Avodah Kochavim - Chapter Eleven
We may not follow the statutes of the idolaters or resemble them in their [style] of dress, coiffure, or the like, as [Leviticus 20:23] states: "Do not follow the statutes of the nation [that I am driving out before you]," as [Leviticus 18:3] states: "Do not follow their statutes," and as [Deuteronomy 12:30] states: "Be careful, lest you inquire after them."
[All these verses] share a single theme: they warn us not to try to resemble [the gentiles]. Instead, the Jews should be separate from them and distinct in their dress and in their deeds, as they are in their ideals and character traits. In this context, [Leviticus 20:26] states: "I have separated you from the nations [to be Mine]."
[Thus,] one may not wear a garment which is unique to them or grow the tresses of our hair as they do. We may not shave our heads from the sides and leave hair in the center as they do. This is called a blorit. We may not shave the hair on the front of our faces from ear to ear and leave a growth at the back of our heads as they do. We may not build Temples in order that many people may enter as they do. Whoever performs one of the above or a deed of this nature is [liable for] lashes.
When a Jew is cutting a idolater's hair, he must stop when he approaches within three fingerbreadths of his blorit on all sides.
A Jew who has an important position in a gentile kingdom and must sit before their kings, and would be embarrassed if he did not resemble them, is granted permission to wear clothes which resemble theirs and shave the hair on his face as they do.
It is forbidden to practice soothsaying as idolaters do, as [Leviticus 19:26] states: "Do not act as a soothsayer."
What is meant by a soothsayer? For example, those who say: Since my piece of bread fell out of my mouth, or my staff fell from my hand, I will not travel to this place today, since if I were to go I would not be able to accomplish my desires.
Since a fox passed on my right side, I will not go out of my door today, since if I were to go out I would meet a deceiver.
Similarly, [this category includes] those who hear the chirping of a bird and say: This will happen or this will not happen; it is beneficial to do this or it is detrimental to do this. [Also, it includes] those who say: Slaughter this rooster that crowed like a raven; slaughter this hen that crowed like a rooster.
Similarly, a person who sets up omens for himself; e.g., if this and this happens, I will do this. If it will not happen, I will not do it, as Eliezer, the servant of Abraham did, and the things of the like - all this is forbidden. Anyone who does one of these things because of such omens is [liable for] lashes.
[A different ruling applies when] a person says, "This dwelling which I built will be a good omen for me"; "This woman whom I married or this animal that I purchased was blessed. From the time I purchased it onward, I have become rich."
The same applies to a person who rejoices and exclaims, "This is a good omen" when he asks a child, "Which verse are you studying?" and the child reads him a verse of blessing. This and the like are permitted, since the person did not perform an act or hold himself back from performing an act [because of the omen]. All he did was consider something that had already happened as a sign.
What is meant by a diviner? This refers to a person who performs certain deeds to cause him to fall into a trance and have his mind cleared of all thoughts until he can predict the future, saying, "This will happen" or "This will not happen;" or saying, "it is proper to do such and such. Be careful to do so."
There are some diviners who use sand or stones [to obtain their answers]. Others prostrate themselves on the ground, make strange motions and scream. Others look at a metal or crystal mirror, fantasize, and speak. Still others carry a staff and lean on it and tap with it until they fall into a trance and speak. This is what the prophet [Hoshea (4:12) meant by] saying, "My people will inquire of their rods. Their staffs will tell them."
It is forbidden to divine or to inquire of a diviner. A person who inquires of a diviner is given "stripes for rebelliousness." In contrast, the diviner himself is [punished by] lashes if he performs one of the above or other similar acts, as [Deuteronomy 18:10] states: "There shall not be found among you one who passes..., one who practices divination."
Who is a fortuneteller? A person who tries to predict auspicious times, using astrology and saying, "This day will be a good day," "This day will be a bad day," "It is appropriate to perform a particular task on a certain day"; or "This year" or "This month will not be opportune for this particular matter."
It is forbidden to tell fortunes. [This applies] even though one does not perform a deed, but merely relates the falsehoods which the fools consider to be words of truth and wisdom. Anyone who performs a deed because of an astrological calculation or arranges his work or his journeys to fit a time that was suggested by the astrologers is [liable for] lashes, as [Leviticus 19:26] states: "Do not tell fortunes."
Also included in the scope of this prohibition is one who performs magic tricks and deludes those who observe him into thinking that he performs wonders although he is not doing so. He is [liable for] lashes.
