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"The Werewolf Howls," illustrated by Mont Sudbury, from "Weird Tales" Vol. 36, No. 2, page 38, November 1941.

Werewolves are demons who live as human beings but periodically change in form to become wolves. The word Werewolf ("wer-wolf") is Old English for "person-wolf." Another name for these beings is Lycanthrope, Greek for "wolf-human." Scriptural and folkloric accounts of humans who transform into animals of various species are found in many cultures, but werewolves as we now know them originated in the Jewish tradition. During the Middle Ages, Rabbi Judah ha-Hasid (Judah the Pious) (c. 1150 -1217 CE) wrote about werewolves in his work "Sefer ha-Hasidim" ("Book of the Pious"), mentioning "those who know how to turn into a wolf..." Rabbi Hasid's contemporary, Rabbi Ephraim Ben Shimshon, also known as Ephraim ben Samson (c. 1150–1250 CE), gave further details in his kabalistic commentary on the Torah called "Perush al ha-Torah." He stated that Benjamin (c. 1754 BCE), the 12th son of Jacob and the second son of Rachel, and the patriarch of one of the twelve tribes of Israel, was a werewolf who ate his own mother. He reasoned that because Rachel died giving birth to him, Benjamin was born with a full set of teeth. In the Bible, Rachel lived long enough to name him Benoni ("Son of My Sorrow") but Jacob changed his name to Benjamin ("Son of the South" or "Son of the Right"). Shimshon cited the Book of Genesis 49:27 as his evidence for Benjamin's lycanthropy: "Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; In the morning he consumes the foe, and in the evening he divides the spoil." In his commentary on Genesis 44:29, the rabbi explained that "Benjamin was a 'predatory wolf,' sometimes preying upon people. When it was time for him to change into a wolf [...] as long as he was with his father, he could rely upon a physician, and in that merit he did not change into a wolf. For thus it says, 'And he shall leave his father and die' (Genesis 44:22) — namely, that when he separates from his father, and turns into a wolf with travelers, whoever finds him will kill him." The descendants of Benjamin and his tribe were ultimately absorbed into the tribes of Judah and Levi, but Rabbi Shimshon believed that occasionally descendants of Benjamin continued to be born who exhibited signs of lycanthropy -- such as being born with a full set of teeth.

Rabbi Shimson also quoted a "writer from Ashkenaz" (at that time referring to France and the Rhineland) who said that in Europe there is a type of wolf called a loup-garou (from Old French, meaning literally "wolf werewolf") -- a person who changes into a wolf. During its transformation, animal paws emerge from between the person's shoulders and the rabbi noted that this reflects the biblical verse Deuteronomy 33:12, which says "he dwells between the shoulders." The rabbi recommended that a firebrand be used for defense against an attacking werewolf. Israel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov] (c. 1698–1760 CE), also known as BeSHT, was the founder of the Hasidic movement, was said to have battled demons and werewolves. His combat with a werewolf was recorded in chapter four of the book, "Shivhei ha-Besht" ("In Praise of Baal Shem Tov"), a collection of memories from his followers published in 1814 CE.

Jewish folklore regarding Werewolves entered mainstream American culture largely through the vehicle of films written and directed by Jews. In 1941, Curt Siodmak (1902 – 2000), a Jewish German immigrant who fled the Nazis and came to Hollywood, wrote the movie that introduced America to Werewolves "The Wolf Man." Siodmak presented most of the now-popular elements of werewolf lore, such as the beast’s monthly emergence during a full moon, the use of silver as a repellent and weapon, the mark of the pentagram on the palm of the Werewolf's foredestined victims, the beast’s superhuman strength, and the transmission of lycanthropy through a bite. It is hard to miss that the main character of the movie is searching for the Werewolf who had attacked and killed his brother Benjamin. Other films featuring werewolves were "Werewolf of London" (1935), and "She-Wolf of London" (1946). The next big werewolf film "An American Werewolf in London," was written and directed by Jewish American John Landis (1950 - present) and relesed in 1981. Speaking in a documentary, Landis said that as a Jewish refugee, Curt Siodmak "knew full well the real-world significance of people marked for death with the sign of a star." Landis's film tells the story of David Kessler and his friend Jack Goodman (two common Jewish names), as they backpack across Europe. As they hike through the woods, both men are attacked and Jack is killed. While David is hospitalized and in a coma, one of the nurses says, "He's Jewish; I checked," implying that she inspected his circumcised penis. Furthermore, during David's recovery, he has nightmares that his family is attacked and brutally murdered by zombie werewolves dressed in Nazi uniforms. Due to the influence of these two films, werewolves have become increasingly popular characters in horror stories across the globe.


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