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Title Page of Portae Lucis, of Joesph Gikatilla [1516] (Public Domain Image)
Title Page of Portae Lucis, of Joesph Gikatilla [1516] (Public Domain Image)

Jewish Magic and Superstition

by Joshua Trachtenberg


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In the background of what has become known as ceremonial magic is medieval Jewish magic. In turn this was based on the Kabbalah, the Jewish traditions known as Haggadah, and other esoteric beliefs. This is a comprehensive review of Jewish magic from the 10th to the 15th century, including a rich lode of folklore. Many well-known Jewish traditions are explained, such as why a glass is broken at a wedding, and how the expression mazel tov is related to a belief in Astrology. Trachtenberg deals extensively with Golems, Succubi, the Lillim, (from Lilith--Adam's first wife), and other magical creatures, some well known such as werewolves, and others not so well, such as estrie, mare and broxa. There are detailed descriptions of talismans, amulets, charms, and other curious magical objects. There are chapters dealing with dream interpretation, medical beliefs, necromancy, and other forms of divination. There is also a short glossary, so if you are having trouble telling the difference between a Kaddish and a Kiddush, you're in luck.

The author, Joshua Trachtenberg (b. 1904, d. 1959) was a reform rabbi on the east coast of the US. This is an elaboration of his Columbia University Ph.D. thesis. Trachtenberg's appreciation of the role of folk-magic in Jewish culture is important for the study of Judaism, and also the roots of modern Pagan beliefs and practices.

Production Notes: This book contains many quotations in Hebrew. The shorter passages have been transcribed into Unicode. The longer ones are presented in image files.

--J.B. Hare, January 8, 2008.

Title Page
Table of Contents
1. The Legend of Jewish Sorcery
2. The Truth Behind The Legend
3. The Powers of Evil
4. Man and the Demons
5. The Spirits of the Dead
6. The Powers of Good
7. “In the Name of . . .”
8. The Bible In Magic
9. The Magical Procedure
10. Amulets
11. The War with the Spirits
12. Nature and Man
13. Medicine
14. Divination
15. Dreams
16. Astrology
Appendix I. The Formation of Magical Names
Appendix II. Ms. Sefer Gematriaot, On Gems
Abbreviations and Hebrew Titles


Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Appendix I


A. A Note About The Sources
B. Hebrew Sources, Printed
C. Hebrew Sources In Manuscript
D. Modern Literature


Glossary of Hebrew Terms