Magicians according to Halacha

Magicians:[1]

It is forbidden to perform an action that make it appear to the onlooker as if he is performing a supernatural act.[2] One who does so transgress the Biblical command of “Lo Sionein” and is liable for Biblical lashes.[3] According to many Poskim[4] this prohibition applies even when one is not performing any actual sorcery and is simply performing an optical illusion through the swiftness of his hands and other schemes.[5] [Accordingly, it is Biblically forbidden for Badchanim/comedians to perform magic tricks at weddings and other performances.[6] Nevertheless, some Poskim[7] rule it is permitted to perform magic tricks if one informs the audience that he is not performing any actual magic and that it is simply optical illusions.[8] Other Poskim[9] negate this allowance. The Rebbe once answered a Shliach who hired a magician to perform that next time he should verify if doing so is permitted according to Halacha.[10]]

 

Summary:
It is forbidden to perform magic tricks, however those who are lenient to do so when the audience is aware that it is a mere optical illusion have upon whom to rely. [Practically, one is to ask his Rav prior to becoming a magician or performing magic tricks.]

Q&A

May one hire a magician to perform at an event?[11]
It is forbidden to hire a magician to perform at an event.[12] [This prohibition applies even against hiring a gentile magician.[13]] However those who are lenient to do so when the audience is aware that it is a mere optical illusion have upon whom to rely.

May one watch a magician perform magic tricks?[14]
Live
: It is forbidden to watch a Jewish magician perform.[15] It is permitted to watch a gentile magician perform.[16] [Accordingly, one may not attend a David Copperfield performance or a performance of anyone of the like. Those who are lenient to watch a Jewish musician perform on the basis that everyone knows it is a mere illusion have upon whom to rely.]

Recording: Seemingly, it is permitted according to all to watch a video recording of a magician, even if he is Jewish. However, one may not purchase a video of the performance according to the stringent opinion.

May one do magic tricks on Purim?[17]
It is forbidden to perform magic tricks on Purim just like the rest of the year. However those who are lenient to do so when the audience is aware that it is a mere optical illusion have upon whom to rely.

 

Contradiction in Rambam:[18]
In the Rambam there is a contradiction regarding the status of “Ocheis Eiynayim”, one who makes it appear to others that he is performing a miraculous and supernatural act. In one Halacha[19] the Rambam rules that such activity constitutes the negative command of “Lo Sionein”, and one who transgresses and does so is liable for Biblical lashes. In another Halacha[20] the Rambam rules that doing so constitutes the negative command of “Kishuf”, and one who transgresses and does so is liable for Rabbinical lashes. Various answers have been suggested by the Poskim and Mefarshim. Some of these answers innovated the prohibition against performing optical illusion magic tricks while according to others, there is no prohibition in performing a mere optical illusion. The following are the proposed answers:

