages, which would really be engagements or betrothals, could in certain circumstances be made with minors but the two parties would have to live apart and the marriage could not be consummated until the parties had grown to maturity and could give their adult consent to the marriage relationship.

But in any case no sexual relations outside of marriage, of any sort let alone criminal ones per se such as relations with minors, are permitted in the Talmud. Adultery, and unfaithfulness in marriage as such, is absolutely condemned. Even the above citations on their face, when read seriously (and as their actual contexts in the Talmud indicate) are not endorsements of sexual crimes but on the contrary merely assert the seriousness of the crime being committed even if it is done by children over 9. E.g., it is stated that the child victim under 9 is not adjudged to be equivalent to the adult guilty party over that age. Certain other Talmudic references were “as-if” statements relating to dowries, not to permissible sexual relations, e.g. criminal acts against a girl under three does not remove that girl’s status later in life as a virgin, which again relates to dowry issues and protects that girl’s prospects. It is not saying such sexual violations are approved, nor even legitimate: they would be criminal and liable to court punishments. On these matters, and a lot else dredged up out of their own guilty minds by the posters above, see Gil Student’s website, “The Real Truth About the Talmud” at

http://www.angelfire.com/mt/talmud/three or the same thing at http://talmud.faithweb.com/articles/three.html Student set up these sites to counter the slanders circulating against the Talmud on antisemitic websites.

Rafi, you have been taken in by an antisemitic troll, who got his stuff from rabidly antisemitic internet websites, not from the Talmud at all which such people are incapable of either reading or understanding. For the actual contextual meaning of the alleged citations, those that is that have any truth in them at all and are not falsifications all the way through, see my post below, or http://talmud.faithweb.com/articles/three.html

I figured as much. Honestly, I don’t know how I even get sucked into these arguments.

Thanks for those links. It is important not merely to denounce and deny slanderous allegations of this kind but also to document their error.

2000

Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

The Talmud’s Many Demons

Sages in a superstitious age accepted the existence of invisible devils and the use of magic to render them visible

More on Tablet:

A Tale of Three Twitter Feeds: Hamas Tweets in Arabic, English, and Hebrew

By Aaron Magid — Analysis of the social-media messaging of Hamas’ military wing reveals distinct voices for the West, the Arab Middle East, and Israel