Thursday, August 13, 2015

Segulos, Magnets, and the Supernatural

The post about the strangest segulah ever led to much discussion about the history of Judaism's approaches to segulos. I thought it would be worthwhile to re-post a discussion on this from a few years ago, regarding the view of Rashba (a.k.a. Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Aderes, 1235–1310). Rashba discussed this matter in the context of his disagreeing strongly with Rambam's across-the-board dismissal of all magic (and similar phenomena for which there is no rational explanation) as being nonsense and thus prohibited. Rashba points out that the Gemara is full of such things, which (unlike Rambam) he takes authoritatively, and he stresses that these practices are endorsed even though there is no rational explanation for them. Rashba later delivers what he believes to be the coup de grâce:

עוד יש לי מקום עיון בדברי הרב ז"ל שכתב אמרו בפי' כל שיש בו משום רפואה אין בו משום דרכי האמורי. רוצה בזה כל מה שיגזרהו העיון הטבעי הוא מותר וזולתו אסור. ע"כ. ואני שואל כמסתפק בדברי הרב ז"ל מהו הדבר שיקראוהו הרב ז"ל שיגזרהו העיון הטבעי. אם מה שיגזרהו עיון חכמי' שחברו ספרים בטבע כאריסטו וגאלינוס וחבריהם שחברו ספרים בטבע הסמים והמסעדים המועילים לפי עיונם וכל מה שלא השיג עיונם הוא בכלל איסור דרכי האמורי. לפי שעיון חכמים אלו שהשתדלו בחכמת הטבע כולל כל מה שאפשר להיות פעל כל בעל טבע בטבעו. ואצל עיון חכמים אלו יפסק מאפשרות העיון הטבעי. זה באמת מה שלא יקבלוהו השכל כי באמת הדברים הפועלים בסגלה אין פעולתם בפלא מהם אלא בטבע מסגל, רצוני לומר בטבע לא ישיגנו עיון החכמים ואפילו החכם שבחכמים לרוב העלם הטבע ההוא מכלל המין האנושי מצד שהוא אדם, כסגלת אבן השואבת שהברזל קופץ עליה ויותר מזה מורגל בירדי הים באניות תוחבין מחט בחתיכת עץ צף על פני המים ומראין לו אבן וישוט על פני המים עד שיפנה אל פני הסדן ושם ינוח - ולא ישיג עיון טבע זה כל חכם שבחכמים אלו של חכמת הטבע. (שו"ת הרשב"א חלק א סימן תיג)

Here, Rashba argues that it is impossible to claim that only phenomena for there is a rational explanation are real and permitted. His reason is that there are phenomena that undeniably exist, and yet for which there can be no scientific explanation. The example that he brings is the magnet, and its use in a compass. These things operate neither in the realm of the miraculous, nor in the realm of the natural; instead, they operate in the realm of segulah. Rashba notes that "the wisest of scholars in the sciences can never grasp the nature" of such things.

Now, I myself, in my monograph on demons, argued that one cannot simply assert that those who believed in demons and suchlike were not rationalists. Things looked different in the medieval period, and some people believed in such things for rational reasons. Nevertheless, there is still an enormous gulf separating the rationalist Rishonim of Spain from the mystical Rishonim and from the non-rationalist Rishonim in Ashkenaz.

Superficially, Rashba's discussion appears not too far removed from that of Ralbag. Ralbag was an extreme rationalist, yet he likewise asserts that magnets can only be explained in terms of being a segulah. However, the term segulah as used by Ralbag (and Rashba) has been borrowed from pharmacology, where it refers to peculiar properties which cannot be explained in terms of its constituent elements (see Y. Tzvi Langermann, "Gersonides on the Magnet and the Heat of the Sun"). In applying it to magnets, Ralbag is claiming that the nature of the magnet cannot be grasped by the science of his day; but he is not explaining it to be a supernatural phenomenon, and he did not see it as reason to accept the validity of magic.

For Rashba, on the other hand, there is no distinction between that which science cannot currently explain, and that which it will never explain. Rashba's point is not that there are "empirically tested phenomena work through the principles of science despite the fact that we do not understand these principles." On the contrary; his view is that there are principles other than laws of science and nature that operate. Unlike Rambam, who realized that magnets are a solely naturalistic phenomenon, Rashba believed that magnets operate in a different realm - that of segulah. According to Rashba, the framework within which segulos work is precisely not the framework of science and nature. He therefore sees magnets as reason to accept belief in magic and all such phenomena. The lack of any conceivable scientific explanation for a phenomenon is no reason whatsoever to doubt its existence.

