Thursday, February 03, 2011

Let's talk about Hasidic flimflam artists

Diagram via Josh Waxman
Hasidic miracle workers fall into one of two categories. Some are "open mediums"; others are "closed mediums." The difference is simple: An "open medium" is a scoundrel who deliberately rips people off, while a "closed medium" believes in his own supernatural powers, does not knowingly deceive anyone, and may honestly be a kind, and generous person who wishes only to help people.

It can be very difficult to tell the difference.  

Take, for example, the "fishy rebbe" discussed yesterday. His flyer is very suspicious, as it invites everyone and anyone "to arrange a personal meeting with the Rebbe for personal advice regarding health, parnassa, and family issues." Because very little can really be accomplished in a short meeting between strangers, the sentence strongly suggests that some miraculous intervention is on offer. If the rebbe honestly believes he has the ability to bless people and through the occult use of certain word to change our lives for the better, perhaps his invitation stops short of fraud, but its still nonsense: No such powers exist. Sincerely believing you posses such powers might make the invitation to share them an honest invitation but they do not make the powers real. 

Elsewhere some have attested to the Rebbe's abilities. Two people claim that he has ruach hakodesh or the ability to know things through means other than the human senses. Such claims have been made about many people, Jews and non-Jews alike, but the preponderance of the evidence argues strongly against the existence of such paranormal abilities. There are dozens of ways for a dishonest medium to fake clairvoyance, and even an honest closed medium who sincerely believes his own press can rely on his emotional intelligence to make it seem like he has a sixth sense.  

I don't know what kind of medium the fishy rebbe is; based on the testimony I've heard I'm prepared to concede that he's a fine fellow with noble ambitions, and no desire to cheat or defraud his adherents. The evidence, however, tells me that the powers he is believed to posses do not exist, and that the claims that are made in his name are false. And though I can't fault the rebbe for the things his followers say, or for having confidence in his own abilities, those who visit the Rebbe expecting his spells to alter their lives are still victims, and still mistaken for putting their faith in magic. 

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Anonymous said...

You can't judge a tree by its bark.

2nGnf 9cIcc 9nPng 4jKow 8xCzo 2hGsd 8nOqt 4tQjn 4dYno

Anonymous said...

Nature never deceives us; it is always us who deceive ourselves.

2rDgm 8hHis 0zMau 2zXet 1pXrk 3mUtr 4rUly 6wFui 7uPxo