By Rav Shrage Kallus, Member of the Bais HaVaad, Yerushalayim
Written by R’ Nechemya Klugman
In this article we will discuss the halachos of engaging in certain supernatural practices, and in activities that border on the supernatural. For example, is it permitted to perform segulos to achieve certain results? And what about magic tricks – may one perform such tricks if the viewer does not know how the trick works, and it seems “supernatural”? Also, is ayin hara a real thing, and if it is, in what situations does one have to be concerned about it?
Kisshuf and Magic Tricks
The Torah clearly prohibits engaging in kisshuf, “black magic.”1 Kisshuf is defined as an act that uses kochos hatumah to do something that has no logical explanation. For example, someone moves around a table, and everything in the room disappears.
However, one would think that magic tricks do not fall under this category, because nothing supernatural is happening. Rather, the magician is able to move his hands quickly so that it appears that something impossible is taking place. In truth, though, there is a big machlokes as to whether it is permitted to perform magic tricks. Many Poskim2 rule that such “magic” is forbidden min hatorah because it involves the issur of being a “meonen.”3 R’ Moshe Feinstein,4 on the other hand, rules that magic tricks are entirely permitted. He bases his ruling on the opinion of other Rishonim who interpret meonen differently. A third opinion5 holds that magic tricks are forbidden because of “geneivas daas,” since they give the false impression that something “magical” is happening. According to this view, if the magician shows his audience beforehand how the trick works, he is permitted to perform the trick.
With regard to magic shows performed by non-Jews the halachah is that one may not tell him to do the tricks (according to the Poskim who forbid magic tricks). However, if he is already doing the tricks for other people, it is muttar to watch the tricks.6
In general, one must be very wary of segulos. People are sometimes attracted to segulos because they provide a “quick fix,” and give a “spiritual” feeling. However, the Steipler writes in a letter7 that one must stay away from any segulah that does not have a source in the Torah. It should be pointed out that there are in fact many segulos mentioned in Torah sources. Performing such segulos is not only permitted but encouraged. Some examples: One who honors his parents merits a long life (Shemos 20:12). A person who fears talmidei chachamim will merit becoming one, and one who honors talmidei chachamim will have children that are talmidei chachamim (Gemara, Shabbos 23b). Saying Bircas Hamazon with kavanah is a segulah for parnassah (Mishnah Berurah 185:1). Finally, a person who does not answer back when people shame him is zocheh to the ohr haganuz (Igeres HaGra).
Ayin Hara Is For Real
Many people think that ayin hara is not a real thing and will even make jokes about it. However, it is clear from numerous places in the Chumash, as well as in Shas and Poskim,that ayin hara can be very damaging and should be taken very seriously. Examples: Hagar, the wife of Avraham, became pregnant, but then lost her baby due to ayin hara.8 After the akeidah, Avraham sent Yitzchak away from home because people might talk about what happened and create an ayin hara.9 Chananyah, Mishael, and Azaryah, who were thrown into the fire and were saved through a miracle, diedbecause they received an ayin hara as a result of that miracle.10
Furthermore,there are many halachos that are based on a concern for ayin hara. Here are some: One should not measure the exact amount of grain in his silo because this can bring ayin hara.11 A glass is broken at a wedding in order to “break” any ayin hara that might be directed at the chosson and kallah.12 Two brothers should not get aliyos one after the other, because it looks like their family is taking over, and this might create an ayin hara.13 We are not allowed to count Jews because this makes an ayin hara.14
However, ayin hara should not be blown out of proportion. R’ Moshe writes in a teshuvah15that one should not be worried about ayin hara with regard to anything that is the range of normal. Rather, the concern for ayin hara is only in the case of an unusual occurrence that can attract undue attention. For example, a woman in child-bearing years who becomes pregnant doesn’t have to hide this because it is normal. However, if an older woman becomes pregnant at an age that is not normal for this to happen, she should be concerned about ayin hara. In addition, the Poskim say that the parameters for what is normal can change according to the times. A case in point is a pregnant mother who wants to walk her daughter down to the chuppah. Formerly, this was unusual and was considered an ayin hara. Nowadays, however, this has become more common and thus there is no longer a problem of ayin hara.16
How Ayin Hara Works
If ayin hara is a real thing, how does it actually work? R’ Dessler and the Chazon Ish say that there is a certain power to the eye and it can cause damage. An indication of this power is the fact that people can actually “feel” when someone is looking at them. The Torah Temimah17also explains ayin hara this way, and cites a story in which a man who starved to death had been looking at a piece of bread as he was suffering. The bread was then examined, and it was found to contain poison!
Another explanation is that when a person is under the spotlight, and especially when he flaunts what he has and actively draws attention to himself, his deeds are examined in shamayim to see if he in fact deserves the things that he has. And more often than not the person is found guilty, and therefore suffers some type of punishment.
To summarize, dealing with the supernatural is not to be taken lightly. Real kisshuf and segulos not found in the Torah must be avoided. Even magic tricks, which are not really supernatural, are forbidden according to many Poskim. And one should be aware that ayin hara has significant power, and therefore a person should try not to attract too much attention to those things in his life that are out of the ordinary.
1 וכדכתיב מכשפה לא תחיה (שמות כ“ב, י“ז)
2 עיין ש“ך יו“ד סי‘ קע“ט ס“ק י“ז
3 כדכתיב לא ימצא בך …. מעונן (דברים י“ח, י)
4 אג“מ חלק ה‘
5 כך שמעתי מהגרי“ש אלישיב זצ“ל ומהגר“ח קנייבסקי שליט“א
6 עיין קשו“ע
7 קריינא דאיגרתא ח“ג סי‘ א‘
8 עיין רש“י בראשית ט“ז, ה‘ ד“ה אנכי
10 גמ‘ סנהדרין צ“ב ע“ב
11 שו“ע חו“מ סי‘ ר“ל
12 שו“ע אבה“ע סי‘ ס“ה
13 שו“ע או“ח סי‘ קנ“א
14 גמ‘ יומא דף כ“ב
15 אג“מ ח“ג סי‘ כ“ו
16 עיין שו“ת באר משה ח“ג סי‘ קפ“ד
17 בספרו תוספות ברכה עמ‘ קפ“ב
THE BAIS HAVAAD HALACHA CENTER