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Are there Jewish sources which affirm the validity of the art of palm-reading? If yes, how does this work. i.e. what is the underlying idea behind it.

(the reason I ask, is because I actually met someone in Jerusalem years ago with a thick book of haskomos (approbations) from reliable Rabbis about his palmreading skills. Even Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, in private, said of him that he has a "mesorah" (tradition) on the art.)

  • For an example of looking at one's palms in a (possibly) different context, see Tur (OC 298, regarding looking at one's hands during havdala): "We have heard from elders who say that there is a siman in the lines of the palm, by which to be blessed." – Fred Jan 26 '15 at 23:24
  • I beleive Ruchama Shain writes in one of her books about a talmid of the Mir? who told peoples fortunes from palm reading during the escape from Europe. (It may have been "Go My Son" by Chaim Shapiro, It's been a long time since i read the story) – SamuelManuel Feb 24 '16 at 18:15
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Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman citing the Zohar says that Moshe Rabeinu selected judges by reading the lines on their hands.

The Zohar notes that Moses was told to choose the judges by "seeing" them, from which the Zohar learns that Moses was to perceive their qualities in the appearance of their hair, forehead, countenance, eyes, lips and lines in their hands.

However he says it may only be used to ascertain if one is worthy of a position or to improve oneself, not to know the future.

It is important to stress that in Judaism, reading the face and palm was used only to help ascertain whether one was worthy of a certain position or knowledge, or to help improve oneself. However, reading the face and palms in order to tell the future is a violation of the prohibition against divining auspicious times (Leviticus 19:26), and the commandment to have perfect faith (Deuteronomy 18:13).

Someone once sent a letter to the renowned Torah luminary, Rabbi E. M. Shach of blessed memory:

It is known that the lines of a person’s hand reveal his future, and I have seen on others that it comes true. After reading books on the subject, I looked at my hand and saw that the lines of marriage reveal a dark future. What I have seen gives me no rest, especially now that I have come of marriageable age.

Rabbi Shach replied:

It is absolutely forbidden to read palms [to see the future] or to believe what is seen in them. The Torah states, "You shall be perfectly faithful to Hashem your G-d". We must rely only on G-d. All else is nonsense. Do not worry about what you saw in your palm. You were simply shown what you wanted to see, for "in the path that a person wishes to go, he is led".

  • thanks. do you also have a source as to the idea of how it works? – ray Jan 26 '15 at 17:44
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    According to the Kabbalah, the way palm reading works is that when a soul is garbed in a body, it becomes imprinted in the body, particularly in the face and hands, and its nature can thereby be revealed. One who knew how to read the face and palms could use this knowledge to determine who is suitable for leadership, as in the Zohar’s account of Moses’ choice of judges, or to discern who was worthy of learning the Torah’s secrets. Face and palm reading could also be used to expose the soul’s flaws so that they could be rectified through repentance and good deeds, as did the Arizal. – Gershon Gold Jan 26 '15 at 17:46
  • interesting. question is how does Rabbi Ullman know it becomes "imprinted" in the hands, and what does that mean?? – ray Jan 27 '15 at 17:37
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    if relevant to others, the letter from R Schach is in Michtavim uMa'amarim 3:255 – mbloch Feb 24 '16 at 18:09
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The Rambam in the Laws of Idolatry, Chapter 11 speaks very harshly regarding these types of practices. After extensively listing these practices he says:

Halacha 16

All the above matters are falsehood and lies with which the original idolaters deceived the gentile nations in order to lead them after them. It is not fitting for the Jews who are wise sages to be drawn into such emptiness, nor to consider that they have any value as [implied by Numbers 23:23]: "No black magic can be found among Jacob, or occult arts within Israel." Similarly, [Deuteronomy 18:14] states: "These nations which you are driving out listen to astrologers and diviners. This is not [what God... has granted] you."

Whoever believes in these kinds of things and similar practices and, in his heart, thinks that they are true and words of wisdom, but are forbidden by the Torah, is foolish and feebleminded. He is considered like ... children who have underdeveloped intellects.

The masters of wisdom and those of perfect knowledge know with clear proof that all these crafts which the Torah forbade are not reflections of wisdom, but rather, emptiness and vanity which attracted the feebleminded and caused them to abandon all the paths of truth. For these reasons, when the Torah warned against all these empty matters, it advised [Deuteronomy 18:13]: "Be of perfect faith with God, your Lord."

