Sunday, 22 January 2017


[NOTE TO READER: Because the ‘Beruria Episode’ is recorded in rather graphic detail - which is beyond the scope of this forum - we will tone down the various versions of events and use euphemisms as far as possible.]


Beruria is known to many as the Eishet Chayil[1] or loyal and scholarly wife of the great Tanna, R. Meir, who lived during the 2nd Century. Beruria was also referred to as a Tanna, a title used to describe the Sages of the Mishna period (0-200 CE). It was very unusual to have such a title conferred upon a woman, and it is indicative of the great esteem in which she was held. Beruria was the daughter of R. Chananya ben Teradyon, one of the famed Ten Martyrs.

Her husband, R. Meir, was one of the greatest Sages of the Mishnaic period. Also known as R. Meir Baal haNes, his father was a descendant of Roman Emperor Nero (d. 68), who, according to Jewish tradition, had converted to Judaism. He is the third most frequently mentioned Sage in the Mishna, and every anonymous Mishnaic teaching is ascribed to him.[2] Out of the twenty-four thousand students of R. Akiva, R. Meir was one of only five survivors, along with R. Shimon bar Yochai.


Considered such an iconic, revered and scholarly couple, the following Talmudic extract comes as a complete surprise:

The Gemara in Avoda Zara 18b reads as follows:

R. Meir arose, fled, and came to Babylonia. There are those who say this was due to this incident[3], and others who say it was due to the Incident of Beruria.”

Rashi explains the ‘Ma’aseh deBeruria’ or ‘Incident of Beruria’ as follows:

One time she (Beruria) mocked the sages who had said that ‘women are light-minded’.
He (R. Meir, got annoyed and) responded: ‘By your life! You will eventually concede to (the accuracy) of their words.
He instructed one of his students to seduce her.
He (the student) tried for many days until she consented.
When the matter (of the set up) became known to her, she strangled herself.
And R. Meir fled (to Babylonia) because of the disgrace.”



Needless to say, this is a shocking tale by any account. Yet, even though its source is as rabbinically authoritative as can be - a Rashi on a Talmudic tractate – there are many who still refuse to accept it.

The fact is that up until the 20th Century there is no written record of anyone disputing the authenticity of this Rashi text. It is significant to note though, that only in the last hundred years or so have people begun to question this text.  One wonders how we were able to accept the text for nine hundred years from the time of Rashi (1040-1105), yet only recently come to regard it as objectionable.


Itamar Drori has written a well-researched article entitled the ‘Beruria Incident’[4] and I would like to share some of his findings:

He leaves open the possibility for some ‘text tampering’ by suggesting:

If the story was conceived by a political or ideological enemy (such as a Christian or Cuthian) for the purpose of slandering R. Meir and Beruriah, this would have been after Beruriah died and R. Meir fled, since both actions are described in the story.”

But he does point out that:

The temptation to ‘correct’ the situation, and present the Beruriah incident as foreign to Jewish culture, led to a disregard of the centrality of Rashi’s commentary, which was...already considered an integral part of Talmudic reading...’

This makes it very difficult to question an established Rashi text.

Yet many did.

A theory put forward by those who refuse to accept this Rashi, is that the first printed version of this text (Rashi on Tractate Avodah Zara) was only produced in Venice in 1520. This leaves room for someone with a dubious agenda, to have inserted it during the four hundred year interval when only manuscripts existed.[5]


Some have quoted world folklore tales that exhibit a degree of similarity to the Beruria narrative. For example, the story of ‘The Curious Impertinent’ - where the husband tries to prove his wife’s loyalty to him and asks a friend to test her in a similar manner.[6]

Then there is the Armean story of the Sultan whose extraordinary loyal wife believed all men were essentially immoral. This annoyed her husband who arranged to have his servant test his wife by seducing her, which he did.[7]

There are many other similar stories too and the theory is that these popular tales were somehow transposed to the Rashi text and also became part of our popular culture.


There is also the suggestion that this ‘rumor’ of R. Meir and Beruria was only written down well after the Talmud was redacted in the 6th Century. Although we have no textual evidence of this (as the Rashi text is the earliest written account we have), the theory is that no stories about any Tanaim had been written down during the Mishnaic period because, according to the Rosh, it was only permitted to start writing down Oral Law after the final redaction of the Talmud in the 500’s. See KOTZK BLOG 84. 

This would have been about 300 years after the alleged incident took place. During this time indiscretions may have crept in, and Rashi built on those inaccuracies, many centuries later, in the 1100’s.


