Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Harry Potter and Rambam.

Rambam in Hilchot Avoda Zara 11:16 legislates:

טז [טו] המכשף, חייב סקילה: והוא, שעשה מעשה כשפים; אבל האוחז את העיניים, והוא שייראה שעשה והוא לא עשה--לוקה מכת מרדות, מפני שלא עשה.

(This Girsa according to Rav Kafieh's Rambam - see his commentary re halacha 6).

One who performs witchery is liable to stoning, provided that he performed an act of witchery, but if he fooled others and appeared to do something but didn't he is flogged because of a Rabbinical decree as he did not perform an action.

Here is a transcript of an article in Jerusalem Post brought to my attention by a friend of mine:

J.K. Rowling's fictional series on child wizard Harry Potter - which has been a monumental success among most Israeli children but has not been accepted as suitable reading material in the haredi community - would "not be regarded as pagan worship" by Maimonides, according to an Israeli father-and-daughter research team.

Prof. Menahem Kellner of the University of Haifa's department of Jewish history and thought, and his daughter Rivka Kellner, who is a doctoral candidate in literature at Bar-Ilan University, prepared their joint paper, "The Magic of Science and the Science of Magic: Harry Potter and Maimonides," for this week's University of Haifa conference on "Expressions of Science - Scientific and Literary Journey with Jules Verne."

The conference, sponsored by UNESCO in conjunction with the university's Hecht Museum, the Haifa Science Museum and the city's Gordon College of Education, ends Wednesday.
According to the Kellners, many generations of researchers deliberated on how to define magic. Much attention had been paid to distinguishing between magic and science on the one hand, and between magic and religion on the other. They explained that Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish sage, philosopher and physician known as the Rambam, rejected the kind of magic that was supernatural and could not be explained.

DG: In light of the earlier quote I am not sure that the Kellners are right. Any opinion?

He saw it as competing with religion.

The version of magic used by Rowling's Harry Potter, however, was different, they said. This magic was similar to normal science, and it was explainable - whether we understand it or not.
To demonstrate this, the researchers cited the Potter books' Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The fictional school, they contend, taught magic in a "scientific" way, and the use of magic in the world of Harry Potter depended on study and training as well as on the talent of the performer. It is, therefore, something with an explanation.

"Nothing in Harry Potter's world is based on anything that is in principle impossible to know," according to the Kellners. "The magic of that world is not supernatural. It is based on aspects of the natural universe of which we humans are simply unaware. There are no occult properties or forces beyond investigation. In principle, there is an explanation for everything, even if Albus Dumbledore [headmaster of the Hogwarts School] himself doesn't always know what it is."

For the Kellners, it was also most important that Harry's magical world was thoroughly secular. Unlike the magic condemned by Maimonides, the magic in Rowling's world did not lead to idolatry or paganism.

"It ignores astrology almost entirely. It does not constitute a rival to religion, and it certainly doesn't propose to be an alternative to religion. In fact, the books almost totally ignore religion."
The Kellners contrasted the Harry Potter books with another contemporary craze, C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, which connects its magic to Christianity.


DG: I am not as convinced as the Kellners. Although my grandson is into Harry Potter, I am not so sure it is such a great idea. Abizrahu de'avoda zara? Magic was considered a science by medieval thinkers who saw astrology as proven fact. Ramban (Devarim 18:9) believed that magnetism is a spiritual force and thought Rambam to be a fanatic (Mischassed) because he said that:

