Lilith, in Jewish folklore, demon that is an enemy of newborn children. The name Lilith is etymologically related to the Sumerian word lil (wind), not to the Hebrew word laylah (night), as was long supposed. Like the Sumerian wind demon and its later Babylonian counterpart, Lilith was regarded as a succubus, or female version of the incubus. In the popular imagination, Lilith eventually became confused with Lamashtu, the Babylonian child-slaying demon.
The only biblical reference to Lilith is in Isaiah 34:14, in which she is depicted as a demon of the desert.
In postbiblical Jewish literature, Lilith came to be identified as Adam’s first wife. The first fully developed account of her mythology is found in the Alphabet of Ben Sira, written between the 7th and 10th centuries. According to the Alphabet, when God decided to create a female companion for Adam, he created the first woman out of earth in the same way as he had created the first man.
The pair immediately began to quarrel because Lilith refused to submit to Adam. Lilith fled, and in response to Adam’s request, God sent three angels to bring her back. The angels told her that if she refused, one of her demon-children would die every day. Lilith refused to return to Adam and vowed that she would harm male infants up to the eighth day after birth and female infants up to the 20th day.
In traditional European Jewish communities, belief in Lilith persisted into the 19th century, and protective amulets were frequently placed near the bed of a woman about to give birth.
Since the mid-1970s, Lilith has returned to Jewish poetry and fiction. In particular, she has been adopted by American Jewish feminists as a symbol of women’s strength and independence. The Jewish feminist journal Lilith first appeared in 1976, and Jewish feminist theologians have worked to reinterpret the biblical story of Adam and Eve in light of Lilith’s myth.
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