Now, it is true that even today, we don't really understand what magnetism, or gravity for that matter, actually is. We can measure and describe how it works, but we still don't know what it fundamentally is. Nevertheless, we are fully confident that it is a natural, rather than supernatural, phenomenon. Rambam and even Ralbag felt the same way, which is why their inability to comprehend magnetism or other phenomena did not prevent them from dismissing other phenomena as clearly false. The line between science and pseudo-science is not always clear, but there are nevertheless many things that we confidently dismiss as non-existent. Rashba, on the other hand, did not believe that we can ever dismiss phenomena as scientifically impossible and false - and saw magnets as evidence for this.

It's nice, and very tempting, to think that whatever we believe to be the correct approach to Judaism has always been the approach of great Torah scholars. However, that is often not the case.

36 comments:

  1. My recollection is that non-Jewish natural philosophers (as well as end-users, such as sailors) regarded magnetism as something like black magic. Undoubtedly useful, but very mysterious, and something best left uninvestigated. Ships' compasses would be kept enclosed or hidden away, only brought out when needed.

    I think the best way to explain magnetism, as well as gravity, is that they're not "things" per se (so we can't really talk about what they fundamentally "are"), but rather "properties" that the universe has, that cause the actual things in it to behave a certain way.

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  2. A few (but certainly not the only) key distinctions are that a scientific theory must be able to make predictions, and experimental evidence that validates the theory must be repeatable by different researchers.

    Magnets and gravity qualify. We don't understand what's going on (although quantum theory has some pretty convincing descriptions if you can understand the math) but we don't need to. We have very clear and obvious explanations about their effects and we can make easily reproducible predictions based on those explanations.

    In contrast, non-scientific phenomena (like ESP) fail those tests. People claim to have experienced it and some people have theories about how it works, but the theories don't make predictions that can be reliably tested. Controlled experiments to try and detect ESP always fail to produce reproducible results. Therefore, the theories are non-scientific. We can't disprove the phenomenon, but we can state that there is no scientific proof for it.

    I think segulot are in a similar realm. People believe in them, and people have anecdotal evidence, but without a controlled study to demonstrate, in a repeatable fashion, that they work, it remains beyond the realm of science. If someone at some time in the future should manage to conduct a study that others can repeat and get the same results, then it would become scientific, even if we can't figure out the mechanism at this time.

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  3. I think it is worth noting that the 'issue" with magnets wasn't merely that they were unable to explain how they functioned according to the science of their day, but that they contradicted the science of their day, namely Aristotle's opinion that an object could only move another object by touching it.

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    1. That's pretty much what current day physics says as well. Relativity theory taught us that everything can be viewed as both a wave and a particle. Magnetic material produces a magnetic force field but it also can be viewed as (virtual) photons. In fact, physicists have speculated that objects put out particles they've dubbed gravitons to explain how large objects can influence other objects. This is why Einstein had such a big problem with the idea of entanglement. If I remember correct he pejoratively called it spooky action at a distance because, according to the theory, two particles affect each other instantaneously with no apparent connection between them.

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  4. It is critical not to confuse the medieval Hebrew usage of "segulah" with its modern Hebrew usage. For Rambam, Rashba, and other medieval Jewish philosophers, "segulah" is the translation of "occult virtue" or "occult property" (vs. a "manifest" property).

    In ancient Greek and medieval natural philosophy, an "occult" (hidden) quality of an object was one which could not be attributed to the elements of which it is made.

    For example: In Aristotelian science, iron falls to the ground because it is made of the element "earth." Bodies made from earth or water seek their natural place and fall to the ground. So gravity is a "manifest" property of iron, water, and other solid bodies.

    However, the attractive force of a lodestone (a natural magnet) for iron could not be explained by the elemental makeup or manifest properties of the lodestone. Rather, magnetic force was a unique (i.e., "segulah" - a brilliant borrowing of a biblical term) and occult (non-manifest) property of the magnet.

    In the fourteenth century, magnetism was considered an occult property, but it was still predictable and reproducible. This is worlds apart from today's "segulot" (charms, talismans) peddled by quacks and frauds. The Rasbha would laugh at today's segulot.