Others, like Shalshelet haKabalah[8], accept the basic text but say that in actual fact it was not the student who entered the room but R. Meir himself (disguised as a student?).

According to Ben Yehoyada[9] it was indeed the student but he was a eunuch.

Another version also has it that it was the student, except that it was arranged that R. Meir would hide, to ensure that no contact took place.

A further interpretation is that Rashi merely says that ‘she consented’- not that anything came of the consent.


Another individual who researched the ‘Bruria Incident’ was David Goodblat, who published ‘the Beruriah Traditions’. He points out that the name Beruria is mentioned seven times in early rabbinic literature[10]

Of those seven references, two describe her as both the daughter of Chananya ben Tradyon and the wife of R. Meir. Another one describes her only as the wife of R. Meir. And the last four describe her, independently, without any familial connections. 

Six of the seven references to Beruria are to be found in the Babylonian Talmud, which was written in Aramaic, and one in the Tosefta which was written in Hebrew.

Goodblat mentions that; “all of the anecdotes which portray Beruriah as possessing an advanced education are of Babylonian Amoraic origin.” Thus, he argues that Beruria the scholar was more indicative of the (Aramaic) Gemora period than the (Hebrew) Mishnaic period.

He suggests that a ‘merging of personalities’ took place which created the Beruria of our story out of possibly three other characters – the daughter of Chanania ben Tradyon, the wife of R. Meir and an independent scholarly woman.

According to this view, the accuracy and historicity of Rashi’s account of R. Meir and Beruria being married to each other would be questionable.


On the other hand, Drori also quotes Maharatz Chayes (1805-1855), the only commentator in the Vilna Shas edition with a PhD, who said:

“...all stories which were disrespectful toward any of the rabbis of the Talmud were omitted...the incident of only alluded to in the Talmud...and Rashi there explains the occurrence according to that which he heard passed from one person to another orally, but was omitted from the Talmud.”

According to Maharatz Chayes, Rashi is filling in what the Talmud censored out, and he based himself on an established oral tradition.


But this was not the only time R. Meir was associated with an incident of this nature.
The Gemara in Kiddushin records:

R. Meir used to scoff at those who gave in to their desires. One day, Satan appeared to him in the guise of a beautiful woman on the opposite side of the river. There was no ferry so R. Meir took hold of a rope and proceeded across. When he got halfway, Satan left him (due to heavenly intervention)...”[11]


The ‘woman of valour’ image of Beruria is challenged by the following texts:

Rabbi Yosi the Galilean was going along the road. He met Beruria. He said to her, ‘by which way do we go to Lod?’ She responded, ‘Galilean fool! Did not the sages say that one must not converse too much with women? You should have asked, - by which to Lod?’”[12]

Beruria found a certain disciple who was reviewing his lessons in a whisper. She kicked him...(and said that one needs to use all one energies to preserve the Torah.)[13]

Another Gemara records how both Beruria the wife or R Meir, and Michal the daughter of Saul would wear tefillin, and the rabbis did not object to it.

The Ari Zal (1534-1572) explained that according to mystical tradition, the reason why Beruria wore tefillin was because her soul was rooted in alma d’duchra (the masculine world)[14].
(Could this insight not perhaps enlighten us as to why R. Meir and Beruria had such a complicated relationship?)
Another case involved a Talmudic dispute between Beruria and her brother, R. Shimon ben Teradyon. The case was judged on its merits and the verdict was pronounced: “R. Chanina’s daughter Beruria is a greater scholar than his son R. Shimon!

These texts indicate that R. Meir and Beruria were most certainly not an average or mundane couple. They were both professionally erudite and sometimes quite caustic and unconventional.


The difficulty with the ‘yes but’ theories is even if all these were to be correct, they add very little morality to redeeming the same basic tenor of a shocking story, that few can be comfortable with.

The difficulty with all the ‘text tampering’ theories, of course, is that one can’t pick and choose which primary texts we want to consider as authentic and which not. It becomes too much of a slippery slope because the same reasoning can be directed against other texts that deal not just with stories but with Halacha.

Unless there is absolute and compelling evidence without the shadow of a doubt, that a text was tampered with or manipulated, it is very dangerous if not devious, to suggest otherwise.

Personally, I find it fascinating how, when faced with such a challenging text, some who would never usually question a printed Rashi on the Talmud, are quick to do so in this particular instance.

Respect for Mesora (tradition as we have it) is sacrosanct. So much so that, according to the Chazon Ish, even were Moshe Rabbenu’s original Torah to be discovered today and found to be (slightly) different from ours, we would consider his Torah to be pasul (invalid) and our version to be kosher.  See KOTZK BLOG 82.

