SORCERY

First and foremost among the "abhorrent practices of the nations" mentioned in the Bible are the various forms of sorcery: "let no one be found among you who… is an augur, a soothsayer, a diviner, a sorcerer, one who casts spells, one who consults ghosts or familiar spirits, or one who inquires of the dead. For anyone who does such things is abhorrent to the Lord" (Deut. 18:9–14). divination and soothsaying (Lev. 19:26) and the turning to ghosts and spirits (Lev. 19:31 and 20:27) had been proscribed separately before, and witchcraft in general is outlawed with the lapidary "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" (Ex. 22:17). It was to be the characteristic of Judaism that nothing would be achieved by magic , but everything by the will and spirit of God: hence the confrontations of Joseph and the magicians of Egypt (Gen. 41), of Moses and Aaron and Egyptian sorcerers (Ex. 7), of Daniel and the Babylonian astrologers (Dan. 2), etc., and hence also the classification of crimes of sorcery as tantamount to idolatrous crimes of human sacrifices (Deut. 18:10) and to idolatrous sacrifices in general (Ex. 22: 19) and its visitation, just as idolatry itself, with death by stoning (Lev. 20:27; see capital punishment ). In a God-fearing Israel, there is no room for augury and sorcery (Num. 23:23; Isa. 8:19), and the presence of astrologers (Isa. 47:13) and fortune-tellers is an indication of godlessness (Naḥ. 3:4; Ezek. 13:20–23; et al.). Nonetheless, magic practices remained widespread throughout, and not only with idolaters (see, e.g., I Sam. 28:4–20; II Kings 18:4; Chron. 33:6). Talmudic law differentiated between capital and non-capital sorcery, retaining the death penalty only for those species for which the Bible expressly enjoined it, namely witchcraft (kishuf; Ex. 22:17) and conjuring a death (ov and yidoni; Lev. 20:27; Sanh. 7:4). Kishuf is nowhere exactly defined, but a distinction is drawn between actual witchcraft, committed by some overt and consummate act which resulted in mischief, and then punishable, and the mere pretense at witchcraft which, however unlawful and prohibited, is not punishable (Sanh. 7:11 and 67b). Witchcraft appears to have been widespread among women (cf. Avot 2:7), and Simeon b. Shetaḥ is reported to have ordered the execution of 80 witches in Ashkelon on a single day as an emergency measure (Sanh. 6:4 and Maimonides in his commentary thereto). It is witchcraft that makes for the devastation of the world (Sot. 9:13). All other species of sorcery are painstakingly defined in talmudic sources, apparently upon patterns of contemporary pagan usage.   Thus, ov conjures the dead to speak through his armpit, while yidoni makes them speak through his mouth (Sanh. 7:7), both using bones of the dead in the process (Sanh. 65b). The aggravating circumstance, deserving of capital punishment, obviously is the use of human remains for purposes of sorcery, for he who simply communicates with the dead (in cemeteries or elsewhere) and serves as their mouthpiece (doresh el ha-metim) is punishable with flogging only (Yad, Avodat Kokhavim 11:13) – and this would, presumably, apply also to modern spiritualism (Da'at Kohen, no. 69). Other offenses punishable with flogging (both for committing and soliciting them) are niḥush, defined as superstitions based on certain happenings or circumstances (Sanh. 65b; Yad, Avodat Kokhavim 11:4); kesem, being fortune-telling from sands, stones, and the like (Maim., loc. cit. 11:6); onanut (done by the me'onen), being astrological forecasts of fortunes (R. Akiva in Sanh. 65b; Maim. loc. cit. 11:8); and ḥever, the incantation of magic and unintelligible formulae for purposes of healing or of casting spells (Maim. loc. cit. 11:10). It is presumably because these practices were so widespread that it was postulated that judges must have a thorough knowledge of magic and astrology (Sanh. 17a; Maim. Yad, Sanhedrin 2:1; and see bet din ). While there is no information about the measure of law enforcement in this field in talmudic and pre-talmudic times, it seems certain that this branch of the law fell into disuse in the Middle Ages. Superstitions of all kinds not only flourished and were tolerated, but found their way even into the positive law (see YD 179, passim, for at least eight instances). What became known as "practical Kabbalah" is, legally speaking, sorcery at its worst. The penal provisions relating to sorcery are a living illustration of the unenforceability of criminal law (whether divine or human) which is out of tune with the practices and concepts of the people. In modern Israeli law, witchcraft and related practices are instances of unlawful false pretenses for obtaining money or credit (Penal Law Amendment (Deceit, Blackmail, and Extortion), Law, 5723 – 1963). See also divination ; magic . -BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Lods, La croyance à la vie future et le culte des morts dans l'antiquité Israélite (Thesis, Paris, 1906); L. Blau, Das altjuedische Zauberwesen (19142); I.S. Zuri, Mishpat ha-Talmud, 6 (1921), 91; M. Gaster, Studies and Texts in Folklore, Magic, Medieval Romance, Hebrew Apocrypha and Samaritan Archaeology, 3 vols. (1925–28); A. Berliner, Aus dem Leben der Juden Deutschlands im Mittelalter (1937), 72–83; EM, 1 (1950), 135–37; 2 (1954), 710f.; 4 (1962), 348–65; ET, 1 (19513), 113–16; 7 (1956), 245–48. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Elon, Ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri (1988), 1:424; 2:987; idem, Jewish Law (1994), 2:519–20; 3:1193; M. Elon and B. Lifshitz, Mafte'aḥ ha-She'elot ve-ha-Teshuvot shel Ḥakhmei Sefarad u-Ẓefon Afrikah (legal digest) (1986), 2:340; Enẓiklopedyah Talmudit, vol.1, S.V. "Ov," 244–49; vol.1, S.V. "aḥizat einayim," 460–63; vol. 5, S.V. "doresh el ha-metim," 245–48; vol.7, S.V. "darkhei ha-Emori," 706–12; vol.13, S.V. "ḥover ḥaver," 1–4; index. (Haim Hermann Cohn)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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