Divination: Forbidden and Permitted

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky, for "The Chumash of the Lubavitcher Rebbe"


The purpose of divination is to predict the future in order to enable one to choose the most effective course of action in the present. The Torah forbids this because we are supposed to lead our lives according to its laws, and not according to any notions we may have of what might prove advantageous. In the "gray area" of life, i.e. those issues about which there is no explicit directive from the Torah and regarding which someone might be in doubt regarding what to do (for example, what career to pursue, whom to marry, etc.) it is permissible – and even advisable – to attempt to ascertain G-d’s will through means that He himself has provided: as the Torah here describes, we are allowed to consult bona fide prophets for this purpose, and ever since the close of the era of prophecy, the inspired insight of reputable sages of the Torah has taken their place. (Tanya, Igeret Hakodesh 22)

In addition, there are many other permissible means available (some of which were used even during the era of prophecy), such as dream interpretation, bibliomancy, and so on. These techniques are too numerous and their methodologies too complex to be detailed here, but their common denominator is that they only be practiced under the guidance of a competent and qualified rabbinic authority, so as to avoid any unwitting flirtation with divination. (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 178-179. See Chikrei Mingagim, vol.1, pp. 230-239)

Copyright 2001 chabad of california / www.lachumash.org

Rabbi Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky is a scholar, writer, editor and anthologist. Originally from Los Angeles, he moved to Israel in 1977, and currently lives in Jerusalem. While living in Tsfat, he was one of the three founders of ASCENT in 1983.


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