Jews and the Occult

Erik Weisz, the son of a rabbi, was better known by his stage name, Harry Houdini. When his mother died, the legendary escape artist attempted to contact her through mediums. When he found that many were frauds, he devoted much of his life to debunking psychics and mediums. However, he devised a secret code with his wife, Bess, and told her he would try to communicate that code to her after his death!

After Houdini died in 1926, Bess offered $10,000 to anyone who could help contact her husband. In 1928 a man named Arthur Ford told her Houdini had sent him the secret code, and Bess validated the code. Bess continued to hold séances, but Harry never made contact. On Halloween 1936, a radio program broadcast one of the “Houdini Séances” around the world. But after over an hour, Harry had not responded, and Bess decided that was the last séance. As the séance came to a close, a violent thunder and lightning storm broke out. Participants later discovered that the storm did not hit anywhere else in the area—only above the séance location![1]

If Harry and Bess had studied the Bible more closely, they might have found this sound advice:

“There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you.”

Deuteronomy 18:9–12

Don’t Go There!

As Rabbi Mendy Hecht puts it, “The Torah outlaws peeking around the curtain concealing the future. Tarot cards, crystal balls, psychics, astrology, horoscopes, séances, and palm reading are therefore out. Necromancy or otherwise contacting the dead is considered a form of idol worship.”[2]

McCandlish Phillips, former reporter for The New York Times, makes what may seem like a startling claim in his book, The Bible, the Supernatural and the Jews:

If you are a Jew, involvement or experimentation with certain areas of the supernatural entails a risk beyond that for the Gentile, great as that is. A Jew who steps into these areas for whatever reason is more likely to experience these destructive effects sooner than the Gentile. The door that can never be reopened slams shut faster on a Jew than a non-Jew.[3]

Why more dangerous for a Jewish person? Because, Phillips suggests, the prohibitions in the Hebrew Scriptures against occult practices were written specifically for our people. So, he reasons, a Jewish individual who knowingly or unknowingly violates one of these commands is headed for trouble more quickly.

As Rabbi Daniel Lapin notes, “The fact that God forbids these occult activities suggests that there are ways to use dark, negative spiritual powers just as we can use positive spiritual powers.”[4]

What Exactly Is the Occult?

You may have seen Supernatural or Medium or other TV series or films that have popularized the occult. But what is it? Merriam- Webster’s Dictionary defines the occult as “matters regarded as involving the action or influence of supernatural or supernormal powers or some secret knowledge of them.”

The three main areas of the occult are magic, fortune telling and spiritism. Ben Alexander, who grew up in a Jewish family in England and became an adept medium, later renounced the occult and now warns Jews and others about its dangers. He defines magic as “an attempt to alter reality through supernatural methods or by contact with spirit beings, usually by using visualization, rituals, incantations, and/or magical tools.” He adds, “Occult magic is not the same as ‘stage magic’ (like pulling rabbits out of a hat or making coins disappear); those are skillful illusions, performed for entertainment.”[5]

Fortune telling (e.g., palmistry, tarot cards, astrology), also known as divination, is an attempt to gain knowledge of future or other unknown events.

Spiritism is the attempt to communicate with the spirits of the dead. Several years before his death, Dennis Wheatley, a prolific writer of thrillers and occult novels, had second thoughts about spiritism:

I do not approve of mediums attempting to contact the dead. Mediums who get in touch with occult forces are laying themselves open to serious danger. The powers that mediums contact are not the dead, but evil entities, and they are very dangerous indeed.[6]

The Origin of Evil

Occult forces? Evil entities? Isn’t that just medieval superstitious mishegoss?

You may or may not believe the Bible, but the Scriptures say that Satan (which means “adversary” in Hebrew) is an angel who dragged one-third of the angels along with him in his rebellion against God. The Bible refers to them as demons. They, under the rule of Satan, seek to destroy God’s greatest creation, humankind. According to the creation account, Satan took the form of a beautiful serpent and convinced Eve that God was withholding something good when He told her not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When she and Adam tasted the fruit, in direct violation of God’s rules for “garden living,” evil gained a foothold in this previously perfect world.

The narrative says that Satan told Eve, “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5) if she ate the fruit. We read that Eve was overcome by the temptation to be like God. Today, often unaware, those who dabble in the occult do the same, seeking knowledge and power that is not theirs to have.

Immediately after these events, we read that God pronounced a curse on the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). Notice that the Hebrew Scriptures refer to the seed of woman, not the seed of man.

The Good Seed

When in history did this occur? When Yeshua (Jesus) was born to the virgin Miriam some 4,000 years later as the “seed of the woman.” Satan did indeed strike Yeshua’s “heel” (the crucifixion event). But the New Testament authors describe how Yeshua delivered the knockout blow to Satan (crushed his “head”) when he rose from the grave three days later.

This supernatural event is hard for many to comprehend. Ironically, it seems more plausible to try everything under the sun to find answers to the mysteries of life—including the occult—than to consider Jesus. Yet there are some who finally looked into his claim to be the Messiah (see “Out of the Black Hole” and our book review of Nobody’s Angel in this edition) and have found those answers.

If you are involved in the occult, walk away while you still can. If you’re not, don’t start. Either way, why not consider walking toward Yeshua?

[1] “Houdini and the Supernatural,” j4j.co/houdini

[2] Rabbi Mendy Hecht, “What is the Jewish View on Astrology, Witchcraft, and Occult Practices?” j4j.co/askmoses

[3] McCandlish Phillips, The Bible, the Supernatural and the Jews (Camp Hill, PA: Horizon Books, 1970), p. 5.

[4] Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin, “Do You Believe in Magic?” j4j.co/magic

[5] Ben Alexander, “Dear Ben: Questions and Answers,” http://www.espministries.com/dear_ben.html

[6] Michael Green, I Believe in Satan’s Downfall (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1981), p. 120.