Monday, March 14, 2022

Magic is real - Ramban

 Ramban (Devarim 18:9) THOU SHALT NOT LEARN TO DO AFTER THE ABOMINATIONS OF THOSE NATIONS. This also is an explanatory commandment, for He has already stated, and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do; neither shall ye walk in their statutes,152Leviticus 18:3. and now he mentions their deeds and declares them to be abominations before G-d. He mentioned anyone that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire,153Verse 10. which, by way of the simple meaning of Scripture is a type of witchcraft, or, in the opinion of our Rabbis,154Sanhedrin 64b. it is the Molech. This is the truth as I have explained it in its place.155Leviticus 18:21. He mentioned a sorcerer,153Verse 10. an inclusive term for all sorcery. Or a charmer, or one that consulteth a ghost or a familiar spirit156Verse 11. — these are specific forms of sorcery. He also prohibited them to consult [the sorcerer] or the necromancer who uses the ov (ghost), or, in any manner to seek information from them. He mentioned ‘koseim k’samim’ (one that useth divination)153Verse 10. which involves divining future events, from the word ‘kesem’ (an oracle) is in the lips of the king; his mouth trespasseth not in judgment,157Proverbs 16:10. just as Scripture states, Balaam also the son of Beor ‘hakoseim’ (the soothsayer),158Joshua 13:22. and he was an enchanter, as it is said concerning him, he went not, as at the other times, to meet with enchantments,159Numbers 24:1. and it is further written, ‘kasomi’ (divine unto me), I pray thee, by a ghost.160I Samuel 28:8. He mentioned specifically m’onein153Verse 10. who is a diviner interpreting by [the formations of] the clouds, and the m’nacheish153Verse 10. who divines by looking at the wings of the birds [in flight] or by listening to their chirping, something similar to what is written, for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.161Ecclesiastes 10:20. The word m’nacheish is derived from the expression ‘chashti’ (I made haste) and delayed not,162Psalms 119:160. because whatever expedites knowledge of the future before it transpires is termed nacheish, that is to say, “we will hurry” and know sooner. Scripture states, For ‘all’ that do these things are an abomination unto the Eternal,163Verse 12. but it does not say “for those that do ‘all’ these things …” because Scripture [in calling the practitioner an abomination] refers to most [but not all] of these practices. For the m’onein [who divines by observing the clouds] and the m’nacheish [who prophesies by means of the wings or chirping of birds] are not abominable, and G-d did not dispossess the Canaanites on their account, because all human beings desire to know things that are to come upon them, and engage in what they consider to be pursuits of wisdom.