[טז] ודברים האלו--כולן, דברי שקר וכזב הן; והן שהטעו בהן עובדי עבודה זרה הקדמונים לגויי הארצות, כדי שיינהו אחריהן. ואין ראוי לישראל, שהן חכמים מחוכמים, להימשך בהבלים אלו, ולא להעלות על הלב שיש בהן תעלה: שנאמר "כי לא נחש ביעקוב, ולא קסם בישראל" (במדבר כג,כג), ונאמר "כי הגויים האלה, אשר אתה יורש אותם--אל מעוננים ואל קוסמים, ישמעו; ואתה--לא כן, נתן לך ה' אלוהיך" (דברים יח,יד
יח כל המאמין בדברים אלו, וכיוצא בהן, ומחשב בליבו שהן אמת ודברי חכמה, אבל התורה אסרה אותן--אינו אלא מן הסכלים ומחסרי הדעת, ובכלל הנשים והקטנים שאין דעתן שלמה. אבל בעלי החכמה ותמימי הדעת, יידעו בראיות ברורות--שכל אלו הדברים שאסרה תורה, אינן דברי חכמה, אלא תוהו והבל שנמשכו בהן חסרי הדעת, ונטשו כל דרכי האמת בגללן. ומפני זה אמרה תורה, כשהזהירה על כל אלו ההבלים, "תמים תהיה, עם ה' אלוהיך" (דברים יח,יג).


All these matters [i.e. necromancy, enchantment, et cetera] are all matters of falsehood and deceit, and it was with these that the early idolaters made the other [non-idolatrous] gentiles deviate and follow them. It is not fitting for Jews, who are the cleverest of the clever, to use such nonsense, or even to think that they are of any use, for it is written, "Surely there is no enchantment in Jacob, or divination in Israel", and it is also written, "For these nations, whom you shall dispossess, listen to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so". Anyone who believes in these or similar things and privately thinks that they are true and wise, but that [we don't practice them because] the Torah forbade them, is an idiot and lacks knowledge, and is in the category of women and children, who are of an deficient mentality. But those people who are wise and of a perfect mentality know very clearly that all these things that the Torah forbade are not wise, but are merely stuff and nonsense which those lacking in knowledge follow and because of which abandon the ways of truth. Because of this, when warning us against these nonsenses, the Torah says, "You shall be perfect with the Lord your God".

DG: Ramban understood that the prohibition against magic is not because it is false. He believed it was true and worked, it was scientific, but forbidden because we have to rely on God. Rambam on the other hand held it to be a lie and falsehood. Believe in it is idiocy like all idolatry.

The Kellners in my opinion confused Ramban's understanding with Rambam's.

Please let me know what you think.

37 comments:

  1. I think Seifer Hahhinukh's definition comes into play here... if on the one hand, kishuf is defined by the harm that it does to others, and on the other hand, "anything which is for healing purposes does not come under the category of darkhey ha’Emori", i think we've gotten ourselves an inner and outer boundary as to what is forbidden and what isn't.

    It's the 'neutral' spells, like wingardium leviosa, which would probably en up in a mahhaloqet.

    Can you imagine a Jewish student at Hogwarts telling Snape "sorry sir i can't make this turn-you-into-a-newt potion, it's against my religion."?! ultimate qidush hasheim :-)

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  2. DG,

    Harry Potter is pure fiction, and harmless fun. You don't seriously think this is an issue, do you?

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  3. BS, am i allowed some fun once in a while/ but the underlying thought is important and needs reinforcing, vide the Lag Be'omer nonsense in Meron et al.

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  4. I'm surprised the Torah (without commentary) isn't prohibited according to Rambam. After all it is full of seemingly supernatural events, such as talking donkeys, turning water into blood, stopping the sun from setting etc. I would think someone who is seriously against superstitions would be very careful about letting their children read such a book

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  5. BS that is why we teach children with commentaries. But you are right and I will address this in a post as it is a long issue. probably more than one post.

    I could write full time and not exhaust subjects.

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  6. It is less the Ramban who accepted the reality of astral and demonic forces but more like the Rashba, who has a teshuva that compares magic to magnets. If it is a science then it is not AZ. Rashba was writing as a Maimonidean student of the Ramban.

    Kellner misses the Maimonidean disgust with the falseness of things beyond ordinary science.
    Meaning that for Maimonides, the doctor, there is only mainstream science. There are no esoteric sciences that ALSO work.
    But in the 1260's the University of Montpellier Medical School, where most of the Jewish Medical students attended lectures, they taught that in addition to mainstream science there are also various astral and magical "new age" medicine.
    Abba Mari in his Minhat Kenaot wanted to ban all of it as irrational and against Maimonides, but the Rashba created a middle position.
    We should also bear in mind that the Rambam never banned the reading of books like 1001 Arabian nights, despite its stories of jinn and magic.


    technician

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  7. >Rashba was writing as a Maimonidean student of the Ramban.

