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From the Desk - Demons

Shalom Friends! I hope this finds you well and that you’re enjoying the Winter as much as possible! At Beth Ora, we’re busy planning a series of initiatives and activities for the coming months. I want to remind you of the email we sent out yesterday. We are in the process of putting together a database of children associated with our community but we need your help. If you have any grandchildren or great-grandchildren in Montreal (aged 0-18), please send us their name and the year they were born so we can succeed in engaging the youngest generation of the Beth Ora family. I also want to remind you that next Shabbat (February 29th) we will be running our Annual Women’s Shabbat. Please join us for a special Shabbat morning service with communal participation and a special performance from our alternative choir! At the Kiddush, the women will be served by the men and given a special treat and I will be leading a discussion on the topic of “Judging People on Social Media.” We look forward to you joining us for this special community Shabbat. Please watch this space for more details of Beth Ora events! Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom! Rabbi Anthony and Carly Knopf Dovid, Rachelli, Yehuda and Avrami

What’s the Deal with…Demons? Rabbi Heshy Benshimon’s Daf Yomi Talmud class have recently come across passages in the Talmud which discuss “sheidim” or “mazikin” which are normally translated as demons. For example, the Sages banned consuming things in pairs for fear of demonic harm. Many of us do not actually believe in demons! Does that mean that we are rejecting a Jewish belief? What’s the deal? In researching this issue, I benefited from an article on the topic by Rabbi Shlomo Brody. There are at least four different approaches to this issue in Jewish thought. Many great Jewish thinkers were indeed insistent that demons exist. These include Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, and the Ramban (Nachmanides) who asserted that there was eyewitness testimony for their existence. Some Jewish thinkers were very strongly critical of those rabbis who didn’t believe in demons. For example Moshe Taku claimed that the great Biblical commentator Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra was killed by demonic dogs because he denied the existence of demons! Centuries later, the Vilna Gaon accused the Rambam (Maimonides) of being led astray by philosophy to denying demons! A second approach is the view that demons once existed but exist no longer. This idea is found in early medieval texts and was adopted by the prominent Kaballist Rabbi Shlomo Luria. The great Chassidic Master, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk even allegedly maintained that demons existed until the Rambam denied their reality at which point G-d, in respect to this scholarly master, removed them from the world! The third approach is the claim that the words “sheidim” and “mazkin” don’t actually refer to demons. Hence, the great Talmudic commentator Rabbi Menachem Meiri regularly interpreted these Talmudic passages as referring to evil thoughts or psychosomatic problems, rather than objective entities. According to the Meiri, we should decide on the basis of experience and investigation whether demons exist. We are not required to believe in them on the basis of these Talmudic passages. The fourth approach is to deny that demons existed at all. Many of the more philosophically minded rabbis in the middle ages believed that we must accept the authority of the Talmudic Sages on matters of Jewish law but that their views on demons are not binding. Hence, both the Rambam and Ralbag (Gersonides) contended that the view that demons exist is incorrect. In the 19th century, the great Jewish leader and thinker Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch contended that this dispute was irrespolvable and that people may adopt either position. What everyone agrees is that demon worship is certainly forbidden.

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