GOLEMS & GEMATRIA: roleplaying Jewish characters

by Lee Gold

Many non-Jews think of Judaism as "Christianity without Christ" just as they think of the Roman gods as "Greek gods with other names." Classical scholars tell us the latter view is misleading. For instance, the Latin Venus, before the Romans identified her with the Greek Aphrodite, was a goddess of vegetable gardens and of the marketplace where women sold vegetables. "Judeo-Christianity" is a misleading umbrella term that obscures a number of significant differences between the two religions, many of them with fascinating applications to roleplaying games.

Of course, "Jew" is also an umbrella term. There has never been an official Jewish creed, and many different Jewish traditions have existed over the centuries. This article will not attempt to describe all the details of belief and practice about which Jews are accustomed to disagree, but will note some major points on which Orthodox Jews differ from other Jews.

All Jews are Clerics, not just Rabbis

Many roleplaying games divide characters into various professions. From this point of view, all Jews must be classified as clerics: "you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests...." (Exodus 19:6). [This Biblical quotation, like the ones that follow, is from the Jewish Publication Society's 1967 translation.]

Of course, in addition to being clerics, Jews may also be artisans, farmers, fighters, merchants, sages, soldiers, or other professions as well. Some Jews may even be bandits, smugglers, or thieves. In roleplaying game terms, at least 5% of a Jewish character's training and experience should go to clerical abilities.

All Jews function as clerics when they participate in home religious services: saying blessings while they light candles at the start of Sabbath or a holiday, or while they hold the spicebox at the end of Sabbath. Any Jew (any male Jew, for the Orthodox), not just a rabbi, may lead a congregation in prayer. The Bible calls on all Jews to be holy, not just rabbis (Leviticus 19:1-2).

Jewish priests at the Temple in Jerusalem were drawn from the Kohanim, descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses. Even today, at Jewish religious services, a Kohen is the first person called to read the Torah. But most Kohanim are not rabbis, and most rabbis are not Kohanim. Any Jew (any male Jew, for the Orthodox) may become a rabbi after studying enough to convince a Jew who is already a rabbi to ordain him.

The Hebrew word rabbi means "teacher," not "cleric." As a teacher, a rabbi has a duty to teach and to continue learning, particularly about the Jewish law code, which includes not just religious law but also civil and criminal law. Rabbis do not carry their law books around with them; they would weigh too much. Like other lawyers, they have a library at their office.

The rabbi's law books are the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. The Written Torah is the Five Books of Moses. The Oral Torah is the Talmud, 63 books first written down in the 3rd-5th centuries Common Era plus dozens of commentaries. The Oral Torah explains and modifies the Written Torah.

For instance, the Written Torah contains the commandment that in some cases of liability, the perpetrator must pay "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" (Exodus 21:24). The Oral Torah explains that no two people have identical organs, and it would be unfair to compensate a weak eye with a strong one, let alone to compensate a right eye with an only eye, and so the written commandment really means the perpetrator should pay the victim proper monetary compensation for the injury. Orthodox Jews believe that the laws of both the Written and Oral Torahs were given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Can Jews Be Mages?

One commonly misunderstood Biblical passage is Exodus 22:17 "You shall not tolerate a sorceress," which the King James Version rendered as "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." This error was the translators' compliment to the witch-hating King James, as was Shakespeare's play "Macbeth" with its evil witches and heroic Banquo, James' ancestor. The earliest Biblical translation rendered the key word as "poisoner" and so did the Vulgate Bible. Modern scholars think the word means a pagan herbalist who kills people magically.

In addition to this passage, there are frequent Biblical commands not to cast spells or use familiar spirits, usually in the context of forbidding the practice of pagan necromancy.

None of this seems to refer to the usual roleplaying game secular mage.

Historically, Christians claimed pagan magic was all done by demons. Jews were more apt to explain it as hocus pocus. One Talmudic rabbi wrote that Abraham had thought of practicing astrology but God told him the planets have no influence over Israel. Maimonides, one of the most respected Jewish scholars, wrote that Jews should reject astrology because it was not true. If it were true, he wrote, it would be science, and therefore acceptable. Talmudic rabbis ruled that Jews should not use unproven cures, such as wearing a fox's tooth to prevent oversleeping or insomnia, because they were superstition. Proven cures were proper to use.

In a roleplaying setting that has commonly available secular magic, some Orthodox Jews will refuse not only to cast spells but to use any magic items or to receive any benefits from spells or magic items. Most Jews will feel free to use magic but will make it clear that they are using forces that depend on God or on scientific principles rather than that they are in any way worshipping pagan gods. All Jews will avoid any magic that involves necromancy.

One Talmudic rabbi gave a charm against evil spells: "Hot excrement in broken baskets for your mouths, ye women of sorceries. May your heads grow bald." The GM will have to decide what sort of effect this "counter-spell" might have.

Miracles, Blessings and Prayers

Judaism teaches that miracles should not be taken for granted. There is a legend that God foresaw all the miracles that would ever occur, and created what was necessary for them just before the start of the first Sabbath: the big fish that swallowed Jonah, the jaw of Balaam's ass, etc.

Of course, those are the big flashy miracles. There is another class of day-to-day miracles: when sick people get well, when ignorant people learn, when living things grow, when the sun rises and sets.... One standard Jewish prayer praises God "for Your miracles that are with us every day, and for your wonders and favors in every season."

