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THE DREAM IN HUMAN AFFAIRS
IN THE long pre-Freudian centuries, before the mystery of the dream was reduced to all too human terms, when men still listened for the voice of God in the still of the night, dreams played a greater rôle in shaping ideas and actions and careers than it is easy for us today to believe. If we have come to look upon these nocturnal visions as the products of experience, we have simply reversed the older, though not yet altogether discarded, view which made of them initiators of experience. The supernatural world communicated with man through the dream, and spoke words of counsel and command which he felt impelled to heed. Galen, in 148 C.E., at the age of seventeen, turned to the study of medicine because of a dream; in 1244 Ludwig IX took up the cross for a like compelling reason. How many such instances might be adduced to indicate the vital decisions that turned upon such a motive!
The dream was not less potent an incentive in Jewish life; for instance, at about the time of Ludwig's venture, Moses of Coucy wrote, "At the beginning of the sixth millennium [1240 C.E.] there came to me the command in a dream vision, 'Arise, compose a book of religious instruction in two parts!'" which was the genesis of his Semag. Two centuries later, a certain Gershon b. Hiskiya, who was in prison in France, was led by a dream to write a book on medicine. Two centuries later again a dream prompted the composition of Menasseh b. Israel's Nishmat Ḥayim.1
Even legal and ritual problems of some moment were decided at the instance of "the master of dreams." The very day on which the Tosafist, Efraim b. Isaac of Regensburg, permitted the consumption of sturgeon as a kosher fish he was obliged to reverse himself because in a dream "they" had made clear to him that he was in
error. R. Meir of Rothenburg admitted that a dream had caused him to change his opinion in a matter affecting wages, despite contrary precedents, the rulings of his French colleagues, and his own previous decisions. In fact, there lived in the thirteenth century a man, Jacob Halevi of Marvège, who gathered in a volume a series of responsa which had been handed down to him in dreams, relative to such ritual issues as shaving the beard and cutting the hair, how and when tefillin should be worn, when certain blessings should be recited, whether milk foods may be eaten after meat, ritual slaughter, etc.—matters that can seem trivial only to those who are insensitive to the demands which an ardent piety makes upon devout people. He did not limit himself to these questions; sometimes his queries were in a lighter vein. It is reported that he once asked "the master of dreams" whether Jesus and Mary are hinted at in the Bible, and received the reply that the words "the foreign gods of the land" (Deut. 31:16) are mathematically equivalent to those two names. It is a pity that he didn't convey to us the reply to his question as to how soon the Messianic era may be expected. Others, too, merited heavenly edification. In the same century an anonymous writer asserted that dreams had cleared up many difficulties in Maimonides’ Guide for quite a few puzzled students, and Isaac b. Moses of Vienna, who was very much concerned about the correct spelling of the name "Akiba" had that too straightened out for him by the obliging "master of dreams." Heaven was more co-operative in those days than it is today.2
The dream thus constituted a very real factor in medieval life—even the line that separated physical reality from the more tenuous spirit world which was supposed to rule dreamland was not too precisely and permanently drawn. In Havre, in 1637, the city court declared a child legitimate when the mother swore that her husband, missing for four years, had embraced her in a dream. To such fantastic lengths Jewish belief did not go. Yet a vow or a decree of excommunication pronounced in a dream was held to be real and binding, even more so than one uttered during waking hours, for the latter could be voided before a court of three men, while the former required a full congregation of ten, the idea being that since the deity had somehow been involved in the dream action, only a minyan, over which the Shechinah presided, had the power to release the dreamer.3
But the greatest force that the dream exerted was as a prognostication
of, and guide to, the future. In this conviction the leaders of Church and Synagogue were at one; Thomas Aquinas found himself in the company of the rabbis of the Talmud and the Middle Ages. "Dreams are a sixtieth part of prophecy" ran an old adage; the mathematics may have been correct once upon a time, but since the gift of prophecy had been withdrawn from the world, the proportion must be raised considerably to do justice to the medieval view. It was in dreams that the supernatural world communicated directly with the natural; its knowledge of the future could most readily be transmitted to men through this medium. "Not a thing transpires on earth," wrote one authority on the subject, "without having first been announced in a dream." Another wrote, "Nothing happens to a man, good or ill, before he has beheld some intimation of it in a dream." How seriously this dictum was taken we may judge from an anecdote: a man dreamed that he would marry a certain woman, but when he sought to fulfill his destiny, she refused him. Now he was in a dilemma; if he married someone else, which he was quite ready to do, it would be tantamount to dooming his wife to an untimely death, for his dream must undoubtedly come true. Though "the sage" whom he approached with his problem quoted Talmud to refute Talmud: "dreams neither raise nor lower," that is, "disregard them and follow your own inclination," it was no easy matter to convince him that he need not wait until his dream-mate changed her mind. Instances of this sort could be cited in great number. And the reports of dreams that came true are legion. After relating one such true dream which R. Israel Isserlein had, his biographer wrote, "And I know many more dreams of his that came to pass." There are still many people who can testify in a like vein concerning themselves or their friends. Solomon Almoli, in his Pitron Ḥalomot ("The Interpretation of Dreams"), proved logically that this was no superstition. Jews and Gentiles agree, he wrote, that portents occur during waking hours; there can be no doubting that they come from God, for they show themselves in time to be veracious intimations of the future. Nor can one for a moment question God's power to introduce them into our dreams. Indeed they can the more readily appear at night because "then our physical energies are weakened and the mental strengthened." After this compelling argument it was hardly necessary to adduce, as he did, "proofs" from Gentile literature and from Jewish, as well as on rational and sensational grounds.'