On the other hand, those who usually do not hesitate to question the historical accuracy of some Talmudic texts, are in this instance, quick to assume this text is authoritative.

Objectively, it’s difficult to know which of the views and theories are the most compelling. Subjectively though, each reader will form his or her own conclusion.

One thing is certain though - the ‘Beruria Incident’ provokes us to soul search the story, and forces us to form our own opinion one way or the other.


The Beruria Incident: Tradition of Exclusion as a Presence of Ethical Principles, by Itamar Drori.

‘The Beruriah Traditions’, by David Goldblatt JJS 26 (1975)

[1] In Avodah Zara 18b, R. Chanina declared Beruria to be the exemplary ‘Woman of valour, who can find?’ (Proverbs 31:10), after the manner in which she comforted her husband on the sudden death of their two sons, who both died on the Sabbath. She waited for him to arrive home, make Havdala and then asked whether an object held in trust must be returned to its owner. When he responded in the affirmative, she led him to the room where the boys lay and said; ‘G-d gave and G-d has taken away’ (Job 1:21).
[2] Gittin 4a. Some say his real name was Misha or Nahori but he assumed the title Meir which means ‘enlightener’.
[3] This ‘incident’ is also recorded in the Talmud, Avodah Zara 18a. Paraphrase follows:
Beruria said to her husband: ‘It is a disgrace that my sister sits in a house of ill repute (which is where she was taken as captive by the Romans)’. R. Meir immediately went to Rome with money and said: ‘If no forbidden thing was done to her, a miracle will occur’. He dressed as a horseman and located his sister-in-law, but she did not recognise him. She said that the way of women was upon her and that there were other more beautiful women there. He said he specifically wanted her. She declined. He then knew that this was her response to all who came.
He bribed the guard with his money to help them escape. The guard became fearful that he would be found out. R. Meir told him to say ‘G-d of Meir answer me.’ R. Meir showed how that expression could save him from man-eating hounds that were present. The guard was convinced and allowed them to escape.
Eventually the guard got arrested. He uttered the formula given to him by R.Meir and indeed was spared.
The Romans carved an image of R. Meir on all the gates of Rome and he became a wanted man.
One day they found him and gave chase. He ran into another place of ill repute, saw some non-kosher food there and pretended to eat it. The Romans let him go because they said: ‘If that were R. Meir, he would never have done that’.  For this reason he had to flee; - Others say he had to flee because of the ‘Beruria Incident’.
[4] The Beruria Incident: Tradition of Exclusion as a Presence of Ethical Principles, by Itamar Drori.
[5] According to Rav Aviner: “...early editions of Rashi do not contain this incident.  Perhaps a mistaken student put it in (Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv also explains that this incident never happened. Divrei Yaakov of Ha-Rav Yaakov Adas on the Teshuvot of Ha-Rav Elyashiv, p. 263).” I have been unable to find the earlier editions with this Rashi text removed. Please will someone point it out to me as I would love to post the reference because this would make for a very compelling argument. According to Drori: “The earliest known version of the Beruriah Incident appears in MS Parma Palatina 3155 (De Rossi 1292), the only manuscript containing Rashi’s full commentary of bAvodah Zarah.” (Emphasis mine). This manuscript became the basis for our printed Talmud texts today, which do record this Rashi. 
[6] See Cervantes’ Don Quixote.
[7] See The History of the Forty Vezirs
[8] II, p. 32
[9] Ben Yehoyada, by Yosef Haim of Baghdad, IV, Avodah Zarah, p. 175.
[10] 6 are in the Talmud Bavli and one in the Tosefta.
[11] Kiddushin 81a
[12] Eruvin 53b; BeEizeo derech nelech leLod? should rather have been shortened to BeEizeh leLod?
[13] Eruvin 53b, 54a
[14] In kabbalistic literature a ‘male’ or ‘female’ soul is not necessarily gender related. For example, a person who ‘gives’ or teaches is said to have a ‘masculine’ soul, whereas on who receives or learns is said to have a ‘feminine’ soul. 

Sunday, 15 January 2017



Rambam's Moreh Nevuchim which states that angels 'only exist in the mind'.


In this essay we are going to explore some prime rabbinic sources which deliberate upon whether or not angels exist; and if they do, what form they take.


