In Sanhedrin 67b, Rabbi Ashi states that he saw “Karna’s father blow his nose violently and streamers of silk issued from his nostrils.”

Some magic tricks really do stem from ancient times. Of course, pulling streamers out of one’s nose is child’s play to the great magicians of the modern world, of which quite a few are/were Jewish (the late Harry Houdini, Uri Geller, David Copperfield, David Blaine, etc.).

Today, magic is simply a form of entertainment. However, there were many generations for whom the power of magic was quite real. In order to be appointed a member of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court, one had to be a man of “stature, wisdom, good appearance, mature age, with a knowledge of sorcery” (Sanhedrin 17b). It was felt that knowledge of sorcery was important for them, so that the sages would be able to condemn or stop those who involved themselves in these unacceptable practices.

Without question, Jewish law deems sorcery forbidden. Exodus 22:17 states quite clearly: “You shall not suffer a sorceress to live.” We today do not know what sorcery is exactly. The Talmud (Kiddushin 49b) relates that “ten measures of witchcraft descended to the world.” Deuteronomy 18:10-11 defines witchcraft as, “one that makes his son or daughter to pass through the fire, one that uses divination, a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or one that consults a ghost or a familiar spirit, or a necromancer.”

But what of the magician of today? The Talmud states (Sanhedrin 67b): “If one actually performs magic, he is stoned; if he merely creates an illusion, he is exempt…” Perhaps this is why the great David Copperfield refers to himself as an illusionist, rather then a magician.

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