WHERE DREAMS COME FROM
Not all dreams were of supernatural origin nor possessed equal significance. Corresponding to a variety of causes, various types of dreams commanded respect in differing degrees.
It was recognized that many, if not most, dreams are produced by physical stimuli. Heavy, rich foods "cause a vapor to rise into the brain" which during the night disposes itself in fantastic images. Physical needs and desires, or sensations, such as heat and cold, experienced during sleep, similarly affect the mind, so that one's dreams bear a close relation to one's physical state. Menasseh b. Israel wrote, "When one is overheated at night he may dream that he is warming himself before a fire, or enjoying a hot bath; if he is cold, he dreams of ice and sleet and snow." Such dreams are unworthy of attention, they "speak folly" and are "vain and idle conceits."5
Another common source of dreams are man's thoughts during the day. "When a man concentrates on certain ideas for a long time, the power of thought to conjure up definite images remains active at night." Dreams that can be traced back to such a cause are no more credible than the first category. But another sort of dream, produced by "the vigor of the soul" (ḥozek hanefesh), merits consideration on the part of the dreamer, for it is a "prophecy in miniature." Menaḥem Ẓiyuni described the process thus: "The imaginative faculty refashions at night the perceptions which have been impressed upon one's fancy during the day; during sleep when the senses are idle, this faculty overpowers him so that the vision seems as real as though he were beholding it in actuality. Such a dream is reliable in proportion to the vividness of his powers of analogy; it comes to him without his having thought of its subject matter at all, which, in fact, is often quite unconventional. These dreams constitute the 'miniature prophecy' of which the rabbis said that it is bestowed particularly upon imbeciles and infants, because they are not graced with intelligence and their apperceptive powers are undeveloped. Therefore what the imagination makes of sense perceptions during waking hours is clearly visioned while asleep, for it conceives of things that are true and that come to pass."6 The psychology of dreams as expounded by Ẓiyuni has a modern ring; it was not his own, however, for he confessed that he had cribbed it from non-Jewish "theologians." Apparently the unexpressed theory behind this dissertation is one we have met before, namely, that the
soul, untrammelled by the physical universe and left to its own resources, possesses the power to apprehend the future.
What is probably the most primitive and universal theory is also met with in Jewish dream-lore. While the body is asleep, the spirit, or soul, leaves its corporeal prison and wanders over the face of the earth, reporting back its experiences to the sleepless mind. When one dreams of meeting a friend who is far distant, it is the souls of the two, annihilating space, which have made contact. Some men, of a higher spiritual capacity, behold these visions clearly and well defined; for most men they are confused and obscure. We dream of the dead because their immortal souls are still capable of haunting the earth and meeting ours. "But animals have no soul, therefore a man cannot dream of an animal that has died or has been slaughtered." Reports of the dead appearing in dreams are numerous. The teacher and father-in-law of Eliezer b. Nathan, R. Eliakim b. Joseph, visited him one night to correct a misconception which had led to an erroneous ritual decision; R. Meir of Rothenburg once helped an earnest student, who had never met him in life, to unravel a badly snarled Talmudic passage; Rashi disclosed to his grandson Samuel the correct pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton; according to the popular legend, on the third night after he had been tortured to death, R. Amnon of Mainz appeared in a dream to his teacher, R. Kalonymos b. Meshullam, and dictated the solemn Unetanneh Tokef hymn which he had composed while writhing in pain. These are a few of the more notable visitations. Visions of the lot that deceased ancestors are enjoying, whether in Paradise or Gehinnom, disclosures of hidden treasure, exhortations to repay debts contracted by the visitant, such is the burden of most dreams about the dead.7
Those dreams, then, that derive from natural causes, physical or mental, are not the stuff out of which the shape of time to come can be pre-constructed. Dreams that result from the peregrinations of the soul may or may not be thus useful, depending upon the presence of the one factor that stamps them as truly portentous, the supernatural. All really significant dreams come ultimately from God. (In practice, of course, the definition worked the other way around—those dreams which the expert branded as significant were ipso facto God-born.) A Talmudic sage quoted God's assurance, "Although I have hidden my face from Israel, I will communicate
