לשאלת העיצוב הז'אנרי של סיפורי שדים

Translated title of the contribution: The Woman Demon in Jewish Customs and Folktales

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This paper examines a recurrent theme in Jewish customs and folktales: the woman demon and her relationship to the human male. The literary generic traits of this theme as well as its social function are discussed. In a correlation of generic definitions and theme, demons would seem an appropriate subject for legends. Meant to reinforce social values and encourage man to conform with normative moral rules, the legend appears to lend itself readily to the use of demons. They can serve a moralistic function: if you abide by accepted norms, the demons will not hurt you, and the reverse. The demonic system, which is the reverse of the human system, can be exploited to drive home moralistic interpretations of reality, for which the legend presumably is a suitable genre. But neither the legend nor the memorat are appropriate vehicles in which to use demons for teaching a moral lesson. The only literary genre that owes no obligation to reality is the fairytale. When the storyteller opens with the formula 'Once upon a time,' the listener knows that there is no 'once' and no 'time': the formula detaches the story from reality. Hence the fairytale is more suited to the use of demons for a moral lesson. Divorced from reality, the fairytale can build a coherent independent reality of its own; if it so desires, it can choose the moral lesson. Our conclusion, therefore is, that the fairytale and not the legend can be used to express a 'social charter' outlining norms and values. The paper exemplifies this contention as reflected in one motif of the demonic theme that is very popular in Jewish and international folklore: the marriage of a man to a demon woman. The sample of stories from the Middle Ages until today from the West and the East includes two stories from the tenth to thirteenth centuries; one is the Story of the Jerusalemite (three versions), the other a Hasidic-Ashkenazic tale. Two other stories are from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, one about Ha-Ari, founder of the Lurianic Kabbalah (of Safed), the other from the book Kav ha-Yashar. And two are recently recorded stories from the oral tradition. From a social-psychological standpoint, these stories are apparently regarded as true accounts. Through the centuries they have enabled a man living in a traditional society, often married to a woman not of his choosing, to fulfill his fantasies of living with two women and having, in addition to his wife, a beautiful sexually active and indulgent woman, one who will stop at nothing, including killing her human rival, to have him. By the same token, in a society where bachelorhood was considered unacceptable, a demon woman who would not release him provided a convenient excuse for a man who did not want to marry, possibly because of homosexual tendencies or excessive attachment to his mother, as implied in the Moroccan story. Paradoxically, these fantasies (considered as truth) might have functioned to help maintain the traditional framework of marriage.

Translated title of the contributionThe Woman Demon in Jewish Customs and Folktales
Original languageEnglish GB
Pages (from-to)203-219
Number of pages17
Journalדפים למחקר בספרות
Volume8
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1992

Keywords

  • folk literature
  • folk narrative
  • folk tale
  • Jews
  • women
  • demon

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