A practicing Jew does not believe in magic.

What a strange thing to say. Look at our religion. Elijah the prophet attends every brit. We welcome him at every seder on Pesach. On every Yom Tov during Birchat Cohanim we ask G-d to protect us from our dreams if they portend bad things. We read in the Torah about prophecies, interpretation of dreams, miracles. In the Talmud, its commentaries and in the responsa literature we read many stories which deal with nature in anomalous ways. We could deny the validity of all of this, but we do not. Yet, we assert here, the practicing Jew does not believe in magic. [1]

What the unread society might call the supernatural, or magic, is really just a facet of nature and follows the rule of law. It is the law that relates the spiritual world, the world of the neshama (soul), the world of the conscious mind, to the world of matter. A rather extensive discussion of this point can be found in the Sheurei Daas of Rabbi Yosef Yehuda Leib Bloch, Rosh Yeshiva of Telshe in the early twentieth century (available through Feldheim Publishers), in his essays entitled “Nes V’Tevah.” (These are in Volume I). It is our assumption that the phenomena we will be discussing all occur within the framework of these laws which relate the spiritual to the material. What is particularly interesting and may not be appreciated by the audience reading this is that these aspects of natural law have been investigated and experimentally verified by scientists within the parapsychology community. In the course of this essay, I will cite websites for further investigation. While the scientific establishment has a great deal of difficulty dealing with these investigations, a religious Jew should not. These phenomena are manifestations of the interaction between theneshama (soul) and the guf (body). The purpose of this essay is to introduce some of these ideas. Chazal, I believe, did understand all of this and therefore included these phenomena in their halachic discussions, as we will point out. Understandably this forum is too brief for a topic as broad as this, but it is a start. I hope you will enjoy it and learn from it.

דרוש וקבל שכר

ESP[2] Phenomena

We will start with an example of ESP from a Gemara in Eruvin, page 43a. The Gemara is trying to establish the halacha as to whether the laws of techumim (boundaries) apply vertically, as well as horizontally on Shabbat.

Come and hear: Who was it that delivered the seven traditional rulings on a Sabbath morning to R. Hisda at Sura and on the same Sabbath evening to Rabbah at Pumbeditha? Was it not Elijah who delivered them, which proves, does it not, that the law of Sabbath limits is inapplicable above ten handbreadths from the ground?

It is clear from the Gemara that the phenomena that we are addressing is the fact that Rava and Rav Chisda gave essentially the same d’rasha on a Shabbat while separated by a considerable distance. Invoking Elijah implies that there was a mystical experience involved. How they used the mystical experience is irrelevant for our discussion other than to note that an ESP phenomena has a halachic dimension.

A second example of an ESP phenomenon in halacha is taken from a Gemara in Sanhedrin page 30a. There the question is, can a debt identified only in a dream be collected.

If one felt distressed over some money which his father had left him, and the dispenser of dreams appeared to him and named the sum, indicated the place, and specified its purpose, saying that it was [for the redemption] of the second tithe. Such an incident once occurred, and they [the Rabbis on that occasion] said: Dreams have no importance for good or ill.

In this instance the dream accurately predicted for the heir where monies were to be found. Yet the rabbis felt that since dreams are being filtered through the material brain, some information is lost or distorted, and the part of the dream which identified the money as committed to repay a debt was incorrect, the heir could keep the money and do with it what he wanted.

These are both examples of ESP phenomena. The first could be classified as telepathy and the second clairvoyance. Clairvoyance (in recent experiments called remote viewing) and dream telepathy have both been scientifically studied quite extensively. In the website of the Parapsychology Foundation (footnote 1) there is a great deal of information available. I might only mention the dream studies conducted at Brooklyn Hospital by Stanley Krippner and Charles Honorton in the sixties and seventies; Project STARGATE funded by the CIA and conducted at Stanford University during the 80’s and the remote viewing experiments conducted at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Laboratoy (P.E.A.R.) at Princeton University into the 90’s. All of these experiments had positive results, although they defy explanation within any current paradigm.

PK[3] phenomena

Our first example of PK phenomena is taken from a Gemara in Sanhedrin page101a.

Our Rabbis taught: One may oil and massage the bowels [of an invalid] on the Sabbath, and snakes and serpents may be charmed [to render them tame and harmless] on the Sabbath, and an article may be placed over the eye on the Sabbath [to protect it].

The problem here is that halting the snake by casting a spell or using a charm is tantamount to trapping which is forbidden on Shabbat. In this case because of pikuach nefesh it is permitted. This is a PK phenomenon affecting a biological system.

The following famous mishnah in Taanit page 19a is a PK phenomena affecting a physical system, in this case the weather.

It happened that the people said to Honi, the Circle Drawer, pray for rain to fall. He replied: Go and bring in the ovens [on which you have roasted] the Paschal Offerings so that they do not dissolve. He prayed and no rain fell…What did he do? He drew a circle and stood within it and exclaimed, Master of the Universe, Your children have turned to me because they believe me to be as a member of Your household; I swear by Your great Name that I will not move from here until You have mercy upon Your children. Rain then began to drip, and thereupon he exclaimed: It is not for this that I have prayed but for rain [to fill] cisterns, ditches and caves. The rain then began to come down with great force, and thereupon he exclaimed; It is not for this that I have prayed but for rain of benevolence, blessing and bounty. Rain then fell in the normal way until the Israelites in Jerusalem were compelled to go up for [shelter] to the Temple Mount because of the rain. They came and said to him: In the same way as you have prayed for [the rain] to fall pray [now] for the rain to cease. He replied: Go and see if the Stone of Claimants has been washed away. Thereupon Simeaon ben Shetah sent to him [this message]: Were it not that you are Honi I would have placed you under the ban, but what can I do to you who importune G-d and He accedes to your request as a son that importunes his father and he accedes to his request; of you scripture says, “Let your father and mother be glad, and let her that bore you rejoice.” (Prov. XXIII, 25)

The most relevant and exciting PK experiments have been conducted with great success at the P.E.A.R. laboratory mentioned above using electronic random number generators. Many of their articles and reports are available for free online at I highly recommend the interested reader to this website.

