Magic and Witchcraft

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Magic is usually divided into two different categories. There is the magic practiced

by the great magicians of today and there is black-magic, witchcraft, or sorcery. The

Torah forbids both types, yet, the punishments for them are different. For magic, the

punishment is 39 lashes, while for practicing witchcraft, it is stoning. Members of the

Sanhedrin were therefore required to know the difference between the two.

All of today’s magicians will readily admit that they are only practicing the art of

deceit and deception. Even the world’s greatest magicians such as David Copperfield,

or David Blain, who can make the Statute of Liberty disappear in front of your eyes

or cut a person in half and put him back together again will readily admit that they

are just fooling you and the stunt is based on some clever deception. However, black

magic claims that they can actually change or defy

the laws of nature and can make the supernatural

happen. They claim they can bend spoons just by

looking at them, or speak to the dead, or have psychic

powers to read people’s minds and know their past

and predict their future. Supernatural claims made

by people like Uri Geller fall within the category of

witchcraft. Yet, today, all those who have claimed to

have supernatural powers have been proven to be

con-artists. So far, all those who have claimed to be

able to use incantations or other supernatural means

to make the impossible happen, or to talk to the dead,

have all been proven to be frauds. While we don’t

know what happened in ancient times, nowadays it’s

all been proven to be a hoax. Some say that these

powers never really existed, while others claim they

were forgotten over time. The Randy Foundation offers over a million-dollar reward

for anyone that can show any paranormal powers. So far, many have tried but there

have still been no takers.

Historically, both magic and witchcraft trace their origin to the priests of avoda

zorah– idol worship. The priests of various religions used their magical knowledge and

abilities to convince their followers to worship their false gods. Christianity, Hinduism,

and Buddhism and many other religions, are based on the supposed miraculous

powers and miracles of their founders. Unfortunately, even Jews used its powers to

convince the people to serve the Golden Calf in the desert and latter in Dan. Many

of their practices, especially some of their medical practices, are

based on their false beliefs and therefore are prohibited to Jews

who are forbidden to use medical methods or practices

that are or were based on idolatry. This is why rabbonim

must be familiar with them. For instance, the use of Chi,

a type of energy healing system used even today,

has its roots in Hinduism and Buddhism. One

must be familiar with certain alternative medical

practices in order to make sure that they are not

used, based, or rooted, in the worship of idolatry.

It’s rather interesting to note that even the practice of saying

pesukim over a wound in order that it should heal is forbidden

in Shulchan Aruch.(See Rambam Hilchos Avoda Zara perek

11.) Certain illnesses are caused or are affected by anxiety and

therefore saying soothing words over a wound is permitted

even on the Shabbos, since it may have a placebo affect and

help calm a person down.

The Rambam (Hilchos Avoda Zara perek 11) as well as some others dismiss

magic as nothing but clever trickery and deception and claim that there is no such

thing and never was anything as true black magic. The Egyptians who were able to

perform the first two plagues did it through clever trickery and even any amateur

magician of today can easily change a stick into a snake, or turn water into blood, or

make frogs jump out of an empty hat.

Actually it may very well be that black magic or sorcery was done by using

Hashem’s Holy Names. We find that the Golden Calf as well as the large golden idol

put up by King Baalshetzar that was able to speak was made by putting Hashem’s

Holy Name into them. When one desecrates Hashem’s Holy Name and uses it for

idolatrous purposes, then the punishment is stoning. The Gemora Sanhedrin tells

us that Rava created a man using the secret Names of Hashem found in the Sefer

Yetzirah. This was only permitted for the purpose pf study.

Bilam’s powers of sorcery seem to be fraudulent and were probably based on

his powers of prophecy. The Gemora Brochos tells us that he was able to know

the one moment each day when Hashem got angry. He used this moment to put

a curse and kill his enemies, while making believe that he was doing it through his

magical skills. During all the time that he tried to put a curse on the Jews, he failed.

That’s because Hashem never became angry during those days, and therefore his

supposed witchcraft didn’t work.