Chapter 2. The Beast Within. European Motif of Lycanthropy on Jewish Soil.
Lycanthropy (werewolfery) is a universal and a very common motif in folklore (D 113.1, D 110 in Motif-Index of Folk-Literature by Stith Thompson), known and recorded across the board. Jewish folklore is no exception. The idea of a human assuming the appearance of a wolf is originally a foreign, but eagerly accepted and well assimilated notion, which bears witness to the close cultural relations between medieval Jews and their Gentile (German and French) neighbours. The belief in werewolves is by no means the only borrowed element from non-Jewish cultural environment: Trachtenberg names and examines a few. Most of these, however, appertain to demonology proper and therefore can not be discussed within the present study. At the same time, werewolf in Jewish folklore stands, so to say, with one foot in demonology and the other in cryptozoology: while perceived as unequivocally demonic by nature in the environment it is indigenous to, its status is not as clear-cut in Jewish folklore that adopted it.
If lycanthropy is a foreign idea, the concept of shape-shifting is certainly not. In the 16th century collection of moralistic narratives מעשה-בוך (The Book of Stories) we find this idea traced as far back as the dawn of humanity. In the storyרבי חנינא און דער פראש (R. Hanina and the Frog) the mysterious frog, whom R. Hanina acquires and takes care of according to his father’s will, explains to the rabbi:
איך בין אדם הרשאונס זון, וואס ער האט מיך געהאט מיט ליליתן אין יענע הונדערט און דרייסיק יאר, ווען ער האט זיך פרוש געווען פון הווהן. גאט ברוך-הוא האט מיך געגעבן רשות צו בייטן מיין געשטאלט און מיין איוסזען נאך מיין רצון (ז' 233).
I am the son of Adam, who begot me by Lilith, ( Read more...Collapse )