The History of Estries, aka Jewish Vampires

These female shapeshifters may be monsters, but they're *our* monsters.

It’s dark out, and you’re walking home. It’s dead quiet… when suddenly, there’s a flapping sound behind you. You whip around just in time to see a woman flying toward you, hair flapping, mouth opened wide for the kill. You’ve been hit by, you’ve been struck by, an estrie!

Jewish vampires, called estries, first appeared in the “Sefer Hasidim,” a 13th-century text centered around the religious lives of medieval German Jews. The book is attributed to Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg.

Judah was descended from a long line of Northern Italian Kabbalists, which tracks, considering that he was writing about members of the Hasidim Ashkenazi, who were descended predominantly from two main families: Northern Italian and French. This religious movement was deeply vested in following what they claimed were “the unwritten laws” of Judaism.

Some of these unwritten laws included the investigation of a wide variety of Jewish monsters, including — you guessed it — estries.

The name estrie is, more likely than not, derived from the French word for night owl, strix, which is in keeping with the connection between the Hasidim Ashkenazi and the French.

Religions and folklore evolve over time, so we should note that the Greeks wrote about the striges (plural for strix) — essentially a bloodthirsty screech owl — over a millenia before the “Sefer Hasidim” was published. Could these monsters be related? Maybe.

But being an owl is one thing. Literally. Estries, on the other hand, are shapeshifters. There are records of them taking a wide array of spooky forms, including cats and crows. They actually join a long line of other Jewish shapeshifters, from the shedim to werewolves. (Yes, there are Jewish werewolves.) Estries even have a sort of astral projection ability where their spirits can wander and roam long after they’ve been killed (this happens if they’ve been killed incorrectly — more on that later).

Do they share some similarities with other mythic vampires? Sure. Likes: blood and shapeshifting; dislikes: the sun. But estries aren’t like other bloodsuckers for a variety of reasons. A short list:

1. They are explicitly and exclusively women. (Sorry, Dracula.)

2. They fly using their hair. (Buy stock in L’Oréal!)

3. They show no weakness to holy ground (except Zabars, but who doesn’t).

4. They only feed on the blood of Hebrew citizens. (Congratulations, all you B-mitzvot. You’re estrie chow.)

The second point on that list is particularly interesting when considering the history of estries and how folklore is created and passed on. At the time estries were first discussed, the Hasidim Ashkenazi lived a life of rigid self-discipline and self-deprivation. They abided by the law of parua, which requires the marital binding of hair. If a woman appeared with her hair unbound, this was grounds for divorce. With that level of restriction, it’s no wonder that the concept of a woman flying with untethered hair would horrify Jews of this time.

Unfortunately, the “Sefer Hasidim” fails to answer an important question: Where did estries come from? According to Rabbi Menahim Zioni, a Kabbalist from the 14th century, estries and  all other monsters (giants, werewolves, dybbukim) came from those who had built the Tower of Babel, cursed by God for their hubris.

Naturally, because this is Judaism, there are many other theories. Some say that estries are the children of Lilith, Adam’s first wife and demon feminist icon. Others say they were created on the twilight of the sixth day of creation and left unfinished by God (hence why they’re able to change form and lack souls).

Of course, none of this history is particularly helpful when you find yourself stalked by an estrie. Don’t worry — this is a practical as well as educational guide!

So let’s go back to the beginning. You’re all alone, and you stumble upon a shape-shifting lady with fabulous hair and a less fabulous taste for human flesh. Unlike your garden variety Western vampire, crucifixes won’t work, and iron Stars of David are cumbersome at best. How do you avoid becoming Undead Girl Dinner? Here are a few do’s and don’ts for when you encounter an estrie.



Got a scrunchie? An estrie can only fly when her hair is loose. A nice high pony should do the trick.

Starve her out. Estries require the blood of the living to survive, so try skin-protecting fashion, like a Hazmat suit or bee-keeping attire. Très chic.

Hit her with your best shot. Estries are mortal, so it doesn’t take much to hurt them. According to the “Sefer Hasidim,” striking or even looking at an estrie might kill her. Channel your inner mean girl.



Hold the challah. If you did manage to strike an estrie, you can revive her by offering food — specifically bread or salt. So please  remember: Estries can shapeshift.  If you’ve just swatted an estrie, avoid sharing challah with a wayward kitten.

Sheket, not Shema. Religious iconography doesn’t hold estries back. In fact, disguised estries have been known to enter synagogues and holy places, seeking blessing. So, choose those brachas wisely.

Don’t leave them hanging. Say you slapped, sliced, burned and stared your estrie to death. Don’t feel bad, but don’t leave them there either. If you bury an estrie with her mouth open, she’ll return a year later with (more) murder in her eyes. So, be sure to stuff her mouth full of dirt first. That should do it.


Horrifying as they may be, the estrie myth is, in some ways, refreshing. Folktales reflect the fears (and often xenophobia) of their native culture, so it comes as no surprise that many other Western vampire stories echo antisemitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories.

In Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” the titular bloodsucker embodies a number of Jewish stereotypes: he’s an Eastern European man with bushy hair, an “aquiline” nose and an aversion to crosses. He obsessively counts, operates on a lunar calendar and generally threatens societal norms.

And most damning is his chosen prey: Christian women. Since the death of William of Norwich in 1144, people have accused Jews of using the blood of Christians for ritual sacrifice. Given the rest of the evidence, it’s not a far leap to connect Dracula and blood libel. Yikes.

But whereas Dracula represents the gentile fear of Jews, estries are actually an authentic piece of our culture, a lesson in Judaism’s lesser-known supernatural history.

They’re bloodthirsty monsters… but they’re our monsters.

So, as we enter 2024, watch your back, stay safe out there and maybe keep a hair tie or two on hand.

Adam Rosenthal and Jennifer Frazin

Adam Rosenthal (he/him) was once forced to watch The Sixth Sense on an elementary school field trip and hasn't recovered since. He's a producer and writer living in Los Angeles and is repped by Art/Work. He hosts the Call Your Monster podcast with Jenn.

Jennifer Frazin (she/her) grew up in a haunted house behind the Orange Curtain, and she's not sure which part was scarier. She has a TV pilot deal with Sony Pictures Television and co-hosts a spooky Jewish podcast, Call Your Monster, with fellow writer/creator Adam Rosenthal. She is repped by Heroes & Villains Entertainment.

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