(Jewish Telegraphic Agency) A new museum exhibit at the Hebrew Union College admits on the one hand that the occult has always been an integral part of Judaism while at the same time claiming that the rabbis forbid it — a prime example of Jewish double-think and dissemblance:
If you take the Torah’s word for it — not to mention generations of rabbinical literature — astrology, witchcraft, ghost-busting and the like are expressly forbidden in Judaism, and have no place in Jewish practice or culture.
And yet, as the current exhibit at the Dr. Bernard Heller Museum at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion highlights, the occult has always been an integral part of Judaism — and continues to be today.
“In every civilization there’s evidence of belief in superstition, mystical characters that can both protect and harm or rituals that can ward off evil,” Jeanie Rosensaft, the museum’s director, told the New York Jewish Week. “It’s just a fascinating thing, and we wanted to investigate.”
For the exhibit “Magical Thinking: Superstitions and Other Persistent Notions,” Rosensaft and her curatorial team put out an open call to hundreds of contemporary Jewish artists for artwork exploring Jewish superstitions. The result showcases the work of more than 50 artists in a range of mediums — including oils, watercolors, acrylics, collage, paper cuts, multimedia and photographs.
From hamsas [the symbol of an eye embedded in the palm of an open hand] to “the menstrual slap,” the artworks grapple intimately with Jewish practices that have been both painstakingly preserved across the generations and, at the same time, discounted as merely “old wives’ tales.”
Taken as a whole, however, the aesthetic diversity of the pieces reflect the complicated reality of Jewish tradition: encompassing many varying and sometimes opposing perspectives that nonetheless remain in conversation.
Inspired by the exhibit, which is on view through Jan. 5, 2023, the New York Jewish Week chatted with Rosensaft, participating artists and other scholars in the field of Jewish material culture and demonology about the place of the occult in Jewish culture, both past and present. They helped us debunk five critical misconceptions.
One of Rosensaft’s favorite quotes from the 13th-century Sefer Chasidim — an ethical and legal guide to Jewish daily life in medieval Germany — perhaps best encapsulates Judaism’s true approach to the occult: “One should not believe in superstitions, but still it is best to be heedful of them.”
In other words, just because the Torah prohibits belief and participation in the occult, that doesn’t mean that you should look a gift golem in the mouth.
According to Sara Ronis, author of the recent book “Demons in the Details: Demonic Discourse and Rabbinic Law in Late Antique Babylonia,” the supernatural has actually long been a meaningful and powerful element of Jewish life. “Many Ashkenazi Jews today have an understanding of Judaism as highly rational, scientific and spiritual more than material,” she told the New York Jewish Week. “That understanding emerges out of particular conditions of 19th-century western Europe, and is an important part of Jewish history. But it’s not the only part.”
“[Even] the rabbis of the Talmud recognized that the world was filled with phenomena beyond their understanding,” she added, “and demons and other intermediary beings play important roles in rabbinic narrative and law.”
The truth is, from the first mention of the demon Lilith in the Book of Isaiah to the red strings sold at the Western Wall today — presumably to ward off ayin hara, or the evil eye — the occult has a long history in Judaism…
When illustrator Steve Marcus received the exhibit prompt, he immediately thought of the widespread belief that tattooed Jews could not be buried in a Jewish cemetery. That’s what inspired his piece in the exhibition, “Consequences,” which depicts a heavily tattooed man in a kippah, crying.
The truth is, while the Torah does include a proscription against tattoos (Leviticus 19:28 states: “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the LORD”), it does not actually prevent Jews from being buried with their community.
“The misconceptions I wanted to convey in this piece are beyond superstition,” Marcus told the New York Jewish Week. “No matter what kind of Jew one is and what choices they have made, they are Jewish. They are Jewish regardless of race, whether they’re kosher or shomer Shabbat or if they are tattooed or not…”
Rabbis give merely lip service to the Torah — the actual Bible — which clearly proscribes any form of the occult or idolatry — prohibited by the first and second Commandments — which tells us just how important these prohibitions were to God.
The Jewish “holy” book, The Talmud, specifically condones occult practices, including sacrificing their children to idols:
“He who gives of his seed to Molech incurs no punishment.” (Sanhedrin 64a)
“It is permitted to consult by a charm the spirits of oil and eggs, and make incantations” (Sanhedrin 101a)
That is why marriages to members pagan tribes were strictly forbidden to real Israelites — who knew that such unions would lure them into occult practices — and take them away from worshiping the only one true God.
Judaism is not based on the Torah because Judaism is not the faith of the Israelites of the Old Testament — contrary to what most Christians have been led to believe.
Judaism is based on the Talmud, which has its foundations in the occult oral traditions that some apostate Israelites fell into while in exile in Babylon — that’s why there is a “Babylonian Talmud.”
These are to so-called corrupt “oral traditions” practiced by the Pharisees who sought to kill Christ for rebuking him for adhering to these false teachings.
Yes, the occult is an integral part of Judaism — meaning that there is no Judaism without its occult foundations — the two are inseparable.
In fact, Freemasonry is admittedly based on many of the occult practices of Judaism — so much so that the Jewish Tribune newspaper declared in 1927, “Freemasonry is based on Judaism. Eliminate the teachings of Judaism from the Masonic ritual and what is left?“
The Bible doesn’t just forbid occult practices — in reality, the Bible forbids the practice of Judaism whose very foundations are a negation of the Bible and the actual words of God.