As is evidently clear to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of biblical narratives, there are multiple references to angels throughout the Chumash.[1]

On the other hand, for some reason the books of the Prophets have relatively few references to angels.[2]
It is only in the Book of Daniel where, for the first time, angels are referred to by names (Gabriel and Michael), and also where they are first ranked and classified into hierarchies. This supports the Talmudic view that the names of angels were brought from Babylon by the returning exiles, as Daniel was exiled at Babylon.[3]


There are no (or very few)[4] overt references to angels in the Mishna. Some suggest this may have been because the Mishna period (0-200 CE) commenced at about the same time as Christianity was beginning to emerge, and there was the need to distance the Jewish concept of angels from the early Christian view.

This scarcity is made up for during the Gemara period (200-500 CE) with numerous and frequent references to angels.

For example: The Gemara said that new angels were created every day, and after praising G-d, they would sink into the ‘river of dinur (fire)’, leaving only two only permanent angels, Gabriel and Michael.[5]

There is, however, a fundamental difference in approach between the Talmud Yerushalmi (which stresses that there is no need for Jews to pray through intercession of the angels) and the Talmud Bavli (which intimates that one of the primary functions of angels is to carry the prayers to G-d.)


The common perception of angels alternating sometimes between an ethereal, and other times a very physical form, seems to have been the predominant view right up until it was radically challenged by Rambam. 

He did not accept that angels were actual beings. 

Instead he maintained that every scriptural encounter with angels took place in a dream or dream-like state.

Rambam wrote: 

We have already shown that the appearance or speech of an angel mentioned in the Torah took place in a dream or vision.”[6]

According to Rambam no meeting with an angel ever took place in physical reality, but only in a trance-like state. He supports his position by pointing out that many of the Torah narratives concerning angels are preceded by G-d first appearing to the individual before the angel is actually encountered.[7]
But Rambam went even further in his definition of the word ‘angel’: It was not the manifestation of a spiritual being as most others understood it to be, but rather what he referred to as ‘separate intelligences’ (sechalim nivdalim). By ‘separate intelligences’ he included all natural forces and energies such as the power of growth in a flower or embryo, the pull of gravity and even the attraction between one individual and another. These all fell into his category of ‘separate intelligences’ or ‘angelic forces’.
Rambam wrote: 

This is the view we meet in all parts of Scripture, every act of G-d is described as being performed by angels. But angel means messenger[8], hence every one that is entrusted with a certain mission is an angel. Even the movements of...creation...- for natural forces and angels are identical.”

He must have been so frustrated with the common perception of literal angelic beings that he concluded: 

How bad and injurious is the blindness of ignorance.”

 Rambam was so against the popular conception of angels, that he wanted to remove all references to them from the prayer book. One example is his removal of the Brich Shemei prayer, which makes reference to ‘bar Elahin’ (angels or literally, sons of G-d).

This is significant because firstly, Brich Shemei is not just an Aramaic prayer but a direct extraction of a passage from the Zohar.

Secondly, even the rather innocuous words - ‘not in the angels do I put my trust’ - were objectionable to Rambam because not trusting in angels still acknowledges their existence.

To this day the Dor Deah Yemenites, who loyally follow the Rambam’s teachings, omit this prayer for the same reasons.

RAMBAN THE MYSTIC (1194-1270):
All the above was too much for Rambam’s antagonist, Ramban, about 60 years his junior. These Maimonidean ideas were an anathema to the more mystical Nachmanides. Ramban believed that angels certainly could and indeed did take on human, and sometimes even some other physical form.
For example, Ramban explained that when the Torah spoke about giving the goat to Azazel (who was the also known as Samael, the angel of Esau) this was meant as a ‘bribe’ so that he not speak badly about the Jews to G-d on the Day of Atonement when their judgement is sealed.[9]

Ramban wrote of angels in general:

“According to the view of the rabbis, when the Torah speaks of angels (appearing to man),  the angels donned a ‘garment’ (malbush), as is known to the mystics (yode’im), and they became perceptible to righteous people.”

Ramban clearly challenges Rambam’s view that angels cannot physically ‘appear’. He claims what he calls the unanimous full support of ‘the rabbis’ (of the Talmud) who all believe angels can and do physically ‘appear’. He also brings extra support from the mystics who refer to the process of physical manifestation as ‘donning a garment’ to make them more ‘visible’.  

Then he refers to Rambam in the strongest of terms calling him a rogue and a dissenter:

 “According to Rambam, Sarah didn’t bake cake nor did she laugh, and Avraham didn’t slaughter the calf. It was just a vision! - So why, then, did the Torah bother to record all those details?...And (regarding the story of Jacob wrestling the angel) if it was just a vision, I don’t understand why he was limping when he woke up...And (regarding the story of Lot and Sodom) did the angels not accompany him and his wife and two daughters when they ran for their lives from Sodom as it was being destroyed. Did Lot then remain in Sodom if the whole episode were just a vision?

