Thoughts on Judaism

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Judaism and Witchcraft

With the murder of Baba Elazar Abuchtzeira, I am prompted to face up to finding a place in my personal philosophy for kabbalah. There is such a thing as kabalah, going back to ancient times. I do not know how it resembles what is called kabalah today, if at all. You see, we would have no way of knowing, since it was only taught to select students, and only the topical concepts, except to some small chosen group. This contradicts the entire underpinnings of the traditional transmission of Torah, so I would have to say that anything that cannot be proven from the Torah and halacha thoroughly cannot be true kabalah.

That said, all of the magic that is done in the name of kabalah is HEPECH HATORAH, that is AGAINST THE TORAH!!!!!! Unless you can prove otherwise for any particular practice based on "kabalah", that is what the Torah demands that I say. The Torah gave us open ways to discern halacha, and kabalah magic, which is nowhere excepted in this issur, is rishut, wickedness, plain and simple. When do pseudo-scientific ideas cease to be "wrong" and start to be "wickedness"? That is the line that I have the most trouble defining. However, pure magical ideas, astrology, oriental magic based on non-Torah worldview, like acupuncture, feng shui, qi gong and the like, are easy enough to place on the wicked list, and greater men than I have already done so. The problem is when they claim a "hidden" Torah view. There I have to say that they must prove themselves in Torah, and that even an impressive magical performance cannot help their case, as the Rambam explains clearly in Yesodei HaTorah. I have less of a problem with amulets that are used as placebos to calm a person. However, a Rav should make clear that such things have no real power, so the public will not rely on them.

In the times of the Talmud, such amulets were considered "science" rather than magic. They were never thought of in terms of magic, but as something where a person could develop a skill in the "art" and make to work. Suffice to say that they did not have scientific method and modern logical tools to test the truth of certain ideas. They just did whatever seemed to give them good luck. A person then developed a reputation and his celebrity grew out of one or two laudatory reports spreading from place to place. They had no means to tally failures and successes and determine fairly. Today's Jewish psychics and new age promoters, self styled kabalists, spiritual healers and promoters of new age "alternative medicine" can gain a reputation in the same way, using their famous ancestor and fanning a few flaming half-truths until people want to believe. I mean people do want to believe that the progeny of the Baba Sali have magical powers, I get that. However, for them to use that to bilk people is like the Biblical story of Chafni and Pinchas. For those who slept through Tanach class, the High Priest E'li was a very holy and righteous man, but his sons used their positions as his sons and priests to sell the sacrifices to enrich themselves.

In the meantime, I beg the Jewish leaders in religious communities to stop lauding these people, to stop promoting them to stop giving them "rabbinical supervision" and making them kosher, to stop allowing them a free hand to victimize the Jewish community. Are their victims any less Jewish than they are? Are the grandparents of the victims any less holy Jews? The Baba Sali would say not so. Once more for clarity, people who practice magic in all of its forms are operating AGAINST THE TORAH, they are VICTIMIZING FRUM PEOPLE, and in the words of the Rambam, it is not enough that they spread foolish ideas ... see his strong rebuke in the laws of idol worship. Promoting magic, whether you call it kabalah amulets and charms, alternative medicine, oriental medicine, or anything else, is the worst sin that a Jew can commit, a refutation of the very name "Jew", i.e. one who is "modeh" to G-d and G-d alone as revealed through Torah. A practice can not be kashered without extraodinary proofs from the Torah itself, even if other "sages and rabbis"kashered it that they must present clear and thorough proofs or be overturned, and it is tragic that Jewish leaders are blind to this obvious fact to which they would agree on any other facet of Torah that is this stringent, be it nidah, Shabbat or even the less stringent kashrut.