Lilith Sternin, one of my favorite sitcom characters, is the significant ex-other of Frasier, the pompous but lovable celebrity psychologist. Lilith, a psychologist herself, is a self-controlled, cold woman with dark sexual energies she works hard to repress. True to her name, she is a modern, sophisticated version of the Jewish demon Lilith, one of the most fascinating figures in Jewish demonology.
Lilith, the demon, originated from Babylonian mythology that featured male and female spirits called Lilin or Lilith. Whereas the male spirits had no specific role, the female Lilith were considered harmful to babies, and already an old Hebrew amulet from the eighth century BCE from north Syria contains a spell to ward her off.
In the ancient Akkadian culture (around 2000 BCE) she appeared as Lilitho, a nocturnal winged being that accompanied Ishtar, the goddess of fertility, love, sex, and war. Lilith was the shadowy aspect of sex, the dark side of lovemaking. The Akkadians believed she lurked awaiting sleeping men, tempted them, and bore them demon offspring.
Lilith the ensnaring demon found her way into most ancient cultures and later to the three monotheistic religions, including Judaism which omitted the “o” from her name. The Bible mentions her in the Book of Isaiah in a passage that describes the devastation of the land in the Day of God; Lilith is a winged creature that dwells in desolate places.
Although she appears only once in the Bible, she became “popular” in the Talmud and its legends as Adam’s first wife. Her figure helped the commentators to account for the two biblical versions of
creation; the first version says “...man and female created he them”
(Genesis, 1:27). Hence the commentators concluded that like Adam, she was formed from dust. (In the second version God created man first, and when he complained of his loneliness, God created Eva from Adam’s rib. Genesis 2:21-23).
The Talmud says that Lilith was a sturdy woman who stood up for her rights in all matters, including sex. When Adam refused to allow her the missionary position, she furiously uttered God’s forbidden name and flew away.