Jewish Magic and Superstition, by Joshua Trachtenberg, [], full text etext at Rabbi Joshua Trachtenberg, in his defensive yet illuminating book, writing of the age-long reputation of jews as practitioners of black magic and. From Sefer Raziel, Amsterdam, i7 JOSHUA TRACHTENBERG JEWISH MAGIC AND SUPERSTITION A Study in Folk Religion Submitted in partial fulfillment.

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Search the history of over billion web pages on the Internet. Full text of ” Jewish Magic And Superstitioj Between these supefstition extremes—which have alike doomed Jews to the unhappiest of careers—a normal people, with all the faults and virtues of humanity, has pursued its normal course through history, however abnormal were the conditions against which it struggled.

The Jewish people did not cease to live and grow when the New Testament was written. The two thousand years since have seen a steady expansion and development of its inner life. New religious concepts were advanced, the old were elaborated, and always the effort has been to make these something more than concepts, to weave them into the pattern of daily life, so that the Jew might live jewisn religion. The rabbis sought to eradicate these practices, or at least to transmute their offensive features.

But their efforts met with only indifferent success, and they were often obliged to accord the elements of this folk religion a grudging recognition and acceptance.

Everywhere the common folk has existed on an intellectual and spiritual trxchtenberg all its own, and it is only in the most recent centuries that true science and religion have made inroads into folk conceptions of the universe and brought them closer—if only a little—to what we call our modern, rationalist viewpoint. In Jewish scholarship this phase of folk religion and folk science has trachteenberg sorely neglected.

The material here presented is culled from the literature of Germanic Jewry described in the Note About the Sources —the Jewry of Germany, Northern France, England, Austria, Poland, which constituted culturally and historically a single community— tracthenberg the eleventh century through the sixteenth.

However, the yearor thereabouts, has been selected as terminus ad quem, for during the succeeding century the so-called FOREWORD xx Lurianic Kabbalahemanating from Safed, introduced a variety of new mystical elements and emphases, and also at about this time the center of Jewish life was shifting toward the east, where it came increasingly under the influence of the Slavic cultures.

Until about the North European community remained fairly homogeneous, and Germanic. It should be noted that the Talmudic period is usually considered to have closed at trachtebnerg c.

Full text of “Jewish Magic And Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion”

And it may be added that the material here presented still possesses a certain contemporaneity. The present work, I trust, will help to fill the gap in our understanding of the medieval Jew. The North produced Talmudists—and a burgeoning superstition and magic.

The people were in daily contact, and the ideas and movements that swept Europe invaded the ghetto as well. The Jews were an integral part of medieval Europe and their culture reflected, jeish in a measure it influenced, all the forces operative in the general culture of the period. Jewish superstition and magic represent another view, from a hitherto unexploited angle, of medieval Europe.

Finally, I hope that the readers of this book will find in it some little contribution to our knowledge of the history of thought—not of Jewish thought alone, but of human thought. Professor Lynn Thorndike has made an exhaustive and rewarding study of the History of Magic and Experimental Science in medieval Europe, as one aspect of the history of thought. I may express the wish that this present book be regarded as a humble appendix to his work.

I am greatly indebted to Professors Salo W. My thanks are also due to Professor Alexander Marx and the staff of the Jewish Theological Seminary Library for their ready aid in utilizing the rich collection of that institution; to Mr. Louis Margolis, who so graciously assumed the heavy burden of preparing the index; and to the members of my congregation, Brith Shalom, of Easton, Pennsylvania, who provided me with the leisure to pursue this work, and ensured its publication.

To my wife belongs my deepest gratitude; she has a greater share in this book than I can acknowledge. The Legend Of Jewish Sorcery. The Truth Behind The Legend. Rrachtenberg Powers Of Evil.

Man Ssuperstition The Demons. The Spirits Of The Dead. The Powers Of Good. The Bible In Magic. The Superstiton With The Spirits. Sefer Gematriaot On Gems. In no time and place, however, was his status—and his plight—so manifestly unique as in medieval Europe.