    See my essay on this: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-lion-and-the-compass-untangling-medieval-science-from-modern-halacha/

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    1. I don't know if this is so related, but anyway: I once saw an episode of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos", where he said how the Ancients attributed intelligence to the planets, because they sometimes undergo retrograde motion, which sort of indicated that they must have some reason why they are suddenly "choosing" to move backwards. Even though the Rambam clearly knew the mechanism (but not the true reason) for how the planets undergo retrograde motion, since it was explained by Ptolemy, he still attributed an "intelligence" to them--and to all the stars. Earthly events were supposed to be influenced by the heavenly bodies. (Moreh Nevuchim, Part II, Chapter 10)
      I think it's clear that if the Rambam lived today, he would re-read the statement of Chazal that "every blade of grass has a "mazal" that strikes it and tells it to grow"--the word "mazal" would no longer have the meaning of "star", but of "angel", or "spiritual force", or some other alternative.

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    2. The Rambam wouldn't just say that they were wrong?

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    3. The Rasbha would laugh at today's segulot.

      Take a look at that T'Shuva. The Rashba is quite credible, even allowing for using small statue of a lion for cures as long as nothing similar to Avodah is done (for example burning incense) and even allows using it at a propitious time. In fact the point of the Teshuvah is that he can't really understand where the boundary between the prohibited and permitted is with respect to various superstitious practices, since they obviously (to him) work as cures, and whatever works as a cure is permitted.

      So I don't see any reason to suppose that the Rashba would be more skeptical today.

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    4. Sorry, I meant to say that the Rashba is quite credulous, not credible.

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    5. Sorry, I meant to say that the Rashba is quite credulous, not credible.

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    7. Rashba is referring to a medallion engraved with images of the constellation Leo and the Sun. In medieval Christian Spain, this was a known treatment for kidney stones. The practice was in use by radical Maimonideans; the anti-Maimonideans brought it to Rashba's attention for his opinion, as it was said to be considered darkhei emori (a prohibited pagan practice).

      Here is a study which refers to the Leo amulet, with illustrations: http://rsnr.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/roynotesrec/62/3/271.full.pdf

      Like much of medieval medicine, this imaginary cure was based on astrological principles (the properties of Leo and the Sun were thought to counteract kidney ailments). Rashba, like virtually all educated people of his time, believed in the empirical efficacy of such remedies (his first error).

      Following the Talmud and Maimonides, Rashba's standard for exempting a cure from the designation of darkhei emori was empirical evidence for its efficacy. He believed that there was indeed empirical evidence for the Leo amulet's healing powers. Though the mechanism by which it heals is unknown to natural philosophy, he argues, this only means that the medallion's healing property is a "segulah" or occult property of the amulet. But though mysterious, it works as naturally and consistently as magnetism, the classic example of an occult property (his second error). Therefore, in Rashba's view, the Leo amulet was a legitimate medical treatment.

      But there is no evidence that the segulot of our day have any impact whatsoever (except to enrich their promoters). On the contrary, all evidence indicates that they are fraudulent. Rashba would therefore not approve of modern segulot.

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    8. Thank you for correcting my ignorance on the image that he was talking about.

      This was a popular treatment for kidney stones, whose use by radical Maimonideans was brought to Rashba's attention for his approval.

      Excuse my ignorance, but who were the radical Maimonideans, and why are that they called if they discarded one of Maimonides core principles?

      Like much of medieval medicine, this supposed cure was based on astrology (the astrological properties of Leo and the Sun were thought to counteract kidney ailments). Rashba and virtually every educated person of his time believed in the empirical efficacy of such remedies. Therefore, in Rashba's view, the Leo amulet was a legitimate medical treatment.

      1) Do you think that the Rambam accepted it?

      2) The issue is not whether many intelligent people accepted it. The issue is whether they accepted it because they accepted mysticism and superstition.

      Rashba's standard - following the Talmud - for exempting a cure from the designation of darkhei emori (paganism) was empirical evidence.

      The Talmud doesn't may any such explicit assertion. The Rambam asserts this because he thought that witchcraft was nonsense, but Ramban interpreted various forms of witchcraft as effective, but harmful.

      And if you read through the Rashba's teshuva, while he nominally accepts the Rambam, he actually accepts all kinds of superstitious elements based on authority, not empricism. This is why the Rashba ends up very confused. If you accept the Rambam, then the only way to make sense of the bulk of the Talmud's apparently superstitious teachings is to either reinterpret them or reject them. The Rashba trusts what the Talmud says + apparently cures that he read in pagan literature where he believes that he can filter out the dross.

      Though he was wrong, he believed that the Leo medallion was as natural as magnetism.

      People today who believe in homeopathy believe that it works and is natural.