with him through dreams." Such direct communication was in effect during the Middle Ages, as well as in ancient times, according to some writers. Menasseh b. Israel distinguished two degrees of deistic dream inspiration: the first, vouchsafed to all men alike, he termed "providential," the product of God's solicitude for His creatures. Such dreams are devoted to the minor concerns of human existence; evil men are warned against the deeds they ponder during the day, good men receive mildly prophetic or admonitory visions. He testified that he himself had had such dreams foretelling the death of acquaintances, which came true. The imagery and symbolism of these dreams is usually beyond the comprehension of the ordinary man. The second degree is the "prophetic," in which direct communion with God is experienced only by rare, blessed spirits.8
Most of the medieval writers who discussed the subject, however, inclined toward the view that God-sent visions are transmitted through the intermediacy of angels. Sometimes we read of an angel especially appointed over this department, "the master" or "dispenser of dreams," sometimes it is the memuneh, man's deputy angel, who molds his sleeping thoughts to apprise him of the will of God. At times this angel does nothing more than direct the drama of man's waking thoughts on the stage of his dream, and "since not all thoughts are true, not all dreams are true." But when the angel introduces his own plot onto the stage, the vision assuredly has some peculiar and significant meaning.9
There is still a further possibility—the dream may be the work of a demon. As Sefer Ḥasidim says, "When a man suddenly beholds in his sleep a woman with whom he has never had relations, and whom he may not even have consciously desired, such a dream is caused by a demon or spirit. . . . The demon does not actually penetrate his thoughts but whispers into the depths of his aural cavity," The demons seem to be responsible mainly for dreams of passion, though there are cases in which it is impossible to determine whether an evil spirit or an angel is to be held accountable.10
"DREAMS FOLLOW THEIR INTERPRETATION"
The cardinal feature of portentous dreams, as we have observed, is obscurity. Graphically, "What is shown a man in a dream is as
though he were to find himself in the midst of a strange people whose tongue he doesn't understand, so that they can only suggest things to each other in sign language, as one does with a deaf person." And just as today it requires a trained psychoanalyst to decode the dream cipher, so in the past the dream was taken to an expert to be read aright. The basic principle had been laid down in the Talmud: "All dreams follow their interpretation," that is, as the dream is interpreted, so will it come to pass. Indeed the Talmud went a step further to the logical corollary of this principle: "An uninterpreted dream is like an unread letter," having neither good nor evil implication, as though it had never been experienced. The rabbis sought to give recognition in these statements to the psychological impact of a favorable or unfavorable prediction, and were subtly implying that it might be best not to seek the meaning of a dream. But, in Talmudic times and later, these words were taken literally. The wise followed the better counsel, and refrained from courting trouble—"One should not relate his dream to any man, and especially not his wife," Sefer Ḥasidim advised, for so long as it was his own secret its effect upon his career remained nil. Those who could contain their curiosity, however, were few. The Gemara tells a tale of one man who got several different interpretations of his dream—and all came true. But Maḥzor Vitry specified that the first interpretation is binding on the dream, and this became the generally accepted rule.11
The author of a widely read dream book, Solomon Almoli, refused to accept the Talmudic view, for, he argued, it would destroy the whole science of dream interpretation. If it were so, one need either not bother about dreams altogether, or secure only favorable interpretations. It is impossible that God's will, disclosed in a dream, can be nullified by such naïve methods. We may ascribe this denial of the traditional view to professional jealousy, but in effect the tradition did no harm to the interpreter's business.
There was some difference of opinion as to the qualifications of the dream expert. Some maintained that his skill must be innate—his star must have determined at his birth that this should be his forte. This was the reply that Jacob Halevi of Marvège received when he put the question to "the dispenser of dreams." But Almoli would have none of this. If it were a matter of fate, he wrote, some people would be infallible interpreters, and there were none such. Skill in this field is the result only of intensive training. Some interpreters
rely upon dream books and can decipher particular dreams, but the true expert is one who has high intelligence, and an understanding of the principles of the science. He must know how to evaluate the circumstances and environment of the dreamer, and to differentiate the fine shades of meaning of dream symbolism, to reject the inconsequential elements of the dream and to single out those that are significant. Amateurs can only blunder upon the true meanings. A typical professional point of view!