But these alone do not tell the whole story; jedish must admit a further element into the psychological complex which determined the attitude of Christian toward Jew—an element which today has lost its force in the composition of anti-Semitism, but which in the Middle Ages loomed very large.


The allegiance to Satan, attributed to Jews with an insistence that almost drowned out its true implication, supersstition not merely a form of invective or rhetoric. Satan was the ultimate source of magic, which operated only by his diabolic will and connivance. Christian writers make it quite clear that this is the connection to which they refer.

To cite but one instance: On that occasion a Jewish delegation bearing gifts and pledges of allegiance was driven from the palace, publicly accused of having come to cast their enchantments over the newly crowned king, and was set upon by the crowd; the outbreak spread rapidly through the city and the magi, took more than half a year to spend itself and left in its wake a trail of horrible butcheries. The striking feature ,agic the Christian apprehension of Jewish sorcery is that jeqish adhered not to certain specific Jews, who had aroused it by their actions, but rather to the entire people, en masse.

Consequently every innocent Jewish act which by its strangeness laid itself open to suspicion was considered a diabolical device for working magic against Christians.

Jewish Magic And Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion

The custom of throwing a clod of earth behind one after a funeral brought a charge of sorcery in Paris, in the early years of the thirteenth century, which might have had dire consequences if a certain Rabbi Moses b.

Yehiel had not succeeded in persuading the king of its utterly harmless character. So onerous did these recurrent accusations become that the rabbis of the Middle Ages found it necessary—forced to this step, no doubt, by Jewish public opinion—to suspend some of these customs.

But in other instances fear triumphed. The rabbis of the time were therefore unusually tolerant about violations of the prohibition to put out fires on the Sabbath and on the Day of Atonement. Jews were stoned as sorcerers. But it needs little knowledge of human nature to believe that the very vice became a virtue when Christians themselves had need of a little expert magic on the side. If Jews were magicians, their every act a charm, then their magic devices could aid as well as harm.

It would be interesting to know how effective the cure was but R. Isaac carries his anecdote no farther. The mezuzah a Biblical inscription attached to the doorpost was also an object of suspicion, and at the same time, of desire.

That it was regarded as a magical device by Christians we know, for a fifteenth-century writer admonished his readers to affix a mezuzah to their doors even when they occupied a house owned by a non-Jew, despite the fact that the landlord might accuse them of sorcery.

Yet even Christians in high places were not averse to using these magical instruments themselves. According to the popular view, demons and magic were often responsible for disease, and medicine was therefore the legitimate province of the sorcerer. But who would risk his life in the hands of an inferior Christian physician for the sake of theological doctrine when a powerful Jewish doctor-magician could be called in?

Inwhen a Jewish doctor was given permission to practice in the city of Hall, in Swabia, the clergy epitomized the medieval clerical position in a public statement: But this pious preference was reserved for whole moments; when the issue was joined the ministrations of Satan were not rejected. We know of most of them only because their names have been preserved in Christian documents, recording their services to Christian rulers and prelates, their receipt or loss of privileges, or the occasional tragic reward of their efforts.

For if the patient risked his life when he called in a Jewish doctor, that doctor also risked his when he rolled up his sleeves and set to work. If his ministrations were successful he was a magician and might expect to be treated as such, with fear and respect, and active animosity; if he failed, he was a magician, and could expect to be called upon to pay promptly for his crime.

The first Jewish physician we hear of in the West was one Zedekiah, court physician to Emperor Charles the Bald toward the end of the ninth century, magician, of course, as well as—or because? He marked the type to the end: Not alone were physicians accused of poisoning their patients, but Jews in general were considered especially adept in this art. In the Rhineland, inwe learn of Jews dealing in various drugs and salves, and since the exotic elements of the medieval pharmacopoeia were imported from the East, we may surmise that during this period such items were part of the regular stock in trade of Jewish merchants.

