Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Magic and the Stars

Posted by Lisa

I thought the topic of magic was very interesting in relation to nevuah because they are two very awesome ideas: if you believe in them, almost equal in their possibilities. When struggling with the question of how they can co-exist and such, I came across the topic of astrology, which I would categorize under magic.
A definition of astrology is “the study of the positions and aspects of celestial bodies, in the belief that they have influence on the course of natural occurrences and human affairs”. We talked in class how Jews don’t or can’t believe in astrology. The Gemarah bans astrology and calls it a form of mazalot, which we categorized in class as unscientific, and indefinable… Though we categorized mazalot under Hashems hashgacha of us and therefore it would seem good, this case is talking about worshipping the astrology and not Hashem and making it into avodah zarah, which would be why it is banned for Jews. In the Roman Empire, belief in astrology became very popular, and in fact it also shaped many ancient faiths such as the Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek faiths. Perhaps this was when the Jews decided it was a threat and created “fences” around it- like with kashrut. One problem I had with this was that one of the opinions of hashgacha that we learned, which I hope most Jews believe in, is that Hashem controls the entire world all the time and is all powerful. So therefore, why would Judaism ban astrology? If people could find messages or horoscopes from the stars and such wouldn’t we then assume that they are messages from Hashem? Could astrology be another form of Hashem relating to us like, Nevuah, Ruach Hakodeh or Bat Kol?
Now before I let you answer that question for me, you have to know whether you believe in magic or not. Do you?
If not, you are in the company of Rambam. However, if you do, Mekuhalm agrees with you as well as R’ Yakov Kamenetsky.
I found a really cool explanation about magic, saying that magic truly worked and the real question is- why did magic stop working? The answer given has to do with free will ( I know, I know don’t kill me). But anyway here it goes…. Nevuah is so powerful and awesome that without a counterbalancing force we would all believe it right away and have no free will That counter balancing force is magic.
Some examples of this are:
The Gemorah in Shabbat comments that by Matan Torah it was “kapah aleyhem har kehgigat” – but didn’t we accept the Torah willingly (with na’aseh venishma)? The Meshech Chochma says that this is an allegory, and that it means kri’at yom soof and Matan Torah were so amazing that they had to accept the Torah, and so their free choice was taken by these revelations
Also a reason why Hashem hardened Pharoh’s heart was because the plagues were so tremendous that they took away his free choice, and so the hardening of his heart restored the balance and his natural instincts
So now magic no longer exists because the Anshei Knesset Hagedola asked Hashem to be mevatel the yetzer hora for avodah zara at the beginning of Beit Sheni and Hashem agreed. A consequence of this was that Nevuah ended, so therefore magic ended as well. Do you buy into this one? Let me know.


Jewishworker.blogspot.com/2006/01/how-did-turn-blood-into- water.html
Esoteric.msu.edu/volume IV/articles/astrology.htm
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fourth edition. Retrieved from Dictionary.reference.com/browse/astrolgy.


Blogger tamar said...

okay, so first of all, i beleive that magic did exist back in the day and i really like the explanation you gave in your post. there are two things about astroglogy though, first is that if astrology is a subcategory of magic, wouldnt the "true" form of astorology have disappeared with "true " magic { magic nowadays is all illusions, perhaps the astrology of the current day is the same type of thing ...a ghost of what it once was} seocondly, it would make sense that astrology was banned from Judasm because even though it gave us free choice [to balance out] nevuah, it still wasnt good, herefore the rabbis have a right to tell people not to do it. eating a chicken salad, for example, is deemed unkosher by the rabbis, but u cna sitll choose to do it. so following/belivin in astrology would be the same thing, a violation of the rabbinical decree...yet done out of your own free will. Lastly, i dont beilive that the starts are messengers of God, b.c astrology is used to connect to individuals, like, since my astrological sign is Gemini, im described as certain way, and there r vague predicition about how my day/week/month will be from the celestial signs. But even if im born in the same month as someone, that does not mean that i have the same exact traits as them. i think that there may be mesages in star formations but we havent found them yet , or the correct way to study the stars. i tihnk that the astrology that has been used in human history was created for people to feel conncted to god, b.c they didnt have a navi [similar to what Bnei Yisrael did with the Egel , they needed soemthing as a go between them and Hashem , ppl used astrology to feel conncted to their gods}

~tamar schneck

February 14, 2007 10:24 AM  
Blogger Debbie said...

