May 28, 2024
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May 28, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

This response is referencing this article by David Zinberg, and Rabbi Gil Student also responded here.

 

Thank you to David Zinberg for a well-reasoned and cogent argument against allowing those offering segulos (charms or good omens) by mekubalim (Kabbalists), also referred to as “charismatics,” to advertise in our newspaper. We are honored that we can serve as a forum for larger issues faced by the Orthodox community, and this topic is certainly of great interest to many.

In formulating our response, we asked for and received comments from five members of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, who delivered frank opinions. We also asked individuals who have met such people, and some who have hosted them in their communities. People reported both positive and negative opinions, both good and bad experiences, and we found that it was difficult to lump them altogether, as people had many things to say about this diverse array of community visitors.

The main message we got from our querying, however, was that many people in our community don’t believe that such mekubalim are “miracle workers” with “divine powers,” as Mr. Zinberg describes. In fact, we at the Jewish Link agree with them, and to a small extent, with Mr. Zinberg as well. But the halachic precedents that allow such people to advertise in our paper is a separate matter, and is something that we asked Rabbi Gil Student to address on our behalf. (See his article next to ours.)

Most of the people we spoke to were accustomed to the “aggressive marketing campaigns,” advertising segulos, as such campaigns are extremely common in magazines and newspapers published most often from Brooklyn, representing the more Chassidic or “black hat” populations than those here in our corner of New Jersey. In other communities and frum publications, advertisements for “yeshuos” seem as commonplace as ads for dental services or car servicing.

We found that our community rabbis are as diversely opinionated about this as the general population seems to be. We received on-the-record comments from community rabbis who consider “discussing matters with wise people of great value,” and we also heard from others who “discourage others from placing their faith in any mortal man.” We have included some of their comments here anonymously, so as not to bring any one of them into public discord with any other.

One rabbi quoted the Chasam Sofer, indicating that “there are people whose concern for others is so deeply felt that their prayers will have a special place with the Ribbono Shel Olam.”

Another said it was fine to seek advice from any wise person, but warned that “to ascribe magical powers to someone who will solve all of one’s problems (bestow good health, prosperity, a shidduch, a job etc.) denigrates God.”

Yet another community rabbi shared that he believes these mekubalim represent a form of exploitation, and he feels “my religion is being hijacked” by such people, especially those who request a fee for service. He noted that he strongly discourages anyone who asks him from visiting such people; He described a negative experience in which he believed a congregant was duped out of many thousands of dollars by such a person. The same day, another local rabbi told us that there are legitimate talmidei chachamim who specialize in kabbalah, and that these people exist now and they always have. He said to lump together all people who advertise in such a way is a mistake, because there have likely been visits from those who are “the real deal” as well as frauds, he surmised.

The same rabbi told us that if such people are invited into our area shuls, their posters are up in the shuls and their announcements appear in the shul announcements, then what the Jewish Link does is not at all out of the realm of what the rest of the Orthodox community is doing. Another rabbi told us that he believed it would be impossible for the Jewish Link to assess whether a charismatic was a “wise man” or a fraud. “How are you going to determine who is wise and saintly and who is a charming actor?” he asked.

Experience with Mekubalim, Mystics, etc.

One woman we spoke to said that a rebbe she met when she was single looked at a list she offered of people’s Hebrew names, and he asked her specific questions about one of them. She indicated to us that the name was someone she was considering marrying and unique from the others on the list, and that there was no way the rebbe could have known this. Unsolicited, he advised her against marrying the person, and she followed his suggestion.

Another man we know was “cured” from a bacterial heart infection about 20 years ago when a rebbe recommended he drink caraway-seed tea. He had a central line installed to his heart to facilitate the antibiotics he was receiving in a National Institute of Health (NIH) study, but the prognosis was poor. After meeting with the rabbi, his wife took a Thermos of the caraway-seed tea to her husband, who had tubes and wires and sensors monitoring his precarious position. In under 10 days, the infection was gone.The couple, mind you, isn’t into magical spells or miracle cures. This was a wife’s last desperate act to save her husband’s life. The man, who now lives in Brooklyn, still drinks caraway-seed tea.

Another person, who has hosted a rebbe is his home for the past 10 years, said that 100 people, YU graduates and other professionals, attended a recent seudah shlishis held with this rebbe, and that he is seen as a spiritual guide or mentor sought out by a range of people, and not at all someone from whom one must purchase yeshuos.

Yet another couple we know, who was struggling to have children, shared that meeting with a particular rebbe helped them focus their davening to pray for what they really needed, and that the prayers were calming and restorative. Their fertility problems were resolved the same year.

A couple we spoke to had a very negative experience after traveling a great distance to see a rebbe about their special needs daughter.

Another single young woman complained to anyone who would listen that she wasn’t meeting the right man for marriage. Coincidentally, a special rabbi from Israel was visiting suburban Detroit. At the nudging of her friends, she visited the elderly rabbi, who told her that her besheret was in Chicago. Weeks later, she attended a singles Shabbaton in Chicago. She’s been married now for over 15 years to the man she met there.

A man told us that while he enjoyed meeting a rebbe who visited the community, he found the rebbe’s “sales pitch” to give Tzedakah to his charity jarring and out of the realm of his means, and he decided not to contribute and ‘bear the consequences.’

Concluding Thoughts

Some of us parents remember that prior to our first child’s birth, we spent a great deal of time interviewing pediatricians. We asked questions about vaccinations, well baby care and what we could expect in term of speedy access to the doctor. Perhaps a friend recommended a particular practice or perhaps we saw the practice advertised in the Link or another publication.

We fully hope that every professional who advertises with us gives caring service. But if there is a doctor or social worker or dentist who advertises who doesn’t have a good bedside manner, gave you questionable advice on care or you discover their response time to your phone calls was way too long, it doesn’t follow that their advertising should be rejected.

A segula is not for everybody. But many Jewish people seek out advice from such people, sometimes as the last vestige of hope they have, in situations of great spiritual strain. Of course, everyone should check with their own rabbi; for sure talk to people you trust first.

Like most anyone else, a mekubal can advertise in the Jewish Link. However, if we learn that an individual person advertising segulas are inappropriate or damaging, then of course we would reserve the right to reject his advertisements, as we would any professional who has engaged in malpractice.

How do we find this out? Largely through you, our readers. Remember, the Link is like a mirror. We want you to see yourself and your family, friends and neighbors in our pages. So that’s why we would rely on your feedback concerning any news article or advertisement we publish.

This segula discussion has created a healthy dialogue. We hope you think so too.

By Elizabeth Kratz and Phil Jacobs

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