Believe it or not, Jews were among the first groups in history to talk about vampires. In fact, some of the earliest texts that deal with vampires were written in Hebrew.
The first Jewish vampire appears in the Bible. It’s known as Alukah. Later Jewish writings about vampires were written in the Middle Ages over a thousand years ago.
The first of the medieval Jewish texts referencing vampires is the Midrash Shmuel, though there is only a vague reference, a statement made by Rabbi Aivo, where he calls creatures known as “terafim” (translated as “idols” or “household gods”) “nikorim of vrokali.” This statement has confused scholars for centuries, until 2004, when professor and rabbi Daniel Sperber of Bar Ilan University suggested that Rabbi Aivo was talking about vampires that Michal piled under King David’s bed so that the followers of her father, King Saul, wouldn’t know that King David had escaped.
This isn’t the only time that “terafim” are referred to as supernatural beings (another example being in the Midrash Tanhuma, where, according to its writings, you can make terafim speak by using a corpse, salt, incense, and a spell).
The second of the medieval Jewish texts dealing with vampires is the Sefer Hasidim, written by Jews in Germany during the 12th and 13th centuries. While the Midrash Shmuel’s reference to vampires is rather vague, the Sefer Hasidim is far more explicit, stating the following:
“There once was a woman that was a striya and was very sick, and there were two women with her at night — one sleeping and one awake. And that same sick woman stood before her and crackled her hair and wanted to fly and wanted to suck the blood of the sleeping woman. And the one that was awake woke up the one who was asleep, and they grabbed the striya. And the one that slept, slept more and the one that was awake didn’t sleep. And since she couldn’t do harm, the striya died because she needed that which comes from blood, to swallow the blood and flesh.”
The third medieval Jewish text dealing with vampires is the Sefer HaRokeah, which was also written in Germany. This book lists precautions to prevent a striya (i.e. vampire) from coming back from the dead.
Before she is buried, the undertaker must examine her mouth. The text goes on to say, “If it is open, it is clear that she will harm again a year after she died, and he should fill her mouth with an ample amount of earth so she will harm no more.”
Estries (plural for “striya”) are female vampires in medieval Jewish folklore that are believed to prey on Hebrew citizens. The word comes from the French word “strix,” meaning night owl. It’s likely that medieval Jewish writers were influenced by their non-Jewish neighbors to believe in estries, as there are no references to them in the Tanakh, Mishnah, or Talmud. For example, Romanians believed in living dead creatures known as “strigoi.” Similarly, Albanians believed in “shtriga” and Poles believed in “strzyga.”
According to the Sefer Hasidim, estries prefer the night, though it’s unclear whether they can also roam during the day, unlike the archetypical European vampire. Estries are not deterred by religious iconography and can walk freely into holy places. They can seek prayer and healing from unsuspecting religious people trying to do good, though blessing estries is considered an evil act. Injured estries can heal by drinking blood or eating bread and salt from the person who caused the injury.
Estries can kill pregnant women and babies out of spite or jealousy and can seduce or sexually assault men. They can also exist as non-human spirits and transform into non-human animals.
Estries can be decapitated or burned. In later mythology, estries are depicted more like European vampires; for example, they become vulnerable to silver bullets, wooden stakes, blessed weapons, and holy water.
Another kind of “Jewish vampire” is the “alukah,” which, unlike estries, which came along later, does appear in Biblical texts, specifically in the Proverbs of Solomon.
Alukah means “horse-leech,” a leech with many teeth that can feed on the throats of animals.
In the Proverbs of Solomon, Alukah is referred to as a female demon possibly related to Lilith (or it’s even possible that Alukah is another name for Lilith). Alukah is able to curse a pregnant womb.
The Sefer Hasidim refers to the Alukah as a living human being that can shapeshift into a wolf. It can fly and it must feed on blood to survive. When it dies, its mouth must be stuffed with dirt to prevent it from becoming a demon.
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