This week’s Torah portion is “Shoftim” (Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9) and it contains over 40 of the 613 commandments. One of these commandments is somewhat magical. Let’s see how.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
A verse in this week’s Torah portion,says:
“There shall not be among you one who practices divination or sorcery or who interprets omens or engages in witchcraft or a charmer or one who consults spirits or a wizard or a necromancer. All who do any of these things are an abomination before God.”
As we can see, the Torah forbids engaging in any form of black magic, divination, astrology or other similar activity. This is true even if one’s efforts are for a noble or beneficial cause. The Torah requires us to have faith in God and allow His natural order of events to take its course without intervening in any way – which is also discussed in this week’s Torah portion.
While it is forbidden to consult astrologers for advice or to rely on omens and amulets, one is permitted to make decisions based on intuition. It goes without saying that communicating with the dead or with demons is included in the prohibition on magic. Even if astrologers, sorcerers and other wise men claim to have supernatural powers – don’t believe them.
As Moses Maimonides, aka the Rambam, one of the most influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, stated: “Anyone who believes in [magic]…is from the fools and of those who lack intelligence;…it is pure nonsense.”
In biblical and Talmudic times, a sorcerer or sorceress was put to death. The practice of certain forms of magic was punishable with death by stoning, while other forms of magic were punishable by lashing.
In fact, we are taught that one who abstains from magic is closer to God than the angels.
The permissibility of attending or performing modern-day magic and optical illusions is subject to much debate. Some rabbis say that optical illusions (i.e. “fooling the eyes”) may indeed fall under the biblical prohibition of magic. For this reason, some authorities prohibit Jews to work as magicians or to attend a magic show.
Some authorities even rule that it is prohibited to perform acts that appear to be magic, even if no actual magic is involved. Others permit the performance of optical illusions and hand tricks as long as there is no intention to mislead people into believing that one has supernatural powers.
Nevertheless, most rabbis today approve of modern-day magic as a legitimate educational and professional pursuit. As it is known that there is no true magic in our day and age, many authorities dismiss most of the concerns mentioned above and permit attending a magic show. Even so, one must distance himself from a magician or illusionist who claims to have supernatural powers. Indeed, a magician is encouraged to inform his audience at the start of his presentation that nothing supernatural would occur during the show.
It is interesting to note that the primordial magic word ‘abracadabra’ is actually of Jewish origin. It is an Aramaic expression, which means “I will create (abra) as I speak (k’dabra).” Alternatively, it may also be a corruption of the Hebrew words avar k’davar, roughly meaning “it will be according to what is spoken” or of the words abracha adabra, meaning “I shall bless, I shall speak.”
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.
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