Judaism considers it rude to ask God for flashy miracles. It is forbidden to pray for something not in the course of nature, for instance, to pray for snow when it is not the season for snow. Traditional Jewish prayers do not ask for miracles. One traditional prayer for the sick is to bless God as the source of health. Another asks God to guide physicians to help their patients.

Jewish prayers are usually phrased inclusively. A Jew who is concerned about a friend who is poor, sick or bereaved will pray for all the poor, all the sick, or all the bereaved, not just for his friend.

Many roleplaying games have routine "miracles" that any cleric can learn just as any magic user can learn routine spells. All Jews will be able to learn these spells; after all, all Jews are clerics. Jews will not take these mundane "miracles" for granted. They will find time to precede the miracle by blessing God in gratitude.

Some common roleplaying game clerical spells will be of particular interest to Jewish characters. These fall into two major categories: Spells of Healing (Cure Disease, Cure Poisoning, Heal Wounds, etc.) and Spells of Protection (Banish Demons, Exorcise Ghosts, Protection from Evil, Remove Curse, etc.). Jews will avoid Spells of Necromancy (Animate Dead, Create Undead, Speak to Dead, etc.)

Many Orthodox Jews will be interested in Purify Food. This miracle will not transform their food so it all becomes kosher (see the next section), but it will separate out the part that is kosher from the rest of the food. This will make it much simpler for Orthodox Jews to share in a meal provided by a non-Orthodox Jew. Some Orthodox Jews will refuse to use Purify Food in this way unless they would otherwise be in danger of starving to death.

Tradition holds that an observant Jew says at least a hundred blessings a day, though most are only a dozen or so words long. There are blessings to say upon waking up, going to bed, washing one's hands, eating, drinking, seeing lightning, hearing thunder, seeing a rainbow, seeing the ocean, seeing trees in bloom, seeing an outstanding scholar, seeing a king, seeing a crowd of people, returning from a hazardous journey, receiving good news, receiving bad news.... Every Jewish blessing affirms that God is King of the universe.

In addition to blessings, there are two sets of formal Jewish prayers, the Sh'ma and the Shemoneh Esrei. Orthodox Jews say these prayers every evening, morning, and afternoon. Most other Jews only say these prayers on Sabbath evening and morning. The Sh'ma is the profession of faith: "Hear, O Israel! The Eternal is our God, the Eternal alone." (Deuteronomy 6:4) The Shemoneh Esrei is a set of 19 blessings; this is cut down to seven blessings on Sabbath, because one should not pray on Sabbath for worldly benefits, not even for prosperity, freedom, and good health.

In keeping with the principle that the Torah was given to live by, not to die by, all prayers and blessings must be interrupted to save human life. In fact, by Jewish law, all the commandments must be broken to save human life except for the commandments forbidding worship of idols, sexual immorality, and murder.

Diety & Deity

Jews believe that non-Jews only need to keep the seven laws God gave to Noah rather than all the 613 (!) laws that Jews have voluntarily accepted. According to the Oral Torah, the Noahic Laws enjoin establishing law courts and forbid drinking blood, incest, murder, robbery, worshipping idols, and using God's Name dishonorably. Worshipping idols is not the same as worshipping God by another name or names. Jews will debate whether the Noahic laws apply to elves, dwarves and other intelligent non-human Terrans, but will probably agree they do not apply to extraterrestrials.

Noahic Law forbids drinking blood or eating food cut from living animals (Genesis 9:4). This obviously prohibits being a vampire. Jews will debate whether it also prohibits eating futuristic vat-grown meat cultures.

Would-be converts to Judaism are traditionally discouraged by the reminder that converting will not give them a better chance at Heaven, just more laws to observe as they try to be holy. But Jews glory in the laws which set them apart from other peoples. Most Jewish blessings praise God for "having sanctified us with Your commandments."

Among the laws Orthodox Jews follow are those in the book of Leviticus which forbid eating many kinds of meat. Land animals are forbidden unless they both chew cud and have cloven hooves. Water animals are forbidden unless they have fins and scales, so shellfish like shrimp and crab are forbidden. Vultures and a number of birds are also forbidden, as are most insects. The effect of these prohibitions is to forbid eating all land carnivores and all water and air scavengers.

Cannibalism is also forbidden. Some Jews may refuse to eat any species capable of carrying on a conversation, even by means of Speak to Animals or Speak to Plants if that still leaves enough food sources for survival. Most Jews would refuse to eat a particular animal or plant they had spoken to by use of such spells.

According to the Oral Torah, a permitted land or air animal must be properly slaughtered, by a Jew who kills the animal at one blow with a sharp knife. Orthodox Jews do not eat meat taken from animals killed by a hunter or by other animals or killed by an illness. In fact, if the slaughterer finds an animal is ill, its flesh cannot be eaten. Spells are not an acceptable substitute for a sharp knife. Neither are magic weapons other than knives. In fact, Jews will probably debate whether a slaughterer may use a magic knife.

Because of the law which forbids seething a kid in its mother's milk (Exodus 23:19), Orthodox Jews do not mix milk or milk products with meat or meat products. They will not eat them at the same meal or within a few hours of one another. Orthodox Jews also will not use the same utensils or plates to prepare, store or serve milk and meat products.

Jewish characters who take these dietary laws seriously can carry their food with them when they travel. Or they can confine their diet to foods which do not count as either meat or milk: fruits, vegetables, and fish.

