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Astrology, Kabbala & Occult Practices


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Tammuz 18, 5777
a. If Deuteronomy 18 prohibits Occult Practices in the Land of Israel, does this mean that magic, astrology etc. can be practiced only in Diaspora? b. Is Kabbalah considered an Occult Practice? And if so, then why is it being practiced in Israel? c. Also I noticed that some Orthodox Jews practice Astrology. Again, is this only permissible in Diaspora? d. Lastly, in Deuteronomy 18:15 it says, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites". How would you be able to tell the difference between a medium or spiritualist and a Prophet? Even television mediums get the right answers every once in a while!
a. In general, the Torah is worded towards Jews living in the Jewish State in the Jewish Land (that’s why I chose to live in Israel, as do about 70% of the orthodox Jews today), but nevertheless, many of the commandments do apply in the diaspora, as well, like the prohibition of the occults you mentioned. Each mitzvah must be examined individually and learned in depth from the sources. b. Kabbala is definitely not a "cult" nor forbidden, and is clearly accepted by mainstream Judaism! The word kabbala, means “to receive”, and these ideas have been passed down from generation to generation as part of the Oral Tradition. Many rabbis actually utilize kabbala today as one of the quickest ways to convince an irreligious and “impatient” generation, to see the beauty in the Torah. This doesn’t mean to say that every charlatan who claims he is a kabbalist is legitimate, but it does say that we must be more open on this topic than in previous generations, and the God of history basically is forcing us to bring the “full-Torah”, including kabbala, ethics, hassidut etc. to the masses. After they are interested, we must then go back and step-by-step, help them properly reconstruct the basics: from Tanach, halacha, Talmud, Rambam, Kuzari etc. c. Astrology is definitely not (!) accepted as part of mainstream Judaism, and is clearly prohibited by all halachic authorities today (although you may find a rare hint of it in ancient sources). d. The Rambam explains that prophecy is a Godly (clearly out-of the-ordinary) gift which used to be granted after a Jew achieved a high level of Torah knowledge and outstanding ethical behavior, in the Land of Israel. Afterwards, he was tested and if his illogical and unforeseeable predictions (as opposed to the educated forecasts you mentioned!) come true, than he was publicly and officially recognized as a prophet. This holds, as long as his prophecies and/or commands don’t contradict Torah commands, which are eternal and unchangeable (except for a rare one-time and temporary necessity).
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