Along with their reputed skill as magicians, Jews owned a high reputation as dream interpreters and were sought out by Christians for this purpose. Because of the tradition that "dreams follow the interpretation" it was feared that the Jewish expert might be held responsible in heaven if he translated the dream of his Christian client in terms of Christian worship—he might be the cause of his client's "sin" in pursuing Christian practices. For instance, if he told a priest that his dream signified that he was destined to become a bishop, the priest would apply himself more assiduously than ever to his clerical duties. But the ready rejoinder was to the effect that the Christian would continue in his error regardless of the dream, so the interpreter was really not accountable. "Even though the expert refuses to interpret the dream," it will come true, it was admitted, with the reservation, however, that if a Jew's dream points to some evil act the interpreter should not disclose it, for "one who tells a Jew that his dream signifies that he will sin is to be regarded as causing him to sin."12
The general public was acquainted with the professional methods through a host of dream books, many of them attributed to Joseph or Daniel. These books, popular among Christians, Jews, and Mohammedans, had much in common, and were in essence versions in different tongues of a common fund of tradition. One such book, already mentioned, the Pitron Ḥalomot of Solomon b. Jacob Almoli, first published in Salonica about 1515 (under the title Mefasher Ḥalmin), republished in Constantinople in 1518 and 1551, in Cracow in 1576, and many times after, was the outstanding Jewish work on the subject. Almoli was a Turkish Jew, who flourished at the beginning of the sixteenth century; he collated all the older Jewish material, and made extensive use of the non-Jewish, admitting his indebtedness to the Gemara, to Hai Gaon, to works ascribed to Rashi, Joseph, Daniel, as well as to translations from non-Jewish sources. Among those he quoted were Ibn Sinna, Ibn Roshd, Aristotle
and Plato. Though his book was written toward the end of the period it represents the information current throughout the earlier centuries. Some of the passages on dreams in the German-Jewish literature, in Eleazar of Worms's Ḥochmat HaNefesh, for example, or in the manuscript work Eẓ Ḥayim, by Jacob b. Judah Hazan of London, both thirteenth-century writers, display a close affinity with Almoli's later compilation. We have no such extended work from Northern Europe, but there can be no doubt that German Jews were acquainted with most of the subject matter which Almoli presented. His book became very popular and in 1694 was translated into Yiddish, in which form it still has a wide circulation among the Jewish masses.13
Since this work contains the only systematic organization of the material, it may not be amiss to summarize it here. It is divided into three parts, the first dealing with the classification of dreams and the general principles of interpretation, the second constituting a full glossary of dream symbols, the third devoted to an elucidation of the methods of counteracting the effects of ominous dreams. Part I comprises eight "gates": 1. defining the dream and its various types; 2. whether or not to rely on dreams; 3. distinguishing between reliable and unreliable dreams; 4. describing the customary and the extraordinary elements of dreams; 5. three basic principles which the interpreter must follow; 6. the interpretation must take into account the client's profession or trade, and his circumstances; 7. whether or not the interpretation is the determining factor in the effect of a dream, containing a "great investigation" into this subject; 8. the time when dreams may be expected to materialize. Part II contains five "gates": 1. divided into five sections, on the symbolism of inanimate matter; 2. five sections, on flora; 3. six sections, on fauna; 4. four sections, on humans; 5. three sections, on "higher beings," such as "the planets and stars, thunder, and books"! A perusal of Part II leaves one wondering what natural phenomena Almoli could possibly have neglected; he was careful to include all the derivatives, such as objects made of wood and metals, etc., wine and oil, eggs and honey and cheese and milk, cooked dishes, clothing. Part III, consisting of three "gates," discusses the "dream-fast" and the ritual devices of "turning a dream to good" and "releasing" one from the effects of a dream. Almoli covered the field thoroughly; his erudition explains his scorn of those who would rely on the stars, or on a hastily digested smattering of data to qualify as experts.14
THE TECHNIQUE OF INTERPRETATION
The Bible offers several classic examples of dream interpretation, symbolical in the case of Pharaoh's dreams, allegorical in that of Nebuchadnezzar. In Talmudic times puns often provided the key, e.g., dreaming that something will occur in the month of Nisan means one will suffer no temptation (nissayon). If the dream could be brought into connection with some Biblical verse, that verse indicated its significance, e.g., to behold a camel (gamal) means that the dreamer's death has been decreed in heaven, but he will be delivered from his fate, because Gen. 46:4, in which the words gam ‘aloh occur, contains the reassuring promise, "I will go down with thee into Egypt, and I will also surely bring thee up again." During the Middle Ages these methods remained in use, but the most favored was to interpret by analogies, or by antitheses. Very often the association is obscure, though it no doubt derives from one of these methods or from an ancient, well-authenticated tradition. It is interesting to notice how frequently the interpretations of dreams in Christian sources correspond with the Jewish.15