Food that is labeled "kosher" has been supervised by a rabbi to ensure that it conforms to Jewish law. If the rabbi makes a mistake, the Jew who unknowingly partakes of unlawful food has not committed a sin. Preserving human life overrides the laws of kosher. It is always permitted to eat non-kosher food at the order of a doctor or to keep from starving. Nevertheless, many Orthodox Jews will eat only raw fruits and vegetables and eggs in the shell if they are not sure they can trust someone else's food choice, preparation and cooking.


The most important Jewish holiday is also the most frequent, the Sabbath. It was, after all, the first holiday created and the only one God is said to have observed. It is also the only holiday mentioned in the Ten Commandments. Orthodox Jews observe it by resting from all acts of material creation, from carpentry to writing. Studying and debating are permitted.

Sabbath is ushered in at sunset Friday night by lighting candles and drinking wine. Sabbath is ushered out Saturday night with wine and the smell of sweet spices and the lighting of a braided candle with several wicks. Sabbath ends well after sunset, when it is dark enough for at least three stars to be seen or for a white thread to be indistinguishable from a black one. If the sky does not get dark at the end of a day, for instance in the polar circle or on a spaceship, then Sabbath ends 25 hours after it started.

Sabbath is a time of happiness. There are three sit-down meals with the best delicacies one can afford. For married couples, there is sexual fulfillment. Sabbath is also a time of learning. Every Sabbath morning, a passage is read from the Torah. At the end of a year, the congregation will have heard all of the Five Books of Moses.

Scholars say that Sabbath is a foretaste of Heaven. That may be why Jews do not pray for material benefits on Sabbath. Orthodox Jews do not even take medication on Sabbath, unless not taking it would endanger their health. Orthodox Jewish characters might refuse Cure spells for their wounds on Sabbath unless it was likely they would be in another fight before the Sabbath ended.

The Bible forbids kindling a fire on Sabbath. For this reason, even the Sabbath candles are traditionally lit just before sunset. Orthodox Jews will not even turn electric circuits on or off on Sabbath. Magic Fireballs are forbidden on Sabbath, except to defend oneself or others. There will be debate about whether it is forbidden to cast spells on Sabbath, particularly Light spells. Judaism encourages debate.

Orthodox Jews are forbidden to travel any significant distance outside of their home on Sabbath, unless they are inside a walled city. This prohibition includes travel by foot, by animal-drawn vehicle, by machine-propelled vehicle, and presumably also by teleportation. Orthodox Jews are forbidden to carry any burden on Sabbath except inside a building.

Jews do not do business on Sabbath. Orthodox Jews will not even handle money on Sabbath.

Orthodox Jews have a list of 39 activities forbidden on the Sabbath: sowing, ploughing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, selecting produce, grinding produce; sifting, kneading, baking; shearing wool, bleaching, carding, dyeing, spinning, warping, making 2 warp threads for weaving, weaving 2 threads, separating 2 threads in the warp, knotting, unknotting, sewing 2 stitches, tearing in order to sew 2 stitches; hunting, slaughtering, flaying, salting flesh, preparing hide, scraping hair off hide, cutting hide into pieces; writing 2 letters of the alphabet, erasing in order to write 2 letters; building, demolishing; kindling a fire, putting out a fire; hammering, transferring an object from one domain to another, or anything that seems related to any of these activities. Of course, any of these activities is permitted on the Sabbath if it is necessary to save human life.

The Jewish calendar has lunar months. Each month starts with the first glimpse of the crescent moon. Seven years out of 19, there is a leap month to keep the calendar roughly in time with the solar year. A Game Master who keeps track of the secular year for weather and of the moon phases for werewolves will not find it very difficult to keep track of the Jewish holidays. Then again, perhaps the Game Master should tell the player of a Jewish character to keep track of the calendar.

The Day of Remembrance is the first day of the seventh month. This holiday is now commonly called Rosh HaShana, the Head of the Year. The appropriate greeting is "May you be written for blessing in the Book of Life." It is traditional to eat sweet things for this holiday which marks, among other things, the anniversary of the Creation and of the Binding of Isaac when God forbade human sacrifices. The service is punctuated by the blowing of a ram's horn: as a call to wake up and examine one's soul, as the sound of contrite tears.

Rosh HaShana is followed by the eight Days of Awe. Then it is Yom Kippur, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the Day of Atonement. Judaism does not believe in Original Sin. Instead, Jews believe that a newborn baby is neither good nor evil. Each soul contains both a Good Inclination and an Evil Inclination. At any moment, one may choose which Inclination to listen to, but past choices create a habit pattern that can become very hard to overcome. Repenting evil deeds and returning to goodness brings atonement (at-onement) with God.

Ideally, repentance should immediately follow a sin. Yom Kippur functions as a yearly reminder of sins one may have overlooked or rationalized away. The appropriate greeting is "May you be sealed for blessing in the Book of Life." Adults are forbidden to eat or drink anything, to wear leather shoes, to take baths, or to have sexual fulfillment. In addition, all of the Sabbath constraints also apply on Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur starts just before sunset with the chanting of the Kol Nidre proclamation, annulling all rash oaths taken to God. Then there is a community confession of sins, listed alphabetically to indicate it is all-inclusive. The holiday ends at sunset with the blowing of the ram's horn and the proclamation of God's pardon. And as the hours and prayers go on, one becomes increasingly aware of how little hunger matters compared to thirst.