    Correct I know the Teshuvah about a disk with a lion on it. however see Ramban in Devarim and in Toras Hashem temimah where he talks about magnetism.

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  8. >that the Rambam never banned the reading of books like 1001 Arabian nights,

    That was included in his ban on story books, historical ones and secular poetry. I forget where he has it now, in Avos? I will look it up tonight at home.

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  9. >Abba Mari in his Minhat Kenaot wanted to ban all of it as irrational and against Maimonides, but the Rashba created a middle position

    Did you read Halberstal's Bein Torah Le'chochma? it is great.

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  10. >that the Rambam never banned the reading of books like 1001 Arabian nights,
    That was included in his ban on story books, historical ones and secular poetry. I forget where he has it now, in Avos

    If jinn stories are mentioned then I stand corrected. Thank You.

    I know about the Rambans on magnetism, but as I said "Maimonidean student of the Ramban"

    yes, I have read it.
    Have you read
    Joseph Schatzmiller, Jews, medicine and medieval society (London & Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994)? It deals with the actual scientific studies of the era.


    technician

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  11. >Joseph Schatzmiller, Jews, medicine and medieval society (London & Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994

    No and thanks. i'll get it now.

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  12. I think the "Harry Potter" message is quite wholesome for Jewish youth. Although there is a fundamental difference between "magical folk" and "nonmagical folk," nevertheless the magical folk can only become competent in their discipline with extensive years of dedicated study at the Hogwarts Yeshiva. Merely being magical does not entitle them to anything, and without proper training they will end up merely being magical Ammeratzim. However, with dedicated training, the students hope that someday they can wield the skill and power evidenced by the Gadol Dumbledore. Moreover, the series shows a general respect for parents and teachers (except evil ones), and casts learning, knowledge, friendship, and responsibility in a very positive light. I think all kids (and adults) reading these books are well aware that magic is fiction, and there is no problem that they would take the magical aspect seriously. But the books are full of other good messages that hopefully they will learn something from.

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  13. Ramban understood that the prohibition against magic is not because it is false. He believed it was true and worked, it was scientific, but forbidden because we have to rely on God. Rambam on the other hand held it to be a lie and falsehood. Believe in it is idiocy like all idolatry.
    The Kellners in my opinion confused Ramban's understanding with Rambam's.


    I think you're precisely right. The principle makhloket between Ramban and Rambam on the issue of kishuf and all related issues is that the former viewed kishuf to be an actual natural science, while the latter viewed it to be a "science" of natural and psychological manipulation. I once gave a shiur on this very point, that the main Rishonic dispute over kishuf is scientific, not religious, in nature. I would also note that one of my teachers in yeshiva reportedly did extensive historical research into Ramban's position and his own (medieval) research on the matter, and came to the conclusion that Ramban had been lied to by the baalei kishuf of his time, in that they fraudulently represented both their practice and its results. According to my teacher's conclusions, then, it would seem that Rambam was correct in his analysis of kishuf, incidentally.

    b spinoza: I'm surprised the Torah (without commentary) isn't prohibited according to Rambam. After all it is full of seemingly supernatural events, such as talking donkeys, turning water into blood, stopping the sun from setting etc. I would think someone who is seriously against superstitions would be very careful about letting their children read such a book

    Rambam says explicitly in the Guide that such metaphorical accounts of what physically happened are necessary to teach the majority of people (who are only limitedly capable of understanding abstract truths) true ideas about God and the universe. The stories do no harm, provided that someone does not act on them in conflict with halakhah or believes something that go against the 13 Principles of Conviction. Intelligent people, however, who always feel compelled to penetrate the superficial surface of a matter and ascertain the essential truth of it have no problem with these "stories," because they see the truth of both the nimshal (the essence) and the mashal (the metaphor), and why it was necessary for the Torah to cloak the former in the latter - to "speak in the language of sons of Man."

