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A Fool Believes All

By Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum

The above phrase taken from the book of Proverbs authored by  the wise King Solomon, came to mind as I was reading an article in a magazine about “The Mysterious Powers of Orin Zarif” which claimed that he could drive a car while blindfolded, read peoples minds and all other such psychic nonsense. While I thought the article quite amusing and entertaining, I felt it should have appeared in the comedy section. I was shocked when I discovered later, that some readers actually believed that his claims were true! Are people actually so gullible as to believe it’s possible to bend spoons, blow out light bulbs, change the time of a watch, cure cancer or drive a motorcycle blindfolded just thinking and wanting it to happen? Don’t people realize that good magicians have performed far greater and more incredible feats? They’ve cut bodies apart and put them back together again, had themselves handcuffed and kept underwater for many hours, and disappeared in front of the amazed eyes of thousands of spectators, yet everyone in the audience knew that even the best of magic tricks were nothing but clever illusions.

Harry Houdini, one of the greatest magicians of all time, was always very careful to tell the world that every one of his amazing feats was nothing but a very clever trick and that no person in the world possessed any supernatural psychic abilities. Can one just imagine if he had told the world that his entire master escapes were done through some mystical means which he learned from his grandfather? Had he not revealed the true nature of his tricks, I bet that to this very day there would be thousands of people who would be convinced that he had the ability to change nature. Many people have a great capacity to believe in anything that seems to be related to mysticism, and no amount of convincing can change their opinion. Fortunately  Houdini did nothing of the sort, and his brilliant feats are explained in many books on the subject.

Orin Zarif let the cat out of the bag when he admitted that he was a big fan of Uri Geller. Those from the older generation (the 70’s) surely remember this Israeli con-artist who claimed to possess psychic powers and could bend metal spoons and keys just by willing it to happen. He gained worldwide fame and was featured on many television programs, and in newspaper and magazine articles. His powers were even confirmed by a prestigious research institute, whose scientists tested his psychic abilities and found them to be true. An article even appeared in the magazine Nature confirming his psychic abilities.

He would still be around today and making millions, if not for one very clever magician named James Randi who exposed Geller’s entire bag of tricks and showed that he used very clever deception. The driving while being blindfolded, by the way, is an old magic trick that doesn’t take much to figure out. And while a good magician could fool a group of scientists, he couldn't fool another clever magician. And so when Uri Geller once appeared on the Johnny Carson show, James Randi tipped them off as to what to look for, and that night Geller lost his psychic abilities. Nothing seemed to work right. He blamed his failure on the negative vibes that filled the air and explained to the audience that there were moments in time that his psychic abilities seemed to leave him for some strange reason. Little did the audience realize the true reason for his problem. And so, despite his failure, people continued to believe that he actually possessed special psychic abilities, even though all he possessed was the art of deception.

When James Randi later published a book entitled “The Truth About Uri Geller” in which he exposed him for the fraud he was, Geller immediately sued him for ruining his reputation. In court, Randi performed all of Geller’s bending tricks exposing his methods as well. He won the case and Geller had to pay him for all the court fees. After Geller was shown to be a fraud his name soon disappeared from the headlines. Today’s younger generation never even heard of him. Randi explained that had Geller admitted that he was simply a magician, he would not have exposed him. It’s when one claims to be a psychic that he becomes dangerous since sick people may actually believe his nonsensical claims.

Geller was not the only fraud that Randi exposed. Another con artist that he unmasked was a very famous evangelist by the name of Peter Popoff, who claimed that “god” communicates with him and gives him special powers to heal the sick. Popoff appeared on radio and television shows around the country making millions from his thousands of admirers who all personally witnessed his “cures”. They swore that he was the real thing, as he seemed able to know their names and what was ailing them, as well as other personal information.  He would seemingly cure people of cancer and other diseases in front of cheering crowds of thousands, who fell for his nonsense. His career came to an end when Randi exposed him on the “Tonight Show” as a master scam artist. He proved that Popoff had a tiny hearing aid in his left ear, connected to a high-frequency receiver, used by his informers to give him the needed information, and that all his healing powers were a fraud. People would fill out special healing cards before they entered the show and his wife would secretly broadcast the information to him. The audience was amazed at how they had been so cleverly fooled and that spelled the end of Popoff’s career. If not for Randi, he’d still be around today and many naive Jews would probably believe that he possessed the secret powers of tum’ah, with which he was able to perform his miraculous cures.

This would not have been the first time in history that the priests and evangelists have used their trickery to deceive their worshipers. The Talmud in Mesechta Sanhedrin tells us that Yerovom ben Nevot used a magnet to suspend the idol he had set up in Dan to give it the appearance of possessing mystical powers.

James Randi set up an educational foundation that offers $1,000,000 to anyone who can demonstrate any paranormal feat under the proper observing conditions. Many have tried for the prize money, but so far all have failed. Since the money is still unclaimed, I challenge Orin Zarif to prove his claims, if only to show the world that he’s not another fraud. If he doesn’t need the money, then I’m sure there are many good causes he can give it to. Until that moment, let’s all remember King Solomon’s dictum “A fool believes all!”

P.S. Those who are curious to learn how these tricks work can order Randi’s book by calling 1-954-467-1112. Since I’ve already exposed some of the clever tricks used by these con artists in another section of this book, there is no need to repeat myself here.

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