Breisheet III: Lillit

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According to a ninth century CE tradition, Lillit was the first woman. The origin of the Lillit material stems from two different descriptions of humans being created in Breisheet.

Genesis 1:27 states: God created man in His image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Genesis 2:7 states: Adonai God fashioned earthling from dust from the earth. Then he breathed into his nostrils a breath of life, and thus man became a living being.

The text shortly describes: Adonai God said, "It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate." So from the earth Adonai God fashioned all the wild beasts and all the birds of heaven.

But no helpmate suitable for man was found for him. So Adonai God made the man fall into a deep sleep. And while he slept, he took one of his ribs and enclosed it in flesh...(Genesis 2:18-19; 24)

There seemed to be two different women created; one from man's male/female; and one created from Adam's rib.

Very little comment was made about this in early Rabbinic tradition. The first full stories appear in Aleph-Bet d'Ben Sirach, a ninth century midrashic compilation. Once established as an image, Lillit was greatly developed in the Zohar, the 14th century Spanish kabbalistic work.

According to Aleph-Bet D'Ben Sirach, God formed Lillit from earth. Adam and Lillit were never comfortable together. She disagreed with him about many things. She refused to lie beneath him during sexual intercourse, basing her claim for equality on the fact that each had been created from earth.

Adam complained to God. Lillit, seeing that Adam would overpower her, uttered the Divine Name of God and flew away. Eventually she ended up on the shores of the Red Sea. There, she engaged in unbridled promiscuity, consorted with lascivious demons, and gave birth to hundreds of demon babies (Lillin).

The irony of the imagery of Lillit is clear; SHE never ate from the fruit; she never broke God's command; she, therefore, was immortal.

The Zohar and later works made her totally evil. Part of that development depended on a Talmud passage:

Eiruvin 18b

R. Jeremiah b. Eleazar further stated: In all those years (from the time of Abel's murder) during which Adam was under the ban (not to have sexual intercourse with Eve) he begat ghosts and male demons (Lillin!!!!) and female demons (Lilliot....),

for it is said in Scripture: And Adam lived a hundred and thirty years and begot a son in his own likeness, after his own image," from which it follows that until that time he did not beget after his own image.

An objection was raised: R. Meir said: Adam was a great righteous person. When he saw that through him death was ordained as a 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 [leaves] on his body for a hundred and thirty years.

That statement (of having sired lots of ghosts, male demons, and Lilliot...) was made in reference to the semen which he emitted accidentally.


It was only natural that one of Lillit's characteristics developed into the image that she enticed sleeping men into nocturnal emissions and intercourse with her, thus creating more Lillin and Lilliot. It happened to Adam; it would happen through eternity.

The Zohar makes Lillit so seductive that she can, in fact, seduce men while they're awake: She adorns herself with many ornaments like a despicable whore, and takes up her position at the crossroads to seduce the sons of men... Her ornaments for the seduction of the sons of men are: that her hair is long and red like the rose; her cheeks are white and red, from her ears hand six ornaments;

Egyptian ribbons and all the ornaments of the Land of the East hang from her neck.

Her mouth is set like a narrow door beautiful in its decor, her tongue is sharp like a sword, her words are smooth like oil, her lips are read like a rose and sweetened by all the sweetness in the world.

She is dressed in scarlet and adorned with forty ornaments minus one.

That fool goes astray after her and drinks from the cup of wine and fornicates with her and strays after her.

What does she then do?

She leaves him asleep on the couch, flies up to heaven, denounces him, and takes her leave and descends.

That fool wakes up and assumes he can play with her as before, but she removes her ornaments wand turns into a fearful figure. She stands before him clothed in garments of flaming fire, inspiring terror and making body and soul tremble, full of frightening eyes, in her hand a sword dripping bitter drops.

And she kills that fool and casts him into Gehenna.
(Zohar I 148a-b Sitrei Torah)

Lillit is also depicted as killing mothers during labor. She kills babies in their cribs.

To protect against her, amulets were made for pregnant women. Since Lillit hates the color red, crimson threads were tied to cribs.

Some fascinating Aramaic incantation bowls, dated to the sixth century CE, include formulae to cast Lillit out. The existence of such early anti-Lillit materials, two hundred years older than the first texts that we have about her, suggests that there was an ongoing oral tradition about Lillit long before her story was written down.

The downfall of Lillit's "reputation" from simply being the first woman who wanted equality with Adam to a seductive she-demon child-killer was a clear message about the Medieval Jewish position on women's proper behavior.

In the 1970's a Jewish feminist magazine was created called Lillith. Its purpose was to restore Lillit to aplace of honor in our consciousness. Rather than being viewed as evil, Lillit deserves to be viewed as our feminist prototype.




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