Related to this question on werewolves and subsequent answers. Also to these posts by Rabbi Slifkin.

I know this is an odd subject, but apparently, Rabbeinu Ephraim ben Shimshon, one of the Tosafists, thought that Binyamin was a werewolf (Translation by Rabbi Slifkin on this post):

Another explanation: Benjamin was a “predatory wolf,” sometimes preying upon people. When it was time for him to change into a wolf, as it says, “Benjamin is a predatory wolf,” as long as he was with his father, he could rely upon a physician, and in that merit he did not change into a wolf. For thus it says, “And he shall leave his father and die” (Gen. 44:22)—namely, that when he separates from his father, and turns into a wolf with travelers, whoever finds him will kill him. (Rabbeinu Ephraim, commentary to Genesis 44:29)


There is a type of wolf that is called loup-garou (werewolf), which is a person that changes into a wolf. When it changes into a wolf, his feet emerge from between his shoulders. So too with Benjamin—“he dwells between the shoulders” (Deuteronomy 33:12). The solution for [dealing with] this wolf is that when it enters a house, and a person is frightened by it, he should take a firebrand and thrust it around, and he will not be harmed. So they would do in the Temple; each day, they would throw the ashes by the altar, as it is written, “and you shall place it by the altar” (Leviticus 6:3); and so is the norm with this person whose offspring turn into wolves, for a werewolf is born with teeth, which indicates that it is out to consume the world. Another explanation: a werewolf is born with teeth, to show that just as this is unusual, so too he will be different from other people. And likewise, Benjamin ate his mother, who died on his accord, as it is written, “And it was as her soul left her, for she was dying, and she called his name ‘the son of my affliction’ ” (Genesis 35:18). (Commentary to Genesis 35:27)

I know the Chida mentions this in the name of Rabbeinu Ephraim (Dvash Lefi, letter Zayin, 15-16):

There is a wolf called loupgarou (werewolf) and he is a man and changes into a wolf, and at the hour of his chaging to a wolf, his legs come out of his shoulders, so Binyamin "dwelleth between his shoulders."[...] Rabbeinu Ephraim z"l in his commentary to the Torah [...]

From here it sounds like the Chida understands this idea as being literally true (at least according to Rabbeinu Ephraim).

However, in the next paragraph he writes:

A wolf that turns into a man, even while he changes into a man, during every hour he has a tail, so was the strip of land that came out of the property of Binyamin and entered into the property of Yehudah and upon it was the Beit Hamikdash.[...]

From here it sounds like a parable, though. However, in Rabbeinu Ephraim's words it sounds like he literally thought Binyamin was a werewolf. I know some people would say that he was saying this based on the popular myths and beliefs of the time - and I can accept that about commentaries on werewolves in general. It's equally possible, in my opinion, that there may actually be such creatures - the Talmud and even the Tanach are filled with descriptions about fantastical creatures and demonic beings (such as shedim) - so I don't think it's too far-fetched to say that in the past, when the world was more spiritual, and such creatures were more widely-seen, wolf-monsters could've also been around.

However, I don't know how either of these explanations reconcile with Rabbeinu Ephraim's belief that Binyamin, of all people, was a werewolf (and that he ate his mother!). That just seems too extreme to me.

Does anyone have any explanation for this?

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    There are things you and I believe the Tosafists and Chida would think are crazy. There are things we and the Tosafists believe that the Amoraim would think are crazy. And vice versa. We can do this all day. It doesn't really matter in the big picture. – user6591 Feb 13 at 17:35
  • @user6591 that doesn't really address the issue. That's addressing the general belief in werewolves, which is fine to say, as I wrote. But it doesn't address this opinion on Binyamin, of all people. – Harel13 Feb 13 at 17:40
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    You said Binyamin being a werewolf was too extreme for you. – user6591 Feb 13 at 17:42
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    I think you've been watching too many movies. Or not. I don't know. Remember he was a newborn baby when he was said to have eaten Rachel. Is turning into a wolf more extreme than turning into an angel like Elijah? Is it more or less of a monster than attempting to kill one's son? – user6591 Feb 13 at 17:49
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    You know what happens when you assume, right. I didn't downvote. But if it helps narrow down your search, I would guess it was whoever upvoted my comments. Don't take the voting around here personally, it's hard sometimes, but not worth it. Both the downvotes and the upvotes. – user6591 Feb 14 at 10:22

I’ve completely edited my answer.

Here are the options I see:

  1. As Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky said (according to one of the comments on Rabbi Slifkin's post, he was sent this commentary over 20 years ago):

    זה מסודי התורה - This is from the secrets (Sod) of the Torah.

  2. Based on Rabbi Mendel Kaplan’s class (which can be found here: https://www.chabad.org/multimedia/video_cdo/aid/2807492/jewish/Why-Benjamin-Was-in-Imminent-Threat.htm), it appears to be based on a lost midrash. The basis for this assumption comes from Yaakov’s seemingly irrational and way over-the-top and completely-certain fear that his son Binyamin will be in grave danger if he leaves his side ("וקרהו אסון") – yet doesn’t hold the same fears with regards to his other sons, and these seemingly odd fears are further asserted in Yehudah's speech to Yosef in the beginning of Miketz. The answer, according to this lost midrash brought by Rabbeinu Ephraim is that Binyamin was in constant danger of changing back into wolf form, with the only person that was able to cure him without the need to spill blood being his father. If he were to leave his father's side and transform, he'd run off and be killed by the first person who meets him, as all wild and dangerous animals are killed.

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  • Once again, if you don't like either the question or the answer, I'd greatly appreciate you voice and explain your criticism and not just silently downvote and walk away. Thank you. – Harel13 Feb 16 at 14:54
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    I feel like this is too long. Maybe shorten or summarize it at the top – robev Feb 16 at 19:41
  • @robev I'll do my best. – Harel13 Feb 16 at 19:49
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    @robev I've completely changed it. – Harel13 Feb 17 at 11:48

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