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  14. steg,

    Don't you mean Quidditch Hashem?

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  15. >and came to the conclusion that Ramban had been lied to by the baalei kishuf of his time, i

    that is very i9nteresting. Has he written about that ?If yes is it available/
    see this article on the subject
    http://hakirah.org/Vol%202%20Buchman.pdf

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  16. >and came to the conclusion that Ramban had been lied to by the baalei kishuf of his time
    that is very interesting. Has he written about that? If yes is it available?


    I'm not sure; I'll ask him.

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  17. >Rambam says explicitly in the Guide that such metaphorical accounts of what physically happened are necessary to teach the majority of people (who are only limitedly capable of understanding abstract truths) true ideas about God and the universe.

    I'm not sure how teaching people false ideas will help people understand true ideas about God and the universe.

    Science has developed a great deal from a thousand years ago. Science has been accepted by the majority of people. No longer is scientific knowledge limited to a select few philosophers. So why is it necessary to use old myths to teach truth about the reality of the universe? True, there maybe deep philosophical truth which the average man will not understand and science may not be capable of addressing, but the Torah does not help them understand it because they don't treat it as moshel

    >Intelligent people, however, who always feel compelled to penetrate the superficial surface of a matter and ascertain the essential truth of it...

    People with high intellectual capacity don't need the myth. It's better for them to study straight philosophy/science for gaining understanding. How do these stories help them in gaining insight? If anything it can be a stumbling block. There are many intelligent orthodox Jews who don’t understand it as moshel


    The only reason I can see to continue teaching Torah is because it keeps the average person obedient and gives them a moral guideline, but not because it helps a person gain truth and understanding

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  18. >Rambam says explicitly in the Guide that such metaphorical accounts of what physically happened are necessary to teach the majority of people (who are only limitedly capable of understanding abstract truths) true ideas about God and the universe.

    I'm not sure how teaching people false ideas will help people understand true ideas about God and the universe.


    All human knowledge is relative, as human beings are incapable of perceiving anything absolute (note: relative is NOT the same as subjective, and absolute is NOT the same objective...they are two different frameworks). Therefore, as even "true" abstract ideas about God are only relatively so, they are - in that respect - not qualitatively different from metaphorical ideas about God.

    The metaphorical ideas aren't false in and of themselves, and that is the point.

    Science has developed a great deal from a thousand years ago.

    That is debatable, but I suspect that the debate might largely be one of semantics. I subscribe to the Popperian view of science, in that it does not constitute a body of positive knowledge but rather negative knowledge. Therefore, what has developed a great deal over the past millenia is our knowledge of what the universe isn't, but we're still pretty clueless as to what it is.

    Science has been accepted by the majority of people.

    Also debatable, but here on more solid (less semantical) grounds. What is the science that "has been accepted by the majority of people"? To which body of knowledge are you referring?

    No longer is scientific knowledge limited to a select few philosophers.

    By "scientific knowledge" are you referring primarily (or even solely) to the sum total of human empirical observations over the course of history, or the theories that have been put forth over the course of time to explain those observations?

    So why is it necessary to use old myths to teach truth about the reality of the universe? True, there maybe deep philosophical truth which the average man will not understand and science may not be capable of addressing, but the Torah does not help them understand it because they don't treat it as moshel

    You are speaking to me, one philosophical questioner to another. One thing I had to learn in life is that not everyone has questions about philosophical concerns; many (if not most) people go through life trying to find peace, happiness, and love as they see them. The Torah is for all people, not just philosophers; that is the idea of shivim panim laTorah - there are "seventy faces to the Torah," because there are numerous types of people in this world and each one has their own questions and goals - and their own capabilities and level of development/perfectiong regarding the use of their intellectual and imaginative faculties.

