Q. What are some of the Lilith legends?

What are some of the Lilith legends?

Although the origin of Lilith is not mentioned anywhere in the Talmud, she is mentioned popular medieval composition known as The Alphabet of Ben Sira (ca. 8th century). According to medieval Jewish folklore, God created Lilith from the earth just as He created Adam. From the beginning of their relationship, Adam and Lilith immediately began to fight. According to one version of the myth, Adam insisted on the making love in the missionary position and Lilith agreed—provided she could be in the dominant position instead:

After God created Adam, who was alone, He said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). He then created a woman for Adam, from the earth, as He had created Adam himself, and called her Lilith. Adam and Lilith immediately began to fight. She said, ‘I will not lie below,’ and he said, ‘I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while I am to be in the superior one.’ Lilith responded, ‘We are equal to each other inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.’ But they would not listen to one another. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced the Ineffable Name and flew away into the air. Adam stood in prayer before his Creator: ‘sovereign of the universe!” he said, ‘the woman you gave me has run away.’ At once, the Holy One, blessed be He, sent these three angels to bring her back.[1]

The quarrel was obviously more deeply psychologically nuanced and their parting ways is similar in many ways to the kind of arguments men and women have today. The myth draws attention to the pattern of dysfunction that affects the complicated world of human relations. It is conjectured that Adam could not endure having an egalitarian relationship and so their conflicts quickly lead to Lilith’s sudden departure—she did not want to be Adam’s underling! Rather than acting like an experienced marriage counselor, YHWH sent for three angels to bring her back and issued the following ultimatum. “If she agrees to come back, fine. If not, she must permit one hundred of her children to die every day.”[2]

After the Lilith prototype proved to be a failure, and to make sure there would never be a problem regarding who would be the “head of the family,” God this time creates a woman out of Adam’s rib to symbolize her subservience to her husband. In short, according to this version of the story, Lilith preferred to stay alone and focus on making infants sick. She threatened to inflict harm upon male infants until the eighth day after birth, female children after twenty days (but some variants say twelve). Lastly, Lilith made one additional vow: she would not harm the infant in any way if the infant wore an amulet bearing the name of three special angels. When Lilith sees their names, she remembers her oath, and the child recovers.”

[1] David Stern and Mark J. Mirisky, Rabbinic Fantasies: Imaginative Narratives from Classical Hebrew Literature (Chicago, IL. Publisher’s Row/Varda Books, repr. 2001), pp. 183-184.

[2] It seems strange that The Alphabet of Ben Sira did not think to ask where Lilith was going to find her new love interests. However, in a different variant of the myth, the angel Samael (not to be confused with Samuel), chief of the fallen angels (a.k.a “Satan”), finds her weeping and falls in love with her. Unlike Adam, Lilith finds Samael to be more egalitarian and appealing; she accepts him as her mate. See Maximilian Josef Rudwin “The Legend of Lilith” Devil in Legend and Literature (Chicago: Open Court, 1931), pp. 94-104.