Who is a person who casts spells? A person who chants incantations that have no meaning in people's speech or any connotation and imagines in his foolish perception that his words have an effect. Such people will say: If you cast a particular spell on a snake or a scorpion, they will do no harm. If you cast a particular spell on a person, he will never be harmed. Some of them will hold a key or a rock in their hands while they are talking, or perform other similar deeds. All of these are forbidden.
A person who casts spells is [punished by lashes] if he holds anything in his hand or performs an act while speaking, even if he merely gestures with his finger, as [Deuteronomy 18:10-11] states: "There shall not be found among you... one who casts spells." If, however, the person merely spoke without moving his finger or his head and without holding anything in his hand, and similarly, a person who has a spell cast upon him through the utterance of such incantations, thinking that this will help him, he is given "stripes for rebelliousness" because he participated in the foolish activities of a spell-caster.
All these deplorable incantations and strange names will not do harm, nor will they bring any benefit.
When a person has been bitten by a scorpion or a snake, it is permitted to recite incantations over the bite. [This is permitted] - even on the Sabbath - in order to settle his mind and strengthen his feelings. Even though [the incantations] are of no avail, since the victim's life is in danger, permission was granted lest he become overly disturbed.
A person who whispers an incantation over a wound and then recites a verse from the Torah, who recites a verse over a child so that he will not become scared, or who places a Torah scroll or tefillin over a baby so that it will sleep, is considered to be a soothsayer or one who cast spells. Furthermore, such people are included among those who deny the Torah, because they relate to the words of Torah as if they are cures for the body, when, in fact, they are cures for the soul, as [Proverbs 3:22] states: "And they shall be life for your soul."
It is, however, permitted for a healthy person to read verses [from the Bible] or chapters from Psalms so that the merit of reading them will protect him and save him from difficulties and injury.
Who is one who seeks [information] from the dead? A person who starves himself and goes to sleep in a cemetery so that a deceased person will come to him in a dream and reply to his questions. There are others who wear special clothes, recite incantations, burn a particular type of incense, and sleep alone so that a deceased person will come to them and speak to them in a dream. To summarize: Anyone who performs a deed in order that a deceased person should come to him and give him information is [liable for] lashes, as [Deuteronomy 18:10] states: "There shall not be found among you one who passes..., one who seeks [information] from the dead."
It is forbidden to inquire of a person who practices [divination with an] ov or a yid'oni, as [Deuteronomy 18:10-11] states: "There shall not be found among you one who passes..., one who seeks [information] from an ov or a yid'oni."
Thus, a person who practices [divination with an] ov or a yid'oni himself is stoned to death, and a person who inquires of them violates a negative commandment and receives stripes for rebelliousness. One who plans his deeds and acts according to their instructions is [liable for] lashes.
A sorcerer must be condemned to execution by stoning. This applies when he commits a deed of sorcery. If, however, he merely deludes those who observe him into thinking that he is performing an act although he actually does not, he is given stripes for rebelliousness.
[The reason is] that the prohibition against sorcery is stated in the prohibition [Deuteronomy 18:10-11]: "There shall not be found among you one who... [practices sorcery]." It is, however, a prohibition which is punishable by execution by the court, as [Exodus 22:17] states: "Do not allow a witch to live." [Therefore,] lashes are not administered for its violation.
All the above matters are falsehood and lies with which the original idolaters deceived the gentile nations in order to lead them after them. It is not fitting for the Jews who are wise sages to be drawn into such emptiness, nor to consider that they have any value as [implied by Numbers 23:23]: "No black magic can be found among Jacob, or occult arts within Israel." Similarly, [Deuteronomy 18:14] states: "These nations which you are driving out listen to astrologers and diviners. This is not [what God... has granted] you."
Whoever believes in [occult arts] of this nature and, in his heart, thinks that they are true and words of wisdom, but are forbidden by the Torah, is foolish and feebleminded. He is considered like women and children who have underdeveloped intellects.
The masters of wisdom and those of perfect knowledge know with clear proof that all these crafts which the Torah forbade are not reflections of wisdom, but rather, emptiness and vanity which attracted the feebleminded and caused them to abandon all the paths of truth. For these reasons, when the Torah warned against all these empty matters, it advised [Deuteronomy 18:13]: "Be of perfect faith with God, your Lord."
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