      But since there is no empirical evidence that segulot work and, on the contrary, much evidence that they are fraudulent, Rashba would not approve of them.

      What this amounts to is that since you don't accept them, that you can't believe the Rashba would either. The point is that the otherwise intelligent people who accept the authority of the Talmud as an independent source of knowledge, not to be verified or refutes by our paltry experience, disagree. I can't say what the Rashba would say today, but back then that is the side he came down on.

      Looked at another way, Newton was an thoroughgoing empiricist in his physics, but appeared to accept all kinds of unfounded assertions in his study of alchemy. You can be super-smart and credulous all-in-one.

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    9. I think it's clear that if the Rambam lived today, he would re-read the statement of Chazal that "every blade of grass has a "mazal" that strikes it and tells it to grow"--the word "mazal" would no longer have the meaning of "star", but of "angel", or "spiritual force", or some other alternative.

      Rambam didn't think that individual blades of grass had stars influencing them. He believe in a general influence of the planets on the earth because the moon cycle corresponds with the tides and sun cycle with the seasons. I assume that if he were alive today, he would associate the Mazal that makes grass grow with photosynthesis or somesuch.

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  5. Shamino,

    Any rational person considering a plausablity argument for the efficacy of segulot, would insist on a probability of success of at least 51%. My plausibility acumen tells me that you wouldn't achieve a 10% success.( While you're experimenting with segulot, you might include prayer also-- wouldn't that be earth-shattering -- imagine if you discover a 51% prayer success rate)
    So why waste your time on segulot nonsense when you could engage in something useful -- like enlisting quantum theory to explain the existence of matter and the forces that bind our universe.
    And BTW, we are getting very close to know whats going on.
    https://www.quantamagazine.org/20140314-betting-on-the-future-of-quantum-gravity/

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    1. Why on earth would you require a 51% success rate?
      You should simply require a success rate higher than that of pure chance with enough of a margin to justify the cost / effort of undertaking the action.

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    2. Doctors today often prescribe medication with only 10 to 20% success rate. Sometimes, they call it experimenting with different medications or with dosages or no graet dangers etc.

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    3. You are arguing against a point that I did not make.

      I did not say segulot are real or effective. I said that IF THEIR EFFECT COULD BE DEMONSTRATED UNDER CONTROLLED CONDITIONS, then you could consider them scientific, without having to fully understand the underlying mechanism.

      Are you saying that even under those strict conditions, you would still dismiss it as nonsense? Or that you are so convinced in your own opinion that those who even ask a question to the contrary are deserving of ridicule? That's not very scientific.

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  6. I think that in older times, gravity and magnetism would have qualified for the appellation Einstein later gave to quantum theory: "spooky action at a distance."

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    1. Isaac Newton on gravity:
      "Some I know disapprove this conclusion, and mutter something about occult qualities. They continually are cavilling with us, that gravity is an occult property; and occult causes are to be quite banished from philosophy. But to this the answer is easy; that those are indeed occult causes whose existence is occult; and imagined but not proved; but not those whose real existence is clearly demonstrated by observations."

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  7. You are 100% confident with no rational basis. Yet you consider yourself a rationalist, perhaps a fundamental rationalist.

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  8. 1. Last week we had Avi Shafran betting the house on vitalism. Now we have the "science will never explain..." argument. Sure, science of Rashba's time couldn't explain magnetism or much of anything else with the proverbial both hands and a flashlight. But today the frontiers of both arguments are retreating rather quickly.

    2. Here's my problem with segulot.
    When you get pneumonia, giving charity is a meritorious act that may earn supernatural intervention. But segulot are not even notionally meritorious.
    Swallowing antibiotics is not inherently meritorious, but it works because God set up the world to work according to the laws of nature, which is necessary in order for there to be at least the illusion of free will and consequences. But we now know that segulot are not natural, either.
    As a monotheist I must believe that God is the only supernatural entity with free will, and therefore the only one capable of doling out supernatural rewards.
    As a Jew I must believe that the Torah contains all we need to know about what is supernaturally meritorious and efficacious.
    For segulot to work, at least one of those propositions must be false.

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    1. Interestingly, the Rambam believed that both of your propositions are false.

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  9. I just HAD to share these definitions from Ambrose Bierce's 1911 The Devil's Dictionary:
    MAGNET, n.
    Something acted upon by magnetism.
    MAGNETISM, n.
    Something acting upon a magnet.
    The two definitions immediately foregoing are condensed from the works of one thousand eminent scientists, who have illuminated the subject with a great white light, to the inexpressible advancement of human knowledge.

