'Too holy to print': Taboo anxiety and the publishing of practical Hebrew esoterica

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Not merely forbidden, magic was often constructed as a taboo in Jewish culture; its practice was restricted to particular persons while forbidden to general use. At once inviolable, sacred, and unlawful, magic is the object of what Freud called "holy dread." That magic was taboo, however, does not mean that its adepts were viewed as evil or in rebellion against the authority of Jewish tradition. Magical adepts could be cultural heroes, and magical prowess so attractive and impressive that its attribution to rabbinic saints was a sine qua non of hagiographical traditions. Given this fraught status, the printing of Jewish magical materials could hardly have been anything but a complicated affair. This article explores some of the taboo-anxieties on display over the course of the history of the printed magical book in the Jewish world, exposing its tensions, ironies, and the interests of the various parties involved.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)247-262
Number of pages16
JournalJewish history
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History


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