This verse in Parshat Kedoshim - Vayikra (Leviticus) 20:27, "A man or a woman who has a ghost or a familiar spirit shall be put to death; they shall be pelted with stones—their bloodguilt shall be upon them," is the last verse of the chapter. However, it appears to be in the wrong place. This verse should be much earlier in the chapter, specifically after verse 6 ("And if any person turns to ghosts and familiar spirits..."). In addition, the chapter has logically ended with the previous verse ("You shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy..."). #

I looked at all the usual commentators, and I didn't find an answer.

# Additionally, there is a paragraph break after this verse, and the next chapter is a new topic starting with "The Lord said to Moses..."


To my mind, it sums up an important idea -- that with all of the things that we have been taught to be forbidden in the quest for holiness, we might be tempted to justify them by attaching them to seemingly appropriate behavior. The final pasuk teaches that even if you try to justify improper behavior, it is still improper.

What I wrote years ago follows:

Kedoshim – Pasuk 27 indicates that if there is a man or woman “in whom there is” (asher bahem) “ov o yid’oni” – two types of necromancy as defined by Rashi and others on 19:31, the penalty is death. Rashi on 27 clarifies that the punishment is excision until there are proper witnesses and warning; this way, this pasuk is distinguished from 20:6. But why would Rashi find any connection between these 2 particular pesukim? In 20:6, the person involved (subject to Karet, excision or excommunication) was only turning to consult the necromancer whereas in 27, there was actual necromancy "in" the person deserving the punishment. Rashi could simply have invoked the Talmudic discussion (which references the same law in Devarim and is mentioned in Sanhedrin) which he alludes to in 19:31 about the difference between consulting and becoming a practitioner. A second point, though, is in the words ov and yid’oni. Both seem to refer to something which would be laudable – ov, similar to “av” or father (the [ancestral?] spirit/ghost consulted) or yid’oni (similar to the word “yode’a”, knowing). Looking for advice from a father or from a source of knowledge should be a commendable end, but if our means is through a forbidden necromancy, we cannot justify those ends and we cannot let even the quest for knowledge bind us to the abominable practices of the goyim.

Pure fancy on my part; take it for what it is worth.

  • +1 for the dvar torah, but I don't think it answers the question. Your point would be just as valid if the verse were 20:7 instead of 20:27.
    – Shmuel
    Apr 27 '14 at 8:11
  • Not if the point were to underscore every one of the behaviors proscribed in the text and not just that single one.
    – rosends
    Apr 27 '14 at 11:56

Abarbanel asks this exact question ("אין ספק שבא הפסוק הזה שלא במקומו"), and appears to answer that the reason is because a practitioner of these magics does not belong among the nation of Hashem ("ואין ראוי שישב בתוך עם ה"). It's possible to understand this as saying that the reason the verse is outside the rest of the chapter is to emphasize the degree that such a person should be banished from among the people.

But he does not say this explicitly.

Seforno says that the reason is to emphasize the capital punishment given to such a person.

ומאחר שהיתה הכונה בכל אלה לקדש את ישראל הנה מי שיסור מזה באוב או ידעוני אשר ענינם כולו ברוח טומאה על היפך כל המכוון ראוי שיסקל בלי ספק

However, I don't understand why this sin is singled out, as the beginning of the chapter talks about people who sacrifice their children to Molech, which seems to be much worse.

As noted in several places (ex. here), the fact that verse 27 is at the end forms a chiasm \ inclusio \ envelope around much of this chapter (between v.2-27 or v.6-27).

Daat Mikra writes (my translation; paraphrased)

The end of the chapter parallels the beginning (v. 6). The reason is to emphasize against these sins. The paragraph ends with one detail after it concluded the general rules, similar to Deut 14:21.

The purpose of this structure, and the special significance of Ov and Yidoni, is explained by R' Leibtag:

From a thematic angle, based on Sefer Devarim, OV & YID'ONI takes on additional significance. See Devarim 18:9-15 where the Torah forbids us to approach any type of 'future teller' or 'soothsayer' including the OV & YID'ONI. Note how similar those psukim are to Vayikra chapter 18!! There, the Torah explains how we must follow the guidance of a NAVI, and not look for guidance from those who use 'other methods'.

Every nation has its spiritual leaders. To become an AM KADOSH, we must be sure not to follow after these people who offer 'shortcuts' to spirituality by 'bringing up the dead' or 'reading palms' etc. As God's nation, we must recognize that our fate is solely in the hands of God, and thus a direct function of our deeds. Belief that certain events are pre-determined or believing that by bringing up the dead we can get an 'inside word' on what will happen, etc. negates the very basics of Judaism and our belief in 'hashgachat Hashem' as a function of our deeds. [see daily kriyat shma etc. / 've-akamal']

Academic scholarship (cf. Anchor Bible et al.) offers the following opinions:

  • Scribal error. This verse was meant to be included earlier in the chapter, but it was accidentally skipped and got inserted at the end instead.

  • Added later. This law was written later than the others, and was thus appended at a later date.

However, there is no evidence for either of these answers, and the second is particularly problematic.

Another opinion I saw is that this verse is a transition to the next chapter, which talks about Kohanim and dead bodies. (I don't see how, though. I get the dead connection, but don't see the leap to Kohanim.)

  • The first is also pretty problematic, no?
    – Scimonster
    Apr 27 '14 at 9:08
  • Yes, but less, because you could say that the verse is still the literal Word of God, but due to human error, ended up in the wrong spot. (Cut and pasted, but the text is the original.) Whereas the second assumes human authorship.
    – Shmuel
    Apr 27 '14 at 9:11

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