But Yom Kippur's fast is only for healthy people. Sick people do not fast if their doctor thinks it is medically unwise, or if they themselves are afraid it would be medically unwise. Even healthy people are forbidden to fast on Yom Kippur if it would weaken their resistance against an epidemic.

The first month of the Jewish year starts with the crescent moon after the Spring equinox. The festival of Passover starts on the full moon with a family gathering, the seder, in which one tells the story of the outgoing from Egypt. For the next eight days, observant Jews do not eat any leavened bread. Passover wine must not have any grain or grain alcohol in it. It is NOT especially holy.

Fifty days later comes Shevuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Ten Commandments, a festival marked by eating dairy foods.

The third festival is Sukkot, the full moon of the last month of Summer, an eight-day harvest festival during which Orthodox Jews eat and sleep inside a temporary hut.

Simhat Torah comes the day after Sukkot ends and marks the start of a new cycle of the Torah reading cycle with the last paragraphs of Deuteronomy and the first paragraphs of Genesis.

There are several other important Jewish holidays. The New Year of the Trees is the full moon of the first month that begins after the Winter Solstice; it is marked by eating fruit. Purim commemorates the events of the Book of Esther, on the last full moon before the Spring Equinox. It is marked by reading the Book of Esther, giving charity, eating cookies and drinking wine. Hanukkah celebrates a miracle that occurred when the Temple was rededicated after being profaned by the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes' Syrian troops. It is an eight day holiday which spans the dark of the moon before the Winter Solstice month. It is marked by lighting an eight-branched candelabra and eating fried foods in honor of a small bottle of oil that lasted not just one day but eight days, until there was more pure oil to burn in the Temple.

There are also a number of fasts, the most notable being Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of the month that precedes the Fall Equinox, the anniversary of the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Passover is preceded by the one-day Fast of the First-Born and Purim by the one-day Fast of Esther. Except for Yom Kippur, no fast may take place on Sabbath; instead, the fast is postponed until the next day.

Jewish law forbids fighting on holidays, except in self-defense. Jews would not take part in the typical slay and loot dungeon expedition on a holiday. Some decades ago, Israel found itself fighting a defensive war on Yom Kippur. Rabbis ruled that it was always permitted to fight defensively. Of course, fighting is hard work, and it is not good for one's health to work hard while one is fasting. The rabbis ruled that as soon as a soldier came under attack, he was permitted not just to fight back, but also to eat and drink. Observers report that Orthodox Jewish soldiers responded to enemy fire by shooting back a burst of Uzi bullets and then hurriedly opening a bottle of beer and getting out a sandwich. Morale was very high.

Religious Objects & Symbols

The Torah is the Five Books of Moses, the first part of the Bible (the other two parts of the Jewish Bible are Prophets and Writings). A Sefer Torah is a Torah scroll. It is handwritten by a scribe using specially prepared ink and parchment. The scribe says a blessing each time he sits down to write and a blessing each time he writes God's name.

The Game Master should treat a Torah scroll as a holy object, with special effects on evil spirits.

Each synagogue has one or more Torah scrolls. They are kept in a closed Ark that the congregation faces. During the course of the services, sometimes the doors of the Ark are opened. Even if the Torah scrolls are not removed from the Ark, as long as the doors are open, the congregation stands in respect for the Torah. Orthodox Jews who witness disrespect or damage to a Torah scroll will fast a day, in mourning.

A Torah scroll is usually covered with silk or velvet, and has a silver breastplate. There are usually silver ornaments on the ends of the rollers. When the Torah scroll is read during the synagogue service, the reader uses a silver hand to touch the word he is chanted. A Jew who comes near a Torah will reach out a prayer book or the end of a prayer shawl to touch the Torah, and then kiss the book or shawl.

An oath sworn on a Torah scroll is awe-inspiring. In fact, it is so awesome that many Jews will give up honorable and honest claims rather than be forced to swear such an oath to get what they are entitled to.

A mezuzah is mounted on the doorpost of a Jewish home or synagogue. It holds a piece of parchment on which a number of Torah passages have been written, with all the ritual of a Torah scroll. Jewish tradition holds that a mezuzah protects a building from evil spirits.

Traditionally, Jews cover their heads whenever they pray, as a sign of respect for God. Some Orthodox Jewish men always wear a skullcap, to remind themselves that they are always in God's presence. Wearing a skullcap also makes it easier to say a hundred or more blessings every day, as opposed to having to put on a hat each time one says a blessing.

Traditionally, Jews wear prayer shawls during religious services held in the daytime. Prayer shawls are not worn at night.

T'fillin are two small boxes containing Torah passages, written with all the ritual of a Torah scroll, and tied onto the hand and forehead. "Bind them as a sign upon your hand and let them be a symbol upon your forehead." (Deuteronomy 6:8) Orthodox Jewish men put on t'fillin when they say their weekday prayers. T'fillin are not worn on Sabbath. A few Jews believe that wearing t'fillin is a protection against not just evil spirits but being attacked by enemies.

If any of the letters on a Torah scroll, mezuzah, prayerbook or t'fillin are missing, then it is no longer fit to be used until the letters have been rewritten. But even a worn out piece of religious writing is treated with respect because it contains the Name of God. It may be stored in a synagogue's attic or buried in a graveyard. Some Orthodox Jews treat anything on which the name of God is written with the same respect. They also feel that the Name of God should only appear in religious writings. The rest of the time, they write "G-d" instead. See the section on Gematria for further discussion of the Name of God.

