Beware phony mysticism

Published in The Jerusalem Post on February 7, 1999

In our increasingly irrational society nothing anymore is left to chance. There’s a mystical, pat and ready answer for every dilemma, every personal quandary, every political or national decision. Thank G-d or thank superstition, we’ve got plenty of soothsayers to divine the right choices for us.


If you want to know who to vote for, ask your local cabalist. Financial or marital difficulties vexing you? Pray over the right grave and things will correct themselves. You’re not sure whether to start a new business? There’s a seer somewhere who will help you with this detail too, and tell you he checked with G-d or the cosmos so nothing can go wrong.


We are witnessing a wholesale surrender of personal autonomy in making life choices in favor of trust in the mysterious or incomprehensible. Somehow, we want to believe that there are ‘right’ answers out there, and are desperate to have someone augur them for us.


The roots of this new-found passion for the mystical lie in despair. Life is complicated and many of our problems are insoluble. Despair is a natural reaction in the face of the dilemmas posed to us by modern, technological society, which is ever-so cold and brutally rational. It is very comforting, then, to know that someone has all the answers. Someone to rely on.


Take the peace process, for example. There are no simple solutions, and all the experts are divided. Having a modern-day prophet with a direct line to G-d or some form of fudgy communication with the higher spheres — makes it much easier to decide whether you’re for Oslo or against giving back the Golan.


It is understandable and acceptable to me that Jews believe in some higher spiritual dimension that guides history. Consider, for example, the mystical connection between the people of Israel and the land of Israel, a bond held together over thousands of years by powers greater than our rational minds can comprehend.


As a religious Jew, I also accept that the prayers or blessing of a *tzaddik*, a real holy man, on behalf of *my* decisions and *my* choices, can be beneficial. Moreover, *emunat chachamim*, faith in the shrewdness of our sages, is not an empty or preposterous concept. There are major moral issues of lifestyle and principle on which their voice ought to be heard.


But asking for saintly sanction in deciding whether to buy a new fridge or car or how to vote — is going too far. Since when do we abdicate our G-d-given responsibility to make real-life decisions — to the supernatural or the supernaturally-endowed?


A friend of mine who is a Modern Orthodox rabbi in Afula says that he is losing the battle. Couples come to him with dilemmas and he tries to help them sort things out rationally. Together with the couple, he thinks through the relevant halachic guidelines, and considers various approaches in application of Jewish tradition to the situation.


“And after all this, they run away to the self-declared cabalist Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira in Naharia, who will neatly tell them what to do on the spot, without explanation or elaboration. He’ll also settle a family dispute over the appropriate color of car to buy and provide a *kemaiya* (an amulet with religious texts) for good luck. And this makes them happy!” exclaims my rabbi friend in frustration. “Mysticism is triumphing over enlightenment”.


WE ALL know that there are more than a few charlatans out there posing as mystical wizards, working in tandem with more than few opportunistic politicians, to pull the wool over the eyes of innocent believers.


Last week, for example, our famously-pious, Heaven-fearing Health Minister Yehoshua Matza made a pilgrimage to Rabbi Abuhatzeira to ask for a priestly blessing and find out who was going to win the next elections. As if Matza believed in these things…


Rabbi Abuhatzeira, you see, is now some sort of *urim vetumim*, the magical breastplate worn in biblical times by High Priest Aaron which served as a communications console for heaven-to-earth messaging. I wonder: what would the Health Minister have done if the sage had offered him automatic entry to heaven in return for voting Shas (they do this!), or predicted a Labor victory?


In any case, the religious racketeers need not worry. The Knesset last week voted down a bill which would have outlawed the use of charms and other phony religious paraphernalia in election efforts.


“There is no enchantment in Yaakov, nor is there any divination in Israel”, is the Biblical quote chosen by Maimonides to headline his work on the laws of forbidden idol worship. “Astrologers, oracles, fortune-tellers and the like are but liars and cheats, purveyors of foreign culture steeped in abomination.… Only fools and ignoramuses believe in such sorcery”.


Fitting thoughts for our times.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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