Lilith in Tanach

I know this could easily have been determined with a concordance, but since I didn’t use one, this surprised me. As I make my way slowly but (sometimes) steadily through Isaiah, I discovered a fascinating verse. The prophet, in describing the utter desolation that will be the fate of Babylonia as a consequence of their persecution of Israel, depicts Babylonia as a desert overrun by wild creatures that do not inhabit areas where men dwell.

Isaiah 34:14:

“The tziyim shall encounter the iyim, and the sair shall call to its fellow, even there Lilith abides, and finds her resting place.”

I left the more cryptic Hebrew terms untranslated here, pending my explanatory remarks. “Tziyim” and “iyim” are definitely small desert animals, though of what species exactly I am uncertain. The word sair usually means “goat” although it sometimes means “demon,” as Targum and Rashi both translate here. Demons, according to Jewish tradition, only dwell in secluded or desolate places, not in areas with an abundance of men. The prophet, by invoking the demon, so to speak, conveys that Babylonia will be a ruin uninhabited by men. If, however, sair is to be rendered “goat,” it must refer to some wild, desert variety. Then comes “Lilith.” Remember that there are no capital letters in Hebrew, so the choice to make Lilith a proper noun is the translator’s. Without the capital “L,” a “lilith” in Hebrew may simply refer to a desert creature that makes a ululating sound, or a nocturnal creature taking its name from the Hebrew “laylah,” meaning “night” (Radak). However, Rashi tells us that “Lilith” is indeed the name of a demoness, though Rashi tells us nothing more. Metzudath David goes so far as to say that Lilith is “the mother of the demons.”

Legends abound in the mouths of the masses as to who Lilith actually was or is, though I prefer to save my discussion for what is found in mainstream sources. So far, my research has not yielded much more than I have already shared here.


One thought on “Lilith in Tanach

  1. This is beautiful to read! One of my favorite things to do on Shabbos is pull out a Chumash, cuddle up and read it. The commentary is so beautiful. I feel like I’m a detective…I’m not sure what I’m searching for, but I just love connecting with Rashi. I have just started my own blog on Judaism, mainly aimed at Jews who have a lot of questions but no one to ask them to. Please feel free to check it out or share it!

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