And now, know and understand concerning the subject of sorcery, that when the Creator, blessed be He, created everything from nothing, He made the higher powers to be guides for those below them. Thus He placed the earth and all things that are thereon164Nehemiah 9:6. in the power of the stars and constellations, depending on their rotation and position as proven by the study of astrology.165It should be noted that Ramban wrote this explanation of the world order in terms of scientific concepts known to his generation. Yet is it not a fact that conditions on the earth are affected by the atmospheric conditions above? Do not the sun-spots millions of miles away affect terrestrial magnetism and meteorological phenomena? So conditions on the earth are indeed affected by the powers above us. The central point in Ramban’s theme is thus easily applicable. Over the stars and constellations He further appointed guides, angels, and “lords” which are the soul [of the stars and constellations]. Now, their behavior from the time they come into existence for eternal duration, is according to the pattern the Most High decreed for them. However, it was one of His mighty wonders that within the power of these higher forces, He put configurations [as explained further on] and capacities to alter the behavior of those under them. Thus if the direction of the stars towards the earth be good or bad to a certain country, people, or individual, the higher dominions can reverse it of their own volition, as they166The origin of this dictum is unknown to me. have said, “The apposition for the word oneg (pleasure) is nega (plague).”167The thought conveyed is that both words oneg and nega are spelled with the same letters ay’in, nun, gimmel. Thus if a nega (plague) is destined to come upon a country, etc., because of certain forces operative on the earth, the higher powers can change these letters to spell out oneg (pleasure), or vice versa. G-d ordained it so because He, blessed be His Name, changeth the times and the seasons;168Daniel 2:21. He calleth for the waters of the sea169Amos 5:8. to do with them at His Will, and bringeth on the shadow of death in the morning169Amos 5:8. without changing the natural order of the world, and it is He Who made the stars and constellations move about in their order. Therefore, the author of the Book of the Moon, the expert in [the field of] necromancy,170Rabbeinu Bachya in quoting the language of Ramban adds: “and astrology.” The following subject quoted from this medieval work is indeed one which is a combination of necromancy and astrology. said, “when the moon, termed ‘the sphere of the world,’ is, for example, at the head of Aries (the Ram)171See Vol. II, p. 118, Note 116. and the constellation thus appears in a certain form, you should make a drawing of that grouping, engraving on it the particular time [when this relative position appears] and the name of the angel — one of the names mentioned in that book — appointed over it. Then perform a certain burning [of incense] in a certain specified manner, and the result of the influence [of the relative position of the stars] will be for evil, to root out and to pull down, and to destroy and to overthrow.172Jeremiah 1:10. And when the moon will be in a position relative to some other constellation you should make the drawing and the burning in a certain other manner and the result will be for good, to build and to plant.”172Jeremiah 1:10. Now this, too, is the influence of the moon as determined by the power of its [heavenly] guide. But the basic manner of its movement is by the wish of the Creator, blessed be He, Who endowed it so in time past, while this particular action is contrary thereto. This then is the secret of [all forms of] sorcery and their power concerning which the Rabbis have said173Chullin 7b. that “they contradict the power of Divine agencies,” meaning that they are contrary to the simple powers [with which the agencies have been endowed] and thus diminish them in a certain aspect thereof. Therefore, it is proper that the Torah prohibit these activities in order to let the world rest in its customary way, in the simple nature which is the desire of its Creator. This is also one of the reasons for the prohibition of kilayim (mixing seeds), for the plants resulting from such grafting are strange, giving rise to changes in the ordered course of the world for bad or good, aside from the fact that they themselves constitute a change in Creation, as I have already explained.174Leviticus 19:19 (Vol. III, pp. 295-297). Now, many scholars175The reference is obviously to Rambam and his followers, who hold, as Rambam says in Mishneh Torah, (Hilchoth Avodath Kochavim 11:15) with regard to sorcery and witchcraft: “they are all imaginary and foolishness which attract only those that are deficient in knowledge.” dispose themselves to be liberal with regard to these enchantments by saying that there is no truth in them whatsoever, for who tells the raven or the crane what will happen? But we cannot deny matters publicly demonstrated before the eyes of witnesses. Our Rabbis also, acknowledged their existence, as they have said in Eileh Shemoth Rabbah:176I found it in Vayikra Rabbah 32:2.For a bird of the air shall carry the voice161Ecclesiastes 10:20. — this refers to the raven and the craft of tiarin.” Birds in Arabic are called tiar and those versed in the divination of birds are called tiarin. This subject is also mentioned in the Gemara.177Gittin 45a. See in my Hebrew commentary p. 428, Note 97.
But there is a secret to this matter. We have already made known178Exodus 20:3 (Vol. II, p. 294). that the constellations have lords that lead them, these being “the souls” of the circuits of the spheres, and the lords of the tail and [head of] Aries (the Ram)171See Vol. II, p. 118, Note 116. are near the earth, these being termed “the princes of the quiver,” that make the future known. It is through them that the signs in the birds indicate things to come, not for long duration or distant future do they tell, but only of events that are about to happen. Some make them known by utterance of bitter sounds [resembling wailing] over the dead, and some by spreading their wings. This is what has been said, for a bird of the air shall carry the voice161Ecclesiastes 10:20. [a reference] to those who suggest by their wings. Now all this is not considered abominable for the nations, instead it is considered wisdom for them. Thus the Rabbis have said:179Pesiktha of Rabbi Kahana, Parah. Bamidmar Rabbah, 19:3. — See Vol. I, p. 13, where Ramban similarly quotes this text.And Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east.180I Kings 5:10. What was the wisdom of the children of the east? They were wise and crafty in divination of birds.” Similarly it is stated in Scripture, for they are replenished from the east, and with soothsayers like the Philistines.181Isaiah 2:6. And Solomon learned all this as part of his wisdom. Now, the knowledge [referred to by the Midrash] is understanding the chirping of birds, and “the craftiness” to explain a matter through spreading wings.
Now, when Scripture included the diviner by clouds and the [other] diviners with the abominations mentioned, it reverted and explained, these nations, that thou art to dispossess, hearken unto diviners [by clouds], and unto [other] diviners182Verse 14. for their wisdom is to know future events, but as for thee, the Eternal thy G-d hath not suffered thee so to do.182Verse 14. Scripture is thus stating, “G-d has prohibited you these specified practices [such as passing a child through the fire] because they are abominations before Him and because of them He drove these nations out from before you.183Verse 12. He further forbade the enchanters and the diviners to you, because He gave you great eminence in setting you on high above all the nations of the earth,184Further, 28:1. in that He will raise up a prophet in the midst of you185Verse 15. and place His words in his mouth and you will hear from him what G-d will do.186See Numbers 23:23. To know the future it will be unnecessary for you to resort to a diviner or soothsayer who receives [the knowledge] from the stars or from the lower powers among the lords of above, whose words are not all true and who do not provide all necessary information. But prophecy informs us of G-d’s desire and not one of its words will fall to the earth.”187See II Kings 10:10. It is this which Scripture explains [that if ever an ostensible prophecy does not come to pass], that is the thing which the Eternal hath not spoken.188Verse 22. Thus you are His portion and His treasure, hearing His counsel from His mouth, while theirs is the portion of the constellations which they follow, this being the sense of the verse, but as for thee, the Eternal thy G-d hath not suffered thee so to do.182Verse 14. This is the meaning of, which the Eternal thy G-d hath allotted unto all the peoples,189Above, 4:19. as I have explained.190Ibid., Verse 15. And in the Sifre the Rabbis have said:191Sifre, Shoftim 174.They hearken unto diviners [by the clouds] and [other] diviners.182Verse 14. Perhaps you will say, ‘They have a source from which to inquire [about the future] and I have nothing [from which] to inquire.’ Scripture therefore states, but as for thee, the Eternal thy G-d hath not suffered thee so to do.”182Verse 14. This is proof to all what we have explained that with respect to the diviners some root of the matter is found in them,192Job 19:28. and therefore Israel had a [legitimate] complaint in being enjoined from making use of them [i.e. the diviners].


  1. In Pshat, RambaN is more interesting than RambaM
    In scientific matters, I'm more inclined to go with the Rambam.

    For example, they are totally at odds on the question of whether animals are conscious or sentient beings - RambaN denies it, whereas RambaM (in his Guide) says they have very strong awarenes and emotions.

  2. Who adds the nonsensical argument in italics that sunspots and atmospheric disturbances are similar to astrology?


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