The following excerpts from thirteenth-century Jewish works16 provide some idea of the manner of interpretation. From Eẓ Ḥayim: "All liquids are of good omen, except wine, if the dreamer is an uncultured person; all fruits are auspicious, except the date, and all vegetables, except turnip-heads, but the root indicates wealth; . . . wheat signifies peace; barley, atonement for sins; laden vines, his wife will not miscarry; white grapes are a good omen; black grapes in season are good, but out of season they indicate he will soon be praying for mercy; . . . a white horse is a good omen; a red horse is bad, he will be hounded and pursued; a donkey, he may be confident of salvation; . . . if he dreams he has lost his property, an inheritance will soon come his way; . . . if he is on a roof he will achieve greatness; if he is descending, he will be humbled"; etc. Eleazar of Worms offers these: if a man dreams he has a pain in one eye, a brother will fall ill; in both eyes, two brothers will be ill; if a tooth falls out, a son or some relative will die; if he sees a king, or a groom, or a wedding ceremony, or any celebration, he will soon be a mourner; dividing meat indicates a quarrel; fire in an oven signifies evil events; snow in summer, a fire; a vineyard, his wife is or will be pregnant; grapes, he will be blessed with a child; carrying a bird or a fish in his bosom means his wife will bear a child; if an
unmarried person has this dream, he will soon be wedded; a group of people partaking of delicacies indicates they will all have cause to weep; an angel in the moon means war; a snake-bite indicates prosperity; and so on.
It will be more instructive, however, to examine the principles by which the interpreter made his decisions.17 It was first necessary to evaluate the credibility of the dream, which required a study of the stars, of the dreamer's character, of the foods he had consumed before retiring, both in their planetary relationships and their potentiality for inducing spiritus in the body, and his thoughts on the preceding days. The day of the month and the week, the hour, the land in which the dream was beheld also help to determine the degree of reliance which is to be placed upon it. Similarly, if the dream images are clear and vivid and leave the dreamer moved or agitated, the dream is trustworthy. If the dream leaves little impression, it may be disregarded. One of the rules frequently advanced is that a dream which occurs in the early night, before the process of digestion has started, either has no significance or concerns the past; a dream which comes in the middle of the night, while the food is being digested, may or may not have importance; but most dreams that occur in the early morning, when the process of digestion has been completed, come true.
Similar criteria were employed to determine how long a period may elapse before the dream comes to pass. A man's character, for instance, helps decide this, for the righteous person is forewarned long before an event is to occur so that he may have ample time to prepare for it, while the wicked are not given much warning. The general rule is that most dreams are speedily realized, usually on the same or the next day; occasionally realization of a dream may be delayed, but never longer than twenty-two years (this is based on a Talmudic remark) .
As to the actual process of interpretation, there is no substitute for a knowledge of the dream language, Almoli writes, but there is one rule that must constantly be kept in mind, namely, that the same symbol may have different connotations for different men. As an example he cites the case of a man who dreamed that his horse was able to negotiate a turbulent stream only with great effort. If the dreamer is a scholar, then the horse signifies wisdom, and the dream indicates that his learning will carry him successfully through some very difficult situations; if he is not a scholar, the horse means
strength, and the dream implies that he will be engaged in a physical struggle from which he will emerge victorious. Quick-wittedness has always been the fortune-teller's most precious endowment.
The gold that the fates pour into a man's lap serves only to whet his greed. The effort to induce divinatory dreams succeeded upon the realization that dreams could be put to such a use. Saul tried, and failed. If countless others failed too, inevitably there were some who could claim success, and "nothing succeeds like success," especially in the field of magic. In Talmudic and Geonic times the techniques of asking a "dream question" were familiar to everyone. During the Middle Ages this proved a popular form of divination, though it hardly met with the approval of the religious authorities. Sefer Ḥasidim contains the statement, "If a man decides, I will put a 'dream question' to find out which good wife I shall take, he will never be successful," yet the same work tells of a pious Jew who asked the prince of dreams "who will sit beside him in Paradise? And they showed him a young man in a distant land." An interesting anecdote concerns a man who inquired how long he would live and received the reply in French, mil ans, which he interpreted literally, but his life was ended at eighty, for mil in Hebrew transliteration equals eighty. One of the questions put by Jacob Halevi of Marvège was whether it is proper "to invoke, by means of the 42-letter name of God, the angels who are appointed over learning and wealth and victory and favor," and the reply came, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, and He Himself will provide all your needs." As we have seen, Jacob Halevi solved many ritual and legal problems in this way, and the fourteenth-century R. Jacob b. Moses Mölln (Maharil), or his father, resorted to the same device to resolve at least one ritual question.18
In consonance with the prevailing conception of the origin of dreams, two agencies were mainly invoked to serve divinatory purposes: the dead, and the spirits generally or the genius of dreams in particular. As we have noted, one way of ensuring a nocturnal visit from the beyond was to make a dying man take an oath that after his death he would return and answer any questions put to him. Or two friends might make a mutual vow that the first to die would come back in a dream to paint for the other a picture of the next
world. Such practices were common among Christians as well as among Jews, as this verse from Hans Vintler's Blumen der Tugend (1411) discloses:19
So send denn ettliche
wenn sy sechend ain liche
so raunent sy dem totten zu
und sprechend 'kum morgen fru
und sag mir, wie es dir dort gee.'