  1. Achizas Eiynayim is illusion performed through magic and includes two prohibitions:[21] The act of Achizas Eiynayim discussed in the Rambam in both areas refers to the same action of fooling others to believe he performed a supernatural act. When one does so he is liable for two prohibitions; Lo Sionein, and Kishuf. However, by Kishuf lashes are not given being that it is a negative command that contains the death penalty.[22] Alternatively, lashes are not given because it does not involve any action.[23] [According to this explanation in the Rambam, “Achizas Eiynayim” involves real sorcery, and is when one uses magic to make it appear to others that he did a supernatural action, when in truth he didn’t. If, however, the illusion involves no magic at all, then there is no prohibition involved in doing so.]
  2. Kishuf is natural illusion performed through magic; Lo Sionein is a supernatural illusion performed through magic:[24] There are two types of “Achizas Eiynayim”, one falling under the prohibition of Lo Sionein and another under the prohibition of Kishuf. When one does an action that makes it appear that he is performing a supernatural event, such as to resurrect a dead person, then he transgresses the prohibition of Lo Sionein. If, however he makes it appear that he is doing an action that is natural, such as that he is planting vegetables, then he transgresses the prohibition against Kishuf. [According to this explanation in the Rambam, both acts of “Achizas Eiynayim” involve real sorcery, and hence the prohibition of Achizas Eiyanyim, whether of Kishuf or Lo Sionein, is when one uses magic to make it appear to others that he did an action that in truth he didn’t. If, however, the illusion involves no magic at all, then there is no prohibition involved in doing so.]
  3. Lo Sionein is illusion through magic that makes it appear that one is personally performing, Kishuf is illusion through magic that makes it appear an action is happening on its own:[25] There are two types of “Achizas Eiynayim”, one falling under the prohibition of Lo Sionein and another under the prohibition of Kishuf. When one does an action that makes it appear that he is personally performing a supernatural event, then he transgresses the prohibition of Lo Sionein. If, however he makes it appear that the action is happening on its own, such as that the vegetables are being picked by themselves from a field, then he transgresses the prohibition against Kishuf. [According to this explanation in the Rambam, both acts of “Achizas Eiynayim” involve real sorcery, and hence the prohibition of Achizas Eiyanyim, whether of Kishuf or Lo Sionein, is when one uses magic to make it appear to others that he did a supernatural action, when in truth he didn’t. If, however, the illusion involves no magic at all, then there is no prohibition involved in doing so.]
  4. Lo Sionein is optical illusion; Kishuf is real sorcery:[26] There are two types of “Achizas Eiynayim”, one falling under the prohibition of Lo Sionein and another under the prohibition of Kishuf. When one does an action using the swiftness of his hands and other schemes to makes it appear as if he is performing a supernatural event, such as he enters a rope into his shirt and removes a snake or throw a ring in the air and then removes it from the mouth of a bystander, then he transgresses the prohibition of Lo Sionein. When, however he uses actual sorcery to make it appear that an action was performed, such as that the vegetables were picked from the field, when in truth they were not, then he transgresses the prohibition against Kishuf. [According to this explanation in the Rambam, both acts of “Achizas Eiynayim” involve real sorcery, and hence the prohibition of Achizas Eiyanyim, whether of Kishuf or Lo Sionein, is when one uses magic to make it appear to others that he did a supernatural action, when in truth he didn’t. If, however, the illusion involves no magic at all, then there is no prohibition involved in doing so.]
  5. Telling future versus illusions:[27] There are two types of “Achizas Eiynayim”, one falling under the prohibition of Lo Sionein and another under the prohibition of Kishuf. When one makes it look as if he is looking at the palm of another and predicting future events then he transgresses the prohibition of Lo Sionein. If, however he makes it appear that he is performing a supernatural act, such as that the vegetables were picked from the field when in truth they were not, then he transgresses the prohibition against Kishuf. [According to this explanation in the Rambam, both acts of “Achizas Eiynayim” involve real sorcery, and hence the prohibition of Achizas Eiyanyim, whether of Kishuf or Lo Sionein, is when one uses magic to make it appear to others that he did an action, when in truth he didn’t. If, however, the illusion involves no magic at all, then there is no prohibition involved in doing so.]
  6. Illusions through incense versus sorcery: There are two types of “Achizas Eiynayim”, one falling under the prohibition of Lo Sionein and another under the prohibition of Kishuf. When one lights incense and candles and makes things appear in the air to the audience then he transgresses the prohibition of Lo Sionein. If, however he uses sorcery or demons to make things appear, then he transgresses the prohibition against Kishuf. If he does not use any sorcery or candles to make things appear and simply does so through an optical illusion, then there is no Biblical prohibition involved, although is Rabbinically forbidden due to the prohibition against fooling others.