Ramban's commentary challenging Rambam - from the 1545 Venice publication of Ramban's Pirush al haTorah.

In the end, Ramban could contain himself no longer and concluded: 

His (Rambam's) words contradict the Torah. It is forbidden even to listen to then, never mind believing them!”[10]


Rambam could retort that the Torah style is often to record, as he puts it; “...a general idea”. In other words the Torah is sometimes more general and less literal. And the general idea; “has a great many points which have no reference whatever to that idea...”[11]

Evidently, the literal tenor of the words of the Torah can and does create, occasionally, some difficulty for Rambam, especially when talking about angels. He then has to resort to a broader interpretation of the verses, explaining the detailed minutiae away as part of the overall force of the vision. The details then assume a more allegorical role (or, according to some interpretations, remain a simple record of incidental facts which were  part of the vision but remain superfluous).


In his commentary on Rambam’s Moreh Nevuchim, Abravanel[12] wrote:

Sarah did not bake nor laugh and Avraham did not prepare the calf... Ramban thinks that that which occurs in a vision is imaginary whereas that which occurs in physical reality is more dignified. But the opposite it the truth: Reality depicted in a vision has more dignity. It is astonishing that Ramban should state that it is forbidden to listen to Rambam!

Again, the details in a vision take on a more meaningful role when interpreted allegorically instead of literally.

In his commentary on Genesis, Abravanel proposed some very challenging questions to the mystics who took angels literally:

“(If angels manifested physically, then) where did these bodies come from? Were they born and if so to whom? Were the bodies created (as new born or) as adults, like Adam? What happened to these bodies after the angels’ appearance? If the angels’ spirit left the bodies, the remains should be like those of every other body after its soul departs. If they appeared in some body that only looked real, why did some see them and others not?” 

For these reasons, Abravanel concludes in support of Rambam:

Rather, the angels must have appeared in visions and not in physical forms.


It’s fascinating to see that a widespread and popular concept like angels - which de facto appears to have been taken for granted as being part and parcel of the very fabric of Judaism - is in actual fact subject to such a fierce and fundamental debate.

It’s no small matter when Rambam refers to those who believe in angels as pursuing a ‘blindness of ignorance’.

Neither is it when Ramban forbids us from believing in, or even listening to what Rambam had to say because it is ‘against the Torah’.

If ever there was a major clash in theological ideology between the giants of the Rishonim, this must be it.

Notwithstanding the common mainstream adoption of the mystical approach towards angels - technically, within classical Torah thought - the question of their very existence remains an open one.

[1] The exception is Deuteronomy with no references to angels.
[2] Exceptions are Zechariah, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Daniel.
[3] Talmud Yerushalmi Rosh Hashana 1:2;  "The names of the angels were brought by the Jews from Babylonia."
[4] Although I came across the notion that there are no references to angels in the Mishna, this appears to be a contentious issue. The Mishna in Avot 4:11 states: “R. Eliezer ben Yaakov says; He who fulfils one mitzvah acquires for himself one advocate (peraklit), and he who commits one transgression acquires against himself one accuser (kateigor).” (Tehilat Hashem, translation by R. Nissen Mangel).  Others translate peraklit and kateigor as ‘angels’. As a general observation, the other non -Mishnaic writings of that period, while referencing angels, for some reason do not often refer to them by name.
[5] Chagiga 14a
[6] Guide for the Perplexed II, ch. 41
[7] Ibid. 2:42. See also Mishna Torah, Hilchot Yesodei haTorah 2:3-4
[8] The Hebrew word malach (angel), comes from the word melacha (work), implying that the meaning of ‘angel’ is to act as an agent to accomplish some ‘task’. It is interesting to note that a similar notion is expressed in English, where ‘angel’ comes from the Greek ‘angelos’ which means ‘agent’.
[9] Ramban bases this interpretation on Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer 46.
[10] Hebrew: “ve’eleh hadevarim soterim hakatuv. Asur le’shomam, af ki leha’amin bahem!
[11] See Introduction to the Guide for the Perplexed.
[12] Sometimes pronounced Abarbanel.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017



Belief in the broad concept of Mashiach is not necessarily the same as belief in a narrow and popular messianism which claims knowledge of specific, intricate and detailed events of the future. Eschatology, in general, is treacherous territory because it is so filled with false historical predictions, mythology and the dubious agendas of various spiritual lobby groups.

Frankly, as we shall see, the Armilus idea is a seemingly non-Jewish sounding concept. 

