Superstition, Sorcery and Torah

Posted by – December 11, 2006

Superstition, Sorcery and Torah

The commandments to stay away from the occult, necromancy, sorcery, demonic forces and the like are explicit in the Torah. See Lev. 19:26 and Deut. 18:10, from which these mitzvos are derived.

There’s an interesting split among Jews regarding WHY we have these mitzvos.

Rambam says the mitzvah to stay away from them is because it’s all fake, all trickery, all BS, so stay away from it; it’s a deception.

RambaN, in the typical RambaN way, takes a different view from Rambam, and he says the mitzvah is because the dark side is very real and will eat you.

But all sides agree the Torah gives us a mitzvah to avoid it.

I heard a Lubavicher rabbi say there was a lost soul possessing somebody in a nursing home, and he said kaddish (mourner’s prayer) for that dead Jew and then she stopped possessing the patient. Out there? I don’t know.

Some Christians take this prohibition and run with it and go a bit too far. My brother Jamie had a middle school teacher of
his handing out comics to the kids that said Halloween is all about demonic influence and will send you to directly to Hell; the controversy made the front page of the local paper. You’ve got Becky Fischer of Jesus Camp, famously shouting that “if this was the Old Testament, Harry Potter would be stoned to death!”
Well yeah lady, except you’re missing the fact that Harry Potter doesn’t exist and you can’t convict anyone when wizardry isn’t possible.

It’s fiction. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment. And you can find Torah lessons in it as well, as you can in anything. NCSY Rabbi Jack Abramowitz even argues Harry Potter is Jewish.

The Torah prohibitions are clearly delineated by the oral law, and they are to never recognize powers in the universe other than Hashem, never get wrapped up in non-Hashem abilities (no trusting magic and astrology instead of G-d) and yes, to stop people from leading others off the derech (path) with trickery. Rambam also says Lev. 19:26 bans being superstitious generally.

Whether Rambam is right or wrong that supernatural forces don’t even exist, I haven’t observed enough to determine. Based on my experience so far seeing plenty of unexplainable phenomenon, I could go either way. I sympathize with both positions.

What do you think?

Here’s a great song: “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder set to clips from the Harry Potter movies, hehe….

  • Krulwich

    Very nice article — most people seem to know of the Rambam or the Ramban, but never to acknowledge both approaches.

    BTW, I’ve just started selling a book I wrote with Torah lessons from Harry Potter.

  • Thinker

    Wow! Torah lessons from Harry Potter! Talk about “evil” being used for good. Nick, you point out a common mistake most people make when reading the Bible or Torah: proof-texting. If one does not understand the culture and time period, one should not assume to understand Biblical references. There is a verse in the New Testament that says no one should call anyone on earth “father” except for their father in Heaven. Hmmm… there are lots of Christians (and Jews and Buddhists and Greens) who call their father thier father. :] You get the point. It’s quite amature to take a phrase from the Bible/Torah and apply it to today’s culture. Quite amusing too. I am sure parents who keep their children from Harry Potter’s fiction bedtime stories also keep their children safely from the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Lucky Charms??