For the week ending 17 December 2005 / 16 Kislev 5766

Calling Tarots Card

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Joshua in England

Dear Rabbi,

A close relative of mine regularly consults a witch who reads the tarot and tells things about the people we know and about the future. Based on what she has said and predicted, I am sure she is not a fake and must be able to tap into some power; otherwise she wouldnt be able to know about these people and predict the things that have come true. I know that according to Judaism this type of thing is surely forbidden. My question is, since I see that this woman is "for real", am I allowed to pay attention to the things she tells my relative that regard me? The reason I ask is because according to this witch, some pretty interesting things are in store for me.

Dear Joshua,

Allow me to give a brief background of the tarot. The first known deck appeared in Italy in 1440. It is believed that they were originally created as a game for the nobility. The first account of divination through the use of the cards is attributed to cartomancer Jean-Baptiste Alliette in 1770. A decade later, Antoine Court de Gobelin purported that the cards were the key to lost Egyptian magical wisdom written by Thoth, the Egyptian god of inspired written knowledge. The discovery in 1799 of the Rosetta Stone used to decipher the hieroglyphs of the Egyptians, did not support the idea.

Nevertheless, a later theory attributed the tarot to the wandering Romany or Gypsies, thought to be descendants of Egyptians who carried the deck on their travels through Europe. In the nineteenth century, the occultist Eliphas Levi [this French non-Jews attempt to translate his name, Alphonse Louis Constant, into Hebrew] developed a correlation between the tarot and the Kabbalah. This new belief that the tarot originated in Israel and contained the wisdom of the Tree of Life "legitimized" the tarot for many magical and esoteric groups who then accepted it as a timeless body of mystical knowledge.

First, let me assure you that the tarot has no source in Kabbalah; as you said, it would be included in the prohibition against divination. However, it is interesting to note that using the Kabbalah to legitimize and popularize trendy spiritualism is not a new phenomenon. Let me also say that it is highly unlikely that nowadays anybody has the knowledge or power to use magic or witchcraft to reveal secrets or predict the future. This is particularly so regarding the tarot since it is not an ancient practice and appeared only recently, initially as nothing more than a card game.

Regarding this womans uncanny insights and predictions, perhaps your relative reveals to her more than he/she realizes, or possibly the relative exaggerates what she has said based on his/her own knowledge of these people and the direction their lives are taking. That being said, it is possible that she is clairvoyant and uses the cards to disguise her extra-sensory perception.

Even if this witch is "for real", she may not be consulted. This is worse than astrology, which Judaism recognizes as an ancient wisdom through which one is able to predict the future or determine things about people. Still, it may be used only for the latter, to gain insight into the strengths, weaknesses, or inborn character traits of a person in order to better serve G-d (see Shabbat 153). However, consulting it to tell the future is forbidden. And even though one may take precautionary heed of an astrological prediction that one didnt consult but only heard indirectly, that is because ultimately astrology is a system through which G-d expresses His will in the world (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 179:1). But magic and witchcraft belong to the "dark side" and must be avoided entirely.

Therefore, you must find a way to discourage your relative from consulting this woman. But more important as far as you are concerned, is to tell this relative to stop asking the woman about you, and certainly not to talk to you about it. Regarding whatever youve heard regarding yourself or the future: If its bad, realize that harm results from our shortcomings and transactions strengthen your Torah study, prayer and mitzvoth. If its good, realize that blessing comes only from G-d only He is the one to consult and thank for it.

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