In this article we are not going to look at Messianic Eschatology, but rather at a surprisingly wide range of rabbinic texts which do make reference to a concept of Armilus.



Not too many people have even heard of the name Armilus, and certainly are unaware of what his role and fate are said to be.
I will intentionally include many visual source references in this article, to show the strong literary and textual basis for Armilus within our tradition.


Instead of there being just one Messiah, an often complicated and sometimes knotty tapestry is woven out of two messianic figures, known in Jewish tradition as Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David.
Then to add to the complexity, there is additionally a third messianic character - a ‘middle man’ - known as Armilus.

Keeping myth and eschatology to a minimum[1], Armilus is the figure that allegedly arises at the end of days and kills Mashiach ben Yosef. Armilus then, in turn, is killed by Mashiach ben David.


Probably the earliest source to speak about Armilus is the Targum Yonatan, an Aramaic translation of the Torah, from (apparently) around 30 BCE.

Avnei Sheish explains this Targum Yonatan as follows:
Isaiah 11:4 reads: “...and with the spirit of his lips will he smite the wicked.”
Targum Yonatan translates the phrase ‘smite the wicked’ as “...kill Armilus the wicked.”

This is more than a mere translation. It's a clear insertion of a new word - 'Armilus'.
The Avnei Sheish records: “The Targum (translation) of 'rasha' (wicked) is 'Armilus rashia' (Armilus the wicked) - this is probably the first time that this name is mentioned in the Targum and Midrashim.”


After the Targum Yonatan, a reference to Armilus is recorded again in a messianic Midrash known as Sefer Zerubavel, which was written around the 600’s CE.[2]

RAV SAADIA GAON (882-942):

Rav Saadiah Gaon quoted from Sefer Zerubavel and wrote about Armilus in his haEmunot v’haDeot:

 “...a king will arise against them (the Jews) and his name is Armilus, and he will wage war against them and destroy them...and kill the man from the tribe of Yosef.”

RAV HAI GAON (969-1038):

In a Teshuva or responsum of Rav Hai Gaon it states:

It will happen that when the Messiah of the lineage of Joseph and all the people who are with him have made their dwelling in Jerusalem, Armilus will hear the news about them. He will come and prepare charms and enticements so as to lead many astray by them. He will come up and do battle against Jerusalem, and he will defeat the Messiah of the lineage of Joseph and his people...”[3]

The Batei Medrashot Alef[4] mentions the Teshuva of Rav Hai Gaon:


The name Armilus also occurred in Midrash Vayosha which is dated at around the 10 00’s and first published in 1519. 

“...then an arrogant king will arise and his name is Armilus, and he will wage war against Israel for three months...”


In Midrash Talpiyot[5] it states “...regarding the matter of Armilus which is mentioned in the Midrash...

OTZAR MIDRASHIM (1854-1956):

Otzar haMidrashim[6], also contains a reference to Armilus as: “...being of very tall stature...


Zichron Mashiach[7] quotes the Ari Zal who said that in the Amidah; “...when we say ‘throne of (Kisei) David’, we need to concentrate and intend it to mean Mashiach ben Yosef – that he not be killed by Armilus...” (Mashiach ben Yosef is the precursor to Mashiach ben David, hence he is called the ‘throne’ upon which the latter will sit.)


In the siddur of Sar Shalom Sharabi (1720-1777), the Yemenite kabbalist, there is similarly a special note in the paragraph ‘ve LiRushalayim Irecha’, which instructs the reader to concentrate, while saying the words ‘ve Kise David’:  “Concentrate and pray to G-d that Mashiach ben Yosef will not be killed by Armilus the wicked.”


In the Pri Eitz Chaim of the R. Chaim Vital (1542-1620), the foremost student of the Ari Zal,  it states: “In the merit of those who study the true wisdom (Kabbalah), they have the strength to protect Mashiach ben Yosef from being killed by the wicked Armilus...

In the kabbalistic work, Eitz haDaat Tov also by R. Chaim Vital, it records: “For Armilus will kill Mashiach ben Yosef, as per the Pesikta and Midrash Zerubavel... and his body will remain for forty days until Mashiach ben David will bring him back to life...”


The Shemen LaMaor commentary to Psalms, mentions that Mashiach ben Yosef can be saved from death by Armilus through our prayers:


The Arugat haBosem, by R. Efrayim Auerbach, asks: 

Why is Armilus given permission to kill Mashiach ben Yosef? –To break (test) the will of the dissenters of Israel who have no faith, who will say; ‘this is the man we trusted in and now he is dead!’. They will have no hope left and will turn from the covenant of Israel and join the nations...