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[1] See Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 11/9 and 15; Tur 179; Michaber 179/15; Encyclopedia Talmudit “Achizas Eiynayim” 1/459

[2] Michaber 179/15 “Ocheiz Es Haeiynayim Assur”; Rambam Avodas Kochavim 11/9 “One who fools the eyes and makes it appear to the onlooker as if he performed a supernatural act, and in truth he didn’t”; Chinuch Mitzvah 250; Chochamim in Sanhedrin 65b; Toras Kohanim Vayikra 19/26

[3] Rambam ibid; Chinuch Mitzvah 250; Toras Kohanim ibid

Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that Achizas Eiynayim does not carry with it the penalty of lashes, although is forbidden. [Tur 179]

[4] Shach 179/17; Beir Heiytiv 179/10; Bach 179 in explanation of contradiction in Rambam Avodas Kochavim 11/9; Teshuvas Rama 67 in name of Maharam Landa in explanation of Rambam “There is a difference between one who does so through sorcery and one who does so without sorcery”; Rambam in Sefer Hamitzvos 32 “A Meonein is one who performs optical illusions using the swiftness of his hands and schemes to make it appear that he is doing magic”; Chinuch Mitzvah 250 in name of Mishnas Chachamim Mitzvah 47; Possible understanding of 1st answer of Grandson of Rambam, brought in Kesef Mishneh ibid “There are two types of Achizas Eiynayim”; Chochmas Adam 89/6, brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah 179/7; Maharam Shick on Mitzvah 251; Darkei Teshuvah 179/37; Kitzur SHU”A 166/4; Shevet Halevi 5/129-1; Yechaveh Daas 3/68; Yabia Omer 5/14; Piskeiy Teshuvos 696/14; Rav Raskin

Other opinions: Some Poskim rule there is no prohibition involved in doing an action that appears supernatural if it does not involve actual sorcery. [Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah 4/13; Maharshal “Every Achizas Eiyanyim involves Kishuf”, brought in Teshuvas Rama ibid; Implication of all the following Poskim in their answer of the contradiction in Rambam ibid that both Achizas Eiynayim written in Rambam involve actual magic: Beis Yosef 179 and Kesef Mishneh Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 11/15; Taz 179/10 [see there that he offers alternative explanation than Bach]; Hagahos Maimanis 11/5; Semak 53; Maharik Shoresh 76-2; 2nd explanation of grandson of Rambam, brought in Kesef Mishneh ibid; Radbaz 5/1695 [585] on Leshonos Harambam and in Metzudos David 61]

Opinion of Igros Moshe: The Igros Moshe ibid holds it is permitted to perform magic tricks, and argues on ruling of Shach/Bach and others. Nevertheless, he states a) It should not be done unless the audience is aware that it is an illusion; b) This is only Lelimud and not Lemaaseh, even though he has no doubt in his position; c) If he was asked he would avoid answering in honor of the stringent opinion, but if he had to answer he would say its Mutar

[5] The reason: Since to the onlooker it appears as if he is doing a supernatural act of sorcery, therefore it is included in the above prohibition and is liable for lashes, as even an action that is not a real action but appears like an action it is therefore considered an action. [See Taz 179/10]

[6] Mishnas Chachamim Mitzvah 47; Chochmas Adam 89/6 brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah 179/7; Kitzur SHU”A 166/4; Maharam Shick on Mitzvah 251; Darkei Teshuvah 179/37

[7] Yavin Daas p. 119 that so is custom to be lenient, as seen from the Badchanim; Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah 4/13; See Taz 179/10; 2nd explanation in Radbaz 5/1695 [585] on Leshonos Harambam; Divrei Yatziv Y.D. 1/57; Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1/455; Betzel Hachochmah 4/13; Rav Mazuz

[8] The reason: As the entire prohibition of magic tricks that do not involve real magic is because it appears to the public as magic, and hence if the public is notified beforehand, there is no prohibition involved. [Yavin Daas ibid; See Taz ibid and Radbaz ibid who implies this way as well] Alternatively, as there is no Biblical or Rabbinical prohibition of Kishuf or Lo Sionein to perform optical illusions that appear like magic. Nevertheless, since it appears to others that he is doing magic, which is forbidden, therefore it is forbidden due to Meisis, unless he tells them that it is an optical illusion, or it is well known to the audience that it is not real magic. [Igros Moshe ibid]

[9] Shevet Halevi 5/129-1; Yechaveh Daas 3/68; 3/500-501Yabia Omer 5/14;