wenn sy sechend ain liche
so raunent sy dem totten zu
und sprechend 'kum morgen fru
und sag mir, wie es dir dort gee.'
Another course was to stretch oneself on the grave of a pious man and beseech him to answer one's questions in a dream. There is a story of a young student who adopted this procedure to learn whether certain ascetic practices he wished to adopt would be considered sinful or meritorious in heaven; that night the deceased came to him and carried him off to Paradise where he beheld the rewards that would be showered on him for his piety.20
The dead, however, were not always willing to obey the summons of the living, and in such a case force could be applied. This required the services of a professional sorcerer. A woman who was on bad terms with her son died without leaving a will disclosing the hiding place of her money. The son employed a sorceress to wring her secret from her. The woman "performed her sorceries with a knife" and then went to sleep, whereupon a demon appeared to her in a dream with the knife piercing his heart. She refused to be moved by his entreaties and extract the blade until he produced the information she sought. He returned with the mother and forced her to reveal her secret. The son got the money, but a few nights later his mother came to him in a dream and apprised him of the price he would have to pay: "In proportion to the suffering you brought upon me by your vile act will reverses and torments be heaped upon you."21
On the other hand, angels and spirits could be invoked to appear in dreams by the usual methods. Jacob Halevi who, it is reported, induced his divinatory dreams by putting himself in a trance, used a simple request: "Oh, supreme king, great, mighty and revered God, guardian of the covenant and fount of grace for Thy followers, preserve Thy covenant and Thy grace for us, and command Thy holy angels who are appointed over the replies to 'dream questions' to give a true and a proper answer, unqualified and specific, to the question which I shall ask before Thy glory," etc. It is interesting that sometimes the answer came that in heaven itself there was a
division of opinion, which, by a strange coincidence, usually corresponded with a like division among the rabbis here on earth; and sometimes the first reply that Jacob received was unsatisfactory, so that he had to repeat his question two and three times, insisting upon a clearer response. Certain Biblical selections were also useful toward this end. Ps. 23 and 42, each recited seven times with its "names," were guaranteed to produce dream replies. If one writes Deut. 29:28 and its "names" on his hand and sleeps with that hand under his head the angel of dreams will favor him.22
Direct invocation of angels was also resorted to, with the usual preliminary rites of ritual cleansing and fasting. One simple invocation runs as follows: "'I conjure you, Duma, prince of dreams, in the name of the Almighty God, that you come to me this night and answer my question. And when you wish to indicate good or evil, show me for evil: priests and churches, wells, cisterns, caves and graves; but for a favorable sign show me: schools, synagogues, open books and scholars studying them; and let me not forget the apparition.' Then go to sleep. But speak to no man concerning this. It should be done only on Sunday night, and only in urgent matters. Do not make sport of this!" Sefer Raziel has a much longer charm, heavily weighted with angel names, which concludes with a series of Biblical quotations. The same work contains other prescriptions for a "dream question"; one advises writing a name upon "ruled parchment" and placing it under one's head after reciting a spell; another, "tested and tried," suggests washing the hands thoroughly and anointing the left hand with "water of lilies," after which an invocation is to be written on it, then, "sleep on your right side, and you will see and be astounded!" Still another prescribes a more complicated procedure: secure two white doves and slaughter them with a two-edged copper knife, one edge for each dove, extract their viscera, knead them together with three shekels of wine, some fine frankincense and some pure honey into a thick paste, and cut it into small cakes; on the three days preceding the new moon, before sunrise, perform the prescribed purificatory rites, put on a white garment but no shoes, and burn some of these cakes on the hearth, while reciting the names of the angels who are in charge of the new month; on the third day let the house fill with smoke, lie down on the floor, recite the angel names and then sleep. "And the angels will appear and tell and reveal everything you may ask, in a clear vision, not in parables. You need have no fear."23