Solomon's Temple was built on Jerusalem's Temple Mount at God's command. It was holy, and so was the Second Temple, built on the same site after the Jews returned from the Babylonian Exile. A synagogue is not holy. A synagogue is not consecrated but merely dedicated.

Jewish law permits a building to be converted from a lower purpose to a higher one but not vice versa. Therefore, the rabbis ruled, surprising to those not familiar with Jewish values, a house of prayer can be turned into a school but a school cannot be turned into a house of prayer. But of course many synagogues are used not just for prayer but for study. That is why one complimentary term for synagogue is shul (school).

Some roleplaying game rules say that evil spirits and undead are unable to enter "consecrated ground." The Game Master may wish to follow Jewish tradition and forbid evil spirits from entering a building with a mezuzah on its doorpost or approaching the holy Torah scrolls kept in the Ark of a synagogue.

Judaism does not have a holy geometric symbol which corresponds to Christianity's Cross. Jewish holy symbols are words, in written or spoken form, like the Sh'ma or the Torah scroll.

Solomon's Seal (an interlaced five- or six-pointed star) figures in Arabian stories as a way of binding djinn and demons. Jewish folklore agrees that Solomon mastered many spirits but ascribes it to a ring he wore. Solomon lost his power over demons when he lost his ring and regained it when he found his ring again. Josephus attributed the power of Solomon's ring to a root that it had under its seal.

The Star of David, a six-pointed star, was not considered a symbol of Judaism until the 17th century. There are no folktales about its scaring off evil spirits. It is the symbol of the Royal Line of David and, nowadays, of the nation of Israel. In roleplaying terms, it is like the Star Spangled Banner, a patriotic symbol, not a religious one.


A dying Jew will try to say the Sh'ma as his last words.

A Jew's funeral should be held within three days of death. Corpses are considered unclean, and Orthodox Kohanim are forbidden to go to cemeteries or anywhere else dead bodies are found, except to attend funerals for their parents, a spouse, or children. There are enough dead bodies in a typical "dungeon" that Orthodox Kohanim would refuse to enter one.

Judaism focuses on this world, not on the World to Come. But most observant Jews agree that there is a World to Come where God's justice will be made clear. In this World to Come, people's sins will be punished and their good deeds will be rewarded. Jewish tradition has it that the typical dead soul spends up to a year in the torments of Gehenna, expiating sins, and then goes on to the joys of Heaven. Only the very worst of sinners has to stay in Gehenna more than a year.

A bereaved Jew, particularly a dead person's son, says kaddish, a prayer praising God in spite of his grief. Kaddish must be said publicly. For Orthodox Jews, that means in the presence of at least ten Jewish men. Kaddish is not said until after the funeral, and then is said at Sabbath services every week during the mourning period. By Jewish law, one mourns one month for most relatives, eleven months for a mother or father. One does not mourn for people who have gone on to Heaven, and it would be disrespectful to one's parents to assume they had to spend a full year in Gehenna.


In Judaism, Satan ("the Accuser") is not an evil fallen angel but, instead, functions as the prosecutor in the Heavenly Court. Like many over-eager prosecutors, he sometimes practices entrapment, as in the book of Job. People only familiar with Isaiah's prophecies as translated in the King James Version ("How art thou fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning?") may be surprised to learn that Lucifer ("light bringer") is the planet Venus as morning star. Isaiah addresses her to symbolize Ishtar, the patron goddess of pagan Babylon.

If the roleplaying setting has demons, Jews will probably consider them to be children of Lilith. One Jewish folktale takes "And God created man in His image...; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27) as a separate and earlier action than "And the Eternal God fashioned the rib that He had taken from the man into a woman" (Genesis 2:22). The second woman created was Eve; the first one was Lilith, pictured as a seductively beautiful woman with long black hair.

In folklore, Lilith is jealous of Eve's children. She kills babies still too young to be formally named (boys less than eight days old, girls less than 21 days old), but will be banished by an amulet with the names of three angels: Senoy, Sansenoy and Semangelof.

Lilith's only son by Adam is also her mate, Asmodeus, King of Demons. Their children are the lilim, succubae who seduce sleeping men and suck their blood. Lilith also appears in some folktales as a succubus herself. Isaiah refers to such demons as living in the ruins of a fallen Edom (Isaiah 34:14).

According to another folktale, demons are Adam and Eve's children, born during the period when the two lived separately, before the birth of Seth, the first child Adam is said to have "begotten in his likeness after his image" (Genesis 5:3).

Yet another folktale (mentioned in the Talmud) holds that demons evolve from animals. "The male hyena after seven years becomes a bat; the bat after seven years becomes a vampire; the vampire after seven years becomes a nettle; the nettle after seven years becomes a snake; the snake after seven years becomes a demon"

One Talmudic rabbi gave a recipe for seeing invisible demons. Take the after-birth of a black cat that is the offspring of a black cat and the firstborn of a firstborn. Roast it in fire and grind it into powder, and put a generous pinch into your eyes, while keeping your mouth covered. Keep the rest in an iron tube sealed with an iron signet. Another rabbi supposedly did this but became blind. He was only cured by the prayers of a congregation of sages, that is, of at least ten very learned Jews.