[10] Igros Kodesh 16/30; See Hiskashrus 772; 823

[11] Chochmas Adam 89/6, brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah 179/7; Kitzur SHU”A 166/; Minchas Chinuch Mitzvah 250 in name of Mishnas Chachamim regarding the Lav of Nichush

[12] The reason: This is forbidden due to Lifnei Iver. [Poskim ibid] Alternatively, asking another to perform Nichush is included in the Biblical prohibition, and this applies even if he is a gentile. [Minchas Chinuch Mitzvah 250 in name of Mishnas Chachamim]

[13] Minchas Chinuch Mitzvah 250 in name of Mishnas Chachamim regarding the Lav of Nichush; So is implied from Chochmas Adam ibid and Kitzur SHU”A ibid who simply allows to see a gentile magician perform. See however Darkei Teshuvah 179/37 in name of Maharam Shick; Seemingly, the reason is due to Amira Lenachri, as every matter in the Torah that is forbidden for a Jew to perform is likewise forbidden for a Jew to ask a Gentile to do for him. [Beis Shmuel 5/16; Beir Hagoleh; Admur 243/1; 343/5; 450/20; Ribis 72; Sheila Usechirus 29; Michaber C.M. 338/6 [regarding muzzling animal]; Question brought in Bava Metzia 90a and above Poskim rule stringently-see Biur Hagr”a 5/32] Now, although there are opinions who permit one to even visit a gentile sorcerer who performs actual magic [See Piskei Terumos Hadeshen 96, brought in Shach 179/1], and hence certainly hiring a magician should be allowed, nevertheless there it refers to a case of one who is sick and is visiting the sorcerer for medical treatment, in which the prohibition of Amira Lenachri is lifted. [See Admur 328/19] This allowance does not apply in this case and hence hiring a gentile magician is forbidden due to Amira Lenachri.

[14] Chochmas Adam 89/6, brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah 179/7; Kitzur SHU”A 166/4; Shevet Halevi 5/129-1; Yechaveh Daas 3/68; Rav Raskin

[15] The reason: This is forbidden due to Lifnei Iver. [ibid]

[16] Chochmas Adam ibid writes “it seems to me that it is permitted”; However, Pischeiy Teshuvah ibid and Kitzur SHU”A ibid rules that it is permitted; See Darkei Teshuvah 179/37 in name of Maharam Shick

The reason: Seemingly the reason is because gentiles are not commanded against performing optical illusions that appear like Kishuf, and there is no Amira Lenachri involved if one is simply watching.

[17] See Yechaveh Daas 3/68; Yabia Omer 5/14; Piskeiy Teshuvos 696/14

[18] See Taz 179/10; Teshuvas Harama 67; Hagahos Maimanis 11/5

[19] Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 11/9

[20] Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 11/15; Mishneh Sanhedrin 67a

[21] Beis Yosef 179 and 1st and 3rd explanation in Kesef Mishneh Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 11/15 [negated by Bach 179]; 2nd explanation of grandson of Rambam, brought in Kesef Mishneh ibid; Radbaz 5/1695 [585] on Leshonos Harambam; Hagahos Maimanis 11/5; Semag 53 [brought in Bach 179]; Maharshal in Biurav Lesamg Lavin 53, brought in Bach ibid [Bach ibid negates this explanation]

[22] Beis Yosef and Kesef Mishneh ibid

[23] Hagahos Maimanis 11/5; Semag 53 [brought in Bach 179]; Maharshal in Biurav Lesamg Lavin 53, brought in Bach ibid [Bach ibid negates this explanation]

[24] Maharik Shoresh 76-2; [Negated by Bach 179 and Beis Yosef 179]; 2nd explanation in Kesef Mishneh Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 11/15

[25] Taz 179/10

[26] Bach 179 based on Rambam in Sefer Hamitzvos 32 “A Meonein is one who performs optical illusions using the swiftness of his hands and schemes to make it appear that he is doing magic”

[27] Lechem Mishneh Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 11/9

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