The encyclopedia of Jewish myth, magic and mysticism /
Geoffrey W. Dennis.
1st ed.
Woodbury, MN : Llewellyn Publications, 2007.
xv, 313 p. : ill. ; 26 cm.
0738709050, 9780738709055
More Details
Woodbury, MN : Llewellyn Publications, 2007.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. 305-313).
A Look Inside
This item was nominated for the following awards:
National Jewish Book Awards, USA, 2007 : Nominated
First Chapter
Aaron: The brother of moses and miriam, Aaron was
both a prophet and the first High Priest. In Jewish tradition,
he exemplifies the virtues of duty and peacemaking.
Alongside Moses, he performed various miraculous
deeds and signs before Pharaoh and his court. Aaron transformed
his rod into a serpent, which consumed the serpents
created by Egyptian magicians (Ex. 7). The first three
of the ten plagues (blood, frogs, and lice) were initiated
by Aaron at God's command (Ex. 7-8).
In his role as High Priest of the new sacrificial cult of
God, Aaron enjoyed supernatural protection. He survived
a trial by ordeal when his authority was challenged by
korach and his kinsmen. His status as High Priest evidently
immunized him from divine punishment (Ex. 34;
Num. 8) and he was instrumental in checking a plague
sent by God among the Israelites by performing a rite
with incense from the altar (Num. 17:1-15). According
to the Bible, Aaron died by the will of God before entering
the Land of Israel.
Rabbinic literature describes miraculous events surrounding
the death of Aaron. God placed one mountain
on top of another to mark where Aaron would be buried,
which is why the Bible calls his burial place Hor ha-Har
(“Mount Mountain”). Aaron was laid to rest on a couch in
a luminous cave on Mount Hor by angels. He was then
enveloped by a Cloud of glory and he died by the kiss
of God (Yalkut, Chukkat 764; Lev. R. 10; Mid. Teh. 83.1).
In the mystical theosophy of the sefirot, Aaron symbolizes
the emanation of Hod, divine glory. He is also one
of the ushpizin, the spiritual ancestors invited to sit in
the sukkah with the living during the holiday of sukkot.
It is interesting to note that despite the many theurgicreligious
elements in the biblical accounts of him and the
magical attributes of his rod, unlike Moses, Aaron is not
widely portrayed as a magician in non-Jewish circles.
Aaron of Baghdad: A mysterious, possibly mythical figure,
whom early medieval mystics in Western Europe credited
with bringing Jewish esoteric traditions to them from the
east.1 A number of miraculous tales about him have been
preserved in books such as sefer Yuhasin.
1. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 41, 84.
Abaddon: “Destruction.” One of the compartments of
gehenna (Masekhet Gehinnom). In the book of Job, it is
Death personified. The New Testament identifies Abaddon
as the “Angel of the Abyss” (Rev. 9:11).
Abba: “Father.” A Talmudic holy man who, although
not an ordained rabbi, has shown spiritual or healing
powers. The word is also applied in various ways to the
mystical Godhead. see partzufim; sefirot.
Abbahu, Rabbi: Talmudic Sage (ca. 3rd-4th century).
He experienced clairvoyant dreams. An avid collector of
lore, both legal and legendary, he preserved a number of
stories of how angels intervened in the life of biblical figures
(PdRE 16, 43).
Abbaye: A Talmudic Sage and folk healer. Abbaye once
tricked Rabbi Acha into exorcizing a demon from his
house of study (Shab. 66b).
Abbreviations: The use of abbreviations appears in Hebrew
writings as early as the 2nd century BCE. Variously
called notarikon, siman, or rosh tevot, abbreviations have
been widely used for the functional purpose of saving
space at a time when writing materials were costly and
scarce. But even though the origins of the practice are obviously
utilitarian, this method of writing is, in fact, a kind
of encryption. As such, abbreviations can also be a form
of esoteric communication. Over time, certain kinds of
abbreviations, such as acronyms (words formed from the
first letter or syllable of other words) and acrostics (verses
arranged so that a particular letter from each line, taken in
order, spells out a word or phrase), came to be regarded as
dynamic sources of secret knowledge and power to Jewish
mystics and to magical practitioners of all persuasions.1
Thus the name for the month preceding the High Holy
Days, Elul, is seen as an acronym for Ani L'dodi V'dodi Li
(I am my beloved's and He is mine). In another example,
BeresHIt (Gen. 1:1, “In the beginning”) is understood
to be an acronym for Bara Rakia, Eretz, Shamayim, Yam
, “He created the firmament, land, heaven, sea, and
In Kabbalah, abbreviations are sometimes called tzeruf
or letter combinations. Perhaps the most famous of
these is related to the Talmudic story (Ber. 55a) of the four
who entered Pardes (Paradise). Tradition teaches
that pardes (“orchard”) is an acronym for the four methods
of torah interpretation: Pashat, Remez, D'rash, and Sod
(plain meaning, allegoric, homiletic, and esoteric). In other
words, the living may find entry to Paradise by penetrating
into the mysteries concealed within the Torah text.