The Midrash Shlomo refers to “Armilus the Satan...”


According to Ohalei Shem, a book explaining the various rabbinic views about Mashiach, the view of Rav Saadia Gaon is recorded; 

A king will arise whose name is Armilus and he will wage war against them and destroy the city (of Jerusalem) and plunder it, and this man from the Tribe of Yosef will be amongst those killed...

It’s interesting to note that this book contains approbations from R. Shmuel Wosner and R. Moshe Feinstein.


The Gaon haGaonim writes an intriguing account of Armilus: 

At the end of days there will arise a king in Edom whose name is Armilus...who will rule the world...and Jerusalem...then Mashiach ben Yosef will gather Jews to fight Armilus, but they will not prevail and Armilus will kill him. Afterwards, Mashiach ben David will stand up, whose name in Menachem ben Amiel, but the Jews will not believe in him until Mashiach be Yosef is brought back to life in the presence of Eliyahu...”



One must be aware that the Armilus figure has, in the past, been used by Christianity to support many of their beliefs. Here is an example of one such attempt by a scholarly Presbyterian minister, Rev C. W. H. Pauli, who in 1871 translated Targum Yonatan into English with the express desire to “promote Christianity amongst the Jews”:

Rev. Pauli wrote:  

The unprejudiced Jew by reading this paraphrase will see, that we Christians believe in no other salvation than that which their fathers expected the Messiah should bring....”

Then on page 40, after accurately quoting Targum Yonatan, he adds: 

“ all the later Jewish editions, we have another interpolation, they add...Armillus...who...shall slay their expected suffering Messiah...”

According to Pauli, Targum Yonatan - just a few years prior to the birth of Christianity - predicted that the Messiah will be slain by someone called Armillus.

Pauli therefore wrote: 

We beg every Israelite to emancipate himself from all imbibed prejudices, and to search the Scriptures with the paraphrases of Jonathan Ben Uziel in his hands, so that he may see whether our Christian faith is not the faith of their fathers, before it degenerated through the traditions of their fathers.

We certainly do not promote this view. It is only cited here, to show how the Armilus idea resonated very well the Christian concept of Messiah.



The Presbyterian minister, Rev Pauli, who translated Targum Yonatan into English, mentions that R. Yonatan ben Uziel was born in 30 BCE, making him a very early and therefore reliable source. Since Targum Yonatan was the first source to mention Armilus, it has a strong and authentic basis in Jewish literature, and therefore according to him, presents a rabbinic basis for Christianity.

But, the truth is that is not at all clear when (what we refer to today as the) Targum Yonatan was written. There is much controversy surrounding the dating of Targum Yonatan, for a number of reasons:

1) Originally it was known as Targum Yerushalmi, abbreviated as ‘TY’, but a later printing mistake interpreted ‘TY’ to stand for Targum Yonatan. For this reason, many scholars refer to work as Targum Pseudo-Yonatan.[8] This underscores the difficulty is accurately ascribing all the text in Pseudo-Yonatan to Yonatan ben Uziel of 30 BCE.

2) R. Azariah de Rossi (1511-1578) recorded in his Meor Enayim, how he saw two similar manuscripts of Targum - one was entitled Targum Yerushalmi, and the other Targum Yonatan. This supports the notion that the Targum Yonatan was easily confused with the original Targum Yerushalmi.[9]

3) With reference to the Talmud Yerushalmi, Rav Hai Gaon wrote in a responsum: 
"We do not know who composed it, nor do we even know this Targum, of which we have heard only a few passages. If there is a tradition...that it has been...since the days of the ancient must be held in...esteem...But if it is less ancient, it is not authoritative...”[10] 
According to this, some sparse and disjointed sections of text were available at around the 10 00’s. This would make the task of identifying which sections of text were older and therefore more original than the entire expanded text as we have it today.

4) The Talmud[11] records that a student of Hillel, Yonatan ben Uziel translated the books of the Prophets into Aramaic. Today Targum Yonatan includes an Aramaic translation of the Five Books of Moses as well. If the text expanded so much as to include five extra books, it would be extremely difficult to know which singular words may have similarly been expanded upon in later times as well.

In the editions of Targum Yonatan as we have it today, there is another reference to Armilus (besides that found in Isaiah), this time in the actual Five Books of Moses.[12] In the footnote, it explains that Armilus is also known as the ‘antichristo’!

In Avakat Rochel there is also a reference to Armilus as an ‘antichristo’.[13]

It says: “His name is Armilus the Satan, which non-Jews call the ‘antichristo’ ...”

