Do Jews Believe in Satan?

I was listening to a podcast on This American Life recently called 666: The Theme That Shall Not Be Named.  It is about -- you guessed it-- Satan.  Ira Glass begins in Act I with a story about the Satanic Prayer Line which was started as a joke by a guy in Olympia Washington who was fed up with fundamentalist Christians in his town.  He is not a Satan worshiper or an anything worshiper.  He is an atheist.

The prayer line is a phone number people can call and leave voice messages on for someone to pray to Satan for them.  The voice messages are then posted to a website for others to hear.  You can click above to listen to the voice messages, but trust me, if you are anywhere near as interested in prayers as I am, its fascinatingly addicting.  Consider yourself warned.

As the podcast explains, there are a number of funny things about the voice mail messages.  For starters, people sometimes sound very cheerful.  Like this one (you have to hear the voice, which you can do on the website linked above):

"Hello, I would like all of my enemies to suffer.  Thank you!"

Secondly, they sometimes sound like they are praying to God, not Satan. Like this one:

"Hey, I would like a prayer to get back with my girlfriend. My name is Chris and her name is Olga. Please put this on your website so others can pray for me as well. Thank you."

Others got me thinking... wait a minute... why is this prayer so evil?  Is it so wrong to want revenge?  Like this one:

"Good morning.  This call is a prayer request for all of the homeless animals and mistreated animals and abused animals of the world.  May the God of this world watch over them and protect them and destroy the ones that hurt them. Thank you. And yeah, you can put this on the website. I don't care."

Or this one:

"My apartment got robbed.  I still haven't figured anything out, I don't know where any of my stuff is at.  I want the people who stole my stuff to suffer for it. Fair enough I think. Heil Satan."

The vast majority of the voice mails I listened to were requests for enemies to suffer.  This is odd to me because in our prayer book which contains prayers to G-d, there are lots of prayers asking for our enemies to suffer.  Like this one, said at the end of every Amidah:

"My G-d, guard my speech from evil and my lips from deception.  Before those who slander me, I will hold my tongue; I will practice humility. Open my heart to Your Torah, that I may pursue Your mitzvot."

So far, so good, right?  We are supposed to refrain from cursing those who curse us.  But it goes on:

"As for all who think evil of me, cancel their designs and frustrate their schemes. Act for Your own sake, for the sake of Your power, for the sake of Your holiness, for the sake of Your Torah, so that Your loved ones may be rescued. Save with Your power, and answer me.”

There are a lot of prayers in Jewish liturgy, and even in the Psalms themselves that talk about revenge on a national level--revenge against the enemies of G-d.  But this prayer at the end of the Amidah is unusual because it is written in the first person.  And who are we to ask G-d to frustrate the designs of those who think evil of us?  And what does that mean anyway?  Take for example, this call, which seems like an entirely reasonable prayer to give to G-d, not Satan:

"I would like to put a hex on (name) because he is a really big (bleep) and my friends all hate him and he told me that he was going to kill me, my daughter, and my cat, and he poured piss all over my car and my front porch and he's just a really big piece of (bleep).  Please, put a hex on him.  Heil Satan."

If this woman wants to frustrate the designs of the guy who thinks evil of her and wants to do her harm, isn't this something she can go to G-d with?

Other requests seemed a little less... innocent.  But nonetheless, not something unnatural to desire... not something that I imagine people don't also pray to G-d for.  Like this one:

"Hi, if you can like hex people at my entire school, they are just really little cliques, they don't really deserve to live. They are just stereotypical Bible bangers and they just make me want to bash my head in. And who associates satanic music with heavy metal? For all we know he likes smooth jazz.  But thank you.  Heil Satan. May Satan bless your entire day. Thank you."

Lest you think these people are joking, I encourage you to listen to the recordings yourself.  Because they are decidedly not joking.  They run the gamut of prayers that are angry, vengeful, and some that are just sad.  Like this one:

"Hey, I would like a prayer for a baby and I would like to put a hex on the Michigan department of social services for not providing me with food stamps and for a caseworker not getting back to me in a timely manner, and for all the oil and gas people that have the gas prices so high that I can't get gas for my car.  And does Satan perform miracles? Because I need a miracle. So I'm waiting on God, you know, Jesus Christ, but, does Satan work that way? So I guess--pray that I figure it out."  

Most of these prayers have the theme of wishing others harm at their core.  But in Judaism, wishing others harm--depending on who they are--and what we are wishing for exactly--has never seemed in the category of "evil," to me.  It's possible that this is a religious difference between Judaism and Christianity.  While in Judaism we certainly are against personal revenge and wishing others real harm, we don't have an idea of Satan as a being that puts "hexes" on people.  As a matter of fact, I've never heard the word "hex" used in a Jewish context at all.  

