The Torah forbids all form of witchcraft, practical magic and engaging in
the occult. Forbidden practices include divination through trances
(koseim),; divining auspicious times through astrology (me'onein); divining
by omens (menacheish); sorcery using magic (mechashsheif); using
incantation (chover);, consulting mediums and oracles (shoel ov
veyid'oni); and communicating with the dead (doreish hameisim). (See
Exodus 22:17, Leviticus 20:27, Deuteronomy 18:9-13).
Egypt was the hotbed of witchcraft: "Ten measures of witchcraft descended
to the world; nine were taken by Egypt" (Talmud Kiddushin 49b). Pharaoh's
wizards sought to duplicate the divine miracles performed by Moshe in the
Ten Plagues that afflicted the idolatrous Egyptians. For some plagues, the
sorcerers were successful. But they ultimately confessed that the
supernatural phenomena were the "finger of G-d".
Witches and wizards, magic spells and potions, demons and spirits. The
occult and forces of magic are a source of fascination for many people.
Folktales and legends regaling magical characters have enjoyed a strong
resurgence in popularity of recent. Most authorities maintain witchcraft
constitutes a serious force - one that must be reckoned with. So what is
the allure of magical forces? And why is the occult so forcefully rejected
by the Torah?
G-d fashioned two systems in creation: the natural system and the
supernatural system. Obeying the laws of cause and effect, the natural
world is clearly chartered. One can accurately predict that the sun will
rise in the morning and set in the evening. A cause has a resulting effect
and an effect can be traced back to a cause. But man has to penetrate the
appearance of this system by seeing G-d as the Creator and Power behind the
natural world that veils His Divine Presence.
The supernatural system is a quasi-spiritual realm where nature's rules can
be bent or temporarily suspended. Subject to its own system of laws, this
realm still remains very much under the aegis of G-d. And it is within this
latter system that miracles and magic operate.
What magic does is to rightly tap into the supernatural domain. But it
falls short insofar as the person does not, ultimately, come closer to
G-d. The magician recognizes the invisible spiritual forces at work and is
aware one cannot view the world exclusively within the realm of nature.
Searching out the spiritual forces to circumvent the natural channels,
however, the sorcerer sets his heart on forcing the spiritual forces to do
his own bidding. Indeed, the word magic kisuf (plural keshafim) denotes the
"coercion (Mekacheish) of the heavenly spiritual agents [of G-d]" (Talmud,
Where magic tragically errs is by mistakenly thinking that the occult and
the supernatural forces may be independent of G-d. The belief in many
forces and powers contradicts the Creator's Oneness and constitutes a form
of idolatry. This explains why the prohibitions against magic fall under
the grouping of idol-worship (See Rambam, Moreh Nevochim III, 37).
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 66b) relates how a witch once wanted to cast an evil
spell upon Rabbi Chanina. He mocked her by proclaiming the verse "there is
none besides Him [G-d]". With this he disarmed the evil forces of the
occult by reaffirming G-d's Absolute control of the cosmos. "If G-d
desires that I live," said Rabbi Chanina, "then all your efforts are for
naught. And if you are successful in harming me, you should know that this
is due to His royal decree. Then you will merely be the medium for His
will to be fulfilled." The existence of evil forces is only to the extent
that man gives them existence. But they do not have a free hand; they do
not have any autonomy! This sage dismissed the forces of magic as non-
existent by lending them no credence.
Instead, a Jew lives according to the dictate "you shall be perfect with
Hashem your G-d" (Deuteronomy 18:13). He demonstrates a complete trust in
G-d precluding the need to consult any medium or oracle regarding his
future. Magic does not impress him. Nor does the Jew imagine he has
anything to fear other than the Creator. (See Nefesh HaChaim 3:12).
Supernatural feats and miracles may be most impressive but they cannot be
a foundation for faith or belief (See Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah
8:1). Bilaam confirmed as much by declaring "There are no divination in
Yaakov and no sorcery in Yisrael" (Numbers 23:23).
To be sure, the popular appeal of magic is that it offers the quick-fix way
to solve one's life's problems with its complex difficulties by the
introduction of powers that do, indeed, counter the natural order.
And yet, a wave of a wand is not the solution.
Life's challenges do not magically vanish in a puff of smoke with a
muttered incantation. Fantasy may provide temporary relief and respite but
this avoids working out a long-term solution. All escapism does is to avoid
dealing with the issues.
Still, man must address his individual set of circumstances. He should
apply his intellect over and above his imagination to come out with a
sound, thought-out conclusion. This requires tackling the harsh reality of
living and using it as a springboard for spiritual growth within our
It is here in the natural world that we must work our 'magic' by relating
directly to G-d, placing our trust in Him and by performing the Torah's
laws upon leaving Egypt.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene and Torah.org.