According to Jewish folklore, demons can be banished by reciting the 29th or 121st Psalm or simply by invoking the Divine Name. Another remedy, which also works against liars and tyrants, is for a pious rabbi to recite a certain Rosh HaShana prayer: "We are asking God to spread His fear throughout the world. Make the world fear you." Other popular verses are "I the Eternal am your healer" (Exodus 15:26) and "You need not fear the terror by night or the arrow that flies by day" (Psalms 29:5). But the most common measure is reciting the Sh'ma which, said the Talmudic rabbis, is like holding "a two-edged sword" (referring to Psalm 149:6).

There is a Jewish folktale about a rabbi who woke up one night to hear a strange noise inside his home. He immediately called out, "Thief! Scat! 'Sh'ma...'" Then, knowing he had taken care of all the possibilities (a thief, a cat, or a demon), he turned over and went back to sleep.

Another folktale tells of a merchant who was seduced by a succubus. He became so fond of her that he actually married her and drew up a will leaving his estate to their children. When he died, his children by his first wife came to the building that was his home and shop, and found the demons. They tried to banish them by saying the Sh'ma but the demons refused to leave, showing the merchant's will to prove they had a right to stay.

The human children consulted a rabbi who held a din torah (religious law court) which, like all formal Jewish proceedings requires a congregation of ten Jews (for the Orthodox, ten male Jews). The rabbi ruled that, in accordance with Isaiah, the only proper place for demons was in the wilderness. He annulled the merchant's will and gave the house to the man's human children. The demons fled away, never to return.

The Talmud rabbis ruled that it was permissible to travel on Sabbath if forcibly driven by demons. They also ruled that amulets against demons, even if they had the Divine Name, should not be rescued from a fire on the Sabbath, unlike a Torah, mezuzah, prayerbook, or other holy items.


In Jewish folklore, a dybbuk is the soul of a dead person which possesses someone who loved him and has been brooding about his loss. The typical dybbuk is a dead man's soul possessing his wife or sweetheart. The possessed person and the dybbuk communicate with one another out loud, the possessed person speaking first in her own voice and then in another voice. The possessed person loses vitality as the days go by and often dies.

A dybbuk can be banished by a din torah just like a demon.

The Hidden Saints

Judaism honors charity as one of the three ways of averting an evil destiny (the other two are prayer and repentance). Jewish tradition particularly values charity and other good deeds done in secret so that not even the people who benefit from it know the identity of their benefactor. All Jews are commanded to give charity, even beggars. It is forbidden to give so much charity as to impoverish oneself and one's family.

In Jewish folklore, there are thirty-six (lamed-vav) hidden saints (tzaddikim nistor), pious Jews who humbly fulfill all the commandments. No one can tell who they are; any inconspicuous Jew just might be a lamed-vavnik. They only disclose their identities in emergencies. Then they reveal themselves and use their magic powers in God's name to rescue the innocent and defeat arrogant villains. Afterwards they disappear and go somewhere else where, again, they live in hiding.

Elijah the Prophet also figures in Jewish folklore as a hidden holy man. His prophetic mission did not end in death. Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind which appeared as a fiery chariot with fiery horses (Kings II 2). Malachi, the last of the Prophets, ended by saying: "I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the Eternal. He shall reconcile fathers with sons and sons with their fathers...."

The generation gap is proof that Elijah has not yet openly returned. Jewish legend says that when he does, he will also settle all debatable issues of Jewish law. One of these is whether the Passover seder should involve drinking four or five cups of wine. Did God make four or five promises to rescue the Jews from Egypt? Until Elijah returns, Jews drink four cups at the Passover seder, and put out a fifth cup for Elijah, just in case.

Meanwhile, Elijah wanders about the world in disguise, usually as a poor laborer. Sometimes he will disclose his identity and allow a pious Jew to come with him on his travels, but only on condition that he is not asked any questions. On such journeys, Elijah is apt to do strange and puzzling things, like causing a poor but hospitable man's barn to burn down, so that a treasure will be discovered beneath it. Elijah is, of course, an expert on Jewish law. Some Talmudic rabbis are said to have studied the Torah with Elijah.

Kabala (literally "tradition")

Kabala is a mystic tradition that attempts to understand not just the literal meaning of the Bible but also all its hidden meanings. One Kabalist wrote that the Torah is like a house with many, many rooms, each with a key in front of it. The problem is that it is not the key for that door. Another wrote, "The various sections of the Torah were not given in their correct order. For if they had been given in their correct order, anyone who read them would be able to perform miracles."

Kabalists find hidden meanings in all religious actions. Folktales warn of the danger of being around a Kabalist not just when he is working miracles but even when he is saying the standard Jewish prayers. One folktale tells of a man who hid under a Kabalist's bed to hear him pray, hoping to find out his arcane secrets. As the Kabalist prayed, the room got brighter and the air got thinner. The man cried out just before he fainted, and the Kabalist stopped praying. "If I had not stopped praying, you would have died," he told the eavesdropper. Another story tells of a congregation who ran out of the synagogue in fear when a Kabalist said the standard prayer from the Shemoneh Esrei: "Who is like You, O Master of mighty deeds, and who is comparable to You, O King Who causes death and restores life....?"

Jewish tradition warns that studying Kabala is dangerous. The rabbis forbade Kabala except for men who have mastered both Torah and Talmud, are married, over forty years old, and in good health. One tale says that four brilliant, learned and pious rabbis all attempted to learn Kabala. One died, one went insane, and one became a heretic. Only one of them "came in peace and went in peace."

