Spoiler Alert! You’ve been warned…
After I binged Season 1 of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, I realized that while it was a fluffy yet delightfully dark teen show, perfect for cozy fall nights, it also had a lot of issues. Particularly, the way that the show included Jewish references, like the feminist demon Lilith, was… not great.
This show’s MO seems to be mining references from the mystical traditions of different cultures, thereby creating a smorgasbord of demonic drama. It’s a tactic that might work well if there was more actual representation of those cultures on the show.
However, in Season 2, the writers seemed to have internalized the criticism they previously received and backed off of the appropriation of Native, Roma, and African spiritual traditions.
But, because their new season is super biblical (Sabrina literally becomes Jesus), the show includes a lot more Jewish references than in Season 1. Some of them are quite bizarre (the shofar as a sex symbol??) and others are kinda cool. Here at Alma, we’ve rounded up some of the most interesting Jewish references on the show. Think these are appropriation? Or are they actually a good representation of Jewish traditions? We’re torn, so let us know!
1. Salome, Episode One
In the very first episode, Salome, the daughter of King Herod, makes an appearance as a stripper who is summoned to entertain at Father Blackwood’s sexist party.
According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Salome was the step-daughter of Herod Antipas who (appointed by Rome) ruled over Galilee, a region in Palestine. Even though Herod and Salome are Jewish, they’re heavily featured in Christian texts and art. Salome is considered an erotic, dark figure who is lusted after by her step-father and who also lusts after John the Baptist, even kissing the lips of his severed head — which is all pretty freakin’ gross. Richard Strauss has an opera named after Salome, and her “Dance of the Seven Veils” mirrors her appearance as a stripper in Sabrina. Since Salome seems to be more of a Christian figure than a Jewish one, this doesn’t seem to be too appropriative.
2. Lilith’s Character Growth
Last season, I went in on the show for the portrayal of Lilith, who, as an unquestioning servant of Satan, did not resemble the feminist figure she has become in Judaism at all. This season, however, Lilith got her groove back. She plots to destroy the Dark Lord, she shows empathy and kindness towards Sabrina, and she takes her rightful place as Queen of Hell. There’s also a lot of exploration of her early days with Adam, and she finally feels like a fully fleshed out character. And one Twitter user pointed out that the show gave a more intentional nod to Lilith’s Jewish roots. When she’s watching The Academy students put on a play about her life, she begins to tear up. Directly behind her, you can see that the stained glass window features Stars of David, instead of their usual pentagrams. It’s a nice touch and it suggests that maybe the show heard Jewish women’s concerns about the appropriation. So, what did y’all think of Lilith this season?
3. Sabrina’s Moral Choice = Abraham and Isaac
When the Dark Lord “tests” Sabrina, he first asks her to steal a pack of gum as a sign of devotion. When she refuses him, he emotionally and mentally tortures her until he thinks she’s willing to do whatever he asks. Then, he commands her to burn down her beloved mortal high school, Baxter High. At the last minute, he tells her to stop and the school is saved. This scene is definitely a mirror of Abraham’s choice when God asked him to kill his son Isaac, Abraham agreed, and then God spared Isaac at the last minute. There’s a parallel made here between God and Satan though, that definitely feels like it might be offensive. It’s a pretty age-old tactic to associate Jews with devil worship, so we’re not sure how we feel about this one.
4. Using the shofar as a sex symbol
During Lupercalia — a literal sex festival — Sabrina’s cousin Ambrose blows a horn that looks suspiciously like a shofar as a signal that all the young witches and warlocks can now have sexy time with each other. Given what the shofar is supposed to represent (the beginning of the New Year), it’s a little weird to see it used as a sex symbol. People on Twitter seemed to be weirded out, too. But for others, it made sense!
did the Sabrina part 2 trailer use a shofar at a ‘satanic ritual’ because uh that’s not on
— Friend of the Pod Li'l 🌳 (@karengeier) December 3, 2018
As a Jew, I was fine with it, because the ram’s horn is also used in certain Druid and pagan rituals to signify male energy and “the horned god,” ie the consort of the goddess. Given the matriarchy coup on #ChillingAdventureOfSabrina, thought it made total sense…
— Faran Krentcil (@FaranKrentcil) April 15, 2019
— Jocy (@AccioJellyBean) April 6, 2019
I didn’t like it as linked to Satan cause like… Jews being Satanist is so old it’s basically the most boring form of antisemitism.
— Laura GET RID OF THE NAZIS. (@petrarchian) April 15, 2019
It made me… wait for it…. HORNY. Get it? 👀not sure about the appropriateness of this tweet but mamabear loves her puns! #momjokes
— rebekahmendation (@rebekamendation) April 15, 2019
5. Sabbath Pyre???
At one point, Prudence refers to a “Sabbath pyre” and we here at Alma really want to know… what is a Sabbath pyre? Is it when the Shabbat candles fall over and burn your apartment down? Is it when you burn the food in the oven and now y’all have nothing to eat but challah from Trader Joe’s and leftover pad Thai? We need answers, please.
When Sabrina is being vetted to possibly be Head Person at the Academy (a position of great prestige that has always been given to a male student), she undergoes an “Inquisition” which is basically a brutal oral final exam. This may not seem like a Jewish reference since the real Inquisition did impact other people besides Jews. And while we’re used to this show including brutal historical references as positive elements of the Church of Night, this one stings. The Spanish Inquisition led to the forced conversion of many Jews, and also their torture and deaths. Do you all think it was appropriate for the show to mention the Inquisition this way?
7. Lilith Gives Birth
In the series, Lilith gives birth to a demon as part of her plan to defeat the Dark Lord. In Jewish folklore, Lilith is known for being the mother of demons, giving birth to hundreds of new demons on a daily basis. Her offspring were called lilim, after their mother, which is… cute… I guess? She was also blamed for miscarriages and infant death as well.
8. Sabrina makes a Golem
One of the weirdest Jewish references of the whole season is Sabrina’s random declaration that she is going outside to make a golem. A golem is another part of Jewish folklore; usually, it’s an artificial being that’s given life so it can fight forces or people that mean to harm Jews. While Sabrina’s golem is never brought up again, an exact copy of Sabrina shows up at the same time, but they call this figure a mandrake, not a golem. I’m confused, to say the least.
Also Lillith features prominently in Jewish mysticism and folklore, as do Gollums! Seeing them intersect with Sabrina was, for me, really fascinating. There were no Hebrew words spoken or Judaic rituals performed, so I thought it was just a nod to how all world religions overlap.
— Faran Krentcil (@FaranKrentcil) April 15, 2019
UPDATE: Hebrew on the gates of hell.
After publishing, some friendly readers pointed out another Jewish reference from the season finale. As Sabrina enters the mine tunnels to keep the gates of hell from opening, Roz touches the ancient doors to hell and has a vision so dark that she begins to convulse. She tells Theo and Harvey that the two circles on the doors are locks, and the symbols she saw in her vision are protection spells that can keep the gates locked. The locks in questions have Hebrew words scrawled on them, which seem to read as “God,” “father,” and “angel.”