Wednesday, February 22, 2012
I was somewhat surprised to discover that my post of two months ago, "Was Rachel Imeinu Killed By A Werewolf?", is the second most popular post on this blog of all time. With 2596 pageviews, it is superseded only by my post on "The Evolution Of The Olive," at 3,427 pageviews.
I'm not sure why that post was so popular - perhaps it's because it was so utterly strange. One person wrote to me that he enjoys telling super-yeshivish people that Binyamin was a werewolf, listening to them dismiss it as heretical nonsense, and then watching them squirm and splutter when he shows the original source.
At any event, I noticed that in his latest post at the Seforim Blog, Marc Shapiro points out that Rashi also makes mention of werewolves. In his commentary to Job 5:23, “the beasts of the wild shall be at peace with you,” Rashi defines the “beasts of the wild” with the Old French garoux, which refers to the werewolf. He adds that this is also the meaning of adnei hasadeh that are mentioned in the Mishnah, Kilayim 8:5 (which Rambam, Tiferes Yisrael and Malbim define as an ape, while others define it as humanoid which grows from the ground via its navel, as discussed in Sacred Monsters).
I received an e-mail recently from an educator who was extremely bothered by the fact that Rishonim believed in werewolves, asking this can be reconciled with our respecting them as authorities in halachah and theology. The answer is that it depends on how one is viewing them. It is true that learning of their beliefs in werewolves is incompatible with the non-rationalist view of their being superhuman characters with divinely-based knowledge. However, it is not at all incompatible with the rationalist view of their being great Torah scholars who lived at a pivotal time in history from the point of view of Judaism but were limited by the scientific knowledge of their era. I don't think that anyone loses respect for Thomas Jefferson's greatness as one of America's founding fathers, upon discovering that he believed that no species ever becomes extinct and therefore sent Lewis and Clark to find mammoths. As with his discussion of mermaids, Rashi's statement about werewolves reflects perfectly normative belief in medieval France.
Recently, I was also surprised to discover that some people think that I myself believe that Binyamin was a werewolf and that Eisav was a vampire! So let me state for the record: I do NOT believe that Binyamin was a werewolf or that Eisav was a vampire!
Posted by Natan Slifkin