Kabalists are ascetics. They purify themselves for their mystic contact with God by denying themselves food, sleep, and warmth. Sometimes they spend hours ritually immersing themselves in the pure flowing water of a river, lake or the ocean, or perhaps standing motionless in a snowbank. They may also spend hours chanting the Psalms or just reciting the letters of the alphabet in intricate combinations. They study mystical books, including the Sefer Yetsirah (The Book of Creation), the Sefer Hab-Bahir (The Luminous Book), and the Zohar (Splendor).

Using even the simplest Kabalistic power is fraught with danger. Any mistake, not just a mispronunciation but even a failure to keep the right thought in mind, will lead to immediate death, insanity or demonic possession that only a stronger Kabalist can overcome. A few stories tell of Kabalists who managed to save themselves after a mistake by meditating for a full night and day, not letting themselves be distracted by sleep, hunger, or curiosity about what was making those odd noises behind them. Other stories warn that a Kabalist who lost his humility and became proud of his abilities was also likely to die, become insane, or become the prey of a demon.

The Game Master should probably limit Kabalism to rare non-player characters who only drop cryptic hints about their beliefs and powers.

Kabalists will disdain the standard clerical "miracles" available to all Jews. Instead, they will use their esoteric lore to work wonders, arcane effects that do not appear in the game rules. Some wonders are common enough in folktales that the Game Master should make them available to all Kabalists.

Healing: One Kabalist wrote: "A man has 248 body parts and 365 veins, corresponding to the 248 positive and 365 negative commandments. I urge a sick person's soul to accept repentance. When it does so, all his body parts and veins are repaired, and I can cure him."

Folktales record many different ways of Kabalistic healing. One Kabalist healed a cripple by yelling at him to get up. Another Kabalist told a man to go home. On the way, the man ran into a traveling doctor who knew the cure for his disease. A third Kabalist cured a dying man by chasing away the Angel of Death. A fourth told a man to buy medicine, fill a teaspoon with it, and pour it out into the sink. A fifth Kabalists merely read aloud from a book. After a few minutes, the patient could no longer hear the Kabalist's voice or see his face, only frightening thunderclaps and flashes of lightning.

Seeing Demons and Angels: If the Kabalist touches anyone else, the other person will also be able to see them, and will become panic-stricken.

"The Charm of Swift Traveling": This allowed traveling hundreds of miles in only a few minutes but, of course, only on weekdays, never on Sabbath. One storyteller noted that a passenger did not see the scenery. "You are just there in a flash."

Cryptic Advice: A Kabalist who felt friendly might give someone a piece of apparently meaningless advice that would later turn out to be useful. One Kabalist asked three hundred gold pieces for each of the following sentences: If you come to a crossroads, turn to the right. An old man and a young girl is half a death. Do not believe what you do not see with your own eyes.

In addition to these common abilities, each Kabalist might have one or more of the following powers.

Finding the Lost: Kabalists could trace missing people who had gotten lost, been kidnapped, or run away from home or work. One Kabalist told his followers that he could see missing people by means of the light which God created on the First Day of Creation. "God hid this light for the righteous. Where did He hide it? In the Torah."

Defeating Bureaucrats: There are many stories from Czarist Russia about Kabalists who saved young men from the draft, because once in the army they would not be permitted to follow Jewish law. One Kabalist wrote a medical opinion, and the government doctor used those very words to reject the draftee. Another Kabalist arranged for the bureaucrats to lose all the draftee's files. A third Kabalist sent Elijah the Prophet to rescue a draftee.

Learning the Truth: One Kabalist glared at a slanderer and the woman became mute. Another Kabalist looked at a liar, and the man saw the Kabalist holding a drawn sword and saying, "If you do not confess at once, I will run you through." A third Kabalist discovered a person's past crimes by taking the man's pulse.

Overcoming Distance: One Kabalist told his disciples, "When I get up in the morning, I can see what my people are doing or thinking at home." Many Kabalists were able to "overhear" conversations in distant towns.

One story tells of a Kabalist who went to his well and pulled on the rope. Up came not the well bucket but a golden bed. On it lay a sleeping tyrant who had just issued an order to persecute Jews. The Kabalist drew a sword and told the tyrant that he would kill him if he did not withdraw his order. The terrified tyrant promised that he would, and the Kabalist lowered him back into the well again. The order was withdrawn immediately.

Immobilizing a Attacker: A man who attacked one Kabalist found that his axe flew out of his hands. Another attacker found that he could not draw his sword from its scabbard. Several others found themselves unable to move hand or foot till the Kabalist had gone away.

Invisibility: This rare ability allowed Kabalists to escape attack. It was not used to sneak past defenders and attack someone else.

Kabalists use an esoteric symbolism that requires years of study to comprehend. The Zohar gives an example of how two rabbis were confused by a Kabalist's riddles. "All the time I was on my way here, I had to suffer the annoying chatter of the old man who drove the donkey. He bothered me with every kind of foolish question: for example, What serpent flies in the air with an ant lying quietly between its teeth? What commences in union and ends up in separation? What eagle has its nest in a tree that does not exist and its young plundered by creatures not yet created, in a place which is not? What are they who descend when they ascend, and ascend when they descend? What is it of which two are one and one is three? Who is the beautiful virgin who has no eyes?"

