Friday, April 30, 2004

A bit of elaboration on my post below which goes through all references to Seirim in Tanach. Let me explain what I was trying to accomplish, and what it has to do with all the animal pictures.

The pasuk in Vayikra refers to a bad practice some ancient Israelites had of sacrificing to Seirim, which seem to be satyrs or demons.

But what is the Jewish perspective on demons? Do they exist?

It seems to me we can divide the question into 3 parts:

1) What did some ancient Israelites believe?
2) What is the perspective in Torah, Neviim, Ketuvim?
3) What is the perspective of Chazal?

In general, the Jewish perspective is that other gods do not exist, only Hashem. However, just because something is idolatry does not guarantee that Jewish thought denies the existence of said entity.

Consider the case where someone worships a sheep, or a dog. No one would deny the dog, or sheep, exists, but we may deny that the dog or sheep is divine.

Similarly, we might say that demons or satyrs exist even if they are not divine.

1) The few mistaken ancient Israelites who worshipped Seirim obviously felt that the Seirim had some power, such that they brought sacrifices to them. Thus they certainly believed in the existence of Seirim.

2) The Torah gives the law to prevent people from bringing sacrifices to Seirim. That does not mean that the Torah acknowledges their existence - just that some people thought they existed and worshipped them.

The verse in Melachim Bet, even if it refers to Seirim, did not show a belief of the Navi in the existence of Seirim.

The verses in Yeshayahu might refer to Seirim, meaning demons/satyrs. These are things that dance in desolate places, and the context in one verse has one Lilith calling to another, and Lilith is taken to be a type of demon. This might mean that the Navi believes in the existence of these demons, if he can talk about them doing things. On the other hand, he might be using them metaphorically, in trying to paint a picture of desolation, and satyrs frequent desolate places, and so this does not mean the Navi beleives in demons even if Seirim means demons.

The point of all the pictures was that the context in Yeshayahu is the description of a desolate place with a bunch of wild animals which frequent such places. Thus I provided pics of each type of animal.

Seirim literally means goats, and the satyr meaning is an extension of that primary meaning. So there is no cause to assume it means demons, given the context of all the other wild animals there. In which case the Navi does not show that Biblical Judaism believed in demons.

In terms of the context Lilith in one verse, Lilith comes from the same root as Layla, night, which is appropriate to describe a demon. But we do not know that the Lilith calling to the other Lilith is a demon. Just as we have problems identifying many Biblical creatures, this might also be some actual animal, which is nocturnal, and is thus called Lilith, from night.

3) In terms of Chazal's perspective, they assume in many places that demons (Shedim) exist, and in the Midrash Rabba for Acharei Mot cite on of the psukim in Yeshaya to explain that Seirim are demons. This means that they think demons exist which have various magical powers, but not that one should worship them nor that they are divine in some way.

Rishonim and Acharonim have different perspectives about the existence of demons, but I do not want to get into that here.

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