Magic, Monotheism and Natural Evil

Classical and Modern Jewish Responses to Suffering

Authored by: Lawrence Troster

The Routledge Companion to Religion and Science

Print publication date:  October  2011
Online publication date:  March  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415492447
eBook ISBN: 9780203803516
Adobe ISBN: 9781136634178


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There is a long and varied history of Jewish responses to the problem of suffering. The pre-modern explanations for suffering existed on a sliding scale that ranged between the poles of a magical/theurgic and a strict monotheistic world-view. The magical/theurgic world-view assumed the existence of demons and angels that are semi-independent of divine control. In this world-view, human beings have the ability to tap into magic power that enables them to control the forces of evil and suffering and allows them to perform “operations intended to influence the Divinity, mostly in its own inner state or dynamics, but sometimes also in its relationship to man” (Idel 1988: 157). These operations usually consisted of the traditional rituals and practices, but also included magical rites and objects. While it may be objected that this world-view is pagan or polytheistic, and thus outside of a normative Judaism, a broad definition of monotheism as it is actually practiced can include such a perspective (Sommer 2009: 145–47).

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