Do you believe in magic?

December 17th, 2015 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Question:

I have been following your newsletter for some time now, have purchased some of your materials and most recently have been listening to your podcasts on SoundCloud. I have many questions yet to be answered as I continue my journey of faith. I enjoy your teachings and am thankful God led me to you.

A question came to mind as I was listening to your podcast titled, Do You Believe In Magic? Do You Know Why Things Fell Apart in the 60s? Deuteronomy 18:10 says not to perform acts of magic. In your podcast you spoke of your research and practice of magic tricks. It did seem harmless and provided an excellent stage for the podcast, however, I couldn’t help but ask myself if this is  contrary to Deuteronomy 18:10.

Thank you and blessings!

∼ Devin L.

Answer:

Dear Devin,

We have received quite a few comments over the years about our occasional use of the word magic, so we appreciate the opportunity to explain. Deuteronomy 18:10-11 uses seven different languages describing negative spiritual interactions that are an abomination to God. These include things such as contacting the dead and accessing ghosts.

The first thing we want to emphasize is that the Torah does not prohibit things that humans are incapable of doing. We are not forbidden, for example, from tapping our heels together and saying, “There is no place like home,” as we are whisked from Oz to Kansas. Without wanting to be spoilsports, the Wizard of Oz is fiction.

The fact that God forbids these occult activities suggests that there are ways to use dark, negative spiritual powers just as we can use positive spiritual powers. None of these can be measured in laboratories. An easily accessible example of positive and negative spiritual power is language. A scientific instrument detecting sound waves will not tell us if the words we are using elevate or crush another person. Yet, our words have the power to do both those things. The items in Deuteronomy, such as necromancy, are less accessible but can be done and we must choose not to seek out those who can access them.

Having said that, we have an aversion to the contraction of language. It bothers us that a word like gay (meaning merry) has been coopted or that calling someone a fireman (rather than the politically correct term, firefighter) leads to shouts of condemnation. We think that objecting to calling a star-studded night sky magical or referring to sleight of hand as magic, as we do, removes one more word from use as well as diminishing the seriousness of those abominations from which God truly wishes us to stay far away. From Houdini to Penn and Teller, tricks that are overtly based on skill, illusion and interminable practice with no suggestion that they stem from supernatural powers, don’t come anywhere close to the calamitous list in Deuteronomy. So, one of us will continue to entertain our offspring with sleight-of-hand and illusions—in other words—with magic with clearly no supernatural abilities involved.

Hoping we retain the magic of friendship,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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