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Jewish Magic and Superstition, by Joshua Trachtenberg, [1939], at



1. Cf. Niẓaḥon, 57, 145; Eleazar of Worms, Commentary on S. Yeẓirah, 14c; S. Ḥas. 14, 391, 1950; B 33.

2. Ḥochmat HaNefesh, 7a, 25b f., 33c-d; Eleazar of Worms, Commentary, 21d-22a; Torat Ha‘Olah, II, 2-3; Orḥot Ẓadikim, 94b ff.; Ginzberg, Legends, V, 64, n. 4; Franck, 190 f.; Ginsburg, 156.

3. Cf. San. 65b; Ḥul. 95b and the comments of Rashi and Tos.; these two passages were frequently repeated by the medieval writers, who, following Talmudic precedent, distinguished between the innocent "signs" fixed by Eliezer (Gen. 24: 14) and Jonathan (I Sam. 14:9-10), and the taking of omens; cf. also Hagahot Maimuniot to Hil. ‘Akkum 11:5. See Marmorstein, JJV, II (1925), 362 ff. for the Aggadic material. Lebush on Yore Deah 179:4 sums up the medieval view.

4. Ḥochmat HaNefesh, 25d; S. Ḥas. 14. Grimm, III, 411, quotes from a 14th century German ms., "du solt nit globen an zober . . . noch an die brawen un der wangen iucken"; see also II, 934 f.

5. JE, II, 255; Berliner, Aus dem Leben, 95; Marmorstein, JJV, II (1925), 372. A report that in the year 545, during a plague in Constantinople, every one who sneezed immediately died, was cited by a late writer to point the moral of responding "health!" to a sneeze (Grunwald, JJV, I [1923], 219); cf. Grimm, III, 430; Thorndike, II, 330; etc.; Ber. 24b; Oraḥ Ḥayim 103:3; etc.

6. JE, IV, 632; S. Ḥas. B 1145, 1146; Ẓiyuni, 27b; S. Ḥas. 764; etc.; cf. Grimm, III, 450, §493; Wuttke, 33: "Die Hunde kündigen durch ihr Heulen einen Todesfall an u. sehen den Tod." Longfellow (Golden Legend, VIII, "The Village School") has put this belief into verse (cf. B. K. 60b)

In the Rabbinical book it saith,
The dogs howl when, with icy breath,
Great Sammaël, the Angel of Death,
     Takes through the town his flight!

[paragraph continues] Güd. I, 201, n. 2,—Ẓiyuni, 49a, 75b; Nishmat Ḥayim, III, 22; Marmorstein, MGWJ, LXXI (1927), 44-5; Testament of Judah, §50; Orḥot Ẓadikim, 95b (cf. Suk. 28a and Joel, II, 53 f.).

7. Grimm, II, 937 ff.; Wuttke, 208; Digot, III, 181; Brantspiegel, ch. 66, p. 105c; Joseph Omeẓ, 348; Berliner, op. cit., 83; cf. San. 65b-66a and Rashi.

8. Raziel, 20b-21a.

9. Yoma 88a; S. Ḥas. 1545; Maharil, 45b; Responsa of Maharil, 83a-b, etc.; Joseph Omeẓ, 278; S. Ḥas. 395; Blau, 149; S. Ḥas. B 59; cf. Digot, III, 177; Grimm, III, 467, §889.

9a. Kol Bo, 41; Lev Tov, 6:66, p. 63c; Isserles, Oraḥ Ḥayim 296:1; Ker. 6a; Hor. 12a; Teshubot HaGeonim, ed. Musafia, p. 7; Mordecai, beg. Yoma; 

p. 307

[paragraph continues] S. Ḥas. B 59; Kol Bo, 64; Or Zarua, II, 257, p. 60c; HaManhig, Hil. Rosh. Hashanah, 1; Isserles, Oraḥ Ḥayim 583:,, 2; Shelah, II, 145a; ‘Emek Beracha, II, 61, p. 75a; Güd. III, 136. The custom of eating special foods on Rosh Hashanah for their good influence upon the future was probably originally a reflection of Roman usage; it is found in medieval and modern Germany, perhaps derived from the Jewish practice, cf. Krauss, MJV, LIII (1915), 11; Güd. III, 131, n. 2; Scheftelowitz, AR, XIV (1911), 387-8; Wuttke, 65.