Summary and conclusions:

I repeat the premise from the beginning of this essay: A practicing Jew does not believe in magic. Yet there is so much in our Jewish life that relates to the interaction between the spiritual world, the world of the neshama and the material world. The world of the neshama is the world of the conscious mind, and the study of consciousness, which has become an important discipline in neuroscience, is in essence the scientific study of that interaction.

What about healing on Shabbat? The whole healing issue is a PK phenomenon. Certainly G-d is involved in the process, but so are we. We know that if we do not pray with kavana our tefilot are not effective. In all of the experiments identified above, both PK and ESP, the problem of “attention” is a major component. Is not healing on Shabbat a halachic question? Are we allowed to make a mi sheberach on Shabbat? We do!

What about tzara’at? Isn’t that a PK phenomenon. The Gemara in Eruchin page 16a says:

R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Johanan: Because of seven things the plague of leprosy is incurred: [These are:] slander, the shedding of blood, vain oath, incest, arrogance, robbery and envy.

What the Gemara is saying is that a spiritual cause results in a physical effect.

What about the world of dreams and the Gemara in Berachot, page 55a. We mentioned earlier the tefila that we say during thebirchat kohanim. That tefila is from the Gemara and appears in every nusach. In halacha we also read of the taanit chalom and the hatavat chalom, although these do not appear in the Art Scroll siddurim. (Author’s Note: Too many litvaks on the editorial board). Aren’t these ESP phenomena, in particular precognitive phenomena which we pray to amerliorate if necessary?

Clearly there is more to discuss here. Yet we see that there are serious halachic implications to parapsychological phenomena and these were believed in by chazal and are supported by modern scientific research.

What do you think? My e-mail address is


The idea for this essay is from a Rabbi Frand parsha tape entitled: “Supernatural and the “mun”-dane (parshat Beshalach)”. On the tape he identifies its topic as the role of segulain halacha.

[1] At the outset of this essay it would be appropriate to define some terms because we will be using them — not only in the title. Also the reader might have some preconceived, and perhaps erroneous, notions about what we are talking. These definitions have been taken from the definitions available at the website of the Parapsychology Foundation, an excellent place to start your investigations, if you are interested in pursuing any of this. The web address is:

Look under “PSI INFO.”

The first word we would like to define is PARANORMAL. This term is applied to any phenomenon which in one or more respects exceeds the limits of what is deemed physically possible on current scientific assumptions; often used as a synonym for “psychic, “parapsychological, “attributable to paranormal processes, or even “miraculous“ The origin of the word is from the Greek para,meaning beside or beyond and normal.

The scientific study of the paranormal is called PARAPSYCHOLOGY which is a term coined in German by Max Dessoir in 1889 and later adopted by J. B. Rhine in English to refer to the scientific study of paranormal or ostensibly paranormal phenomena. The term has largely superseded the older expression “psychical research;” used by some to refer to the experimental approach to the field. Again the origin of the word is from the Greek para meaning beside or beyond and psychology, derived from the Greek psychereferring to soul or mind and logos meaning rational discussion. A third term that will occur in our discussion is the term PSI. This is a general blanket term, proposed by B. P. Wiesner and seconded by R. H. Thouless in 1942 and used either as a noun or adjective to identify paranormal processes and paranormal causation.

The two main categories of PSI whose halachic status we will examine, are psi-gamma phenomena which include paranormal cognition and extrasensory perception and psi-kappa phenomena which include paranormal action and psychokinesis., The purpose of the term “psi” is to suggest that they might simply be different aspects of a single process, which is my approach (psi-gamma is where the neshama acts as a receiver from the higher worlds and psi-kappa is where the neshama acts as a transmitter to the higher worlds — both are possible), rather than distinct and essentially different processes. Strictly speaking “psi” also applies to near-death experiences which we will not be discussing here. Psi, is the twenty-third letter of the Greek alphabet and is basically an abbreviation for the Greek psyche meaning mind or soul.

[2] EXTRASENSORY PERCEPTION (psi-gamma) or ESP is the acquisition of information about, or response to, an external event, object or influence (mental or physical; past, present or future) otherwise than through any of the known sensory channels. This term was used by J. B. Rhine, the founder of experimental parapsychology, to embrace such phenomena as 1)telepathy, 2) clairvoyance and 3) precognition. It is derived from the Latin extra meaning outside of and sensory, i.e. perception outside of the senses.

1) TELEPATHY is a term coined by Frederic Myers to refer to the paranormal acquisition of information concerning the thoughts, feelings or activity of another conscious being. From the Greek ele, for “far away,” and pathein, “to have been affected by something”.

2) CLAIRVOYANCE is the paranormal acquisition of information concerning an object or contemporary physical event; in contrast to telepathy, the information is assumed to derive directly from an external physical source (such as a concealed photograph), and not from the mind of another person.

3) PRECOGNITION is a form of extrasensory perception in which the target is some future event that cannot be deduced from normally known data in the present. This is derived from the Latin præ-, “prior to,” and cognitio, “a getting to know”.

[3] PSYCHOKINESIS (psi-kappa) or PK on the other hand is paranormal action a term coined by Henry Holt and adopted by J. B. Rhine to refer to the direct influence of mind on a physical system or a biological system that cannot be entirely accounted for by the mediation of any known physical energy. The origin of this term is from the Greek psyche and kinesis meaning a moving or a disturbance derived from kinein meaning to set in