Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Three Magic Artifacts

We live in magical times.


First, there was the One Ring of Power. It was the Silver Segular Ring, crafted by the Dark Lord, Sauron God-fearing Yidden in purity, and immersed in the volcanic fires of Mount Doom a mikvah. It was engraved with Sauron's incantations special Sheimos HaKedoshim. It had to be tied to a chain so as not to escape its bearer double-wrapped at all times. It could only be obtained via a treacherous quest in the Misty Mountains by purchasing it from Mr. Avraham Leib Schwartz for several hundred dollars, via an advertisement in Mishpacha magazine.


Then, there was the Secret Silver Blade of Fortune. "Immersed in purity with the seal of Kabbalah," this wondrous blade, when used at the proper time with the correct incantations, had the ability to "open one's mazal." It had allegedly been proven to bring "success and prosperity" to "thousands of people." While historically the silver blade was been "secretly passed among mekubalim," it was now available to the general public, in exchange for a generous donation to a certain charity.

Now, there is the Coin of Protection!

The Coin of Protection was "personally imbued" by Rav Chaim Kanievsky, "a living Urim VeTumim," "with his special blessings of good health, good tidings, and success in all endeavors." Such an amulet coin "is considered to be a protection." It can be "placed under the pillow of someone undergoing surgery," and "worn around the neck in challenging times."

According to the advertisement, there is only one Coin of Protection, specially minted, that will be raffled off to donors to Ner Echad. But, fear not! Kupat Ha-Ir also has a special Coin of Protection, blessed by Rav Chaim Kanievsky. This one has been mass-produced (and mass-blessed?), and it can be yours for a donation of just $648. "Whether you keep it in your home, carry it with you for protection while traveling, or give it as a gift to a loved one, this shmira coin is a worth far more than its weight in gold!"

Making false promises of protection or salvation in order to manipulate people into giving money, even if it's for a worthy cause, is not a nice thing to do. There are people who end up impoverishing themselves due to desperate "investment" in such things. I think that the magazines which allow such advertisements and do not print critiques of them are likewise acting irresponsibly. (Not to mention the problem with all those who contribute to the myth of Rav Chaim being a living Urim VeTumim and other such Gadolatry.)


While the Gemara has several references to amulets, the usage of amulets has been on the decline for centuries, especially in Litvishe circles, along with the actual belief in demons (as opposed to the professed belief in demons). It's sad to see it making a comeback.

51 comments:

  1. It is a great sin to disgrace Torah sages or to hate them. Jerusalem was not destroyed until [its inhabitants] disgraced its sages, as implied by [II Chronicles 36:16]: "And they would mock the messengers of God, despise His words, and scoff at His prophets" - i.e., they would scorn those who taught His words.

    Similarly, the Torah's prophecy [Leviticus 26:16]: "If you despise My statutes" [should be interpreted]: "If you despise the teachers of My statutes."

    WHOEVER DISGRACE THE SAGES HAS NO PORTION IN THE WORLD TO COME AND IS INCLUDED IN THE CATEGORY OF: "THOSE WHO SCORN THE WORD OF GOD" [Numbers 15:31]. RAMBAM Hilchos Talmud Torah 6:11

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    1. I agree. Turning a Torah scholar into a bracha dispenser is rather disrespectful. They've also been used as political mascots (e.g. Shas campaign posters), and turned into boogeymen (vote the right way or <insert name> will curse you!).

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    2. What if a "sage" disgraces himself?

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    3. Right, it's not evident whom attitude is the most disgraceful, perhaps the one promoting such things more than the one denouncing them.

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    4. What about "whoever worships the sages"?

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    5. Its a pretty safe wager to say that every single Jew who has committed this great sin:
      a) had a completely rational reason for it.
      b) thought they were smarter than everyone else. (see: Ben Yitzhar, Korach and Adusso)

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    6. Moshe, the pasuk reports, maintained all his facilities until his death.

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  2. Believing in amulets,astrology,chamsas,red strings,dead zaddikim,etc. is total idolatry if you ask me! One must put his trust and faith in Hashem ONLY! End of story.

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    1. Have you ever heard of Rav Yonasan Eibschutz?

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  3. Very true Richmond, may the purveyors of these segulos hastily cease their trampling upon the honor of Torah scholars and no longer shall the nations say רק עם סכל ונבל הגוי הקטן הזה.