10. S. Ḥas. 1473.

11. Cf. Thorndike, II, 605, for the views of Thomas Aquinas; Grimm, I, 77 f., II, 927 ff.; S. Ḥas. 1139, 1450; even so enlightened a man as Mordecai Jaffe (16th century), who denounced most of the methods of divination as "vain and false things that have no reality," was obliged to admit that "astrologers and lot-casters sometimes disclose the truth"; see his Lebush on Yore Deah 179:1; see Blau, 45 f., for the Talmudic material.

12. Horayot 12a; S. Ḥas. 1516; Mateh Moshe, §849; cf. Grimm, III, 445, §325, 448, §421.

13. Rokeaḥ, §221, p. 50b; Ḥochmat HaNefesh, 14a; Naḥmanides on Nu. 14:9, and Pa‘aneaḥ Raza, ad loc.; S. Ḥas. 1544; Güd. I, 206, n. 3; Kol Bo, §52; Ẓiyuni, 61d-62a; Marmorstein, MGWJ, LXXI (1927), 45; Tyrnau, Minhagim, 28b, §216; Isserles, Oraḥ Ḥayim 664; Mateh Moshe, §957; Joseph Omeẓ, 233, §1051; Yalkut Reubeni, 10d; cf. Elworthy, 78 f.; Von Negelein, AR, V (1902), 19; Digot, III, 182; Grimm, III, 436, §55; Wuttke, 221; Löwinger, MJV, XXXIV (1910), 53.

14. Ḥochmat HaNefesh, 24a; Güd. I, 206, n. 4; Ẓiyuni, 62a; S. Ḥas. 1516 and B 547; cf. Daiches, 26, 27; Grimm, III, 416; Jacob Weil (Responsa, §19,, p. 64a, §192, p. 65b) wondered why "some people recite the Vidduy ('Confession') under water" on the eve of Yom Kippur; perhaps this was connected with the divinatory act.

15. S. Ḥas. 1059 and note; Ginzberg, Legends, V, 61, n. 310; Ẓiyuni, 64c.

16. Ḥag. 15a, b; Git. 58a; Ḥul. 95b; Yore Deah 179:4 and Lebush, ad loc.; —S. Ḥas. 285;—Berliner, op. cit., 24; Güd. III, 140, n. 1; JE, III, 202; Wuttke, 144; Steinschneider, Heb. Uebersetz., 868, n. 120.

17. Thorndike, II, 266 f., IV, 190; De Givry, 249 ff., 256 ff.;—Ginsburg, 111-8; Franck, 183; Bischoff, 67 ff.;—Joel, II, 12; Güd. I, 219, n. 2; Orḥot Ẓadikim, 95b; Joseph Omeẓ, §180, p. 41; Kol Bo §41 (cf. Teshubot HaGeonim, ed. Musafia, §49).

18. Semag, I, §52; Pa‘aneaḥ Raza, 128a; Hadar Zekenim on Deut. 18: 10; Nishmat Ḥayim, III, 19; ms. Eẓ Ḥayim, 992 (581 of original); according to Grimm, III, 321, the Germans also used this device: "Losse mit schwarzen und weissen Stäbchen wurden von Slaven gebraucht"; Steinschneider, op. cit., 867 ff.; HB, VI (1863), 121-2; Cat. Munich, §235; cf. also ibid. §228,8; 294,3; 299,5; and Grimm, II, 929-30, III, 321; Güd. III, 139-40.

19. Ḥochmat HaNefesh, 30d-31a; cf. Eshkol HaKofer, by Judah Hadassi, ch. 31.