I'd like to suggest that we direct our prayers away from praying for "things."  When I pray for things like having a bid on a house go through, or getting a certain job, I always add "if it is Your will, G-d" to the end of the prayer.  Because who am I to pray for a particular thing or a particular outcome?  What if that thing or outcome isn't meant to be?  G-d isn't going to change any plans that aren't meant to be based on our prayers, but it seems to me that by adding "if it is Your will" reminds us of that fact.  It adds a little humility to the prayer.  

For the most part, I find the most effective type of prayer to be the kind that is directed towards personal growth.  For example "Please G-d, help me to do your will" or "help me to do your mitzvot" or "help me understand your ways and grow close to You."  If we keep our prayers based more on our relationship with G-d and less on what we want from G-d, I think we will get a lot more return on our prayers anyway.  

Here are a couple more, just for your entertainment, which I transcribed for you. (If you do go to the website, you need to actually listen to the recordings because the voice-to-text translator on the site does a horrible job):

"Hello, Satan is everywhere.  I'm calling to put a hex on the 1230 club in Olympia Washington because they are just (bleeps) and they start blasting the music really early every night.  It's New Year's Eve and they're already starting at 6:00.  Please make the 1230 club go out of business but first make everyone who works there go deaf from playing the music so loud.  Heil Satan."

And this one:

"Hi, I want Satan to burn down my old cabin because my grandparents sold it to these (bleep bleeps) who are just rich spoiled little (bleeps).  I want it to burn down; if they burn down in it, that's fine by me, but I want it to BURN. Thank you."

We do have a concept of Satan in Judaism, but its not a "being" that I've ever heard of anyone trying to pray to.  It's more like a combination of an urge to do evil, our basest impulses unchecked, a tempting force, and the angel of death.  It's a lot of things throughout the Talmud, but something to communicate with--this I haven't seen.  Satan shows up in Jewish prayers but only as something that we pray to be kept far from.  I'll close with this beautiful prayer from the daily morning service which mentions the Satan:

וִיהִי רָצון מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבותֵינוּ שֶׁתַּרְגִּילֵנוּ בְּתורָתֶךָ. וְדַבְּקֵנוּ בְּמִצְותֶיךָ. וְאַל תְּבִיאֵנוּ לא לִידֵי חֵטְא. וְלא לִידֵי עֲבֵרָה וְעָון. וְלא לִידֵי נִסָּיון. וְלא לִידֵי בִזָּיון. וְאַל תַּשְׁלֶט בָּנוּ יֵצֶר הָרָע. וְהַרְחִיקֵנוּ מֵאָדָם רָע וּמֵחָבֵר רָע. וְדַבְּקֵנוּ בְּיֵצֶר הַטוב וּבְמַעֲשים טובִים. וְכף אֶת יִצְרֵנוּ לְהִשְׁתַּעְבֶּד לָךְ. וּתְנֵנוּ הַיּום וּבְכָל יום לְחֵן וּלְחֶסֶד וּלְרַחֲמִים בְּעֵינֶיךָ וּבְעֵינֵי כָל רואֵינוּ. וְתִגְמְלֵנוּ חֲסָדִים טובִים. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' הַגּומֵל חֲסָדִים טובִים לְעַמּו יִשרָאֵל.

And may it be pleasing before You, Hashem our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, that you make us accustomed in your Torah, and make us stick to your commandments. And that You do not bring us not to the hands of sin, nor to the hands of transgression and wrongdoing, nor to the hands of trial, and nor to the hands of scorn. And let not the evil inclination rule inside us, and distance us from a bad person and a bad friend. And stick us to the good inclination and to good deeds, and force our inclination to be subdued to You. And grant us today and every day grace and kindness and mercy, in your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us, and reward us with good kindnesses. Blessed are You, Hashem, who rewards good kindnesses upon His nation, Israel.

יְהִי רָצון מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלהַי וֵאלהֵי אֲבותַי שֶׁתַּצִּילֵנִי הַיּום וּבְכָל יום מֵעַזֵּי פָנִים וּמֵעַזּוּת פָּנִים. מֵאָדָם רָע. וּמֵחָבֵר רָע. וּמִשָּׁכֵן רָע. וּמִפֶּגַע רָע. וּמִשּטָן הַמַּשְׁחִית. מִדִּין קָשֶׁה וּמִבַּעַל דִּין קָשֶׁה. בֵּין שֶׁהוּא בֶן בְּרִית וּבֵין שֶׁאֵינו בֶן בְּרִית.

May it be pleasing before You, Hashem my G-d and the G-d of my forefathers, to save us today and every day from those who are arrogant and from arrogance itself, from a bad person, a bad friend, a bad neighbor, a bad strike, from the destructive Satan, from a harsh law and from a harsh judge, whether he is a son of the covenant or whether he is not a son of the covenant.