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    Although I agree with you that this is an important source in this area, I don't see how it answers the question, which is looking for affirmative sources. – Isaac Moses Jan 27 '15 at 4:35
  • @IsaacMoses Thanks for the comment. I was struggling with that. It would seem according to the Rambam there are no valid Torah sources that would hold such a thing. So I guess in that sense it is a response to the question "Are there Jewish sources which affirm the validity of the art of palm-reading? If yes..." So technically it is responding to the question asked. The answer according to the Rambam is "NO". Although there are positions that would disagree and say the Rambam is wrong and there are valid Torah positions that hold of Palm Reading. Would that satisfy the posting requirement? – RCW Jan 27 '15 at 6:12
  • Would the Rambam say that the other sources don't exist? – Isaac Moses Jan 27 '15 at 6:14
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    @IsaacMoses ...or that they aren't Jewish? – Double AA Jan 27 '15 at 6:19
  • @IsaacMoses Good question. He does quote: "כי לא נחש ביעקב ולא קסם בישראל" – RCW Jan 27 '15 at 6:21
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My reference for this sort of question is a book by R Yaakov Hillel called Faith & Folly. R Hillel is a real mekubal that tries to debunk all sorts of superstitions and sort out those that have a halachic basis from those that are forbidden. His book has haskamot (approbations) from R Elyashiv, R Schach, R Zalman Auerbach, R Kanievski, R Kaduri, R Sternbuch and many others.

On palm reading he writes that this art was known to earlier Sages but disappeared over time. Today it is not authentic and shouldn't be relied on (pp. 75-77)

From the Tannaitic through the Gaonic eras, Sages who knew the Torahs secrets knew also how to read faces and palms, and they passed the knowledge down fron one to the other (R Sherira Gaon, R Chai Gaon, Responsa of the Geonim 122). [...] Like the other secrets of the Torah, the knowledge of reading faces and palms has been lost. All that remains is a corrupt remnant (Ramban, Derush Torah Temimah). The physiognomists and palmists of today have turned a lofty wisom into a trivial pursuit.

Telling the future by reading palms is a violation of

  • the prohibition against divining auspicious times (Lechem Mishneh, Mishneh Torah, Avoda Zara 11:9)
  • the commandment to have perfect faith (R Gestetner in approbation to Tamim Tiheyeh)

On your question of "how does it work?", he writes

The roots of souls are in the Divine emanations (sefirot). When a soul is garbed in a body, the soul reveals its roots and its nature in the body, particularly in the face. One who knows how to read the face can then expose the souls flaws so they can be rectified through repentance and good deeds (Or HaChammah on the Zohar Yitro, s.v. "v'atah techezeh"). This knowledge was given to the Sages of Israel so that they would know who was suitable for leadership (Zohar ibid) or worthy of learning the Torah's secrets.

He has slightly more positive things to say about physiognomy (reading a person's face) saying Moshe possessed this wisdom (but didn't use it), the Arizal had it, used it (he could see on a person's forehead what sins he had committed) but refused to transmit it to his disciple R Chaim Vital, and it got lost.

  • seems what rabbi hillel says to public is not same as private as in the question – ray Feb 24 '16 at 22:10
  • @ray yes I saw this. Wasn't too sure how you knew what R Hillel is saying in private and didn't mean to contradict you but on the other side his book is for me the reference on the topic so wanted to bring up his own words – mbloch Feb 25 '16 at 4:21
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    i asked him about this palmreading guy through one of his talmidim. that was his response. @mbloch – ray Feb 25 '16 at 6:25
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The Minchas Shmuel pg.257 brings down a few shittos. He brings Rav Sternbuch (Tshuvos v'hanhagos 1:454 )who writes that from strict halacha it isnt prohibited,but one who does is lacking "Tamim Teyiyeh(being completely faithful to HaShem).

He also brings the Rama 664 who also seems not prohibit such a thing. In truth the Zohar (Parshas Yisro) brings such an idea that the palms of a person has hints to their mazal. However,regarding Klal Yisroel everything is based on tefillah and good deeds . It is therefore not always clear to the reader what they are seeing,and it is correct to rely on HaShem.

The Yam Hachachma Siman 13:9 seems to distinguish between one who knows how to read palms and one who can read plams from the secrets of the Torah,with the latter not being prohibited. However, the L'horos Nasan 4:79 seems to assur this,as well as the Ramak (Ohr Yakar).

The common denominator is that one would not lose out if they rely solely on HaShem (tamim teyiyeh). In contrast to using mediums to predict the future may be crossing over to things which may be prohibited.

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