20. Thorndike, II, 110 ff.; ms. Eẓ Ḥayim, loc. cit.; Toledot Adam veḤavah, 17:5, p. 127b; cf. Albo's Ikkarim, IV, 4, and especially Husik's note, IV, 30.

21. Shimmush Tehillim, Ps. 16; Grunwald, MJV, XIX (1906), 108; Perles, Graetz Jubelschrift, 34; ms. Raziel, 21b f., 47a ff., ed. of Amsterdam 1701, 34b.

22. Joseph Omeẓ, 350; Grunwald, op. cit., 109; Perles, op. cit., 35 (cf. Gaster, Sword of Moses, 39, §65).

23. Lea, III, 422-3, 436; Thorndike, II, 168, 320, 365; Grimm, III, 432; Mélusine, II (1884), 483; Elworthy, 443 f.; Summers, 184-5; Daiches, Babylonian Oil Magic in the Talmud and in the later Jewish Literature, London 1913.

p. 308

24. San. 101a and Rashi; cf. Daiches, op. cit., 7 ff.; Rashi, Gen. 42:14.

25. Güd. I, 208-9, n. 1, and Grunwald, MGJV, V (5900), 80-81. There are some minor differences between these two readings of the text; I have left the word which Grunwald reads as "Gerte" untranslated; Güdemann could not make it out. Grunwald took it to be the German word for "rod," that is, the hazel-rod which the Germans regarded as holy and which served so often as the magician's wand. But since the text speaks of no "rod" the word is best left in its obscurity. Passages in Dr. Johann Hartlieb's book on forbidden sciences, written in 1455, are strikingly similar to the text here translated: When the reflective medium (of which Hartlieb mentions several) has been prepared, "darnach nimbt er ain rain kind, and setzt das of ainen schönen stul [elsewhere he writes, "etlich maister . . . setzen das kind in ir schoss’] . . . so stat der zaubermaister hinder im and spricht im etliche unerkante wort in die oren . . . and haisst im das rain kint die wort nachsprechen . . . so haisst er in sehen was er sech . . . darnach fragen sie den knaben, ob er icht sech ainen engel? wan der knab spricht ja, so fragen sie was varb er anhab? spricht der knab rott, so sprechen die maister ie, der engel ist zornig, and bäten aber mer . . . wan dan der tiüfel bedunkt, das er dienst genüg hab, so lasst er erscheinen den engel in weiss, so ist den der maister fro . . . so fragt er dan so lang bis er sicht puchstaben. die selben puchstaben sambent dan der maister and macht daruss wort, so lang bis er hat darnach er gefragt hat." Grimm, III, 428, 431-2; cf. also Güd. III, 530-5. It might almost seem from these selections that one is a copy of the other, or that both are derived from a common source. It is probable, however, that they are independent accounts of a rite whose details were fixed and unvarying. The versions from late Oriental, North African and Spanish Jewish mss. which Daiches (14 ff.) printed differ very little from the medieval accounts. Rashi, in the eleventh century (San. 67b), mentions that a black-handled knife is required in invoking the "princes of the thumbnail"; three mss. from Spain, Tunis and the Orient, dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries (Daiches, 54, 18, 22), do not fail to include the black-handled knife! So tenacious and unalterable were the elements of the magic act! Other references to this method of divination are to be found in: Ḥochmat HaNefesh, 16d, 18a, 20c, 28d, 29a; Ẓiyuni, 10c; Redak on Ezek. 21:26; Nishmat Ḥayim, III, 19.

