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Beware of Kabalistic Scams

By Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum

Frauds, charlatans, quacks, and con artists have been with us since time immemorial and have outwitted even the very great, clever and wise. One of the most powerful ways to scam the naïve or gullible is to give the scam some Kabalistic twist. While charlatans exist in every profession and come in every shade and color, the most dangerous are the ones making fraudulent kabbalistic claims. That's because people are easily deceived by these mystical claims. Shabtai Tzvi took full advantage of this fact and used it to fool thousands as did many others throughout history.

Kabalistic claims all carefully camouflaged with Torah sources and accompanied by some chance miraculous cures can bring one instant fame and lots of money and can get people flocking to them by the masses. They attract the destitute, sick and brokenhearted that desperately seek a miracle cure to end their great suffering, pain and misery. It's remarkable to see how easily people are fooled by anyone claiming that they possess kabalistic powers.

Throughout history, the biggest scam artists were the priests of the avodah zorah who misled the masses in the name of religion. These charlatan faith healers, like today's evangelists, made a thriving business scamming people with their clever psychic tricks. They sell their believers all sorts of stones, amulets, charms, and even blessed waters which they claim bring their wearers all sorts of miraculous cures.

There are two great secrets of the quack's success. One is the fact that many human ills, including some of the severest, will run their course and vanish without treatment of any sort, and others are wholly or in part psychosomatic. Many fortunetellers and spiritualists take advantage of their chance successes to defraud people of thousands of dollars.

Newspapers must be very careful and not allow these scam artists to advertise their fraud in their papers since they are thereby allowing them to promote their fraud and even lending them credibility. Some of these kabalistic scam artists have succeeded in convincing many intelligent people that their kabalistic charms have the power and ability to cure cancer as well as many other incurable diseases.

Recently, I have come across a company that is in the business of selling all sorts of kabalistic charms that they claim have miraculous powers. They will sell you differently designed silver cups and what they call “breastplate stones” and even biblical art that they claim will bring you wealth, happiness, provide you with strength, vigor and energy. They claim that their gems will treat jaundice in babies, prevent bedwetting, stabilize blood pressure, build confidence and self esteem. They sell gems for strengthening the immune system and general health, cure hyperactivity, hemorrhoids and their list goes on and on. All they need do is to score some chance hits and soon they’ll be racking in millions as the gullible and naïve booster their claims with nonsensical testimonials of their own. I just wonder if they come with a money back guarantee?

The priests that convinced the people to serve Avodah Zorah were all clever scam artists who sold all sorts of holy oils and other “holy artifacts” to fill their coffers with lots of gold and silver. A story is told of a priest who claimed that his idol had the power to make the blind see. As proof, he brought this young boy who supposedly had never seen in his life and asked him to bow down to the idol. Suddenly the boy began to shout, "I see. I see!" Thereupon a clever rabbi held out a colored kerchief and asked him what color it was. When he replied that it was red, the hoax was exposed. After all, how could someone who had never seen a color, be able to know what the color red looked like.

Selling people all sorts of “Biblical art” and claiming that it possesses similar powers to a mezuzah or tefillin is highly questionable since even a mezuzah or tefillin have absolutely no powers of protection when worn as a necklace or when affixed to one’s living room wall.

Comparing or claiming that these charms have similar healing powers of the Copper Serpent put up by Moshe in the desert is indeed a very serious problem. That’s because we all know that even Moshe’s Copper Serpent was dismantled by King Chiskiyahu when people turned it into an idol believing that it had powers of its own. Its original purpose of getting people to look up at it and realize that it was G-d who was sending the snakes on account of the loshon horah people were speaking was defeated. Instead, it was turned into an avoda zarah.

While the Rabbeinu Bachai ( see Parshas T’zaveh ) tells us that the precious stones of the Choshen or the one worn by Avrohom Ovinu had great powers, one ought realize that even the stones on the Chosen did not light up unless the Urim V’tumim (G-d’s Holy Names) were placed inside of it. Wearing such stones in order to cure one’s sicknesses may actually constitute avoda zarah just as the Copper Serpent was during the time of King Chiskiyahu. Yet, even according to the Rabbeinu Bachhai, these curative powers would only apply to the very expensive emeralds used in the Choshen such as the ruby and other precious stones that cost thousands of dollars and certainly not to these stones being sold for a few dollars. To claim that these are the very same stones in miniature is outright fraud.

Most recently, a very reputable and worthwhile charitable organization raised funds by selling bottles of blessed water to all those contributing $1000 or more. Making money by selling “kos shel bracha” or other “blessed waters” is highly unethical since many people are convinced that this will heal and bring salvation to all their troubles and forget to do teshuvah and pray to Hashem. While we certainly believe that there are true tzadikim whose blessings we seek, they certainly don't advertise their powers in the press and neither do they sell any of these “miraculous” holy gems, charms, or silver cups or charge for “kos shel bracha”. Selling these charms in the name of religion protects them from the law against fraud since they are sold as having religious powers. This is a clever way to avoid prosecution for fraud. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if very soon some very clever scam artist will refill these bottles of holy water and sell them at 50% off in the local supermarket since as we know we are able to refill the wine of “kos shel bracha” and it never loses its blessed powers!

While religious Jews certainly believe in the great power of tzedaka, teshuvah, and prayer, as well as the powers of mezuzah and tefillin, and even halacha permits wearing certain amulets, the Torah clearly forbids the belief in superstitions and even our greatest tzadikim who certainly knew the powers of all stones never sold them or used them to heal others. Sometimes they may even be forbidden as being “darkei Emori” since the priests and church do the very same thing. In order to understand this very difficult subject and to know all the halachic ramifications of wearing amulets etc. I suggest you read an important and excellent sefer titled "Faith and Folly" (Feldheim distributors) a translation of Tomim Thiyeh in Hebrew written by Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Hillel, a great kabalist of our times.

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