I do believe in magic (after all, Pharoh had magicians for a reason. If nothing else they were cool to watch). But I think the real question is: what is magic? and To what extent does it encompass?
Two definitions of magic are:
1. any art that invokes supernatural powers
2. magic trick: an illusory feat; considered magical by naive observers

Magic can be supernatural OR illusionary. Therefore I have two answers.
1. Illusionary magic- of course it still exists: Blane, Copperfield, etc.
2. Supernatural- magic of this type could be considered similar to miacles, and prophecy because all three help validate God's existance. But magic by itself could be dangerous (without justification it could be considered Dejavu...people may not be able to understand it). Therefore I belive magic existed, but we in the currect day and age to not have the ability to compehend/practice it.

Debbie K

February 19, 2007 4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

but according to debbies definition of supernatural magic, wouldnt that mean that miricles are magic? since there is no way to do them on our own, it has to be god helping us aka a miricle, so if there are still miricles today(ie surviving without a scratch a really scary car crash..im not hinting at anything), then shouldnt there still be nevuah today? maybe there is like less magic today then there was then and thus the nevuah is still here today jsut less and so we dont notice it..does that make sense??

February 19, 2007 8:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But... but... magic's not real??? *cries*

JK. You really hit the nail on the head with this question, didn't you?

It's always possible that many miracles worked within the confines/framework of nature. That doesn't make them any less miracles. In fact, I find it even more miraculous that Hashem created certain laws in the natural universe that would come into play at very specific moments as a means to an end.

It's always difficult to tell what something is really like from a description, and I'm sure in our own lives, we have seen many miraculous events that get along quite well with the laws of nature. (Again, this does not make them any less extraordinary.)

One thing I love about learning science is that I feel so connected with the amazing way God built the universe. It all works! It all fits together so perfectly. The problem with astrology is that it is no fixed science; any real scientist can attest to that. There is no real proof for it, and it's not so compatible with the scientific method. I think that if we really believe in God, we have to accept and learn about the REAL laws of his universe. If we are learning FALSE laws of the universe, it is akin to idolotry. So I kinda understand why the rabbis outlawed it.

~Miriam Meyers

February 22, 2007 10:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

isnt astrology used for the purposes of oneself and not to become spiritually closer to g-d? This is always how i understood the astrological signs. for example, not that i follow any of that buisness, but my sign is the libra, and a few months past my sign told me that i would make good freinds and discard the bad ones. this did not coem true, and besides what does it have to do with g-d? my point is that astrology cannot be compared to nevuah because nevuah was given to tell bnei israel what they need to do. Astrology is just a fun game that people play to fool themselves. i do not beleive in "the powers of the stars" or whatever astrologers say. in addition, i do not beleive it has anything to do with hashem. magic on the other hand i do believe in, and even though im not sure if it exists today it was obvious that pharoah magicians didi practice some type of magic. i do not have a good answer as to whether or not magic can be a way to communicate with hashem like nevuah.


February 26, 2007 10:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

almost every morning i open to the style section of the washinton post and look at my horscope for the day and every magazine i open it is the first page i read. in my opinion this daily excersize doesnt strengthen my connection to God in any form. but i think i have begun to understand why the reading of ones astrological signs would be deemed avoda zara. when reading a horscope you may come across ones that discuss where your moon is at, in the discussion of the moon one may be unhappy and all of a sudden realize that if they pray to the moon then maybe their mazel will change. but on the topic of magic i dont think i believe in magic because i was constantly told that as a child. but i think the magic that stopped was the magic of miracles and not any sort of black magic or whatever you might call it. honestly i dont think that magic (unless by magic it is gods miracles) or astrology will weaken or strengthen the relasionship or belief one has in god. God provided us with neviim for a reason, so we dont rely on astrology or other things. peace -iris