    The only reason I can see to continue teaching Torah is because it keeps the average person obedient and gives them a moral guideline, but not because it helps a person gain truth and understanding

    The Torah helps every individual gain truth and understanding, each according to his own capabilities and goals. "Etz CHaim Hi L'Machazikim Bah" - it is a tree of life to those that grasp it.

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  19. Meaning that for Maimonides, the doctor, there is only mainstream science. There are no esoteric sciences that ALSO work.
    But in the 1260's the University of Montpellier Medical School, where most of the Jewish Medical students attended lectures, they taught that in addition to mainstream science there are also various astral and magical "new age" medicine.


    I wonder why nobody ever stresses the fact that the Ramban was also a physician, and so I assume to some degree a scientist.

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  20. >The metaphorical ideas aren't false in and of themselves, and that is the point.

    Many times in the Torah God is said to have gotten angry and show other emotions too. It also appears from reading the Torah that God moves from place to place. This is a false conception of God, is it not? Sure you can give metaphorical explanations for these things if you try really hard, but the average person will gain false ideas from reading it. This is the point I was making


    >Also debatable, but here on more solid (less semantical) grounds. What is the science that "has been accepted by the majority of people"? To which body of knowledge are you referring?

    I was just referring to the fact that people today are more open to naturalistic explanations, as opposed to supernatural explanations, than they were in the past.

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  21. >as opposed to supernatural explanations, than they were in the past.

    5/18/2006 5:42 PM

    It depends who. Rambam did not accept any supernatural at all. That is the point of this post as Gil said it earlier.

    Re metaphors in the Torah, it is difficult enough to conceptualize Rambam's God even scientific types nowadays have a hard time with it. Lubavitch has succesfully recruited scientists see for example Steinsaltz who has a Phd in Math. Do you think if the torah would have described a God of Philosophers anybody would bother with it?

    Ramabm has a metaphor for that in His Shemona Perakim about a child one feeds candies to get him interested so that he can eventually learn and become smart. (I used this metaphor for a different argument tahn the original)

    You are all too hung up with all this historical stuff and linguitics. The Torah is a teacher of concepts that is totally unwedded to time. The Rabbis said that it was created before the world, they meant just that as before creation there could not have been time in other words it applies eternally.

    All this DH or not DH just distracts from the main issue, which is that it is "Chukei Chaim" laws of life.

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  22. pls see the rambam in hil avoda zara too, his position is more nuanced than usually portrayed.

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  23. pls see the rambam in hil avoda zara too,

    Which halacha are you referring to?

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  24. Anonymous,

    Oh, I just realized you were referring to the ostensible stirah between halacha 9 and halacha 15 and the kessef mishna. It is a girsa issue see R.Kafieh's edition and his comment. Accordingly Ramabm is clear and unambiguous.

    (that is why I referred to the Kafieh girsa in the post)

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  25. Sorry, I meant hilchos yesodei hatorah (you referenced avoda zara) perek 10, halacha 4-5. This link should work:

    http://www.mechon-mamre.org/i/1110.htm.

    Rambam gives some credence to kosem and m'onen.

    This also is addressed in Moreh 2:37, 3:29 (toward the beginning), 3:37 (beginning)

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  26. the reason it is important relative to this post is (in addition to the obvious point that there are exceptions) is that in halacha 16 he is quoting ki lo nachash b'yaakov v'lo *kesem* b'yisrael, and ki hagoyim ha'ela etc *el m'onenim v'el kosmim* yishmau, v'ata lo chen etc and these are practices that he does think are somewhat efficacious (so his reason is not that one needs to be stupid to listen to *all* of them, that is just what he chooses to emphasize, but in reality, at least for kosem and m'onen, his reading of the psukim is similar to ramban). halacha 18 doesn't really explain the psukim he cites in halacha 17 because those specify kesem and m'onen, and so is a more general comment covering all the terms.