We hear rather often of Jewish trade in drugs, throughout the Germanic lands. But drugs and poisons were almost synonymous terms to the medieval mind—and to the equation we may add sorcery as well. The same word was used in the Greek and in the Latin language for poison and sorcery, for a drug and a philter or magical potion.

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The fact that men actually were poisoned supported the belief in the possibility of sorcery, and this belief in its turn stimulated excessive credulity in poisons which were thought to act at a distance or after a long lapse of time. For they import poisonous herbs into our realms. They know all that is known about medicine in Germany; they can give poison to a man of which he will die in an hour, or in ten or twenty years; they thoroughly understand this art. In Church councils at Breslau and Vienna forbade Christians to purchase foodstuffs from Jews, for these were likely to have been poisoned—a sample of the kind of legislation this belief occasioned.

Such charges and mass persecutions preceded, in fact, the Black Death, dating back, in France, to The role which the host, the body of Christ, played in popular superstition and magic throughout the Middle Ages was already evident as early as the fourth century; what more natural than that the Jews, magicians and enemies of Christianity, should be charged with utilizing the wafer of the Eucharist in their own diabolic schemes?

But direct attack upon the body of Jesus was apparently too simple and gross a procedure to satisfy the crafty Jews, and they frequently resorted to a more recondite method of wreaking their venom upon the Christians and their Lord. Annually, if we are to believe the reports, they would fashion from wax an image of the founder of Christianity, and by their magic art transmit through this image to its model and his followers the pangs and tortures they visited upon it.

Christians did not hesitate to impute to their Jewish neighbors frequent resort to this technique, not only, as we have seen, with respect to the body of Christ, but of their Christian contemporaries as well.

Infor example, the Jews of Treves were accused of having made a waxen image of Bishop Eberhard, which, after having it baptized by a priest whom they had bribed, they burned on a Sabbath! One of the most pervasive beliefs was in the great utility for medicinal and magical purposes of the elements of the human body.

Medieval magic is full of recipes for putting to occult use human fat, human blood, entrails, hands, fingers; medieval medicine utilized as one of its chief medicaments the blood of man, preferably blood that had been freshly drawn, or menstrual blood.

There is on record at least one accusation against a Jew, dating from the thirteenth century, of despoiling a servant girl, whom he was said to have drugged, of some flesh which he intended to put to a magical or medicinal use.

This was the motive which was believed to have prompted many assumed ritual murders. The records of the early accusations are meaningless unless viewed against the background of medieval superstition.

A modern writer who has made a careful study of Christian magic and witchcraft, and who proves himself as credulous and superstition-ridden as the period he examines, expresses exactly the medieval view, which is his as well: Magiic surprising thing is that the specific crimes of sorcery of which Jews stood accused were in the end so limited in nature.

Prior to the inception of the Inquisition in the thirteenth century, excesses attributed to sorcery had been punished by the secular authorities simply as criminal acts. When the Church undertook to stamp out sorcery it branded its practitioners as devil-worshiping anti- Christians. We need but recall the famous trial in of the Marshal Gilles de Rais, aid and associate of Joan of Arc, at which he was accused and convicted of murdering several hundred children whose blood and bodies he employed for magical purposes.

The Middle Ages inherited a tradition of Jewish sorcery from the ancient world. A host of popular magical works was attributed to Solomon and other fabled Jewish masters. Jews, consequently, remained an unknown and mysterious folk. Their very strangeness was a suspicious element, and the weirdest legends about them found ready currency among a people given to an easy credulity and the crassest superstition.

Nor did the mistrust and animosity which the entire background of medieval Christendom fostered against the Jews serve to lessen the effect of their strangeness. The accusations came in time to be part of a pattern which repeated itself ad infinitum. But if more varied charges did not enter the record, we may be certain that they existed in the mind of the people.