An Open Letter from a Jewish Witchy Woman

So… Lilith… a powerful representation of the divine feminine and a symbolic figure for many practitioners…

From Jewish folklore, Lilith is the original woman, the first wife of Adam, and later became known to many as the mother of demons.

Is honoring or working with her cultural appropriation of Judaism?

As a Jewish woman, born and raised, I have been asked to address this matter personally.

While I do identify as Jewish, I also identify as Pagan.

You may be wondering: “Why is that? How is that possible?” Well to put it simply: I’m polytheistic with a varying background (mainly European), including Scottish and Romanian.

So now you may be wondering what my practice is comprised of. Wonderful.

Let me begin by noting that something that I have always believed in, but rarely speak on: you can’t really “un-Jew” yourself.

So where does this leave me? Well, I work with my ancestors. So to me, it is only natural to incorporate what I grew up with AND to incorporate what I feel called to do by my ancestors.

Many of us in the Jewish community have gone through a sacred rite not too long after birth, during this rite, we are blessed and given our Hebrew name, I’m no different. I was brought in to see the Rabbi as a wee babe by my father and grandfather. I was given my Hebrew name as per Jewish custom and family tradition. However, I will not be disclosing that in this letter, as that is something very sacred to me and something that I wish to keep private.

My family was relatively contemporary. So our traditions differed slightly than those of Orthodox Jewish folk. However, I grew up observing the holidays, honoring my family’s practices, and everything that came with it.

Growing up, we would have large family gatherings for the holidays. My family preferred to do so for the “major” holidays like Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Hanukkah. For each holiday, we would gather round the table for a rather large kosher meal.

Note: My favorite dish is kugel, it is hands down the best part of any meal, if you disagree, you are sorely mistaken! And you need to have some kugel, my dear shefele.

If you know me well, you know my favorite holiday was always Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, because it usually falls around the same time as my birthday. Best time ever!

As such, I will be touching a bit on how Hanukkah was observed while I was growing up.

So, as you know, there’s a big meal! Prior to the meal, there would be a Hebrew prayer. And usually after dinner, my grandfather (mother’s father) would light the first candle of the Menorah, my grandparents were usually the ones to host everyone during the holidays because there was plenty of room, especially for us kids. We would then exchange gifts in the family room and play games. The adults would then sit for dessert and chat amongst themselves. My cousins and I would get gelt! And off to the land of sugar high we went…

Though we were brought upstairs to get changed into our pajamas, we usually went stair surfing and got into mischief afterwards. Why that happened, I have no idea, but that’s what happened when you got all us Jewish kids under the same roof. We had chutzpah! And unfortunately that often led to a potch on the tuches sometimes.

Over time, some prominent family members passed on, many family members moved away from the tri-state area, and our large family gatherings ceased. I’d observe the holidays with immediate family from there on out.

Now? I cherish the memories and spend the holidays with my children, who have the same chutzpah I did at their age (oy!). We have family meals (smaller scale) followed by family bonding. We do the same with Pagan holidays, as we observe them as well.

Judaism to me, it is more than just a religion. It is my heritage and my culture. It has always been and always will be a part of me, no matter where I go, no matter where my path takes me.

It is a part of myself that I honor. Always have. Always will.

It is my hope that my children will carry it with them in some respect.

Now, I am also a practitioner of the craft (magick). As previously mentioned, I work with my ancestors. I have two altars, one dedicated to my ancestors, where I have trinkets from them and leave offerings to them, and the other for magickal workings involving them in some way, shape, or form. Whether it is a petition, or to simply send love to wherever they may be.

A lot of my focus as of late has been internal, as I’ve been doing shadow work. It is my belief that one should strive to attain balance. That cannot be done by focusing solely on love and light, but rather bringing the shadow forth and illuminating the parts of oneself that may be less than desirable.

Aside from that, I do energy/spellwork. I’ve learned to harness energy for healing purposes. I’ve cast spells for the protection of my home and loved ones. There are little things I do daily to add a bit of magick to each day.

For the most part, I work mainly with my ancestors and my own divine spark, as opposed to deity worship. Though, I have worked with deities and have great respect for them.

When I am certain that I am ready to do so, I will pursue the study of the Kabbalah. With the Kabbalah being a sacred part of Judaism and Jewish mysticism, it is something that I am quite intrigued by and believe to be an important part of my heritage to learn, understand, and eventually master.

For those who may not know: The Kabbalah is a discipline that is comprised of esoteric teachings based on sacred Jewish texts. It is a discipline that, traditionally, one does not begin until the age of forty (40), as that is generally when one has completed the study of the Torah and the Talmud (though that has not stopped some folks from pursuing it before then).

And there you have it, once a Jew, always a Jew.

A funny thing I had noticed growing up, and something that has also stayed with me, is that even though we had some friends of the family, and we all ran in the same circles, we also were independent, meaning, we preferred to speak for ourselves.

Often times you will find that Jewish folk don’t even want other Jewish folk to speak for them. Many of us are just too darn stubborn.

That said, when it comes to various matters, you will likely get different answers.

It really depends on who you ask.

Though, that being said, I can pretty much guarantee you that many of us wouldn’t really care for “outsiders” speaking for us.

If you want to know what it means to be Jewish, ask someone who is.

If you want to know about the culture, ask someone who is Jewish.

Ask as many people as you like!

There are many different circles, different communities, all with their own beliefs and practices. Some are more traditional/orthodox, some are more contemporary or reform.

Many of us are open to answering questions! Many of us are more than willing to educate, regardless of another’s religious beliefs.

Now… with respect to Lilith and whether honoring or working with her is cultural appropriation:

There are those who do feel that it is cultural appropriation. However, there are those who disagree with this school of thought entirely, myself included.

Again, it really depends on who you ask.

The same can be said for any other aspect of Judaism that has been adopted by those of another faith.

My methodology is this:
If your practice does not affect me or those I care for in any way, shape, or form, then I am not bothered, upset, angered, or hurt by it. It is not my place to be. You do you. And I’ll do me.

So long as you do the necessary research, honor the origin(s) and the history that comes with it, and you are respectful with your approach and your practice, I’d say you’re fine.

Respect is key.

May you be blessed while on your magickal journey.

~ Tora Athene


For further reading:

Lilith
My Jewish Learning Article: “Lilith: Lady Flying in Darkness”
Jewish Virtual Library Article: “Lilith”

Kabbalah
My Jewish Learning Article: “Kabbalah and Mysticism 101”
Jewish Virtual Library Article: “Kabbalah: An Overview”