Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Prohibited magic -- Harry Potter themes in parshat Mishpatim

This week's Torah portion, parshas Mishpatim, includes the commandment that "you should not allow a sorceress to live." (Ex 22:17). Lots of questions can be raised about this:

1. Does this mean that the Torah would require that Harry Potter (or Hermione) be given the death penalty?

2. Are magic shows prohibited?

Harry Potter and Torah includes a chapter that talks about these two questions in depth.

In a nutshell, it appears that the Torah's prohibition of sorcery, like most of the Torah's laws, is only meant to apply to Jews. The Torah was given to the Jews, and the laws were taught to Moses to teach to the Jews, so they for the most part do not apply to non-Jews. As long as a non-Jews's sorcery didn't involve idol-worship, the Torah has no problem with it. It's only Jews that are prohibited from using sorcery.

As for magic shows, all authorities agree that there's no concern at all for Jews to attend magic shows performed by non-Jews. As I said about regarding sorcery, non-Jews are not bound by the Torah's laws, and there's no reason for a Jew not to enjoy a magic show from a non-Jew.

The harder question is about magic shows being performed by Jews. Anyone really interested in the subject should read the chapter in the book, but the bottom line is that the biggest authorities on Jewish law nowadays say that it's fine for Jews to perform magic shows, or to attend magic shows performed by Jews, because nowadays everyone knows that magic shows are not real sorcery. Until the past hundred years Jewish magic shows were prohibited by most authorities because the magic was considered by the audience to be sorcery, and therefore the actions were prohibited as what was called "achizat einayim," fooling the eyes. But again, contemporary authorities, at least for ashkenazim, permit magic shows because everyone knows that they're just tricks.

Shabbat Shalom everyone!


For anyone interested, the contemporary authorites that permit magic shows for the reasons I discussed are Igros Moshe vol 8 siman YD 4:13 (confirmed with the letter recipient) and Teshuvos ve'Hanhagos vol 1 siman 455.

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