Do Jews believe in magic?

Marilyn Cooper Photo Credit Navid Marvi

Do Jews believe in magic? Some of those attending a lecture last week said they do.

The speaker, Washington-based writer and poet Marilyn Cooper, told the group, which met at Adas Israel Congregation under the aegis of the Jewish Study Center, that she became  interested in magic at a young age.

But how does magic differ from religion? What exactly is a miracle? Here are six points Cooper made during her talk.

There is a common view across cultures about the difference between magic and religion that is consistent throughout all cultures, Cooper said. “Religion is whatever [your group]
believes. Magic is what everyone else believes. If it’s not our religion, it is not credible.”

The distinction can hold true even between different sects of the same religion. In some synagogues, non-mourners leave the sanctuary during the Yizkor service for the dead. At other synagogues, the view that custom as superstition, Cooper said.

Everybody, be they religious or not, believes in magic of some kind, Cooper said. Magic, she said, is when “people are doing something they have no rational reason to do.” They do not have proof that their actions will bring about the desired result, but do it anyway.

Miracles are not magical acts, because they are performed by God, she said. In Judaism, she said, a miracle is not part of nature. “Miracles are not ordinary things.” Childbirth or a sunset cannot be considered miracles.

Jews have practiced magic throughout the ages. These acts are not the same as Jewish rituals such as the shaking of the lulav and etrog during Sukkot. Despite being discouraged, there are rabbis today who perform charms or give magical advice for a fee, Cooper said. These charms can assist with anything from health to romance to fertility.

People still believe in magic and magical forces, if only by default. “The issue is we still have trouble explaining everything,” she said. When science or religion don’t offer a satisfactory answer or people cannot understand how something works, they may to view the concept or object as something magical.

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