A Response to Palm Reading
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
A friend sent me a published response by Rabbi X written to Chaya, a women seeking his advice regarding palm reading. I have quoted the Rabbi verbatim and remarked where noted.
Before proceeding, it is crucial that matters are clear and without any confusion. My objective is to share God’s view on palm reading – not man’s view. We possess many incorrect Rabbinic opinions and there exist many flawed books contradicting our Torah, Prophets and Writings. For only these three works are God’s words. Literally all other writings are man made and subject to human error. When we find a Rabbi’s words conflicting with God’s words, we must not fear reputation and cower from disagreement, but rather, we must accept King Solomon’s words that form part of the Divine Torah: “For man is not righteous in the land who does good and does not sin (Ecclesiastes, 7:20).” King Solomon taught divinely that all men err. God teaches this too when He admonished and punished Moshe, the prophets and our leaders for their errors and sins. Therefore, we are not to deny God by suggesting that any human is correct 100% of the time. We must admit that just like Moshe erred, so did Arizal, Zohar’s author and all other men. “Had even Joshua the son of Nun said it, I would not accept it (Chullin 124a).” The Talmud clearly endorses human error.
Additionally, we must not quickly accept ancient books as bearing only truths, starting with the Zohar. This book is not at all equal to Moshe’s Torah: the latter being absolute truth, while Zohar can contain errors. The fact that something is “ancient” leads ignorant people to blindly accept the writings contained as incontrovertible truths. However, this is a deception of the human mind and is clearly rejected by idolatrous artifacts. These artifacts are also ancient, yet we know that a statue did not create the universe. Just as we dismiss ancient statues and idols as false, we must be ready to dismiss ancient writings. “The sole criteria for accepting truth is its compliance with 1) our senses, 2) reason, or 3) our Divinely-written Torah (Maimonides’ Letter to Marseilles).” Let us now apply these rules to the topic of palmistry.
Rabbi X: While I don’t have hands-on experience in palm reading, I can tell you what our sources say about it. Moses was told to select judges over the people, “And you shall discern (literally “see”) from among the entire people, men of accomplishment, G-d-fearing people, men of truth, people who despise money, and you shall appoint them leaders” (Exodus 18:21). The Zohar notes that Moses was told to choose the judges by “seeing” them, from which the Zohar learns that Moses was to perceive their qualities in the appearance of their hair, forehead, countenance, eyes, lips and lines in their hands.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Moshe was not to engage in palm reading, but to use his senses; selecting those whom he witnessed as “G-d-fearing, truthful, and despising money.” This is clearly the intent of the verse. Moshe was to assess a person based on his virtues, not his bodily features. We are taught “Ain mikra yotzay midday pshuto; A verse may not be interpreted against its literal reading (Sabbath 63a, Yevamos 11b 24a).” The literal reading is that Moshe was to examine human virtues and not accidental, physical features. Therefore, to suggest this verse refers to palm reading, violates the Rabbinic dictum found in the Talmud.
The Zohar conflicts with reason as it suggests that genetic causes of our bodily features formed in the womb, correlate to our righteousness. But righteousness is impossible at this early developmental stages. Therefore, they are unrelated to the Zohar’s claims. Furthermore, since our physical form (forehead and palm creases) are naturally formed, they are not due to imagined “mystical communication.”
Rabbi X: The Zohar reveals that the Torah gives credence not only to palm reading, but also to reading facial features and even the hair. In fact, the Ramban (1195-1270) went one step further by asserting that this wisdom is actually found in the Torah: “every field of knowledge – whether it be science, agriculture, medicine or palmistry – can be learned from the Torah”.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Here, the Rabbi equates palmistry and science. And although the Rabbi claims Ramban accepts palmistry, this in no manner validates it as truth, for the ancient Rabbis erred based on the deficient science of their times. Man thought there were invisible layers of spheres in which the stars were affixed, and through the motion of those spheres the stars moved. Man thought the Earth was the center of the universe. Man believed in astrology too. All have been empirically disproved or are bereft of support. To maintain the Rabbis were correct in these areas is to deny our senses. As our Rabbis accepted proven science, had they possessed the knowledge we attained over the years since they lived, they would agree with the later findings we now possess.
Additionally, Ramban does not say he found palmistry per se in the Torah. Rather, Ramban says every field of knowledge will be alluded to in Torah. This is agreeable. But if something is discovered to be a false belief, Ramban would abandon it, and he would not say a falsehood is in Torah.