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  4. Stematzky is offering sets of Zohar as all purpose Segulas. Not sure G Yafit is even targeting Observant crowd. I still prefer college education as a means to parnasa and a good shidduch, but may be a minority.then there is Belz whiskey...passed by the Rebbe himself and tastes like it. (I used to use that joke in my adult comedy magic)

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  5. Rabbi Slifkin, I wish you would make it clear whether you believe Rabbi Kanievsky is aware of these items. (If he's not, and he's blissfully unaware of these items, then that's a whole 'nother problem.)

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    1. Good point Wagner, but just how is R' Slifkin to find this out? Unless otherwise proven, one must assume that Rav Kanievsky's name is not being abused.

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  6. You dont need to spend a lot of money just go thru שמות החסידים by Rav N Bresslov

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  7. http://somehowfrum.blogspot.com/2013/01/fearless-flatbushers-fight-fraudsters.html

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  8. "Such an amulet coin "is considered to be a protection." It can be "placed under the pillow of someone undergoing surgery,.."

    This is analogous to what some Asians do. They puts a special piece of paper under the mattress of an ill person. It is supposed to help somehow. To laugh or to cry.

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    1. Why travel so far? Jews at the kotel.

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    2. I was providing a pagan parallel. Anyway, the Kotel is another example of magical thinking and I THINK the paper wads stuck into the wall are cleaned out every so often. I have visited Israel a few times. When I was still in the bubble it seemed normal, acceptable and even a good idea to put your wishes on wads in the wall. I also thought that the site was a special place on Earth, the holiest location on Earth, as if Hashem's presence was there. That is also be consistent with some other ANE cultures with their tribal/state god(s).

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  9. just as a point of reference the ARI z'l already said in the 16th century that all the 'names' are confused today{then} and even gives a tiqqun for those have has practised amulets.

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  10. Does anybody have actual information re the number of people actually falling for this rubbish? And how many are actually chareidi?

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  11. “While the Gemara has several references to amulets, the usage of amulets has been on the decline for centuries, especially in Litvishe circles, along with the actual belief in demons (as opposed to the professed belief in demons). It's sad to see it making a comeback.“

    Do you have any evidence to support this claim? I have a difficult time imagining how one can objectively measure amulet use throughout a period of centuries in multiple countries. Maybe it is on the decline?

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  12. While the Gemara has several references to amulets, the usage of amulets has been on the decline for centuries...
    Just like the Torah level among Jewish masses has been on the decline too...

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    1. Not sure if this is true.

      In the religious world (of all streams) it is assumed that all boys (and many girls) we be taught at least the basics of Talmud Study, and a majority will go on to study in Yeshivot for one or more years.
      This has probably never happened before in history, in previous generations the Gemara was only accessible to a small percentage of the population (even 100 years ago, many towns may have only had one Shas in the entire town)

      Even in the secular world, in Israel all students are taught some level of Tanach and Jewish history, which may not be a lot, but is more than many people would have learnt in previous generations.

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  13. Complete distortion of the link you posted. The link never claims that the coin was blessed and has special powers. Rather it is just a souvenir as a token that you gave charity to the cause. Charity is what protects that is the claim they make.

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    1. Um yes it does. As usual your comment is a complete distraction.

      The first link (for the one coin) states:
      "...Rav Chaim has personally imbued with his special blessings of good health, good tidings, and success in all endeavors"
      and
      "Keeping an amulet coin blessed by a great Tzaddik is considered to be a Shmira/ protection"
      asides from explicitly calling it an "amulet coin".

      The second link (for the mass produced coin) states:
      "...carry it with you for protection while traveling" and calls it a "shmira coin". It also says "eceive a special coin, with a blessing from Rav Chaim Kanievsky", so does not explicitly say the coin is blessed (as possibly it means get a coin and get a blessing rather than a coin that is blessed), but RNS in his post never claimed that the second link states the coin is blessed ("This one has been mass-produced (and mass-blessed?)").

      So no RNS did not distort the link, but you did.

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    2. The correct wording of the link that R. Slifkin "quoted" is: "Whether you keep it in your home, carry it with you for protection while traveling, or give it as a gift to a loved one, this shmira coin is the ultimate symbol of your dedication to tzedaka - and b'ezrat Hashem, you will be rewarded for it."

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  14. Raf Slifkin, I am glad to see you using the word "Gadolatry". Your use of that word suggests that you agree with me that Harediism is polytheistic.

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  15. Are you implying that these things don't really work as advertised and that I have wasted my money? Perhaps there should be a money-back guarantee.

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  16. Is there any evidence one way or the other as to whether those making these claims for those objects (or Rav Kanievsky, who allegedly blessed them) believe that these objects have "power"? Does it change your mind if they actually believe or if they're cynically manipulating others who do believe?