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  27. I disagree with your interpretation. He does say that some people are born with an intuitive capacity to guess the future but as it is not informed by connecting with Sechel Hapoel which makes it into nevuah, it is just like playing roulette where a certain amount of times you are right as opposed to Novi" lo yipol dovor artzoh". Reread the pieces you quoted and you will see I am right. See also Hakdamah Lamishna (page 5 in R. Kafieh edition). Clearly there is a human ability to foresee the future by intuition just like animals foresaw the Tsunami. That is used in tandem with the rational faculty and the immaginative for nevuah. Alone it is not more than intuition which is more developed in some people.

    Ramaban compares the mechashef and meonen to a mirror that is able to drflect rays, so does the mechashef deflect the rays of the shefa from the star. That is totally different and based on erroneous scientific evidence.

    Re halacha 18, he couldn't have been clearer. I don't see your point.

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  28. I disagree with your interpretation. He does say that some people are born with an intuitive capacity to guess the future but as it is not informed by connecting with Sechel Hapoel which makes it into nevuah, it is just like playing roulette where a certain amount of times you are right as opposed to Novi" lo yipol dovor artzoh". Reread the pieces you quoted and you will see I am right. See also Hakdamah Lamishna (page 5 in R. Kafieh edition). Clearly there is a human ability to foresee the future by intuition just like animals foresaw the Tsunami. That is used in tandem with the rational faculty and the immaginative for nevuah. Alone it is not more than intuition which is more developed in some people.

    Ramaban compares the mechashef and meonen to a mirror that is able to drflect rays, so does the mechashef deflect the rays of the shefa from the star. That is totally different and based on erroneous scientific evidence.

    Re halacha 18, he couldn't have been clearer. I don't see your point.

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  29. >is able to drflect rays,

    I meant "deflect".

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  30. "Re halacha 18, he couldn't have been clearer. I don't see your point."
    the point is that he says that it works some of the time. Therefore, in halacha 18, he is not discussing kosem and m'onen, or reading the psukim to mean that bnei yisrael should be smarter than to trust them, because that posuk itself says ki hagoyim haela etc. el m'onenim v'el kosmim* yishmau, and one needn't be stupid to believe something with some efficacy. (Ramban also makes a point of sayign they only have some efficacy, only he gives credence to a wider variety of practices). What I meant re ramban is how they read that posuk. You're focusing on something different.

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  31. "or reading the psukim"

    in halacha 17.

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  32. I understand what you say and I disagree. A meonen and a kossem gives his prediction based on normal human intuition and intelligence and covers it up as something supernatural. The fact that it sometimes happens and people accept his prediction is not the idiocy. Any smart person should be listened to. The stupidity is that they accept it as something supernatural. In other words there is no magical truth.

    Ramban sees a meonen as if he were a great meonen he would be right most of the time because he does have a suprnatural contact. The implications of this are huge. They imply that there are spiritual forces that people can tap. Ramabm denies their existence. I guess I will have to delve even deeper into this.

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  33. "The fact that it sometimes happens and people accept his prediction is not the idiocy. Any smart person should be listened to. The stupidity is that they accept it as something supernatural."

    OK - you might be right about that, it's certainly a fair reading. Thanks.

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  34. Your post, while informative, does not distinguish between whether we're permitted to practice magic and whether we're permitted to read a fiction book about magic. Contemporary poskim have in fact ruled that the latter is permitted.

    I may not be as familiar with the situation in Israel as you are. But here in America, I have not heard a single rabbi come out and say it's assur to read Harry Potter. Is it really true that Israeli Haredim largely oppose the books?

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  35. Kylopod, I have no idea what Israeli Charedim do. i live here in the USA. I was just using the subject as a crutch. i really don't care if kids read HP. They will grow up realizing itwas bubbe masaes anyway.

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  36. I was responding to your claim that it "has been a monumental success among most Israeli children but has not been accepted as suitable reading material in the haredi community." I assumed you were suggesting that Haredim in Israel oppose the books for reasons similar to Christians here in the United States. The only time I've ever heard the question even brought up on a Haredi site was on Aish HaTorah, which suggested that the books are entirely permissible, citing a ruling by Rav Feinstein that parents may read a fantasy book about witchcraft to their child as long as the child is old enough to understand that it's not real.

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