Using the Bible as a Fortune-Telling Device

March 14 2017

In a practice popularly known as “the lottery of the Vilna Gaon,” a sage poses a question and then opens a Torah or Hebrew Bible seven times at random. A verse on the final page to be opened is then taken as an omen, and interpreted as an answer to the question. While the attribution of this rite to the 18th-century Rabbi Elijah Kramer of Vilna is mistaken, writes Shraga Bar-On, it does date back several centuries, and has even more ancient precursors:

Based on [the 1st-century-CE historian] Josephus’ account, it would seem that diligent study of the words of the prophets assisted the Essene seers in soothsaying. Use of the Torah as a tool of divination can also be found in the books of Maccabees. . . . [In talmudic literature], too, use of verses from the Torah [in this fashion] was quite common. One of the most prominent techniques, . . . involves asking a child to recite the verse he happens to be studying; the child then quotes the verse, which is regarded as having divinatory power. . . .

At times, a biblical book or verse appears as [an] omen within a different prophetic medium—namely, a dream—or alternatively springs to a person’s mind upon waking up: “If one rises early and a Scriptural verse comes to his mouth, this is a kind of minor prophecy” (Babylonian Talmud, Brakhot 55b and elsewhere). At other times, the verse does not appear in the dream itself but can be used to interpret the dream. . . .

[Even Bible] commentators and Jewish legists with a sharply rationalistic orientation . . . accorded bibliomancy exceptional status. Moses Maimonides (1138-1204), the most outspoken opponent of magic, astrology, and divination, himself ruled that “if one asks a child, ‘What verse are you learning?’ and he responds with a verse from [Moses’] blessings [of the Israelites], it is permitted for one to rejoice and say, ‘That is a lucky sign.’” Still, he limited the power of the omen to revealing information about events already in the past and to situations where receiving the sign would not lead to any sort of practical course of action.

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More about: Hebrew Bible, Josephus, Moses Maimonides, Religion & Holidays, Talmud, Vilna Gaon

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror