Judaism is a religion, but even more it’s a philosophy, an ethnicity and an identity. We have special foods, customs, and stories from wherever “our people” have lived through the centuries.

It was during the time among the Babylonians, and later among the Persians, we incorporated into our folklore shedim (demons) and dibbukim (migrant spirits) as well as the concept of angels and demons (derived from Zoroastrianism). These influences have become a permanent part of Jewish literature, right through today.

One of the characters who appears frequently in Jewish folklore is — of all people — Alexander the Great. As a kid, I was astonished to find Alexander showing up in stories from the Talmud.

This one is my favorite.

The Acquisitive Eye

Alexander is on his way home to Macedonia after conquering the entire world. The great ruler comes to a stream whose waters originate in Paradise. He follows the stream until he comes to the gates of Paradise itself, and pounds on the gate crying: “I am Alexander, conqueror of the world! I demand you let me in!”

Alexander is told that “Only the pious may enter Paradise,” but being as he is Alexander, they make an exception and he is allowed to come through the gates. As he stands at the entrance, he see something rolling towards him. Alexander realizes it’s a human eye. He picks it up, brings it to the wise men and asks them, “What does this mean?”


The wise men tell Alexander to place the eye on a scale and try to balance it with gold and jewels. Alexander heaps the scale with piles of riches, but no matter how much he piles on, the eye outweighs it.

“The eye is never satisfied as long as it can see,” say the wise men, “Therefore it can never be satisfied. All the treasure in the world cannot outweigh it.  The eye will want more and more.”

The wise men instruct Alexander to remove the gold and place a pinch of dust on the eye. They then place a feather on the opposing scale and it is heavier than the eye. At last the great Alexander understands the Talmudic lesson on greed and materialism.

He says: “So long as a man is alive, his eye can never be satisfied. Yet as soon as he dies, the moment dust covers his eye, even a feather outweighs it. Only in death does the eye lose its power. Only in death is man satisfied.”

And so Alexander left Paradise a wiser man.

For more stories and other information, see THE AMERICA COUNCIL ON JUDAISM.


    • Very universal. Even relevant. Judaism in an odd religion, sometimes more of an ethical system than a religion. No magical ceremonies. There are fringe groups that do their own thing, but mainstream Judaism is singularly free of a lot of stuff that everyone thinks of as religion.


    • Neither did I until I was digging around in the Synagogue library’s “kid section” and found a book of Jewish Folktales. Avid reader that I was, I took it home and absorbed it. I was astonished because I had NO idea we even had folklore, much less stories of Alexander the Great. There’s a lot more, too. As Jews moved around from place to place, we picked up bits of everybody’s culture and added it to ours … so there’s some Medieval Europe, old Russia, a lot of ancient Middle Eastern stuff most of it predating Christianity, a LOT of ancient Greek and Macedonian influences. Bits of ancient Rome. And of course, Arab culture too. Wherever we lived, we took pieces of that society with us.

      A real polyglot and interesting the way it has been interwoven with Judaism — which of itself, has NO concept of demons, ghosts or angels. No hell, heaven or reincarnation. As far as the afterlife goes, you get to pick your own. Religiously, Judaism has nothing to say about it, only that in the final days, God will raise the dead and do the accounting. So none of this stuff comes our of the religion. It’s all mythology and folklore.


Talk to me!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.