The mishna in Sanhedrin 53a lists, among those subject to stoning:

  • a necromancer -- בעל אוב

  • a wizard (Soncino translation) or sorcerer (Sefaria) -- ידעוני

  • a sorcerer (Soncino) or warlock (Sefaria) -- מכשף

This last one is the subject of Shemot 22:17, מְכַשֵּׁפָה, לֹא תְחַיֶּה and also this question about what counts as magic.

Based on the English translation I assume that the first, the necromancer, does some sort of conjuring with the dead (though it doesn't say בעל מת). I don't know what nuances might exist when talking about the others, especially with the differences in translations.

How do these three categories relate? Are they all kishuf but the first two are more specific? Are they three different things? And what is a ידעוני?

  • Have you tried looking in an English dictionary to see if there are differences in the English language for the terms?
    – ezra
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 23:30
  • @ezra I didn't, because Jewish translations don't even agree and English dictionaries would give weight to sources Chazal don't, like fantasy novels. But I'll take a look and see if it brings any enlightenment. Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 23:42
  • We cannot use the English language to prove that the words in Hebrew have a difference, but it might enlighten us a bit on the matter.
    – ezra
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 23:52
  • @ezra the definitions I found are pretty circular: a sorcerer (= wizard) practices black magic, a wizard (= magician or sorcerer) practices magic, a warlock (= male witch, sorcerer) practices magic or sorcery, and necromancy is divination by communicating with the dead, black art, magic, sorcery, witchcraft, or conjuration. I don't think we're going to get much help from translations, which would be secondary anyway -- we have three distinct Hebrew terms, and I only (kind of) know what one of them is. Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 0:18
  • My favorite Yadoni is of course tifferes yisroel's who says it's an Orangutan.
    – user6591
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 20:46

1 Answer 1


בעל אוב וידעוני Art Scroll 53a2 note 21 says that

these are two different ways of communicating with the dead. This will be more fully described on 65a (Rashi)

מכשף Art Scroll 53a2 note 29 Rashi points to 67a-67b as to what is included in this category.

There are various English translations as to what they mean, but the gemara is a better source.

Art Scroll 65a1 Mishna

בעל אוב זה פיתום המדבר משחיו - this is a Pitom who speaks from his armpit 1

1 Pitom is a necromancer i.e. one who communicates with the dead. He does this by raising the spirit of a deceased from the ground and causing it to take up residence under his armpit, from where its voice emanates (Rashi; see Tiferes Yisrael #68; cf. Rambam and Raavad, Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 6:1, with Lechem Mishna; see also 65b note 11.

Next the mishna says

וידעוני זה המדבר בפיו - this is one who speaks through his mouth 2

2 The Gemara (65b) explains that this sorcerer takes a bone of the animal known as Yadua and places it in his mouth, from where a voice then emanates (Rashi, see also Rambam, ibid, #2).

The Mishna in Art Scroll 67a3 Note 28 say that a מכשף (a sorcerer) who actually does something, is subject to the death penalty. However, if he only creates an illusion, he has violated a prohibition, but is not subject to the death penalty.

28 [Literally seizes the eyes.] Only a sorcerer who actually does magic is liable to stoning, not one who creates an illusion of a supernatural act while actually doing nothing.

According to Rambam (Sefer Hmitzvos, Negative Commandment 32), the term האוחז את העינים refers to one who practices sleight of hand. [Although one who creates illusions or practices sleight of hand is not liable to the death penalty, he transgresses a prohibition (*Rambam ibid. and Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 11:9; see also Kesef Mishneh to ibid 11:15; *Yoreh Deah 179:15 with Shach #17)

29 I.e. two sorceres may be acting on a patch of cucumbers and causing the cucumbers to gather in one area

30 Only the one who actually gathers the cucumbers through sorcery is liable to stoning, not the one who creates the illusion that they gathered while in reality they did not move (Rashi)

Art Scroll 67a4 note 34 points out that the reason the pasuk refers to מְכַשֵּׁפָה (female) is because the most prevalent practitioners of this were women, but both men and women who do this are subject to stoning.

  • 1
    The animal's name is Yadua? I always assumed it was "its name is known [to the magician]"!
    – Heshy
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 20:19
  • @Heshy I quoted the note exactly as shown. Perhaps the name of the animal is because it gives knowledge to the user. Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 23:29

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