Segulos, Magnets, and the Supernatural

The establish about the strangest segulah ever led to a great quantity discussion about the history of Judaism’s approaches to segulos. I purpose it would be worthwhile to re-letter-carrier a discussion on this from a not many years ago, regarding the view of Rashba (a.k.a. Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Aderes, 1235–1310). Rashba discussed this thing in the context of his disagreeing strenuously with Rambam’s across-the-conclave dismissal of all magic (and like phenomena for which there is not at all rational explanation) as being nonsense and to this degree prohibited. Rashba points out that the Gemara is replete of such things, which (unlike Rambam) he takes authoritatively, and he stresses that these practices are endorsed flat though there is no rational explication for them. Rashba later delivers what he believes to be the coup de grâce:

עוד יש לי מקום עיון בדברי הרב ז”ל שכתב אמרו בפי’ כל שיש בו משום רפואה אין בו משום דרכי האמורי. רוצה בזה כל מה שיגזרהו העיון הטבעי הוא מותר וזולתו אסור. ע”כ. ואני שואל כמסתפק בדברי הרב ז”ל מהו הדבר שיקראוהו הרב ז”ל שיגזרהו העיון הטבעי. אם מה שיגזרהו עיון חכמי’ שחברו ספרים בטבע כאריסטו וגאלינוס וחבריהם שחברו ספרים בטבע הסמים והמסעדים המועילים לפי עיונם וכל מה שלא השיג עיונם הוא בכלל איסור דרכי האמורי. לפי שעיון חכמים אלו שהשתדלו בחכמת הטבע כולל כל מה שאפשר להיות פעל כל בעל טבע בטבעו. ואצל עיון חכמים אלו יפסק מאפשרות העיון הטבעי. זה באמת מה שלא יקבלוהו השכל כי באמת הדברים הפועלים בסגלה אין פעולתם בפלא מהם אלא בטבע מסגל, רצוני לומר בטבע לא ישיגנו עיון החכמים ואפילו החכם שבחכמים לרוב העלם הטבע ההוא מכלל המין האנושי מצד שהוא אדם, כסגלת אבן השואבת שהברזל קופץ עליה ויותר מזה מורגל בירדי הים באניות תוחבין מחט בחתיכת עץ צף על פני המים ומראין לו אבן וישוט על פני המים עד שיפנה אל פני הסדן ושם ינוח – ולא ישיג עיון טבע זה כל חכם שבחכמים אלו של חכמת הטבע. (שו”ת הרשב”א חלק א סימן תיג)

Here, Rashba argues that it is unfeasible to claim that only phenomena according to there is a rational explanation are real and permitted. His reason is that there are phenomena that undeniably exist, and in addition for which there can be nay scientific explanation. The example that he brings is the natural ~, and its use in a compass. These things act neither in the realm of the wonderful, nor in the realm of the fool; instead, they operate in the domain of segulah. Rashba notes that “the wisest of scholars in the sciences can never grasp the nature” of so things.

Now, I myself, in my monograph up~ the body demons, argued that one cannot sincerely assert that those who believed in demons and suchlike were not rationalists. Things looked various in the medieval period, and some people believed in such things towards rational reasons. Nevertheless, there is after what is stated an enormous gulf separating the rationalist Rishonim of Spain from the mystical Rishonim and from the non-rationalist Rishonim in Ashkenaz.

Superficially, Rashba’s debating appears not too far removed from that of Ralbag. Ralbag was one extreme rationalist, yet he likewise asserts that magnets can only be explained in terms of essence a segulah. However, the term segulah while used by Ralbag (and Rashba) has been borrowed from pharmacology, in what place it refers to peculiar properties which cannot be explained in terms of its constituent elements (see Y. Tzvi Langermann, “Gersonides in c~tinuance the Magnet and the Heat of the Sun”). In applying it to magnets, Ralbag is claiming that the universe of the magnet cannot be grasped ~ means of the science of his day; mete he is not explaining it to have existence a supernatural phenomenon, and he did not know it as reason to accept the cogency of magic.

For Rashba, on the other workman, there is no distinction between that that science cannot currently explain, and that what one. it will never explain. Rashba’s purpose is not that there are “empirically tested phenomena work through the principles of information despite the fact that we swindle not understand these principles.” On the repugnant; his view is that there are principles other than laws of body of knowledge and nature that operate. Unlike Rambam, who realized that magnets are a solely naturalistic what is seen , Rashba believed that magnets operate in a various realm – that of segulah. According to Rashba, the framing within which segulos work is precisely not the framing of science and nature. He on that account sees magnets as reason to accept belief in magic and all similar phenomena. The lack of any rational scientific explanation for a phenomenon is ~t one reason whatsoever to doubt its essence.

Now, it is true that steady today, we don’t really learn what magnetism, or gravity for that good sense, actually is. We can measure and set forth the character of how it works, but we always don’t know what it fundamentally is. Nevertheless, we are entirely confident that it is a essential, rather than supernatural, phenomenon. Rambam and just Ralbag felt the same way, what one. is why their inability to contain magnetism or other phenomena did not hinder them from dismissing other phenomena of the same kind with clearly false. The line between knowledge of principles and pseudo-science is not perpetually clear, but there are nevertheless divers things that we confidently dismiss as non-existent. Rashba, on the other palm, did not believe that we be able to ever dismiss phenomena as scientifically impossible and false – and saw magnets viewed like evidence for this.

It’s nice, and very tempting, to think that be it what it may we believe to be the accurate approach to Judaism has always been the come of great Torah scholars. However, that is repeatedly not the case.

We need to employ more time in locating the cheaper tyres what one. are of good high quality.

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