What is Talmud Tweets?

What is Talmud Tweets? A short, personal take on a page of Talmud - every day!

For several years now, I have been following the tradition of "Daf Yomi" - reading a set page of Talmud daily. With the start of a new 7 1/2 year cycle, I thought I would share a taste of what the Talmud offers, with a bit of personal commentary included. The idea is not to give a scholarly explanation. Rather, it is for those new to Talmud to give a little taste - a tweet, as it were - of the richness of this text and dialogue it contains. The Talmud is a window into a style of thinking as well as the world as it changed over the centuries of its compilation.

These are not literal "tweets" - I don't limit myself to 140 characters. Rather, these are intended to be short, quick takes - focusing in on one part of a much richer discussion. Hopefully, I will pique your interest. As Hillel says: "Go and study it!" (Shabbat 31a)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Shabbat 67 – Magic!

For those interested in the tradition of Jewish magic, as I am, this page of Talmud is just. . .well, wonderful!

It is filled with recipes and incantations, examples of sympathetic magic and bibliomancy as well as talismans to ward of illness and demons.

Doesn’t sound very Jewish, does it?

The Torah is very clearly against this:
. . . you shall not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or who uses divination, or a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a witch,  Or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination to the Lord; (Deut. 18: 9-12)

Still, even with this injunction, there is a great tension in our texts between the rational and the common. The rabbis could not escape the fact that many of these remedies were popular and were seen, in a pre-scientific world, as efficacious. However, this had to be balanced with strong biblical injunctions against the use of magic – it being seen as “the way of the Amorite” (based on the injunction in Lev. 18:3 not to “walk in their ways).

How to allow some forms of magical healing without embracing the practice of idolaters?

The Mishnah allows certain magical items to be used “as a prophylactic” according to Rabbi Meir – but:


So the rabbis suggest a distinction similar to what we saw earlier (Shabbat 53b) about amulets:

Abaye and Raba both maintain: Whatever is used as a remedy is not [forbidden] on account of ‘the ways of the Amorite.’

That is to say – if it works it stays!

As a counter-point, though, an example is raised of a common cure. If a fruit tree drops it’s fruits one paints it with a red dye and hands stones on it. Now the stones are logical – they are intended to strengthen the tree on the theory that it is simply not strong enough to keep its fruit. But what does the red paint do?

                That is in order that people may see and pray for it.

Magic becomes logic!

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