Vanguard News Network
VNN Media
VNN Digital Library
VNN Reader Mail
VNN Broadcasts

Old June 18th, 2016 #1
Karl Radl
The Epitome of Evil
Karl Radl's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: The Unseen University of New York
Posts: 3,130
Karl Radl
Default The Importance of Ritual Purity in the Sepher Ha-Razim

The Importance of Ritual Purity in the Sepher Ha-Razim

The Sepher Ha-Razim, or alternatively Sefer Ha-Razim, is a jewish book of magic which was successfully reconstructed from a large assortment of textual fragments by Mordecai Margalioth in 1963. (1)

It likely dates from the Talmudic era or even earlier. (2) Bohak and Schwarz assert that was composed no later than the 7th century AD (3) on the basis of its use of otherwise unknown pagan prayers from Greece (from whence some of its names for the angels it mentions derive as well as invoking pagan gods of the Greek pantheon) (4) and the text has little recourse to rabbinic material of any kind. (5)

It is also mentioned by the Geonim and the Karaites so therefore it has to have existed (and been an established text) by the first millennium AD. (6) That said the Sepher Ha-Razim is no work of some isolated jewish quack, but rather the 'thoughtful composition of a well-educated Jewish author.' (7)

Bohak asserts that the Sepher Ha-Razim probably 'wasn't wide used', (8) because of the prescriptions found in the work are distinctly pagan (9) and not in keeping with the puritanical nature of rabbinical Judaism.

However Bohak contradicts his own argument when he asserts that textual fragments of many different and distinct copies have been discovered. (10) This suggests exactly the opposite of what Bohak argues is case. Since if the Sepher Ha-Razim was not widely used. Then there would be few fragments of the work remaining to us, or maybe one complete copy, as opposed to the many fragments of numerous copies that have come down to us.

Having established this we should note that the purpose of the author in writing the Sepher Ha-Razim was to inform their reader(s) how to bend and enslave spirits and demons to an individual jew's will. (11) These spirits and demons are explicitly then to be used to enact good or evil and do whatever they are ordered to if the ritual is completely successful. (12) This explicitly includes the manipulation of non-jewish rulers and people to the material and political advantage of the jewish individual concerned. (13)

Much as with Judaism itself and its origins: there is an obsession with ritual purity that manifests itself in the pages of the Sepher Ha-Razim. (14) Those seeking to undertake the rituals described in its pages must abstain from all carnality (i.e. sex), (15) meat (16) and wine (17) before doing so.

In addition in order to maintain their ritual purity: the individual jew undertaking these magical rites cannot go near a menstruating woman lest they contract her ritual impurity (i.e. Niddah). (18) This goes as far as not being able to touch any woman's bed either just in case one contracts ritual impurity through touch. (19)

The oddest of these requirements in regarded to ritual purity is the injunction to avoid any man particularly a jewish one who masturbates. Masturbation is explicitly compared to leprosy in its ability to ritually pollute and habit of spreading from one individual to another by the author of the Sepher Ha-Razim. (20)

This rabbinic view, as Borowitz notes, (21) is derived from the belief that having a penis means that an individual jew is peculiarly subject to sexual temptation when compared to an individual jewess (this distinction does not apply to non-jews who are all regarded as sexually ravenous and malicious). Hence the very strict ritual purity laws foisted on women by Judaism in general (22) in order to prevent any sexual infractions by the construction of 'otherness' in regard to undesirable behaviours/activities. (23)

Therefore we can see from this short summary that the heavy emphasis on ritual purity found in the Sepher Ha-Razim is characteristic of rabbinic culture. This also lends further support to Bohak's assertion that the jewish author was both well-read and thoughtful.


(1) Michael Morgan, 1983, 'Sepher Ha-Razim: The Book of Mysteries', 1st Edition, Scholars Press: Chico, p. 1
(2) Ibid.
(3) Gideon Bohak, 2009, 'Ancient Jewish Magic: A History', 1st Edition, Cambridge University Press: New York, p. 174; Seth Schwarz, 2007, 'The Political Geography of Rabbinic Texts' p. 88 in Charlotte Eishheva Fonrobert, Martin Jaffee (Eds.), 2007, 'The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature', 1st Edition, Cambridge University Press: New York
(4) Bohak, Op. Cit., pp. 252; 254
(5) Ibid, p. 340; Morgan, Op. Cit., p. 9
(6) Bohak, Op. Cit., p. 175
(7) Ibid, pp. 172-173
(8) Ibid, p.174
(9) Ibid, pp. 174-175
(10) Ibid, pp. 170-171; 175
(11) Morgan, Op. Cit., pp. 18-19
(12) Ibid, p. 22
(13) Ibid, p. 18
(14) Cf. Daniel Boyarin, 1993, 'Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture', 1st Edition, University of California Press: Berkeley; also Morgan, Op. Cit., pp. 18; 28
(15) Ibid, pp. 24; 46
(16) Ibid, pp. 41; 43; 46
(17) Ibid, p. 46
(18) Ibid, p. 43
(19) Ibid, p. 57
(20) Ibid, p. 44
(21) Eugene Borowitz, 2006, 'The Talmud's Theological Language-Game: A Philosophical Discourse Analysis', 1st Edition, State University of New York Press: Albany, p. 61
(22) Yaakov Ellman, 2007, 'Middle Persian Culture and Babylonian Sages', pp. 180-181 in Fonrobert, Jaffee, Op. Cit.
(23) Cf. Shaye Cohen, 1999, 'The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties', 1st Edition, University of California Press: Berkeley; David Freidenreich, 2011, 'Foreigners and their Food: Constructing Otherness in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Law', 1st Edition, University of California Press; Berkeley, pp. 17-28


This was originally published at the following address: https://www.semiticcontroversies.blo...purity-in.html


Display Modes

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 11:11 AM.
Page generated in 0.07192 seconds.