Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Talmud on idolatry and sorcery

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: False Idols. Talmudic rabbis disagree on whether the action or the intention of veneration or protest is more important. Plus: Is magic holy?
Throughout this discussion, there is a certain ambiguity in the Talmudic attitude toward pagan gods. Are Jews supposed to refrain from worshipping idols because they are not really gods, or precisely because they are? In other words, is the sin of idol-worship a sin of frivolity, taking a thing of wood and stone for a divine being? Or is it a sin of disloyalty, preferring another divine being to the Jewish God? Today, we are usually taught the first explanation: Judaism invented ethical monotheism, replacing belief in many gods with belief in the one Creator of the universe.

But in the Talmud, things are not so clear. In Sanhedrin 67a, for instance, we learn that sorcery is another crime punishable by death in Jewish law. But this is not because sorcery is a lie; on the contrary, it is a crime because it is a very real and powerful form of trafficking with demons. The Hebrew word for sorcery, keshafim, is read by the rabbis as an acronym for the phrase “contradicts the heavenly entourage”: In other words, it involves calling up infernal powers to challenge the power of heaven. ...

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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