Bereft of Knowledge: The Jewish Stance on Divination and Necromancy

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“Embarking on a profound exploration of the Jewish stance on divination and necromancy, this article illuminates the intricate tapestry of legal, ethical, and mystical teachings that firmly reject these practices as bereft of knowledge and spiritual integrity.”

In the quest to understand life’s enigmas, the allure of forbidden practices like divination and necromancy has perennially enticed humanity. These practices aim to penetrate the veil of the unknown, promising insights into the future or communion with the dead. Yet, in the vast expanse of Jewish thought, such endeavors are not just forbidden—they are seen as bereft of any true knowledge, misleading individuals away from genuine wisdom and divine connection. This article probes deeply into the Jewish perspective on these practices, revealing the rich legal, ethical, and mystical reasons for their unequivocal prohibition.

The Torah, Judaism’s bedrock, categorically prohibits divination and necromancy in passages such as Leviticus 19:26 and Deuteronomy 18:10-14. These injunctions aren’t merely legalistic; they embody a profound spiritual philosophy that elevates divine wisdom and prophecy above human efforts to uncover the hidden. The tragic narrative of King Saul and the Witch of Endor in 1 Samuel 28 vividly exemplifies the dire consequences of violating these prohibitions.

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim insightfully notes, “Torah prohibits what is false.” He emphasizes the natural human inclination towards comforting yet baseless beliefs and practices. Ibn Ezra comments on the folly of believing in the veracity of fortune-tellers and magicians, asserting that the Torah forbids these precisely because they are false. Maimonides underscores this by advocating for adherence only to what is perceptible through senses, reason, or the authority of the Torah.

The prohibitions against divination and necromancy are multifaceted, weaving through legal, ethical, psychological, and mystical realms. They underscore a covenantal relationship with God, emphasizing a life of divine communication and humility. The Hebrew terms for these practices, like “mekhashef” or “ma’onan,” have been numerically and mystically analyzed to deepen our understanding of their stark opposition to sanctity.

Extensive rabbinic literature, including the Talmud and Midrash, provides nuanced discussions on these prohibitions. For instance, Tractate Sanhedrin 65b explores the intricacies of forbidden witchcraft and sorcery. These texts often emphasize virtues like humility and reliance on God, delineating the societal and ethical impacts of pursuing forbidden knowledge.

From a mystical standpoint, texts like the Zohar depict divination and necromancy as grave disruptions to the divine order, attracting malevolent forces and distorting divine channels. The act of necromancy is particularly condemned as a severe affront to the harmony of the sefirot and the divine scheme.

Thinkers like Maimonides have meticulously categorized and explained these forbidden practices, highlighting their ethical implications and the importance of humility and moral conduct. This discourse reflects the comprehensive approach of Jewish thought to spirituality and ethical living.

Despite the stern prohibitions, recent trends where some rabbis appear to endorse practices akin to divination, like black mirror meditation, necessitate a critical evaluation. It’s essential to discern whether these are genuine endorsements of forbidden practices or misinterpretations of spiritual exercises aligned with Jewish values.

Ultimately, the Jewish stance against divination and necromancy is a testament to the commitment to higher spiritual and ethical living. It advocates for a life of humility, integrity, and closeness to the Divine, encouraging prayer, Torah study, and adherence to divine commandments. The comprehensive examination of these prohibitions underscores Judaism’s holistic approach to spirituality and moral living, guiding individuals and communities towards wisdom, sanctity, and divine connection. This commitment continues to guide the faithful along a path of righteousness and spiritual integrity, resonating with the timeless message of ethical conduct and the pursuit of genuine wisdom.

(Updated on: January 08, 2024)


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  1. 1
    Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

    It must be emphasized that Torah prohibits what is false. The notion written herein of “Forbidden Knowledge” smacks of something real, but off limits. This must corrected to read not “forbidden knowledge”, but “bereft of knowledge.”
    Necromancy, mysticism, astrology, idolatry, magic, and superstitious beliefs are without validation. God wishes man to engage in what is real, and therefore prohibits such useless practices.
    Man is insecure by nature and seeks pacification for his fears by following psychologically, soothing beliefs and practices that have no basis. To protect his business interests, he will speak to horoscopists to gain advice on the best day for transactions. But there is no knowledge they share; what they share is this person’s greed, and charge a high fee for false advice.

    Ibn Ezra (Lev. 19:31) says, “Those with empty brains say, ‘Were it not that fortune tellers and magicians were true, the Torah would not prohibit them.’ But I (Ibn Ezra) say just the opposite of their words, because the Torah doesn’t prohibit that which is true, but it prohibits that which is false. And the proof is the prohibition on idols and statues…” In his letter to Mersailles, Maimonides taught that man should accept as truth only one of three things: that which our senses perceive, that which reason dictates, and the authority of Torah. All the above mentioned practices fail at all three.

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