Gematria (Numerology)

The 22 Hebrew letters are all also numbers (see table below). This means that every Hebrew word has not only a meaning but a numerical value. All Kabalists were experts in Gematria. They studied the Torah using the hidden meanings concealed in the numerical values of words.

Some Kabalists were able to predict or change a person's destiny by studying or changing their name (to dispel a curse). A person in imminent danger of death was often given the new name of Chaim (Life).

Many Kabalist mystics used Gematria to try to understand the Name of God. Some meditated on the Tetragrammaton, the four letter Name written Yod-Hay-Vav-Hay. This Name has been transliterated into our Roman letters as "Jehovah" and, more recently, as "Yahweh." But we have no way of knowing which of these letters are functioning as consonants and which as vowels. I'eh'uah or Yahu'oh are also possible pronunciations. The usual English translation of the Tetragrammaton is "Lord." This is actually a translation of Adonai (my lord), the traditional Jewish way of reading this Name aloud. Jewish law forbade pronouncing the Tetragrammaton in public except by the High Priest during the Yom Kippur services, and then it was drowned out by music. Jewish scholars note that God uses this Name when interacting with people under the aspect of Loving Kindness, as when making promises or contracts.

Some Kabalists tried to learn more complex Names of God. There are cryptic references in Kabalistic writings to Names of God that are 12, 42 and even 72 letters long.

One wonder-working Kabalist was known as the Baal Shem Tov ("the Master of the Good Name"). His followers are the Chassids ("the faithful"), a subgroup of Orthodox Jews. There are dozens of stories about the miracles he performed, collected in a book titled In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov.

One of the most commonly known instances of Gematria is that the word Chai (Life) is composed of the letters Het and Yod which add up to 18. Many Jews give charity in multiples of 18 in the hope that it will bring them long life.

Another aspect of Gematria is the s'firot (literally "counting"). Originally, this seems to have been an esoteric decimal system, beginning with zero, the infinite or nothing. Kabalists identified the ten numbers with aspects of God: Infinity, Wisdom, Understanding, Greatness, Strength, Glory, Victory, Majesty, Justice and Sovereignty. The most easily reached of these aspects is Sovereignty, identified with the Shechinah (literally "Dwelling"), the Presence of Loving Kindness which is everywhere but especially in every Jewish home on Sabbath.

One familiar Jewish image is that the Torah (like wisdom, Proverbs 3:18) is a "Tree of Life." Kabalists identify the Written and Oral Torah with the Trees of Life and of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. They draw the s'firot as the branches of the Tree of Life.

Gematria Values for Hebrew Letters

[You can get pictures of the letters from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_alphabet#Alphabet]

Note: h represents a guttural H, like the sound at the end of Scots "loch" or German "auch".







any vowel




B or V
















V or O or U








guttural H








Y or I



כ or ך

K or guttural H







מ or ם




נ or ן









any vowel



פ or ף

P or F



צ or ץ













SH or S




T or S


The Golem (unformed)

The word golem occurs only once in the Bible, in Psalm 139 which tradition attributes to Adam: "Your eyes saw my unformed limbs." One scholar wrote that God's creation of Adam took seven hours: 1) the dirt was collected; 2) his form was molded; 3) he became a golem, an unformed mass; 4) his limbs were stretched out; 5) his apertures were opened; 6) he received his soul; 7) he stood up on his feet.

Jewish folklore said that exceptionally learned Kabalists were able to create a golem of a human being or animal. They could not give the golem a soul but were able to animate it by writing Emet (Truth) on its forehead. It was transformed back to dirt again by wiping off the first letter (Aleph, the vowel carrier), changing the word to Met (Dead).

It takes at least two Kabalists to create a golem. One story describes how a rabbi and his students piled up a mass of dirt and molded it into the form of a man. Then each of them circled the mass repeating Kabalistic formulae. First the golem glowed with fire, then it emanated steam; finally it became animate.

A golem is tireless and much stronger than any human being, but it cannot reason. It can understand the language of its creators, but it cannot speak. It will obey simple orders but without any common sense. Once given a task, it will not stop until the task is finished. There is one story about a rabbi whose wife found a golem and told it to sweep out the house. It took the broom and swept the house, sweeping out all the dirt, all the people, all the furniture. Finally the rabbi came home and wiped the Name off its forehead, causing it to stop. A golem is very much like the creation of the Sorcerer's Apprentice.

In another story, the 16th century Rabbi Yehuda Loew of Prague is said to have created a golem to patrol the Jewish community and keep it safe from anti-Semites. When the king promised to keep Jews safe from all danger, the rabbi and his disciples took the golem to the synagogue's attic where old prayer books and other writings with the Name of God are kept, safe from profanation. They circled it counterclockwise, repeating Kabalistic formulae. When they had finished, the golem was a mass of unformed dirt again. They covered it up with old books and left it there in the attic, then washed their hands and said prayers of purification as if they had been handling a corpse.

Several stories say that golems are small and weak when they are first created but get bigger and stronger every day thereafter. They should be destroyed every Friday afternoon, or they will become so mighty that they will imperil the entire world. This also allows them to rest on Sabbath, since golems never sleep. One story tells of a golem who grew so large that the Kabalist had to order him to bend over so he could reach his forehead. When the golem became dirt again, the landslide of dirt killed the Kabalist.

One Kabalist wrote of creating golems: "One should study these things only in order to know the power and omnipotence of the Creator of this world." Creating a golem out of pride was a sure way to draw the attention of demons.