The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.
For final rulings, consult your Rav.
Do not "Se'onenu" (Lev. 19:26)
MAGIC SHOWS: ARE THEY PERMITTED?
The word "se'onenu" in the verse cited above can be a derivation
of the root onah (time season) or of the root ayin (eye).
Consequently, two different prohibitions are based on this
verse. One, quoted by Rashi on the verse, is the prohibition
against "calculating times and hours." It is forbidden to employ
astrological (1) calculations in order to determine when to
engage in or refrain from a certain activity. One may not, rules
the Shulchan Aruch (2), make statements like, "This is a good day
(according to the astrological signs) to begin a certain task",
or "this hour is a bad hour for traveling."
The second prohibition mentioned in the Talmud (3)
and quoted in
the Shulchan Aruch (4) - which is based on the second
interpretation of "se'onenu" - is the prohibition against
performing acts of achizas einayim, literally, "seizing the
eyes." Rashi explains that achizas einayim means "creating the
illusion of performing an impossible act, while in fact he does
nothing." Rashi does not, however, explain how the "impossible
act" is performed. The poskim offer three different explanations
as to how the achizas einayim is accomplished:
By means of witchcraft (5) or demons (6).
By means of a "magical illusion" which does not affect the
substance itself yet defies scientific analysis (7).
By means of quick, adroit, stunning movements that are
incredibly skillful (8). These are the products of natural talent
which - though extremely rare - is not perceived as
According to this last opinion, which defines achizas einayim as
a display of rare but natural talent, today's magic shows would
be Biblically forbidden. Indeed, the Rambam - when describing
achizas einayim - gives a vivid description of what a magic show
consisted of in his day and age: "He [the magician] does
wondrous acts through trickery, through quickness and lightness
of movement, as we see that they take a rope and put it
underneath their garment and then pull out a snake, or they toss
a ring in the air and then remove it from the mouth of a person
in the audience." According to the first two opinions, however,
a modern-day magic show would be permitted, since witchcraft or
acts which cannot be grasped by the rational mind are not
What is the practical halachah? Does this prohibition apply in
our times? Chochmas Adam (10) writes, "...those badchanim
(merrymakers) who perform achizas einayim at weddings are
transgressing a prohibition of the Torah. One who bids them to
do so transgresses the prohibition of lifnei eveir (causing
one's fellow man to sin). Anyone who can object to this practice
is obligated to do so, and certainly it is prohibited to watch
their tricks, since one is aiding transgressors (11)." The
Chochmas Adam's (12) ruling is quoted by many other poskim and
none mention that the prohibition may no longer apply in our
times. It seems, therefore, that all the authorities agree that
achizas einayim performed by means of incredibly skillful and
stunning movements is forbidden (13).
Harav Moshe Feinstein (14) was asked whether he had ever
permitted the performance of magic shows. Rav Moshe responded
with a lengthy analysis of the entire subject. He wonders how -
contrary to the third opinion listed above - the Torah can
prohibit something which comes naturally to a person.
puzzling that it should be prohibited for one who is naturally
quick to act in accordance with his quickness; didn't the
brothers dispatch Naftali to Egypt to bring a bill of sale from
Eisav to Yaakov... so we find that it is permissible; also
Shimshon was permitted to use his extraordinary strength, which
is not normally found in people and was surely puzzling to
people, and yet we do not find that he was prohibited from using
his strenght so as not to appear as if he were performing
witchcraft... So why is quickness of movement any different?"
It is because of this difficulty, says Rav Moshe, that the other
two opinions [listed above] do not agree with the third view.
Rav Moshe's concluding remarks are noteworthy:
previously said all this while studying this subject, but this
has not been construed by me as a halachic ruling, since in any
case if the magician lies and says that he can do supernatural
acts, then we ought to prohibit it, since he can easily lead
people to believe that he is a person of wondrous powers... and
even if he does not lie, saying only that Hashem gave him a
talent that is uncommon, nevertheless it should be shown to
people only in such a manner that they can clearly distinguish
that it is done through swiftness of motion and not in such a
manner where they cannot fathom what he is doing.... Yet it is
possible to permit this for the badchanim that perform achizas
einayim at weddings in a manner which is apparent and clear that
it is due to swiftness of motion... But it seems that the
Chochmas Adam prohibits even this since he follows the thinking
of the Bach... But it is only possible to forbid this to the
badchanim if they say that they are using magic... But if they
state that they are employing natural means, and it is well
known that it is so, then I do not see any grounds for
prohibition. But nevertheless, I have not been asked with
respect to an actual instance and, therefore, I have never
actually permitted it, and I have never heard that this is
performed at weddings even where there is a badchan present, and
therefore this was never rendered by me as a ruling, although I
have no doubt in respect to this halachah, and if such a
question were to arise, I would attempt to evade the issue in
deference to the Sages (15) who prohibit this; and if I were
unable to evade the question, then I would have ruled that in a
natural manner, and where it is well known that it is performed
through natural means, that it is permitted (16)."
1 Rambam Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 11:8.
2 YD 179:3 and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 167:3. See Darkei Teshuvah
22-23 for some guidelines and exceptions.
3 Sanhedrin 65b.
4 YD 179:15.
5 Smag, quoted by Bach YD 179.
6 Radvaz (Metzudos Dovid 61).
7 Rama and Maharshal, as understood by Igros Moshe YD 4:13.
8 Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Saaseh 32) as understood by the
Bach and Shach YD 179.
9 Explanation of Igros Moshe YD 4:13.
11 It is permitted, however, to watch a non-Jew perform magic
tricks. Maharam Shick (quoted in Darkei Teshuvah 179:37) also
agrees that when a non-Jewish magician performs tricks through
quickness of movement one is permitted to watch.
12 Pischei Teshuvah YD 179:7; Kitzur Shulachan Aruch 176:4;
Darkei Teshuvah YD 179:37 quoting Mishnas Chachomim. See also
Yad Haktanah 2:273 and Zivchei Tzedek Yd 179 who concur that
magic shows based on quickness of movement are prohibited.
13 Yabia Omer YD 5:14 and Yechave Daas 3:68.
14 Igros Moshe YD 4:13.
15 Bach, Shach, and Chochmas Adam mentioned above.
16 See also Sefer Yavin Daas YD 119 (quoted in Yabia Omer YD
5:13) who holds that when the magician announces clearly to the
audience that he is just fooling them, it is permitted.
Jonathan and Edina Heifetz
on the occasion of the Bar Mitzvah of their son
Shlomo Pesach, n"y.
May they shep much Nachas from him and their other children.
Mazel Tov to the grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Morton Heifetz of
Eretz Yisroel and Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Davidowitz of Cleveland,Ohio.