Religion & Beliefs

Who the Hell Was Lilith?

We've all heard of Lilith, but really… who was she?  My vague memories from a women's studies course suggest that she appears in the Torah, but elsewhere as well.  That she's an archetype from our Jewish tradition, but also mythologies beyond … Read More

By / May 8, 2007

We've all heard of Lilith, but really… who was she? 

My vague memories from a women's studies course suggest that she appears in the Torah, but elsewhere as well.  That she's an archetype from our Jewish tradition, but also mythologies beyond our own…  that she was Adam's first wife or something.  That her story is basically a defense of unequal treatment of Jewish women.

But a cursory search online tells me that she is NOT named anywhere in the Torah.  Though she does turn up in the Dead Sea Scrolls:

"And I, the Instructor, proclaim His glorious splendour so as to frighten and to te[rrify] all the spirits of the destroying angels, spirits of the bastards, demons, Lilith, howlers, and [desert dwellers…] and those which fall upon men without warning to lead them astray from a spirit of understanding…"

Okay, so she's keeping nasty company… But the Talmud gives us a lot more, offering a portrait of a winged demon with long hair, a sexual predator:

"Rab Judah citing Samuel ruled: If an abortion had the likeness of Lilith its mother is unclean by reason of the birth, for it is a child but it has wings." (Niddah 24b)

"[Expounding upon the curses of womanhood] In a Baraitha it was taught: She grows long hair like Lilith, sits when making water like a beast, and serves as a bolster for her husband." (‘Erubin 100b)

"R. Hanina said: One may not sleep in a house alone [in a lonely house], and whoever sleeps in a house alone is seized by Lilith." (Shabbath 151b)

"R. Jeremiah b. Eleazar further stated: In all those years [130 years after his expulsion from the Garden of Eden] during which Adam was under the ban he begot ghosts and male demons and female demons [or night demons], for it is said in Scripture, And Adam lived a hundred and thirty years and begot a son in own likeness, after his own image, from which it follows that until that time he did not beget after his own image…When he saw that through him death was ordained as punishment he spent a hundred and thirty years in fasting, severed connection with his wife for a hundred and thirty years, and wore clothes of fig on his body for a hundred and thirty years. – That statement [of R. Jeremiah] was made in reference to the semen which he emitted accidentally." (‘Erubin 18b)

Comparing ‘Erubin 18b and Shabbath 151b with the later passage from the Zohar: “She wanders about at night, vexing the sons of men and causing them to defile themselves (19b),” it appears clear that this Talmudic passage indicates such an averse union between Adam and Lilith.

It would seem that the stories of Lilith as Adam's first wife develop later, and turn this demon-creature into a Jewess of sorts.  As the story goes, Lilith refused to settle for "doing it" missionary style, and so Adam had to find himself a new wife.  As far as I can tell, this version doesn't come around until about 1000 CE, and it is taken from the Alphabet of Ben Sira:

He then created a woman for Adam, from the earth, as He had created Adam himself, and called her Lilith. Adam and Lilith immediately began to fight. She said, 'I will not lie below,' and he said, 'I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while I am to be the superior one.' Lilith responded, 'We are equal to each other inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.' But they would not listen to one another. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced the Ineffable Name and flew away into the air.

Ah, yeah… see…  THAT's the Lilith I remember.  Too bad she comes from what basically amounts to medieval porn.