Ask the Rabbi: BEEZLEBUB



Question.    I heard a Christian preacher refer to a demon called Beelzebub. Is this name known in Judaism?

Answer.       In Christian scripture Beelzebub or Beelzebul is the chief of the demons (Matt. 12:24-27; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15-18).

The name derives from “Baal Z’vuv”, “lord of the flies”. In the T’nach this is the god of Ekron, whom King Ahaziah consulted – against God’s will – when he was ill.

Since flies were often regarded as responsible for plagues (e.g. Kohelet 10:1), ancient people had high regard for a “god” who could overcome the flies. Because “Baal Z’vuv” was the god of the Philistine enemy, he himself came to be regarded as a powerful demon.


Days for eating and rejoicing are safe. No-one wants to abolish the matzah on Pesach, the cheesecake on Shavu’ot, the apple and honey on Rosh HaShanah, the sukkah meals on Sukkot, the Chanukah latkes or the Purim hamantaschen. And though Yom Kippur is a day of privation without eating and drinking, its spirituality is such that everyone would be aghast at the thought of abolishing it – even the tiny minority of Jews who do not observe the day and cannot assuage their feelings of guilt.

But the fasts of Tammuz and Av are a different thing. They ought to have been dropped the moment the State of Israel came into being, say the critics. After all, the fasts and the three weeks that link them mourn the loss of national sovereignty, and though the return to Jewish independence took so long, these days facts are facts, and fasts shouldn’t be fasts!

The argument for abolition adds up to one conclusion – let’s drop the fasts and keep the feasts!

Orthodox Jews have no patience with this argument. They know that rulings made after due consideration, especially when the decisions involved the prophets, cannot be overturned. They also point to an aspect which the abolitionists seem to overlook – that the destruction which these fasts commemorate was not only of Jewish sovereignty but of the holy Temple, and the restoration of the Temple is still a thing of the future.

Non-orthodox Jews do not take these considerations so seriously, but in my view they still make two fundamental mistakes:

1. They do not acknowledge that despite the blessing of Israel this is still an unredeemed world. Messianism has not yet reached its goal.

2. They do not attach sufficient weight to the fact that everything that marks our history as a people, whether it is joyful or sad, is part of the make-up of every Jew.

All of us ought also to use the fasts of Tammuz and Av for a fundamental question – what caused the destruction in ancient times, and are we safe from that same factor today?

There are several answers. One is that the destruction was caused by fearsome enemies, and who can be certain that today’s generation lacks fearsome enemies… even amongst our so-called friends?

Another answer is that which the sages gave – that there was causeless hatred amongst Jews which brought about internal disintegration and made it easier for the external enemies.

There will come a time when God and His prophets will tell us that the fasts are no longer necessary. In the meantime we have work to do, especially to strengthen And unite ourselves as Jews and support both Israel and messianism.

And let us not forget that Tishah B’Av in particular recalls the countless martyrs whose lives were lost for the sake of Jewishness, Judaism and the State of Israel. No-one can lack a feeling for their memory. Nothing can take away the pain of their suffering, nor the awe and admiration we share for their physical and moral courage.


The national mourning period from 17 Tammuz until after Tishah B’Av recalls a Talmudic story about three wealthy men who were living in Jerusalem at the time when the enemy were besieging the city.

One rich man said,

“I can provide enough wheat and barley for everyone”.

“I can supply wine, salt and oil”,

said the second. The third said,

“I have enough firewood for the whole city”.

Many of the people said the city could thus withstand a long siege. But a group of zealots who were determined to fight set fire to the stores of food and caused a famine. The residents of the city now had no choice but to take up arms. The resistance was doomed; in the end the city fell.

The moral of the story may be that solidarity and mutual respect can be irreparably harmed by acts of fanaticism and zealotry.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at

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