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Jewish Top 10s: Mythological Creatures

Looking for strange, interesting ideas for this weekend's Halloween parties? Look no further, and join us as we enter the realm of Jewish mythology and folklore

By: Zak Edwards
Published: November 1st, 2013 in News » World
Ezekiel's Vision of God

Welcome to Jewish Top 10s, where we compile lists that highlight the best and the brightest of everything yehudi, from delicious recipes to funniest actors, to most obnoxious Jewish wedding songs.

For this week, we thought it’s be cool to look at our own mythology. Judaism has tons of cool creatures and stories that are constantly retold throughout history. For example, did you know Superman is basically a retelling of Moses? (something we talked about a couple of weeks ago).

So here are our top picks of Jewish mythological creatures and where they keep showing up in today’s books, movies, television, and video games. Some of these are also great Halloween ideas.

you're welcome.

TOP TEN

10.


ZIZ

Famous For: Being the biggest and baddest bird who purposefully dropped an egg once, which destroyed a forest and flooded 60 villages with eggy grossness.

What He Is: Ziz is the least famous of the biggest and most powerful creatures in the world. Where the Behemoth is of the land and the Leviathan takes up residence in the sea, the Ziz’s home is in the skies. He is so big that his feet can touch the ground and his head touches the sky, so how he flies is a bit of a mystery. He is sometimes grouped with the Bar Juchne, a race of giant mythical birds. Ziz protects the world from southern storms and has a wingspan so large it blocks out the sun. It shows up in the Talmud, where the excuse for throwing its eggs around was because it was rotten. The Children of Israel will have our revenge, though: according to popular legend, the Ziz, Leviathan, and Behemoth will all be killed for a feast at the coming of the Messiah.

Where Are They Now?: Ziz, like many of the other creatures on this list, can be grouped in with very similar creatures. Giant birds show up everywhere, called Rocs and Ankas, for example. The giant eagles in The Hobbit are a friendly version that saves many heroes from danger at the last possible second. As for actual fatal egg droppings, that is thankfully a rare occurrence.

9.


SOLOMON'S SHAMIR

Famous For: Tunnelling underground to build the First Temple in Jerusalem.

What They Are: Essentially, a shamir is a small insect that can break through pretty much any substance. When constructing the first temple, tools that could also be used for war were forbidden, so shamir were apparently used in lieu.

Where Are They Now? The seventh Prime Minister of Israel changed his name to Yitzhak Shamir, inspired by the creature. Usually, insects that are good at cutting things take the form of enemies and show up as monsters of the week pretty frequently. Sandworms are a dominant force in the Dune series of novels. The Conqueror Worm by Edgar Allan Poe relies heavily on Jewish symbolism while never referring to the shamir outright. Regulan bloodworms from Star Trek can cleanse and harm people, being both useful and dangerous.

8.


DYBBUK

Famous For: Possessing People. Being whiny jerks.

What They Are: Dybbuk’s are your basic possessive spirit: ghosts or spirits that occupy people’s body against their will. They are often related to souls that need help moving on and, as such, figuring out exactly what the Dybbuk wants is the best way to exorcise it. This means listening to its problems and trying to appease it, like a slightly more articulate toddler, but in the body of someone you know.

Where Are They Now?: Figuring out the requests of possessing spirits is a mainstay story in supernatural-themed television. Buffy the Vampire Slayer uses the device plenty of times but never refers the spirits as Dybbuk, even though character Willow Rosenberg is herself Jewish. The 2009 Coen Brothers film A Serious Man opens with a dybbuk possessed man killing a couple with an icepick.

7.


BROXA

Famous For: Siphoning goat’s milk by day and human blood by night. Shapeshifting.

What They Are: Broxa's are originally a bird that liked to drink blood and steal milk from goats, which is delightful. They are basically Jewish vampire bats, but during the Middle Ages they shapeshifted into a witch or demon, primarily taking a female appearance. Why the sudden shift is a mystery to scholars, most attribute it to Jewish cultures mixing with those around them.

Where Are They Now?: Blood suckers are everywhere and none is more famous than Dracula, who could shapeshift and liked to drink blood. Vampires, especially shapeshifting ones, have dominated culture, and we are all familiar with Twilight’s sparkly versions. Vampire bats are actually real and a nuisance, but not really for humans, they prefer livestock. Broxa also bear a striking similarity to the Chupacabra, a blood sucking creature of popular legend in Central and South America.

6.


RE'EM

Famous For: Being cows or possibly unicorns.

What They Are: The fact that when we hear the word unicorn and all think of a white horse with a horn is a relatively new phenomenon. Unicorns are actually a widespread mythical creature that is found all over the world and, with each iteration, the description changes quite significantly. The Jewish version is a Re’em and it is more or less a cow. It’s mentioned nine times in the Bible, sometimes referred to as an oryx or unicorn. Generally, it is considered to be an ancestor of cattle, usually called auroch, but too wild to be tamed. Some depictions give it a single horn as well. Some Creationists believe a Re’em is actually a triceratops, which would have been awesome if dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time. I bet they would have had a very gamy taste.

Where Are They Now?: Unicorns are everywhere, so are cows. In popular culture, bulky single horned animals are also everywhere and generally look like rhinos, but many big military vehicles, especially bulky naval ships, are named unicorns in reference to the traditionally, non-horse type of unicorn. Haruki Murakami’s brilliant novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World has a character who reads dreams from unicorn skulls, ones that are not very horselike. In Harry Potter, Re’em blood is an extremely rare substance that gives immense strength to anyone who drinks it.

Continue reading on page 2 for our Top 5 Jewish Mythological Creatures

Related articles: Jewish Top 10s, Mythology, Mysticism, Halloween, Jewish News
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