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  10. Who really cares that the Rashba was mistaken about the un-naturalness of a magnetized needle pointing north. He had no physical explanation of either magnetism or the behavior of the needle. His mistake is understandable. Similarly, the Rambam in his 8 essays (shmoneh perakim) mentions an iron ship floating in air as an imaginable but impossible thing. He had no physical context in which to place such a flying massive object. We now have such massive metallic objects (even if aluminum and not iron) constantly flying overhead. Nor is magnetism such a strange phenomenon. It is only somewhat more complicated than the concept of some particles having an electric charge and creating an electric field. In this case the spinning electron generates a magnetic as well as electric field. When such spins of bound electrons become cooperative in a solid, then magnetic properties are exhibited. A magnetized floating needle point north in response to the earth's magnetic field that is generated in its iron core. Gravity is treated in modern physics as a distortion of space-time due to the presence of massive objects. The falling of objects toward such massive ones as the earth is the geodesic path taken by a moving object in the distorted field, i.e., falling into the 'hole' surrounding the massive object. The inability to provide or gain a simple explanation for some phenomena doesn't excuse the silliness of some people believing in nonsense and the avarice of those who seek to profit from such naivete.

    Y. Aharon

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    1. Agree. The scientific views of any medieval authority on this subject are irrelevant. What is relevant is the halakhic approach once the facts are established. There is no doubt what Maimonides would say about practitioners of practical Kabbalah an segulot. But I also believe Rashba (and Nahmanides, for that matter) would reject them simply because they are fraudulent.

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    2. Agree. The scientific views of any medieval authority on this subject are irrelevant. What is relevant is the halakhic approach once the facts are established.

      The facts according to who? Part of the dispute is on how to establish the facts.

      There is no doubt what Maimonides would say about practitioners of practical Kabbalah an segulot. But I also believe Rashba (and Nahmanides, for that matter) would reject them simply because they are fraudulent.

      They might or might not. But if they did, that would not necessarily create a prohibition according to the Ramban. According to him, what is prohibited is witchcraft that works but is harmful. Pseudoscience is just dumb, but not necessarily prohibited.

      It is the Rambam's innovation that all of the prohibited practices are useless and that the prohibition is merely intended to guard against the crossover to idol worship by way of gradually increasing acceptance of the irrational.

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    3. I've noticed that even those who argue with the Rambam (Ran, Rambam) on the existence of the occult, nevertheless agree to some extent that occult powers are useless, insofar as they are unreliable and inexact. That may explain the psak that segula remedies are prohibited where another prohibition is involved even in cases of פיקוח נפש.

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    4. That may explain the psak that segula remedies are prohibited where another prohibition is involved even in cases of פיקוח נפש.

      What p'sak is that?

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  11. Y. Aharon, the point is not that the Rashba was mistaken, but that he drew the inference that the magnet revealed the existence of "other-worldly" influences that the philosophers could not explain. Thus there should be no problem accepting that amulets work especially at propitious times. This is analogous to the view of those today who look for segulot.

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  12. David, you're correct, the Rashba was mistaken also in his presumption that segulot to be found in Talmud actually work. I preferred to focus on his mistaken but understandable assumptions about some more mysterious physical phenomena, such as magnetism. I also question his assumption that the Rambam would not admit of explanations of physical phenomena other than that given by Aristotle and Galen. The Rambam's 'physics' in his Hilchot Yesodai Hartorah, is, indeed, based on Aristotelian ideas - and therefore mistaken, but I don't know that he would dismiss any other explanation of physical phenomena not covered in his Hilchot. The key point is that these savants and halachic authority figures were often mistaken about the physical world, just as their learned contemporaries. For example, they all believed in spontaneous generation to account for some 'worms' in stored food. We know that such is not the case and that these are ordinary maggots that develop from very tiny eggs laid by sundry flies. Nonetheless, the Talmudic dicta that these Rishonim attempted to rationalize remains in force due to their halachic authority. The fact that the scientifically educated amongst us know much more about the world than they is hardly due to some intellectual superiority. Rather, it is due to the accumulation of real knowledge of how the world works that is our inheritance. It is interesting, however, to contrast their mistakes which presume knowledge of the world such as the mechanism and use of a compass by sailors, with those later figures who had no such knowledge. I also note that some leading physicists invoke the idea of other universes to explain some puzzling quantum phenomena. Postulating the existence of other spheres with whom no contact is possible takes it out of the realm of physics into metaphysics. It is then not so different than attempting to account for physical phenomena by some non-physical agency. the only difference is the degree of irrationality embodied by the supposed agents.
    By the way, where did you get the idea that the Rashba considers that amulets are particularly effective at propitious times. Really? It seems to me that reckoning propitious times violates a serious prohibition of 'lo te;onein'. It's one thing to believe foolish things; it's quite another to practice forbidden magical acts.