    Also, R' Slifkin, have you written anywhere about the stories of amulets and demons and such in the gemara? True stories? Stories of just what people believed back then? How should a rationalist understand these stories?

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    Replies
    1. http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2011/05/wrestling-with-demons.html

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  17. The Rambam does bring the halacha that it's permissable to wear a "proven" amulet on shabbos. 19:14

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  18. We live in magical times.


    yeah!!!!!!!! what's wrong with a bit of magic? (not that I'm pushing coins or rings or stuff like that. I mean the REAL stuff.

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    1. Like... Harry Potter? I have bad news for you...

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    2. the Torah is full of magic, there's never a question about it. Like the medrash that Bilom flew up into the air to get away and Pinchos chased after him. Or what about R Shimon Bar Yochai filling the valley with gold coins for his talmidim. Magic doesn't have to be evil. It's just the natural consequence of having worked on oneself to the extent that you know yourself as a spiritual being, and then the 'teva' is not solid any more, but plasticine.

      Stop being a muggle! You are a Jew!!

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    3. Having graduated primary school,wouldn't you agree it's time to start distinguishing between what is written in the Torah, midrashim that were written for educational purposes (rather than for being taken literally ) and what fairly stupid people in the 21st century think 'The Torah ' says (when in fact it doesn't...)?

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    4. "There's never a question about it." And just like that, Selective Skeptic dismissed an entire school of Geonim and Rishonim (see Radak in Shmuel) who denied the existence of magic....

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    5. @Shlomo

      Hi I looked up the Radak in Shmuel (I assume you mean 1:28:8 where he writes about the witch of ein dor) and I don't see that he dismisses the magic. I wonder if you mean the use of the word 'dimyon' and you translate that as 'imagine' in other words imagination, as in not real, that's not what he's saying. Dimyon means the vision that the magician is trying to bring up.

      But if you mean another location I'd be glad to hear.

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    6. I actually meant Radak's citation of R' Shmuel bar Chafni, Saadia, and Hai Geonim, and Rambam in verse 24. Their debate is about what actually happened in that case (perhaps it was a special miracle) but they all agree that generally it is mere trickery. (Btw Radak himself disagrees.) This is simply a mareh makom be'almah; I don't think there's any serious debate about whether R' Saadia Gaon (Ev'D 3:5) and Rambam (Avodas Kochavim 11:16 MN 3:37) believed in magic. These are simply mareh mekomos off the top of my head. I'm sure with some research I could find a lot more sources. Are you not aware that there were definitely some Rishonim who didn't believe in magic?

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    7. @Shlomo
      again; apologies I checked the ralbag not the radak, but when I looked at the radak I also don't see that he denies the effect of the magic. Would appreciate precise reference.

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    8. Thank you.

      The Rambam does acknowledge the issue of why the Torah should need to forbid something that is pure imagination. I wonder if the Rambam rubbishes magic to take your mind away from it. Like he declares that middle arabic is the highest language - good for keeping your head on. The simple flow of the psukin in Shmuel is that the witch was known as powerful and she delivered the result.

      I would suggest that there is a range of possibilities here, from the person who genuinely does have power, and can produce real magic. Like the american indian who took off his belt threw it on the floor where it became a live snake, then after it had chased people away he picked it up by its tail and it turned back into a belt again. That story is somewhat familiar for some reason. Then there are others who pretend and confuse, the magicians of our time.

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    9. You wrote a long comment but no actual response. You can suggest whatever you like, but that is not the opinion of these Geonim/Rishonim. You dismissed with a wave an entire school (not just a single outlier such as R' Avraham Ben HaRambam) who did not believe in magic.

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    10. I take your point and I accept that my wording was incorrect. However I think I am allowed to shelter under the shade of those who believe that magic is real, even if there are those who differ.

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  19. Natan, time to take your "Purim costumes" out of the closet. Put on your black hat "chareidishe" garb - go to Rav Chaim and hand him a letter describing how he is being used by the charlatans. "Lo saamod al dam reiyecha". Do as you preach......

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  20. Skeptic says "the Torah is full of magic" and then brings two midrashim. Midrash is not a great place to look for proofs, it is essentially storytelling to drive home a point

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  21. This does not pass the רַק עַם חָכָם וְנָבוֹן הַגּוֹי הַגָּדוֹל הַזֶּה אקדאץ

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  22. I don't see a thing about the Secret Silver Blade of Fortune being broken and reforged or engraved with runes. Also R Schachter vetoed the seven stars set between the crescent Moon and rayed Sun.

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  23. Now that we know that bees honey has enzymes from the bee, why is it kosher? (According to those that say it's not a drasha)

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