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The Clever Art of Psychic Deception

By Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum

The art of conjuring is said to be the second-oldest profession and was once the carefully guarded secret weapon of the priests who used it to establish a belief in their avoda zara among a gullible public. Clever charlatans have always used it to make a quick buck. The biggest moneymakers are the ones who camouflage themselves as psychic kabbalistic palm readers or kesubah readers etc. That’s because people are very naive when it concerns the mysterious powers of kabbalah about which we know nothing. Many very clever people have been suckered out of lots of money by con artists masquerading as kabbalists. The easiest to fool are usually the sick, destitute, and needy, who fall for these conjurers like bees for honey.

Once I substituted in an English class, and decided to teach a lesson on this subject. Before entering the classroom I did a careful check in the office and learned about some of the students I was about to teach.
When I came into the class, I told them that I had been studying the art known as “Chochmas Hayad” better known as palm reading from one of the m’kubolim who had just come into town and I wondered if it actually worked. I got into a discussion with the class on this subject and listened to their many opinions. Some were quite skeptical while others were big believers. I told them that I’m pretty new at it and I wanted to give it a try to see if it really worked. I thereupon made what seemed to them to be a random choice and asked a boy to step up to the front of the class.

I again explained that it was a very deep mystical subject that I was studying, and that even if I failed it would not prove that there is no such thing. All it would prove is that I still wasn’t good at it.  I stressed that it was just an experiment.

I now took the boy’s hand and pretended to carefully study its features, making all sorts of facial expressions as I examined it. I then began in very halting words, spacing them carefully, and giving the impression that I wasn’t really sure of what I was seeing.

“You have one brother and two sisters” I said to him, all the while giving him a questioning look as if to say I’m not very sure. When he said that I was right, I acted surprised and continued giving the reading. After scratching my head a number of times and going into what seemed to be deep concentration, I asked him in a very unsure and uncertain voice if it was possible that his father was a lawyer? “Yes” was his immediate answer. I, acted surprised myself at my accurate results, and continued with my clever act. “You seem to have a good head for math, but are quite poor in spelling? Is that correct?” I asked. He now nodded his head vigorously as the class listened in astonished silence. “You seem to be a very big worrier, but if I were you I wouldn’t really worry so much since this line here tells me that you’ll be very rich and you’ll find a very nice girl to marry.” Now the class cracked up and began laughing and I, of course, laughed along.

By now, the class seemed more than willing to accept my kabbalistic knowledge even though I tried playing it down. They now begged me to do another reading, but I explained, that I had to cover the assignment the teacher had left for them. Finally I told them I would do just one more, and chose another boy at “random.”
I carefully examined the boy’s hand while at the same time making all sorts of facial expressions, which added some authenticity to my act.

This time, I began by giving him his exact date of birth and made believe that I myself was quite shocked at having gotten it right. I played this game in order to divert their attention from suspecting the truth. I continued that he had either a sister or brother, but I couldn’t clearly see which it was. He admitted that he had a twin brother and sister. The class was now filled with excitement as my readings were right on target, but I continued downplaying my abilities.

I now paused for a while looking very engrossed and concentrated, and then said as follows. “You seem to have some problems getting along with others”-to which more than half the class nodded in agreement. I quickly continued by saying that it looked as if he was a very good athlete but was also a little conceited. Now the whole class burst out in applause and he laughed along. I now proceeded to say that perhaps he didn’t always obey his parents, to which he nodded his head quite vigorously. I continued making some random guesses that applied to most kids, such as your parents seem to find it very difficult to get you out of bed in the morning etc.

By now I had most of the kids convinced that I was a very good palm reader after all, and some of them even asked me if I could teach them how to do it.  I said that perhaps I would soon reveal some of the methods, but only on condition that they keep it secret, since I’m not sure I’m allowed to teach this holy concept to anyone. I also asked them if any of their parents had ever gone to any of these kabbalists, and some of them answered in the affirmative. One of them in fact told me that his father had gone to a kesubah reader, who had charged him over $1,000 to have his kesubah rewritten. When I asked him why his father had gone, he told me that there was a sickness in the family and the kabbalist had blamed it on the faulty kesubah. When I asked him if the person was now well he replied that the person had unfortunately died a month later, and that his father was very disappointed at the mekubal’s advice.

I now decided that it was time to reveal myself to them and teach them the lesson I wanted them to learn. I slowly began to tell them how they’d all been scammed by my simple tricks, which I’d learned by reading some books on the subject. I also read them an article that appeared in the December Readers Digest titled “My Life as a Phone Psychic” that left a strong impression on them. I then took out the sefer titled “Tomim Tiheyah im Hashem Elokecha” written by some leading mekubalim, and read some paragraphs to them which explained that there is no such thing today as a psychic or palm reader. It’s all a clever art of deception. While there are many other methods of deception, exposing them all could fill a book. I felt that at least I had convinced these boys to think twice before falling for this ancient scam.

When I once wanted to test the skills of a well-known kesubah reader who posed as a holy mekubal, I had a non-married friend of mine who was a great actor, go to see him. I provided him with a phony kesubah and he concocted up some fake story about having two sick children, which he told to the “mekubal’sgabbi. He wasn’t at all surprised when the kesubah reader told him that he had found a mistake in the kesubah which led him to believe that he had two sick children, and that for only $1,000 he would write him another one, and with this his children would have a speedy recovery. My friend thanked him for his deep insights and said he was going home to talk it over with his wife. So much for his brilliant readings!

While many of us may be school smart and can get a 100% on a math test, most of us are not very street smart and can easily be taken for a ride by a clever con artist.  Hopefully, my readers will have learned the lesson as well.

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