1

We have discussions regarding Shedim in Jewish history. I believe they're described as having chicken feet in one source.

While the topic doesn't really seem to come up much in modern Judaism, the fact we had them in our tradition at all is confusing to me.

My understanding of Judaism is we don't believe in demons in a Christian sense. We're taught that all things come from God and while we have angels which trial us like "Ha-satan," there is no opposing force to God in a "Divine Good vs Demonic Evil" kind of conflict.

Christians would teach that there's a devil who rejects God and seeks conflict with him. Under him are demons and these demons seek to torment and harm humans in pursuit of rejecting God.

My question is where do Shedim fit into God's plan for humanity and the Jewish people? What I mean is how can something like a Shed exist and be able to harm humans if anything of the divine realm is under God's authority?

Would that not contradict something fundamental regarding the divine order of things along with our free will as humans? Are Shedim a contradiction?

5
  • Related: you'll find a lot of the main opinions on this here: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/729/31534 as well as a lot of other info under the demons tag
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Apr 11 at 21:05
  • 4
    Whether you understand שדים ("demons") as literally existing or not, the concept does not pose any more difficulty than any other damaging/dangerous aspect of creation. Do you find the existence of pestilence and disease to be challenging in the same way? If not, then the same reasons you find satisfactory there ought be satisfactory here. And if yes, then your question is much bigger than just שדים and has been artificially restricted to the one entity. Commented Apr 11 at 21:29
  • I would say a better question is why did Gd create demons if he had angels? We know angels aren’t limited to doing good things (plenty of angels kill people in midrash), so why did Gd need demons specifically to do bad things? Commented Apr 11 at 23:43
  • Shedim aren't evil but they can be destructive and wild, like a monkey. Commented Apr 12 at 1:26
  • 1
    sefaria.org.il/… This is the source for shedim having chicken feet.
    – Harel13
    Commented Apr 12 at 6:34

1 Answer 1

1

[W]here do Shedim fit into God's plan for humanity and the Jewish people? What I mean is how can something like a Shed exist and be able to harm humans if anything of the divine realm is under God's authority?

Would that not contradict something fundamental regarding the divine order of things along with our free will as humans? Are Shedim a contradiction?

This question not only applies to demons but to any intermediary between God and humanity. I will simply provide a number of sources in thinkers who were similarly bothered by the possibility of the existence of such beings and what they said regarding them.

The sort of issue it sounds like you're anticipating - or something like it - might have motivated Maimonides to stipulate that angels have no agency of their own in his fifth principle of faith:

The Fifth Principle is that He, may He be exalted, is He Whom it is proper to worship and to praise; and [that it is also proper] to promulgate praise of Him and obedience to Him. This may not be done for any being other than Him in reality, from among the angels, the spheres, the elements, and that which is composed of them for all these have their activities imprinted upon them. They have no destiny [of their own] and no rootedness [of their own in reality] other than His love, may He be exalted, [of them]. Do not, furthermore, seize upon intermediaries in order to reach Him but direct your thoughts toward Him, may He be exalted, and turn away from that which is other than He. This Fifth Principle is the prohibition against idolatry and there are many verses in the Torah prohibiting it.

The quotation is from Blumenthal's translation of The Commentary of R. ḥōṭer b. Shelōmō to the Thirteen Principles of Maimonides p.107.

There is much secondary literature on this topic. One recent work which might be of interest is chapter 8 of Kellner's Maimonides' Confrontation with Mysticism. There you can also find quotations and discussions of thinkers who attributed more agency to angels and other such beings like Saadia Gaon (e.g. see Beliefs and Opinions ii, 9) and Judah HaLevi (e.g. see Kuzari iv, 3). There is also some discussion of the philosophical significance of these various positions there.

Here are some sources which may be of interest regarding demons in particular. I won't translate them in their entirety, but I'll summarize what I see as the main inference. Emphases added are mine.

Avraham ben haRambam's Discourse on the Sayings of the Rabbis. The second section.

המעשיות שנראו ואירעו בהם בחלום, וזכרו אותם בלשון צח ופשוט לדעתם, כי אי איפשר שיטעה בהם בעל שכל ובינה. וכמו שאמרו חז"ל בברכות. "תניא אמר ר' ישמעאל פעם אחת נכנסתי להקטיר קטורת לפני ולפנים" וכו'. וכזה בדבריהם בהרבה מקומות, וכמו כן במעשיות שזכרו בהם מראות הנביאים ושדבר עימהם, ושהועילו עימהם. וכמו מעשיות שזכרו בהם שדים, והרואה שאין לבו עמו יחשוב כי הם דברים היו בעולם כמו שנכתבו, ויבוא לחשוב ולהאמין דבר הנמנע שאי אפשרי אבל חייב, וכל זה יקרה לו לרוב פתיותו ומיעוט ידיעתו בטבע העולם, ובמעשה הנסים ובדרך החכמים ז"ל שהוא דרך הנביאים, שספרו בלשון הפשוט מה שראו במראות הנבואה, ודרך זו דרכו החכמים כמו שבאר אבא מורי ז"ל במורה הנבוכים למבין.

Basically says that all incidents involving shedim actually occur in dreams and that those who come to believe in such impossible things only due so due to their insufficient understanding of the natural world and the ways of the Sages which was to communicate in simple language what they saw in visions.

Meiri on Berakhot 4b

אע"פ שקרא אדם את שמע בבית הכנסת מצוה לקרותו על מטתו, ולא על המטה ממש אלא סמוך לשכיבתו כמו ועליו מטה מנשה ולא על מטתו כאילו שקורין אותו דרך הדיוטות ובגלוי הראש אלא באימה וביראה, וטעם קריאה זו פרשו בתלמוד המערב להבריח את המזיקים וביאורו אצלי המזיקים הידועים והם הדעות הכוזבים, והזקיקוהו בעתות הפנאי ליחד את השם שלא יטעה באמונות השניות וכשיקרא על הכונה הראויה תהא מטתו בטוחה מהם:

He is discussing the mazikin that the bedtime shema is supposed to protect against (per Berakhot 4b) and explains that the notion of mazikin is a false notion.

Perhaps also of significance is that (to the best of my knowledge) Maimonides omitted all statements of the Gemara involving demons from his Mishneh Torah. He sometimes cites the ruling, but completely omits any mention of demons (e.g. Laws of Prayer 5:6. Compare with its source in Berakhot 3a).

1
  • That is Maimonides' opinion, but it is a minority view not widely accepted.
    – N.T.
    Commented Apr 12 at 7:18

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .