Rosh Hashana, Vampire Slayer

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about Friday the 13th and its correlation to Kol Nidrei evening. These Days of Awe can be filled with darkness. We can  often act like zombies in shul feeling disconnected to our liturgy. We can often feel like ark opening after ark opening, responsive reading  upon responsive reading suck the life-blood out of the service. If only there were such a concept as a Jewish vampire slayer (Does Buffy  count?!)

Last Friday I taught an early morning class entitled, “High Holiday Playbook” as we highlighted the value of Torah study on the second day  of Rosh Hashana. While covering the 4 major themes of High Holiday liturgy (Kingship, Creation, Judgment and Remembrance), our  conversation took a turn for the unusual when we somehow started talking about connections between our Jewish lunar calendar and  vampires coming out at night. To get us back on track, we looked for a connection to light.  In covering the topic of “Creation”, an obvious  theme for the birthday of the world, we came across the theme of light found in the opening section of our Shaharit morning service:

 

orolam

“Infinite light stored away in life’s treasure house; ‘Light out of darkness’ said God- it was so.” The theme of light is common to every morning service, as we make reference to a divinity that fashions light and creates all. The line above, found only on the High Holidays, reiterates this notion but focuses on “Orot M’ofel”- creating light out of darkness. As we go through these days of awe, it is comforting to know that no matter what darkness seems to envelop our lives, we can create light even in the darkest of moments. No matter how scary life is, it becomes more and more significant that the light isn’t at the end of the tunnel, but in our very own hands. We have the capacity to create a year filled with light if we mimic the actions of God in this verse- if we create the mantra and affirm it.  We will affirm to create light out of darkness, and it will be so.

Posted on September 9, 2013, in Hazzan's Monday Morning Quarterback. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Are vampires a part off Jewish belief systems/Midrash/and/or Torah?…I understand that devils and angels are…but if not, I’m confused as to why we are comparing something that may not be a part of our liturgy/belief system…

    • Hi!

      Our Rosh Hashana conversation about vampires came up because we were having a theological discussion about the different roles God plays in our lives. We talked about the different God metaphors we create for ourselves- a “clock maker” who sets the world in motion vs. a “jimmeny cricket” type of God whispering in our ear. This led to a “why do bad things happen” discussion, that led into a “evil things in the world” that led to questions about Judaism’s take on figures such as the devil (and other evil figures like vampires).

      To answer your question about Judaism and vampires, here’s a little info:

      The Hebrew word “Aluka” (literal translation is “leech”) is synonymous with vampirism or vampires, as is “Motetz Dam” (literally, “blood sucker”). Later vampire traditions appear among the European Jews of medieval Rhineland, in particular the medieval interpretation of Lilith.[32] In common with vampires, this version of Lilith was held to be able to transform herself into an animal, usually a cat, and charm her victims into believing that she is benevolent or irresistible.[32] However, she and her daughters usually strangle rather than drain victims, and in the Kabbalah, she retains many attributes found in vampires. A late 17th- or early 18th-century Kabbalah document was found in one of the Ritman library’s copies of Jean de Pauly’s translation of the Zohar. The text contains two amulets, one for male (lazakhar), the other for female (lanekevah). The invocations on the amulets mention Adam, Eve, and Lilith, Chavah Rishonah and the angels—Sanoy, Sansinoy, Smangeluf, Shmari’el, and Hasdi’el. A few lines in Yiddish are shown as dialog between the prophet Elijah and Lilith, in which she has come with a host of demons to kill the mother, take her newborn and “to drink her blood, suck her bones and eat her flesh”. She informs Elijah that she will lose power if someone uses her secret names, which she reveals at the end.
      Other Jewish stories depict vampires in a more traditional way. In “The Kiss of Death”, the daughter of the demon king Ashmodai snatches the breath of a man who has betrayed her, strongly reminiscent of a fatal kiss of a vampire. A rare story found in Sefer Hasidim #1465 tells of an old vampire named Astryiah who uses her hair to drain the blood from her victims. A similar tale from the same book describes staking a witch through the heart to ensure she does not come back from the dead to haunt her enemies.

      • Thank you Hazan! Your detailed and thoughtful reply is truly extraordinary, that I have never heard any of these stories, and I must confess, and really ask myself, WHY–they make me so very uncomfortable that these stories are a part of our history…? Vampires, devils, even angels to some extent, sound so Paganistic to me…why,why….this is Judaism?

  2. Hazzan Jesse Holzer

    Great question! Judaism was greatly influenced by the customs/religions that surrounded it- often times we did the complete opposite of other religious groups to separate ourselves, but sometimes we see remnants of other cultures living on through our own traditions and customs!

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