If I have to send all the way to Jerusalem for a book, the least I can do is to review it for all of you after it arrives, no?
The Bible Lands Museum in Israel has put on an exhibition on magic in Jewish culture. Those of us who can’t attend it, however, can comfort ourselves with the exhibition catalog, Angels and Demons: Jewish Magic through the Ages.
I should note that, to begin with, the question of what constitutes “Jewish magic,” as with any magic assigned specifically to a particular religion or ethnicity, is fraught with peril. Magic has been the most popular intellectual property for centuries, and its users’ emphasis upon the principle “does it work?” means that religious characters, language, and symbols are often appropriated across barriers of culture and faith. Nonetheless, the difficulty of such a task is noted in the book, and bearing that in mind while reading it is a useful exercise.
I would not call this book a comprehensive book on the topic of Jewish magic, by any means, but it does include a good number of articles by authorities in the field – Moshe Idel, Gideon Bohak, Saul Shaked, Dan Levene, Mark Geller – on topics across the field of Jewish magic. We get brief summaries of magical practice in general up until the Middle Ages, followed with a number of articles on various topics, including the evil eye, Lilith, skull amulets, and the khamsa (the Jewish version of what is better known as the Hand of Fatima). Each article includes photographs, often in full-color, of various amulets, texts, and artifacts of objects from the exhibition, and is followed with a brief bibliography. None of the articles are particularly long, so they should be considered introductions to the scholarship on these topics rather than comprehensive reviews.
I hesitate to recommend this book simply due to the expense of acquiring it for those outside Israel. Nonetheless, this is an especially important book in light of the fact that so many other texts gloss over or omit illustrations that appear in magical documents. As such, it deserves a place in the library of anyone interested in Jewish magic, or magical symbols in general.