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Weekly Halacha

Selected Halachos relating to Parshas Kedoshim

By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt

The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.


Do not "Se'onenu" (Lev. 19:26)

MAGIC SHOWS: ARE THEY PERMITTED?

The word "se'onenu" in the verse cited above can be a derivation of the root onah (time season) or of the root ayin (eye). Consequently, two different prohibitions are based on this verse. One, quoted by Rashi on the verse, is the prohibition against "calculating times and hours." It is forbidden to employ astrological (1) calculations in order to determine when to engage in or refrain from a certain activity. One may not, rules the Shulchan Aruch (2), make statements like, "This is a good day (according to the astrological signs) to begin a certain task", or "this hour is a bad hour for traveling."

The second prohibition mentioned in the Talmud (3) and quoted in the Shulchan Aruch (4) - which is based on the second interpretation of "se'onenu" - is the prohibition against performing acts of achizas einayim, literally, "seizing the eyes." Rashi explains that achizas einayim means "creating the illusion of performing an impossible act, while in fact he does nothing." Rashi does not, however, explain how the "impossible act" is performed. The poskim offer three different explanations as to how the achizas einayim is accomplished:

  1. By means of witchcraft (5) or demons (6).
  2. By means of a "magical illusion" which does not affect the substance itself yet defies scientific analysis (7).
  3. By means of quick, adroit, stunning movements that are incredibly skillful (8). These are the products of natural talent which - though extremely rare - is not perceived as supernatural (9).
According to this last opinion, which defines achizas einayim as a display of rare but natural talent, today's magic shows would be Biblically forbidden. Indeed, the Rambam - when describing achizas einayim - gives a vivid description of what a magic show consisted of in his day and age: "He [the magician] does wondrous acts through trickery, through quickness and lightness of movement, as we see that they take a rope and put it underneath their garment and then pull out a snake, or they toss a ring in the air and then remove it from the mouth of a person in the audience." According to the first two opinions, however, a modern-day magic show would be permitted, since witchcraft or acts which cannot be grasped by the rational mind are not employed.

What is the practical halachah? Does this prohibition apply in our times? Chochmas Adam (10) writes, "...those badchanim (merrymakers) who perform achizas einayim at weddings are transgressing a prohibition of the Torah. One who bids them to do so transgresses the prohibition of lifnei eveir (causing one's fellow man to sin). Anyone who can object to this practice is obligated to do so, and certainly it is prohibited to watch their tricks, since one is aiding transgressors (11)." The Chochmas Adam's (12) ruling is quoted by many other poskim and none mention that the prohibition may no longer apply in our times. It seems, therefore, that all the authorities agree that achizas einayim performed by means of incredibly skillful and stunning movements is forbidden (13).

Harav Moshe Feinstein (14) was asked whether he had ever permitted the performance of magic shows. Rav Moshe responded with a lengthy analysis of the entire subject. He wonders how - contrary to the third opinion listed above - the Torah can prohibit something which comes naturally to a person.

"...It is puzzling that it should be prohibited for one who is naturally quick to act in accordance with his quickness; didn't the brothers dispatch Naftali to Egypt to bring a bill of sale from Eisav to Yaakov... so we find that it is permissible; also Shimshon was permitted to use his extraordinary strength, which is not normally found in people and was surely puzzling to people, and yet we do not find that he was prohibited from using his strenght so as not to appear as if he were performing witchcraft... So why is quickness of movement any different?"

It is because of this difficulty, says Rav Moshe, that the other two opinions [listed above] do not agree with the third view. Rav Moshe's concluding remarks are noteworthy:

"I have previously said all this while studying this subject, but this has not been construed by me as a halachic ruling, since in any case if the magician lies and says that he can do supernatural acts, then we ought to prohibit it, since he can easily lead people to believe that he is a person of wondrous powers... and even if he does not lie, saying only that Hashem gave him a talent that is uncommon, nevertheless it should be shown to people only in such a manner that they can clearly distinguish that it is done through swiftness of motion and not in such a manner where they cannot fathom what he is doing.... Yet it is possible to permit this for the badchanim that perform achizas einayim at weddings in a manner which is apparent and clear that it is due to swiftness of motion... But it seems that the Chochmas Adam prohibits even this since he follows the thinking of the Bach... But it is only possible to forbid this to the badchanim if they say that they are using magic... But if they state that they are employing natural means, and it is well known that it is so, then I do not see any grounds for prohibition. But nevertheless, I have not been asked with respect to an actual instance and, therefore, I have never actually permitted it, and I have never heard that this is performed at weddings even where there is a badchan present, and therefore this was never rendered by me as a ruling, although I have no doubt in respect to this halachah, and if such a question were to arise, I would attempt to evade the issue in deference to the Sages (15) who prohibit this; and if I were unable to evade the question, then I would have ruled that in a natural manner, and where it is well known that it is performed through natural means, that it is permitted (16)."


FOOTNOTES

1 Rambam Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 11:8.

2 YD 179:3 and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 167:3. See Darkei Teshuvah 22-23 for some guidelines and exceptions.

3 Sanhedrin 65b.

4 YD 179:15.

5 Smag, quoted by Bach YD 179.

6 Radvaz (Metzudos Dovid 61).

7 Rama and Maharshal, as understood by Igros Moshe YD 4:13.

8 Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Saaseh 32) as understood by the Bach and Shach YD 179.

9 Explanation of Igros Moshe YD 4:13.

10 89:6.

11 It is permitted, however, to watch a non-Jew perform magic tricks. Maharam Shick (quoted in Darkei Teshuvah 179:37) also agrees that when a non-Jewish magician performs tricks through quickness of movement one is permitted to watch.

12 Pischei Teshuvah YD 179:7; Kitzur Shulachan Aruch 176:4; Darkei Teshuvah YD 179:37 quoting Mishnas Chachomim. See also Yad Haktanah 2:273 and Zivchei Tzedek Yd 179 who concur that magic shows based on quickness of movement are prohibited.

13 Yabia Omer YD 5:14 and Yechave Daas 3:68.

14 Igros Moshe YD 4:13.

15 Bach, Shach, and Chochmas Adam mentioned above.

16 See also Sefer Yavin Daas YD 119 (quoted in Yabia Omer YD 5:13) who holds that when the magician announces clearly to the audience that he is just fooling them, it is permitted.


Sponsored by:

Jonathan and Edina Heifetz
on the occasion of the Bar Mitzvah of their son Shlomo Pesach, n"y. May they shep much Nachas from him and their other children. Mazel Tov to the grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Morton Heifetz of Eretz Yisroel and Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Davidowitz of Cleveland,Ohio.

Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Project Genesis, Inc. Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.

The Weekly-Halacha Series is distributed L'zchus Hayeled Doniel Meir ben Hinda. Weekly sponsorships are available--please send email to the moderator, Dr. Jeffrey Gross jgross@torah.org.

The series is distributed by the Harbotzas Torah Division of Congregation Shomre Shabbos, 1801 South Taylor Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118--HaRav Yisroel Grumer, Marah D'Asra


 






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