How jewish magic survived the disenchantment of the world

Gideon Bohak*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Jewish magic is thriving in present-day Israel, in spite of the supposed disenchantment of the modern world. To see how it survived from Antiquity and the Middle Ages to our own days, this essay surveys the development of Jewish magic in the modern period. It begins with the Jews of Europe, where the printing of books of popular medicine and "practical Kabbalah," and the Enlightenment's war on magic, led to the transformation and marginalization of many Jewish magical texts and practices, but did not entirely eradicate them. It then turns to the Jews of the Islamicate world, who were much less exposed to the impact of printing or the ideology of Enlightenment, and whose magical tradition therefor remained much more conservative than that of their European brethren. When the Jews of many Jewish communities finally met, before and especially after the establishment of the Jewish State, the Jews of European origin tried to disenchant the world of their "Oriental" brothers, but were only partly successful in this endeavor. And with the rise of postmodern cultural sensitivities, and of New Age religiosities, even this attempt was mostly abandoned, and the Jewish magical tradition is now more vigorous, and more visible, than the founders of Zionism would ever have imagined. Finally, while claiming that in the Jewish case modernity did not lead to the disenchantment of the world, this essay also claims that the same might be true of other magical traditions, whose history often was neglected by historians of Western esotericism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-37
Number of pages31
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019


  • "practical Kabbalah"
  • Baal Shem
  • Enlightenment
  • Haskalah
  • Sefer Raziel
  • Yitzhak Kaduri
  • disenchantment
  • magic
  • modernity


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