Abbreviations are also an almost universal feature on
amulets. One talismanic acronym is the word shaddai
(shin-dalet-yud) that appears on a mezuzah. The word
itself is a biblical name of god, but also stands for Shomer
Delatot Yisrael
(Guardian of the doorways of Israel). The
presence of this acronym-incantation helps give the mezuzah
its protective power. magic squares and diagrams
constructed from different kinds of abbreviations dot medieval
Jewish books on mystical knowledge, magic, and
Names of worthy figures are sometimes held to be abbreviations
of esoteric teachings. Thus the name Jacob,
YAaKoV, is actually made up of four titles of God, Yotzrecha,
Osecha, Konecha, and Borecha (your Former, your
Maker, your Owner, your Creator), revealing God's special
relationship with Jacob, and through him, his descendants.
The most notable and widespread name abbreviation
custom to this day is the various methods adopted
for writing an abbreviation for the tetragrammaton so
that it may not be pronounced and to thereby prevent
the erasure or destruction of God's written name. also
anagram; hafuch; israel; temurah; tzeruf.
1. Singer, Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 1, 39-43.
Abdiel: An angel mentioned in sefer raziel.
Abihu: The brother of Nadav. see nadav and avihu.
ABiYAh: This word is a mystical acronym for the four
worlds of emanation
: Atzilut, Beriyah, Yetzirah, and
Ablution: see immersion; mikvah; water.
Abner: The commander of Saul's army. The Philistines
were not the only ancients who employed giants. Abner
was so enormous that while he slept, David was able to
crawl beneath his crooked knees and so escape a trap Saul
had set for him (Eccl. R. 9:11; Yalkut Jer. 285; AbbS). He
was the son of the woman of endor (PdRE 33).
Abracadabra: The archetypal voce magica, magical word.
Many claim it to be of Jewish origin reading it as a kind
of fractured Aramaic, ab'ra k'dabra, meaning, “I will create
according to the word.” This is very plausible, assuming
the Aramaic syntax has undergone corruption. It is also
plausible that it is of non-Jewish origin. see hebrew alphabet;
incantations; magic.
Abraham: (Hebrew: Avraham). The progenitor of the Jewish
people, Abraham is also considered in rabbinic tradition
to be a natural philosopher, mystic, and a prophet second
only to Moses. He personifies loving-kindness, devotion,
and faithfulness.
In the Bible, Abraham not only responds to the direct
command of God to leave his homeland for Canaan, he
has several encounters with angels (Gen. 18, 22). In the
midrash, he is granted many miracles. To save him as an
infant from the wrath of evil King nimrod, he is secreted
away in a cave, where the angels feed and minister to him.
According to the text Ma'asei Avraham Avenu, God later
delivers him from a fiery martyrdom planned for him by
In several sources, he is celebrated as an astrologer (Book
of Jubilees; B.B. 16b). In one Midrash, he sees his infertility
is written in stars, but comes to learn that God has power
over even the astral influences. This then explains God's decision
to change his name from Abram to Abraham (Gen.
15), for in changing his name, God also changes his fate.
From this experience, Abraham gives up the practice of astrology
(Zohar III: 216a; Aggadat Bereshit).
The reason God commands him to circumcise himself
(Gen. 17) is that this act of self-perfection will make the
spirit of prophecy more accessible to him (PdRE 29;
Tanh., Lech Lecha 20).
In the Zohar he is credited with the knowledge to
create a golem (I: 79a), a knowledge alluded to in the
biblical text (Gen. 12:5). This tradition springs from a single
reference to him in the final chapter of sefer Yetzirah.
Because of this same reference, some mystics also regard
Abraham to be the author of that work. Abraham
also possessed a miraculous healing stone, the tzohar. After
his death, God suspended it from the sun, enhancing
the sun's healing powers (B.B. 16b).
In early Kabbalah, Abraham comes to be regarded as an
archetype, a personification of sefirotic attributes. In later
works this logic is reversed, with Abraham being treated as
a divine attribute whose dynamic function in the world is
expressed allegorically through the Abraham saga found in
the Torah. He represents the sefirah of Chesed, pure love.