NEUTRALIZING OMINOUS DREAMS
Since unfavorable as well as favorable dreams come true, and the event therefore came to be regarded as the consequence of the dream, it was believed that if one could somehow nullify the dream itself in advance its effects would be obviated. Thus, in the prayers to be recited at night before retiring there is a specific request to "save us from evil dreams," while some writers make it a point to note that some of the Biblical verses included in these prayers, such as Cant. 3:7-8, and Nu. 6:24.-26, "have the property of counteracting evil dreams" (the first because it speaks of "threescore mighty men" gathered about a bed, the second because it contains sixty letters—and a dream is "one sixtieth part of prophecy"), and that Ps. 128, also part of these prayers, contains references to vines and olives, which, according to the Talmud, are favorable dream symbols. Indeed there arose toward the end of the medieval period the custom of boldly announcing before going to bed, in the manner of "to whom it may concern," "I hereby proclaim that whatever unpropitious dream I may have this night, I shall not tomorrow observe the customary fast," which declaration, we are assured, "is a preventive of evil dreams, but, God forbid! should one nevertheless behold such a dream, he must on no account fast, or the angels of dreams will be very much provoked."24
Once the dream has been experienced, however, other means must be adopted to forestall its consequences. As in the case of an illness, a dream may be sold and its effect transferred to the purchaser. An instance of such a transaction is recounted in Sefer Ḥasidim, with perhaps a sly dig at the interpreter who had no faith in his own interpretation; a certain Gentile who had dreamt he was riding a red horse was overwhelmed with despair when the interpreter told him this presaged his imminent death. The interpreter offered to purchase the dream "for the price of a drink," a proposal which his client accepted with alacrity. The next day the interpreter was dead—though the narrator does not consider that the drink rather than the dream may have been responsible for his sudden demise. Again we learn that a literal acting out of the dream may destroy its symbolic significance. When a person who is married dreams he is carrying a bird in his bosom, this signifies the birth of a child, but if the bird flies away it portends disaster. To save himself he should fast and distribute charity among the poor, the customary procedure, but he
should also place a fowl in his bosom, a cock if the dreamer is a man, a hen for a woman, and then permit it to fly off. Now that the dream has been scrupulously enacted, the apprehensive dreamer may breathe easily again. Still a third method is to recite, immediately upon waking, a Biblical verse suggested by the dream, which contains a promise of good. If one dreams of a well, he should say, "And there Isaac's servants digged a well" (Gen. 26:25); of a river, "Behold I will extend peace to her like a river" (Is. 66:12); of a bird, "As birds flying so will the Lord of hosts protect Jerusalem" (Is. 31:5); of a dog, "Against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog whet his tongue" (Ex. 11:7); of a mountain, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger of good tidings" (Is. 52:7); of a shofar, "In that day a great shofar shall be blown" (Is. 27:13); of a bullock, "His firstling bullock, majesty is his" (Deut. 33:17); of a lion, "The lion hath roared, who will not fear?" (Amos 3:8); of shaving, "Joseph shaved himself and changed his raiment and came in unto Pharaoh" (Gen. 41:14); and so on.25
The most widely used methods of counteracting the effect of a bad dream, the "dream fast" and the rite of "turning a dream to good," were instituted in Talmudic times. These, coupled with the usual expiatory acts of prayer, charity and repentance, were held to be effective devices, and were observed not alone by the common people but also by some of the outstanding rabbis of the Middle Ages, such as Meir b. Baruch of Rothenburg and Israel Isserlein. Indeed they came to be regarded as the inevitable sequel of every bad dream, and of every dream whose significance was in doubt, so that their observance became almost automatic, though their true purpose was never lost sight of. They are observed by some pious Jews even in this day. A third device, the "release" from an obligation incurred in a dream, such as a vow or an excommunication, has already been described.
