When I converted to Judaism it wasn’t long before I started exploring witchcraft. In fact, I had dabbled in witchcraft and the occult here and there as a teen in the 90s. It didn’t last then. I was in a devoutly Christian family at the time, and fear of hellfire and damnation was very real and very scary. So while I left it all behind in practice, the soul desire was still there in my heart.
So, fastforward to my late 30s. I’m a brand new Jew at the time, and the fact that Judaism encourages questioning and study, I delved back into witchcraft. This time it stuck. Here I am, several years later, with a business that caters to witches of all kinds- namely the non-traditional (aka- religious) witch.
So what does all of that have to do with Judaism? A lot, actually. The thing is, most people assume that witchcraft and Wicca are synonymous. For those who recognize that Wicca is only one form of witchcraft, many still believe that witchcraft is completely free of any religious overtones. This is a widelyheld belief both outside and within the witchcraft communities.
But still, what does this have to do with Judaism. Well, most practicing witches don’t appear as the historical witch archetype (you know, the classical Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West)- except at Halloween. Those stereotypes, however, are steeped in antisemitism. Many witchcraft practices were also taken directly from Judaism and Jewish mysticism. Let’s explore some of these ideas.
The Pointed Witch Hat– The black pointy hat is the most prevalent aspect of the witch archetype. One theory for this stereotype comes from the fact that after the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, Jews were required to wear a judenhut– a pointed “Jewish hat” so that they could be easily recognizable (ala the yellow star of WW2 era)
Sabbats– The witches meeting or holiday derives from the Jewish sabbath (shabbat). Many witch stereotypes arise from the othering of non Christian Europeans. As a weekly festival of rest, the Jewsih sabbath was easily a target to demonize the other within their community. The word lingers in the witch community today with the pagan/Wiccan holidays or sabbats.
Blood Libel– Jews have been accused of witchcraft since the middle ages because of the errant belief that we murder Christian babies and use their blood in baking matzah for Passover. Jews do not eat blood. Blood is completely unkosher- so much so that if blood is found in an egg than that egg is unkosher. Kosher observant Jews crack eggs one by one into a glass to check for blood before using said egg. Blood is the life force of a living being, and we do not consume life. We see other instances of the blood libel in Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel when the witch kidnaps the children, imprisons them, and fattens them up in order to eat them.
Hooked Nose– The “Jewish nose” is one of the most widely seen Jewish stereotypes around. The long pointy nose has been associated with antisemitism throughout history and is seen in Shakespeare’s Shylock to Nazi propaganda. In fact, the central plot of The Merchant of Venice forms around the antogonistic Shylock’s stereotypical Jewish greed and hatred of Christians, and the climax occurs at his defeat and conversion to Chrstianity.
These are only a few of the stereotypes found in the witch archetype. It’s easy to see that when we think of a witch we bring up images that were used for the persecution of Jews. What I find ironic is that many people, both inside and outside the witch community, find Jewish witchcraft to be antithetical. I’ve had many people tell me it’s not possible to be a Jewish witch. Yet, the very foundation of the archetypal witch is a Jew. And, on another note, many practices within witchcraft are taken directly from Judaism and Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). On one hand, witches tell me that Judaism and witchcraft are in oppsiton. On the other hand, Jews say the same thing. Judaism has had a long history of Jewish magic. I’d go into it here, but I’ll save it for another time. What I will say about that here is that much of modern Judaism has lost the magic due to the above mentioned stereotypes. Because Jews were often deemed witches, there was a big push during the medieval and enlightenment periods to distance Judaism from its magical past. In order to not be accused of witchcraft, which could very well lead to death, many Jews did everythign in their power to distance from it.
Sources and More Information
The Antisemitic History of Witches
Why Do Witches Wear Pointy Hats?
Jewish Magic and the Blood Libels