5) Another difficulty is that Targum Yonatan refers to Ishmael’s wife as ‘Fatima’. Historically, Fatima the youngest daughter of Muhammad was born as late as 605 CE. Some, therefore, date this work at around 800 CE.

6) It is also significant that the Gaonim (589-1038) did not mention the Targum Yonatan (except for R. Hai Gaon who only heard of a ‘few passages’)[14], nor did Rashi (1040-1105) make any reference to it. Had the complete text existed at that time, one would have expected much mention of it by the earlier Gaonim and especially by the master text analyst, Rashi.

7) The first time Targum Yonatan is referred to in its complete form, is by R. Menachem Recanati (1250-1310), in his Perush al haTorah. This leads many to put its composition in its present format, at sometime as late as around the 1200’s.


Taking all this into consideration, there is a strong possibility that the Armilus idea is not as old as 30 BCE. It may, therefore, have been an expansion or insertion –or even a forgery – by a later writer, perhaps with a bias towards the Christian understanding of the Messiah concept.

 This would, of course, leave the question as to why so many of the rabbinic sources we have brought, refer to Armilus as though it were indeed an original Jewish concept. And there are scores (probably reaching into the hundreds) of other rabbinic references to Armilus as well.

Not all rabbis, however, were comfortable with the Armilus idea. Some were not even comfortable with the Mashiach ben Yosef concept either:

R. Chasdai Crescas (1340-1411), for example, was extremely suspicious of it.

He wrote:

No certain knowledge can be derived from the interpretations of the prophecies about Mashiach ben Yosef, nor from the statements about him by some of the Geonim.”
He questions the very veracity, never mind of Armilus, but of Mashiach ben Yosef himself!

It is important to note too, that Rambam (1135-1204) did not make any mention of Mashiach ben Yosef, and certainly not of Armilus either. These omissions would not have been made unintentionally by the great codifier.
Taking all the above into consideration, the questions remain:
Is the notion of the Armilus persona;
- a folk idea that somehow gained rabbinic acceptance and embellishment over time,
- a Christian forgery,
- or is it a genuine and original Torah concept?

A few weeks ago I had never even heard of the word Armilus.
Someone mentioned it to me in passing and my first reaction was that it could not be a Jewish idea.
Since then I have discovered an astounding array of texts which I found while searching through some of the many thousands of seforim which have been collected on Hebrew Books. And to my surprise, I found that there are hundreds of references to Armilus in our texts.
These texts served as the basis for this article.
[The hypothesis that Armilus may have been a Christian insertion or even forgery is my own, as I have not seen the idea suggested by anyone else.]

[8]In 1979, Avigdor Shinan...identified 122 expansions in Genesis that appeared in....the Palestinian (Yerushalmi) Targums and the Pseudo-Jonathan. He argued that these expansions represented the interpretations...of the translator, and could not be used to investigate the Targums’ theology.” See The Targums: A Critical Introduction By Paul V.M. Flesher, Bruce D. Chilton, p. 96  (Parenthesis mine).

[1] As Armilus is, according to some versions, said to be ‘born from a marble statue’.
[2] It is possible that the ‘devil figure’ of Armilus was then applied to the Byzantine emperor, Heraclius during the Jewish revolt against him which occurred in the early 600’s.  The failed revolt was the last Jewish attempt at sovereignty in the land of Israel in pre modern times. Heraclius then instituted an imperial conversion campaign against the Jews. Following a similar pattern of referring to our enemies as Armilus, it has also been applied, by some, to political leaders such as Perez and Obama in recent times.
[3] See Responsum of Hai Gaon on Redemption, John C. Reeves
[4]by R Shlomo Aharon ben Yaakov (1966-1935)  
[5] by R. Eliyahu ben Avraham Shlomo HaCohen.
[6] by R. Yehuda David Eisenstein.
[7] by R. Avraham Avush ben Chanoch Henich.
[9] The first manuscript, the Targum Yerushalmi is in the British Museum, and was published in 1903 by Ginsburger. The second manuscript was printed in 1591 under the (mistaken) title Targum Yonatan, which formed the basis of the Targum Yonathan we use today.
[10] He does add: “It is very improbable, however, in our opinion, that it is of later origin".
[11] Megila 3a
[12] Devarim 34:3
[13] Hebrew Books actually has 19 seforim that contain numerous references to an ‘antichrist’.
[14] Rav Hai Gaon (the second last Gaon of Pumpedita) who passed away in 1038 (which is the date of the end of the period of Gaonim). He said that he just heard of a few passages of Targum Yonatan, and was unsure of the period of its origin.