The Talmudic basis of the Ta‘anit Ḥalom, the "dream fast," is the following passage: "Rab said, 'Fasting is as effective against evil dreams as fire against shavings;' R. Ḥisda added, 'One must fast on the same day on which the dream occurred;' and R. Joseph added, 'Even on the Sabbath.'" These dicta raised three issues, concerning the first and second of which there was fairly general agreement. Fasting, the accepted rite of penitence and expiation, was believed to carry great weight with the heavenly council. The dream constitutes not a final and irrevocable judgment, but rather a warning of impending doom, which may be postponed and perhaps altogether negated by
pious deeds and a righteous life, of which the fast was the first instalment. "It seems to me," wrote Almoli, "that this fast is to be regarded practically as an obligation upon the dreamer, and not as a voluntary act which he need not observe if he so pleases." We may judge how important it was considered by the fact that even on those occasions when fasts were forbidden an exception was made in favor of the Ta‘anit Ḥalom. During the month of Nisan, for instance, when even the Jahrzeit fast in commemoration of the death of a father or mother was not permitted, this "dream fast" was the only one allowed. And not only the dreamer felt bound to observe this fast, but if his dream seemed to carry an ominous message for a second party, that person too observed it.28
The requirement that the fast must follow the dream on the same day was explained on the ground that the adverse decree might be intended for immediate execution; or, as one writer put it, each day has its own angels who are charged with carrying out the heavenly decisions. A delay of even one day may make the fast ineffective. Any other voluntary fast but the Ta‘anit Ḥalom may be postponed.27
The only difficulty was with regard to the observance of this fast on the Sabbath and on holidays. Some medieval rabbis felt that R. Joseph had gone too far in his endorsement of what was essentially a superstitious practice, though it had introduced a religious element into the belief concerning dreams. They did not state their objection, originally voiced by R. Kalonymos (in the twelfth century) and often repeated, in so many words, but got around the Talmudist's opinion with the qualification that "nowadays one should not observe the Ta‘anit Ḥalom on the Sabbath, because we are no longer expert in the interpretation of dreams." The subterfuge was no more successful than if they had roundly denounced the institution or expressly forbidden it on the Sabbath without apologies. As it was they left a convenient breach through which the more superstitious could clamber. Obviously Jews were still dream experts, so far as the masses were concerned. Maharil wisely wrote, "It is better that a man fast on the Sabbath because of a dream, than that his heart be troubled; he'll derive more pleasure from the fast than from his food." Others tried to soften the objection to the Sabbath fast by offering minor concessions. R. Meir permitted it if the same dream had been repeated three nights in succession, while some harked back to a tradition associated with the name of Hai Gaon, who had allowed it after three particularly ominous dreams, namely, if one beheld a Torah scroll
burning, or the conclusion of the Yom Kippur service, or his teeth or the beams of his house falling. The list was, as may be expected, extended; dreaming of any part of the Yom Kippur service, of reading in the Torah, of getting married, of being kissed by a deceased person, equally warranted a fast on any occasion. But Isaiah Horowitz, the sixteenth-century Polish mystic, who himself "usually advised people not to fast on the Sabbath," admitted, "I have known many people to make light of these restrictions, and fast on the Sabbath whenever their spirits were depressed by a dream."28
To appreciate the full moment of this dream fast we must further consider that it entailed a second day's fast immediately after, to atone for the desecration of the holyday—two days of fasting in succession! This duplicate fast was scrupulously kept. True, sometimes permission was granted to infirm or sick people to postpone it, if a double fast might prove too arduous for them. But otherwise there were no slackers. And to bring home more sharply the high regard in which this remedy for ill-omened dreams was held by the people, they did not refrain from observing it even on Rosh Hashanah, if necessary, when a Ta‘anit Ḥalom on the first day of the holyday entailed not only fasting on the next day also, but on both days of Rosh Hashanah in every succeeding year! (If, however, occasion for fasting arose on the second day, then only that day's fast was repeated annually.) Nor did they hesitate to keep this fast on the eve of Yom Kippur, the most trying day in the Jewish calendar. It required great faith, indeed, to produce such stanch devotion!29
When the fast was completed, the final remedy was resorted to, the Hatavat Ḥalom, the rite of transforming an ominous dream into a favorable one. As recorded in the Talmud, it was performed as follows: The dreamer gathered three friends and said to them, "I have beheld a good dream!" and they responded, "Verily, it is good, and may it be good, and may God make it good." This was repeated seven times (but, following the precedent attributed to the twelfth-century rabbi Isaac b. Samuel the Elder, the number of repetitions was reduced to three, "the usual number of times an incantation is recited," as later writers explained) . Then the dreamer recited three verses in which the word "to overturn" appears (Ps. 30:12, Jer. 31:12, Deut. 23:6), three verses containing the word "redeem" (Ps. 55:19, Is. 35:10, I Sam. 14:45), and three which speak of "peace" (Is. 57:19, I Chr. 12:18, I Sam. 25:6) . This prescription was followed in the Middle Ages, and was extended to include Hab. 3:2,
[paragraph continues] Ps. 121, Nu. 6:22-27, Ps. 16: 11, concluding with the words of Ecc. 9:7, "Go thy way, eat thy bread in peace." To avoid the slightest unlucky intimation, moreover, the order of these last words was altered, for their initials spell the word avel, "mourner." If the purport of the dream had been forgotten, the Talmud provided a prayer which was warranted to ensure that no harm would befall the dreamer.30 Thus fortified he could throw off the oppressive weight of his dream and "eat his bread in peace"—until another night visited another evil vision upon him.