י״ז במרחשון ה׳תש״פ (November 15, 2019)

Nidda 24a-b: Giving Birth to Demons

The Gemara continues in its investigation of miscarriages for the purposes of determining whether or not the mother becomes ritually unclean as a woman who gave birth (tum’at leida), and the discussion turns to an examination of demon-like creatures. The Gemara relates:

Rav Yehuda citing Shmuel ruled: In the case of a woman who discharges a fetus that has the form of a Lilith, its mother is impure by reason of the birth, for it is a child, but it has wings.
This is also taught in a: Rabbi Yosei stated, “An incident occurred in Simoni involving a certain woman who discharged a fetus that had the form of a Lilith, and the incident was brought before and they ruled that it was a viable offspring but that it also had wings.”

The commentaries differ with regard to the identification of Lilith and its appearance. According to Rashi, Lilith is a demon. Demons have human features, together with wings. The Radak (see his commentary to Yeshayahu 34:14) suggests that it is a creature that shrieks at night, or some kind of a nocturnal bird. The Zohar identifies Lilith as the mother of all demons.

It is interesting to note that when the Rambam – a rationalist who rejects the world of supernatural demons – brings this halakha in his Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Issurei Bi’a 10:10), he does not quote the original language of the Gemara that refers to Lilith, rather he simply writes:  “If a woman aborts a human form that has wings of flesh.” Nevertheless, both the Ein Mishpat and the Beit Yosef point to our Gemara as the source for that ruling.

The city of Simoni where this incident took place is identified as the Biblical city of Samaria (Shomron), an ancient city that is mentioned among the 31 cities captured by Yehoshua Bin Nun during the conquest of Canaan (see Yehoshua 12:20). One of the major battles prior to the destruction of the Second Temple took place there; throughout the centuries there was an important Jewish community there.