26. Lev Tov, 6: 141, p. 69d; Merdecai, B. K. §227, P. 48a; Responsa of Meir of Rothenburg (ed. Budapest) §498; Tashbeẓ, §580; cf. Yore Deah 179:16. Daiches (p. 32) has suggested that the custom of looking at the nails during Habdalah, as well as other practices affecting finger-nails, may be connected with the frequent evocation of the "princes of the nail." The ceremony of looking at the nails can by no means be regarded as an act of onychomancy, as finger-nail divination is called (cf. Güd., MGWJ, LX [1956], 537). However, the late practice of enclosing the thumb within the other fingers during the course of this rite (cf. Ta‘ame HaMinhagim, I, §455, p. 53a) may have been influenced by the belief that the "princes" inhabit the thumbnail in particular, since this nail was most often used in divination, and the finger should therefore be hidden from view. A medieval ms., giving directions for throwing lots, warns that one should not hold them with the thumb, "because demons, called 'princes of the thumb,' have power over that finger" and will defeat the purpose of the lot-caster; Steinschneider, HB, VI (1863), 121; cf. Oraḥ Ḥayim 179:6.

27. Thorndike, III, 429, II, 365 and I, 239; Grimm, III, 435.

28. See the references cited at the end of note 25.

29. Blau, 53; S. Ḥas. B 1132;—Ginzberg, Legends, VI, 237; San. 65b and Rashi; Rashi on I Sam. 28: 12; Pa‘aneaḥ Raza on Lev. 19:30, p. 91b; Lev. R. ch. 26; cf. also Nishmat Ḥayim, III, 7.

p. 309

30. San. 65b; S. Ḥas. 324; N. Brüll, Jahrbücher, IX (1889), 39-40; Yereim, 90; Yore Deah, 179:14 and comment of Lebush; J. Hansen, 208; Ẓiyuni, 10c.

31. Ẓiyuni, 10d, 55a; ms. Eẓ Ḥayim, 990-1, 994 (579 f. and 582 of original); ms. Raziel, 24b f.; cf. San. 65b, which speaks of spending the night on a grave "so that a spirit of uncleanness may rest on one"; Rashi interprets this "the spirit of the grave." Myrtle, hazel and hawthorn are the woods favored in magic, and most often prescribed for the indispensable magician's staff, the divining-rod, the witches’ broomstick, etc.; cf. Summers, 121; Samter, 73 f.; A. Marmorstein, The Doctrine of Merits in Old Rabbinical Literature, London 1920, p. 18, n. 61.

32. Perles, Graetz Jubelschrift, 32-4; Grunwald, MGJV, V (1900), 79 ff.; Güd. II, 333-7; see also Perles, op. cit., 36 and Grimm, II, 813 ff. for German parallels. Prof. Ginzberg considers the only parallel in older Jewish literature to be the account of the raising of Joseph's coffin by Moses (see his Legends, III, 5 f.).

33. Perles, op. cit., 34.

34. Raziel, 6b; Grunwald, op. cit., 81.

35. JE, IX, 427 f; Graetz, History (Hebrew ed.) IV, 108; S. Ḥas. 1369, 172; see also Neubauer and Stern, 67.

36. Strack, 49; Wuttke, 209; Thorndike, IV, 404; S. Ḥas. B 5543; Nish-mat Ḥayim, III, 3; Joseph Omeẓ, 351;—S. Ḥas. 291; Gaster, Exempla of the Rabbis, §391, p. 150; G. A. Kohut, "Blood Test as Proof of Kinship in Jewish Folklore," Journal Amer. Or. Soc., XXIV (1903), 129-44; according to Franz M. Goebel (Jüdische Motive im Märchenhaften Erzählungsgut, Gleiwitz 1932, pp. 160 ff.) the legend of the blood-test in German folklore was derived from Jewish sources. The sympathy that prevails between close relations is further exemplified by the fact that when one twin is in pain, the other also suffers (Ḥochmat HaNefesh, 30c).

37. Leket Yosher, II, 50; Güd. III, 145; Berliner, Aus dem Leben, 93.

38. Scherer, 182, §20, 305 ff.; Jacobs, Jews of Angevin England, 176, 233; Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, 377; MGWJ, X (1861), 264-5; Zunz, Zur Geschichte, 573 f.

Next: Chapter XV