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The Devil's Arithmetic

by Jane Yolen

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What is Lilith's Cave in The Devil's Arithmetic?

In The Devil's Arithmetic, Lilith's Cave is the name the prisoners in the concentration camp use to refer to the gate by which people enter the crematorium/gas chambers.

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In Jane Yolen's novel The Devil's Arithmetic, the inmates of the concentration camp retain their links with Jewish folklore. Lilith is an important figure in the early literature of Judaism, appearing in the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible and in the Babylonian Talmud. She is often described as a demon, and some sources say that she was Adam's first wife, before the creation of Eve. Lilith is always a sinister figure, associated with death, hell, and sin. For these reasons, the prisoners in the camp refer to the entrance by which people are forced into the crematorium and the gas chambers as "Lilith's Cave," the way to death.

Details such as the naming of Lilith's Cave in The Devil's Arithmetic are far from incidental. The protagonist, Hannah Stern, starts out with minimal interest in her Jewish heritage. When she is transported back into the midst of the Holocaust in 1942, her knowledge of that period suddenly becomes of immediate, practical importance, since she is the only member of the Jewish community who knows what is going to happen. By the end of the book, Hannah understands the importance of knowing about her own culture. Both Jewish history and Jewish folklore become vital to her as sources of strength, knowledge, and connection to her family.

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