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In order to avoid the prohibited, we must first know what it is.

What is the halachic definition of Kishuf ("magic")?

While I am mainly interested in sources, Svaras (reasonings) and thoughts are welcome too.

Here is my own current theory as an example:

Kishuf is a non-kabbalistic cause-and-effect that consistently works while the majority of that generation's scientists would claim it should not work.

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    למאי נפקא מינה? – Scimonster Jan 15 '15 at 15:09
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    possible duplicate of How are sorcery or witchcraft viewed in Judaism and Jewish Mysticism? – DanF Jan 15 '15 at 20:07
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    @DanF I don't think so. This question wants to know what is the technical definition of kishuf, while that question explores what Judaism thinks about kishuf. Those are two different questions, I think. – Shokhet Jan 15 '15 at 20:31
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    my point is that it might not be possible to "handle" new cases today, without the tradition of which practices are prohibited; see Gemara linked. But the Rambam (at least as understood by the Gra) didn't believe that magic was anything that scientists couldn't explain, it was merely trickery. Some of the Geonim (R. Shmuel ben Hofni, R. Hai) held this view explicitly – הנער הזה Jan 15 '15 at 21:46
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    @NBZ 1. it would be really weird for the Torah to prohibit something that can't occur (I know some have this view regarding certain cases, I think that the Rambam disagrees, but that's another matter) 2. There are cases in the Gemara where people were tried for witchcraft 3. See Sefer Hamitzvos Lo Taaseh 32, where the Rambam disagrees with your definition, and the Radvaz (Metzudas David 61) connects with the understanding that the Rambam has regarding the possibility of magic, and so do many other poskim – הנער הזה Jan 15 '15 at 22:39
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Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 166:4 says that even slight of hand tricks are considered magic and that they should not be viewed or performed.

At least a partial answer.

  • OK, so even slight of hand tricks are considered magic. What does the even refer to? What is the main group of activities that are magic such that slight of hand can be associated with it? – Adám Jan 30 at 7:33
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Bavli Sanhedrin 67a states:

A SORCERER, IF HE ACTUALLY PERFORMS MAGIC, IS LIABLE [TO DEATH]. BUT NOT IF HE MERELY CREATES ILLUSIONS. R. AKIBA SAID IN R. JOSHUA'S NAME: OF TWO WHO GATHER CUCUMBERS [BY MAGIC] ONE MAY BE PUNISHED AND THE OTHER EXEMPT: HE WHO REALLY GATHERS THEM IS PUNISHED: WHILST HE WHO PRODUCES AN ILLUSION IS EXEMPT.

Sanhedrin 67b further clarifies:

Abaye said: The laws of sorcerers are like those of the Sabbath: certain actions are punished by stoning, some are exempt from punishment, yet forbidden, whilst others are entirely permitted. Thus: if one actually performs magic, he is stoned; if he merely creates an illusion, he is exempt, yet it is forbidden; whilst what is entirely permitted? — Such as was performed by R. Hanina and R. Oshaia, who spent every Sabbath eve in studying the Laws of Creation, by means of which they created a third-grown calf and ate it.

Footnote: It thus all depends as to whose help is invoked in performing the miraculous.

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