Throughout much of history, these traits of mine would surely have gotten me stoned or burned at the stake. And, this negative reaction to those with a sixth sense, in part, stems straight from our Torah, specifically this week’s Parsha, Mishpatim. In line 22:17, God tells the Israelites, “You shall not allow a sorceress to live.” This verse was, for all intents and purposes, the cause of the marginalization and persecution among pre-modern women in Christian Europe and later Colonial America. Scholars think that about 40,000 to 60,000 women were put to death through witch trials and lynchings between 1480 and 1750.
What strikes me about this line amidst all the laws outlined in Mishpatim is the prohibition of magic and the use of feminine sorceress and not the masculine sorcerer.
It is undeniable that God performs a plethora of grandiose magic in the Torah. We’ve got burning bushes that aren’t consumed, rivers waters turning into blood, seas parting, manna falling from the sky, a being moving around within a cloud, and on and on. So, when God tell us that we need to kill anyone who is a sorceress, he isn’t prohibiting magic, per se (at least not in this portion), he is outlawing magic performed by women.
In an explanation of this verse, Rashi, knowing there was no difference between sorcery by a woman and by a man, explained the use of the feminine as follows: "Scripture speaks of what is usually the case; for it is mostly women who practice witchcraft." And, if you were really worried about the threat of a Jewish witch, the rabbi’s of the Talmud provided this curse: "May boiling excrement in a sieve be forced into your mouth, (you) witches! May your head go bald and carry off your crumbs; your spices be scattered, and the wind carry off the new saffron in your hands, witches!" Were the women of Biblical times and beyond practicing witchcraft to be evil and destructive? Or were women practicing witchcraft to restore order, to heal? I believe that it was truly the power found in feminine intuition and the instinctive ability to create natural remedies that was threatening to the masculine world. After all the title of the Torah portion Mishpatim means “laws” and these strict rules, surely written by men, were counter to those who thrive on visceral declarations.
Today, at least in the progressive western world, a fear of witches has turned to a fascination. The TV show Charmed thrives in syndication, Deborah Harkness’s book “The Discovery of Witches” was recently on the New York Times best seller list for over a year, and witches like Hermoine Granger have managed to capture the hearts of children and adults, worldwide. Even Jewish witches exist. A number of years ago, at the Aleph Jewish Renewal Kallah, I took a class taught by a congregational rabbi who proudly declared in her bio that she was also a Wiccan. These developments point to a shift towards the greater acceptance of the feminine intuition, moving us toward a greater energy balance in our world.
And, as fate would have it, my daughter called from college the other day to declare that she, too, seems to have the time bending talent of her mother. On the drive back to their college campus after winter break, she declared to her brother that they would arrive at about 3:00 pm, and, as predicted, they pulled up to her dorm just as the digital clock on the dashboard went from 2:59 to 3 o’clock.