    Y. Aharon

    Y. Aharon

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    1. First off, I agree that I'm not smarter than either the ancients for the medievals. Nevertheless, R Slifkin is correct in identifying a different PoV that goes back to the medieval greats at least, as to how credulous to be about apparently superstitious phenomena and how to treat them in halacha.

      By the way, where did you get the idea that the Rashba considers that amulets are particularly effective at propitious times. Really? It seems to me that reckoning propitious times violates a serious prohibition of 'lo te;onein'. It's one thing to believe foolish things; it's quite another to practice forbidden magical acts.

      Because he says so :). See here about halfway down starting with the word "Aval". After he reiterates the permission to use an amulet with an engraved lion, he says that while he was not previously asked about using the amulet an a "known time" it not possible to prohibit absolutely all images, propitious times, actions, and incantations due to the prohibitions on sorcery and witchcraft. This is because the Talmud explicitly permits many activities like this. (For example Pesachim 112a: Our Rabbis taught: A man must not drink water either on the nights of the fourth days [Wednesdays] or on the nights of Sabbath,1 and if he does drink, his blood is on his own head, because of the danger. What is the danger? An evil spirit.)

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    2. David, I suppose that someone who follows some Talmudic advice about not undertaking certain activities in specific times may not be transgressing 'lo te'oneinu'. He is merely blindly following some Talmudic folklore. I much prefer the view of the Rambam to that of the Rashba or Ramban regarding segulot and magic. The Rambam considers all such matters to be nonsense and only permits wearing some amulet on Shabbat because of the psychological benefit derived. I read the Rashbam's t'shuva that you posted until he started getting carried away with describing segulot such as a crucifixion nail and foxes tooth. It's all foolishness that was accepted by even such sages as the Rashba as part of the popular understanding of how things work. I wonder what things that are generally accepted today will be regarded as foolishness by later generations.

      Y. Aharon

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    3. David, I suppose that someone who follows some Talmudic advice about not undertaking certain activities in specific times may not be transgressing 'lo te'oneinu'. He is merely blindly following some Talmudic folklore.

      But the Rashba takes it further to mean that even practices from idolatrous books can be extracted from their context and followed as long as they don't themselves cross into idolatry. Although I should point out that the Rashba himself admits that he is confused and doesn't know where to draw the line.

      I much prefer the view of the Rambam to that of the Rashba or Ramban regarding segulot and magic. The Rambam considers all such matters to be nonsense and only permits wearing some amulet on Shabbat because of the psychological benefit derived.

      Of course I agree, but it is clear that the argument goes back to the Talmud itself which contains statements both for an against following superstition. I also agree that in modern times, we can actually settle this argument with evidence, but since the other side doesn't accept our evidence, the dispute continues.

      I wonder what things that are generally accepted today will be regarded as foolishness by later generations.

      I wonder what things that are generally accepted today will be regarded as foolishness by later generations.

      Maybe the various and sundry denials of the laws of supply and demand that pervade much political discourse on economic issues.

      This teshuva is actually quite fascinating and deserved a fuller analysis on its own, in part because TCS uses it to try to prove that the Rambam himself accepted segulot.

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  13. Saul ShajnfeldAugust 14, 2015 at 10:47 AM
    I think that in older times, gravity and magnetism would have qualified for the appellation Einstein later gave to quantum theory: "spooky action at a distance."


    Correct. From wikipedia:

    "It is inconceivable that inanimate Matter should, without the Mediation of something else, which is not material, operate upon, and affect other matter without mutual Contact…That Gravity should be innate, inherent and essential to Matter, so that one body may act upon another at a distance thro' a Vacuum, without the Mediation of any thing else, by and through which their Action and Force may be conveyed from one to another, is to me so great an Absurdity that I believe no Man who has in philosophical Matters a competent Faculty of thinking can ever fall into it. Gravity must be caused by an Agent acting constantly according to certain laws; but whether this Agent be material or immaterial, I have left to the Consideration of my readers."

    —Isaac Newton, Letters to Bentley, 1692/3

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