Witchcraft and Prophecy in Judaism by Yakir Forman


In Parashat Shofetim (Devarim 18:9-12), the Torah commands us to avoid different forms of witchcraft.  In this section, witchcraft is referred to as a “To’eivah,” an abomination, no less than three times.  Yet immediately afterward, the Torah tells us that Hashem will appoint Nevi’im to direct us.

On the surface, witches and Nevi’im seem very similar.  Both of them use supernatural methods to deliver a message to their clients.  In fact, the only problem with witchcraft seems to be, “Lo Chein Natan Lecha Hashem Elokecha,” “Hashem did not give these to us” (18:14).  But if witchcraft and prophecy are fundamentally similar, and the only difference between the two is whether Hashem provides it as a valid method of supernatural communication, why would witchcraft be called a “To’eivah”?  The repeated use of that word indicates that witchcraft has a fundamental problem, which does not apply to prophecy.

Indeed, such a fundamental difference exists.  Almost all of the forms of witchcraft mentioned in Parashat Shofetim, besides conveying supernatural messages, are claimed to be accomplished in supernatural or abnormal ways.  They require raising the dead, interpreting omens, charming animals, et cetera.  Yet a Navi gives his message in a natural way.  The Torah stresses that the Navi is “MiKirbecha MeiAchecha,” “From among you and from your brothers” (18:15; cf. 18:18).  Witches try to prove that they are above the level of the people by introducing foreign elements into their methods of witchcraft.  Nevi’im, on the other hand, make sure to stay on the same level as the people they teach.  Although their message is from Hashem, they present it in a way that the people can understand.

Jewish religious leaders must take this message to heart.  False religious leaders need to separate themselves from the people to bolster their false messages.  The truth, however, does not need to be bolstered.  Jewish religious leaders must make sure to deliver their messages on the same level as the people.  This ensures that the people understand it and that the message is not distorted.  It is the messages that truly come from Hashem that must be conveyed on the most human level.

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