February 27, 2007 8:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not know if i believe in magic for, ill be honest, iv'e never witnessed witchcraft. However, perhaps the tricks or spells worked at the time, but i think that when magic was called avoda zara, i think that we meant that the concpet of astrology and such is similar to the concept of avoda zara. Now, what is avodah zara? Originally, avoda zara was a way in which humans communicated to images who symbolized Hashem, thereby communicating to these objects in hopes of communicating to Hashem. Over the generations, however, as we very well know, avoda zara became literally an idol worship. People would pray to images in hopes of these images, symbolizing gods, would respond to their prayers. Therefore, people who did avoda zara were basically giving off the message that they believe that these mear pieces of stone had more power over people's lives and fates than Hashem did.
In astrology, or at least nowadays it seems, people look to these different ways of interpretting the stars, for example, as ways of knowing what will happen to people, thereby giving off the message that such study shows what power these stars have over people's lives. Nowhere is there a mention of God's hashgacha, and people might rely on these things instead of Hashem. In this way, we put our faith not in Hashem, who really created these practices, but in mere pieces of stone and planets, while we forget who really has the power to change a person's fate. Therefore, perhaps we are told that astronomy is avoda zara because, as Lisa said, Jews saw these practices as threats, and therefor in order to insure that people still had faith in Hashem and not stars, we are told that it is avoda zara. And by doing so, again as Lisa said, the rabbis created a fence in order to insure that we trust the only omnipetent "entity" there is:
Hashem. So that we dont forget that the only entity we should tern to is Hashem, not pieces of stone.

March 01, 2007 5:15 PM  
Anonymous Rachel Dotter said...

nope i dont buy into that. maybe the concept, but the story of it sounds odd--that anshei kenesset hagedolah bargained with God at the end of bayit sheni to weaken the yetzer hora so the God was like "sure...ill help u guys stop sinning, bit since im so bitter about it im now giving u the silent treatment...and taking away magic". although i dont believe in "magic" i believe in the supernatural. waht seperates my defiention of the supernatural from majic is that the supernatural is God-driven, where a majic is not related to God. for example, kriyat yam soof was the supernatural--God gave moshe the power to split the seas, yet moshe could not have done that without God.I think God has always been the force behind whatever happened. and how do we know "magic" isnt controlled by God? we have no way of knowing if He is behind all of it. and as far as astrology goes--i definetly dont believe in that. we learened in Psych clas about the Barnum Effect--which when somsone feels like a statement relates to them when it is a statement that could relate to many people (for example, a horoscope saying "you tend to spend too much time focusing on one thing, and should focus mroe on the big picture around the 15th"... astrology, to me, is a scam that people buy into because they cant stand the unpredictability of life.

March 04, 2007 11:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, I also think that magic existed back in the day. However, i belvie that it was a societle thing and now that society has changed, so has the idea of magic. Maybe back int he day, magic was something that can be scientiffcally proven today but they just didnt realize it back then. But getting back to the idea of astrology. While reading this i relaized that maybe the reason we where banned from it was becuase Hashem ddint want us to watch the stars to find meaning in the universe but rather, to look at him. If we all began to belive that astrology aka the stars had inefluence and showed what was going to happen in the world, we would stop looking to Hashem as much. So yes i belive that this ban of astrology is a fence and a way to continue are connection with God and his control of everything on this earth and beyond.
shira zurndorfer

March 11, 2007 12:54 PM  
Anonymous Leimomi said...

Good words.

November 11, 2008 11:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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February 22, 2010 12:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I kinda have been expecting this in a way...
But I reali dun think da world is going to end...start a new era maybe but the world is not ending.
That's not gonna happen till a thousand years later! Ok, I'm not sure bout that either but that's not the point! The world's not gonna end! Full stop!
]Apocalypse 2012
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February 24, 2010 1:12 PM  

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