(Pes. 118a; Gen. R. 38, 61; Seder Eliyahu Rabbah, 1:13;
Zohar, Bahir). see patriarchs and matriarchs; righteous,
Abraham, Apocalypse of: A 2nd-century-CE document
that contains revelations of future history and a vision of
heaven, probably of Jewish origin but also now including
Christian glosses. It exists today only in Slavic language
Abraham Azulai: Kabbalist (Moroccan, ca. 17th-18th
century). He wrote Avraham L'chesed and an influential
commentary on the Zohar. One source credits him with
performing wondrous deeds, but as there are at least three
prominent Abrahams in the Azulai family, this cannot be
Abraham ben David of Posquieres: Mystic and polemicist
(Provencal, ca. 12th century). He experienced a
visitation of elijah (Commentary on Yad ha-Chazakah).
Abraham ben Moses: Kabbalist (Egyptian, ca. 13th century).
Rabbi Abraham, a mystic influenced by Sufism, is
most notable for being the son of maimonides.
Abraham ben Simeon: Magician, alchemist, and world
traveler (German, ca. 14th century). Abraham is the author
of Cabala Mystica, “The Mysterious Tradition” (or alternately,
Segullat Melakhim, or “The Book of Sacred Magic”).
Abraham not only told tales of how he enjoyed royal patronage
from many European princes, he even claimed to
have given two popes occult advice. Much of what we
know about Abraham is in doubt--the veracity of these
stories themselves, or even whether Abraham was actually
a Jew or a Christian of Jewish parentage.1
1. Patai, The Jewish Alchemists, 271-89.
Abraham ibn Ezra: see ibn ezra, abraham.
Abraham, Testament of: The Testament is a 2nd-century-
CE apocalyptic text describing Abraham's ascent
into heaven. It appears to be a Jewish text heavily glossed
by Christian copyists. It survives only in Greek.
Abraxis: An angel mentioned in the Gnostic tradition
that appears in later Jewish amulets and in Medieval Jewish
Abu Aharon: Healer and wunder-rabbi (Italian, ca. 10th
century), he performed exorcisms, broke the spells of
witches, and combated zombies (Sefer Yuhasin).
Abu Aharon
Abulafia, Abraham: (1240-1291?). Medieval Spanish
Kabbalist, self-proclaimed prophet, and failed messiah.
Abulafia practiced and taught a sophisticated and novel
form of ecstatic (or as he called, “prophetic”) Kabbalah
that, until recent times, has not received much general attention,
no doubt due to his controversial personality and
career. In his own lifetime, his claims and unorthodox
teachings earned him condemnation from rabbinical authorities.
Fortified by belief in his own messianic identity,
Abulafia at one point sought an audience before Pope
Nicholas III in order to convert him. Not surprisingly, he
was imprisoned for spreading his “gospel.” More surprising
is that he actually survived the ordeal, outliving the
Pope in question. His teachings are enjoying a revival on
two fronts: renewed scholarly research, and the revival of
his techniques within contemporary meditative circles.1
see meditation; tzerufim; visions.
1. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 120-46; Kaplan,
Meditation and Kabbalah, 57-71. Also see Idel, The Mystical
Experience in Abraham Abulafia
Abyss: (Tehom). The name for the primordial waters that
preceded Creation and are now trapped below the crust
of the earth (Gen. 1; Gen. R. 13:13; Ps. 104). In temple
times, the ritual of the water libations was performed
to draw up these tellurian waters to help to moisten and
fructify the earth (Tan. 25b).
It can also refer to the realm of the dead, the place
where evil spirits and wicked souls dwell. In later Jewish
eschatology, it is one of the seven compartments of gehenna
(Masekhet Gehinnom). see chaos; water.
Academy on High: see yeshiva shel malah.
Acha ben Jacob: Talmudic Sage (ca. 4th century). He
was a storyteller, folk healer, and exorcist. He once defeated
a demon in the form of a seven-headed hydra (Kid. 29b;
B.B. 75b).
Acherit ha-Yamim: “The End of Days.” see judgment,
day of; eschatology; messiah.
Acrostic: see abbreviations; notarikon; hafuch; temurah;
Adam: (Adam Rishon). Adam is the first human being and
an archetype for all humanity. One Kabbalistic teaching reveals
that the word ADaM is a mystical abbreviation for the
essence of human nature: Adamah (earth), Dibur

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2008-06-01:
This concise, intriguing work by Dennis (Univ. of North Texas) covers Jewish mysticism, Jewish mythology, and Jewish magic. Alphabetically organized with cross-references, it is up-to-date, fluidly written, thoughtful, and knowledgeable. Coverage of figures associated with Jewish mysticism ranges from Gershom Scholem to Joseph Dan to Moshe Idel and Rachel Elior. As with any work on such occult and esoteric lore and legends, an evasive subject, this one is not exhaustive. The audience is Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and modern Orthodox Jews, along with non-Jews. Included are an appendix of illustrations, and a listing of abbreviations for biblical, Talmudic, Midrashic, and Kabbalistic sources. Some traditional, modern Orthodox and most Haredi Jews will shy away from, if not reject, such a work, in the belief that delving into such studies should represent the culmination of a lifetime of scholarly pursuit by those who represent the elite of the scholarly yeshiva hierarchy. Dennis, who teaches Kabbalah and Rabbinic literature, has written articles for Parabola, Healing Ministry, CCAR Journal, and other publications. This book will be a useful acquisition for all libraries collecting in this subject field, but it is not the last word on the subject--one that is perhaps beyond "borders." Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers. D.B. Levy Touro College
Appeared in Library Journal on 2007-05-15:
The first and only encyclopedia of its kind, this single-volume reference provides a fascinating elucidation of the often unfamiliar elements, ideas, and mythical figures associated with Jewish esoteric tradition that have percolated through Western mysticism. Rabbi Dennis's (Jewish studies, Univ. of North Texas) more than 1000 uncomplicated and highly engaging A-to-Z entries are accompanied by relevant Hebrew terms and range from "Aaron," Moses's brother, to "zombies." A quick reference glossary, an appendix of illustrations, and a list of abbreviations round out the book, while a seven-page bibliography provides readers with a solid course for further research. A perfect complement to Arthur Green's A Guide to the Zohar (Stanford Univ., 2003), this will become a valuable reference for religious, cultural, and Judaic studies collections. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This item was reviewed in:
Library Journal, May 2007
Choice, June 2008
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Bowker Data Service Summary
Spanning the Bible, Jewish scripture, the Midrash, Kabbalah, and other mystical branches of Judaism, this text is meant to inspire and illuminate one of the oldest esoteric traditions still alive today.
Main Description
"How are alchemy, astrology, magic, and numerology related to Jewish mysticism? The fabulous, miraculous, and mysterious are all explored in this comprehensive reference to Jewish esotericism- the first of its kind! From amulets and angels to the zodiac and zombies, the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism features over one thousand alphabetical entries. Rabbi Geoffrey W. Dennis offers a much-needed culmination of Jewish occult teachings that includes significant stories, mythical figures, practices and ritual objects. Spanning the Bible, Jewish scripture, the Midrash, Kabbalah, and other mystical branches of Judaism, this well-researched text is meant to trigger insight, spark inspiration and illuminate one of the oldest esoteric traditions still alive today."
Main Description
"This is a book of husks and sparks, of things lost and then recovered..." So begins Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis in his introduction to this one-of-a-kind encyclopedia devoted to the esoteric in Judaism-the fabulous, the miraculous, and the mysterious. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism presents "lore that can spiritually enrich the life of anyone, Jewish or not, who wishes to understand the mysteries that underlie our universe." Jewish esotericism is the oldest and most influential continuous occult tradition in the West. This comprehensive treasury of Jewish teachings and lore drawn from sources spanning Jewish scripture, Talmud, the Midrash, the Kabbalah, and other esoteric branches of Judaism, is exhaustively researched yet easy to use. It includes over one thousand alphabetical entries, from Aaron to Zohar Chadesh, with extensive cross-references to related topics. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism includes a complete bibliography and helpful sections such as a quick reference glossary of frequently used terms, notes on Hebrew usage and transliteration, an appendix of illustrations, and a list of abbreviations of traditional sources. For the first time ever, thirty-five hundred years of accumulated secret wisdom, drawn from the wells of a great spiritual tradition, is at your fingertips. "An erudite and lively compendium of Jewish magical beliefs, practices, texts, and individuals. This superb comprehensive encyclopedia belongs in every serious library."-Richard M. Golden, Professor of History and Director of the Jewish Studies Program, University of North Texas, and editor of the Encyclopedia of Witchcraft "Rabbi Dennis has performed a tremendously important service for both the scholar and the novice in composing a work of concise information about aspects of Judaism unbeknownst to most, and intriguing to all." -Rabbi Gershon Winkler, author of Magic of the Ordinary: Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism 2007 National Jewish Book Award Winner Runner-Up in the Reference Category Honorable Mention - Jewish Library Association 2007 Book Awards
Table of Contents
Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. xi
The encyclopediap. 1
Appendix of Illustrationsp. 293
Abbreviations of Citations from Traditional Textsp. 299
Quick Reference Glossary of Frequently Used Termsp. 303
Bibliographyp. 305
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.

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