In fact, Torah prohibits Nichush: the practice of assessing reality based on unrelated events. Thus, one commits Nichush when believing that reality or his future has been altered by a black cat crossing his path. If one opens a book to a random page, blindly placing his finger on a word and acts based on the word’s meaning, here too one commits Nichush. Similarly, if one says “since the lines on my palm go this way and not that way, certain things are true”, one commits Nichush. Conversely, science is where causes and effects are related. Science is valid. Grouping palmistry with science is not accurate, or intelligent.
Rabbi X: From the Tannaitic (1st – 6th century) through the Gaonic era (7th – 11th century), sages who knew the Torah’s secrets also knew how to read faces and palms, and they passed their knowledge down from one to another. However, like the other secrets of the Torah, the wisdom of reading faces and palms has been lost. One notable exception was the Arizal (1534-1572) who approached the level of the Tannaim and could see on a person’s forehead what he had transgressed, how many reincarnations his soul had been through, and what he had come to this world to rectify.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: I wonder which criterion the Rabbi deems accurate. When watching John commit a sin conflicts with the “reading” of his palm that says he is not a sinner, which one does the Rabbi accept? Certainly, John is a sinner, and the palm reading is a lie. An important principle is now revealed: perception is undeniable. Despite the palm reading that “said” John is not a sinner, intelligent people know that perception outweighs theory: John just sinned, we saw it. For this reason Moshe was correct to review man’s actions alone to appoint the judges. For that is the only barometer of human worth, not the creases in our hands. We now grasp that perception is reasonable, and must be followed. And since we dismiss the palm reading and favor perception, we agree that palm reading is something other than reality. Focus on that phrase, “other than reality”: this means it does not fall within the pale of what is real and true. We have senses to determine truth, and nothing in our senses validates palm reading. And as palm reading is not reasonable, it must not be followed. And if a palm is read, and nothing in reality conflicts with it, should one accept the reading? Again the answer is “no”. In this case, as in all cases, a person must use his senses to determine his actions. When seeking a mate, we investigate the other party and invest time in dating. When seeking a job, we also investigate…and do so thoroughly. What would you say of a man who accepted a job with no investigation, but based only on the reading of his palm? Would it be wise to marry someone blindfolded, also without an ounce of knowledge of that person, based on a palm reader’s suggestion? In all cases, perception and reason will yield facts. Conversely, Torah violations such as Nichush (palm reading) prove nothing as they are unrelated to facts.
We must appreciate the foolishness of attributing significance to accidental and unrelated phenomena. Just as the size of a leaf is unrelated to the personality of a person, so too are our skin creases unrelated to our perfection. So foolish is this, that writing this sentence disturbs me. Yet, this is where Judaism has steeped to in our day, so we must respond.
The Rabbi also suggests reincarnation and a purpose for that reincarnation of “rectifying” something: two notions that again are without basis. He says this, despite Moshe’s admonition that the Jews “select life (Deut. 30:19)” and not death. Thus, Moshe’s very words are that one who selects death, will no longer have life. Moshe rejects reincarnation, yet the Rabbi endorses it.
Rabbi X: According to the Kabbalah, the way palm reading works is that when a soul is garbed in a body, it becomes imprinted in the body, particularly in the face and hands, and its nature can thereby be revealed.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: The Rabbi offers no basis for this, but assumes that citing Kabbalah as his source renders this practice viable and true, and worth disseminating. Such statements are quite dangerous. Since reason and proof are not required to support palmistry, endorsing it equally validates all other baseless beliefs, even following Jesus.
The Rabbi says the soul is “imprinted” on the hands and face. I wonder, at what moment is this imprint made? If while innocent an imprint is made, and then he sins...a palm reader will be in error as the imprint was of a sinless person. And if the imprint is after the person sins – that imprint being of a wicked person – and then he repents, again the palm reader is in error. For he will read the person as a sinner, even thought he has repented. Or, do our palms’ creases change course whenever we sin, then change when we repent, and then change again when we sin? In truth, if someone repents, he still maintains the identical bodily features as when he was a sinner. Thereby, one who “reads” palms and forehead creases will err, since these creases are identical on the sinner, and after he repents. Thus, reading physical features is inherently flawed.
Or perhaps, the Rabbi does not mean the creases are read, but that some mystical communication takes place. In this case, looking at the palms is irrelevant, as communication is not viewable on one’s body. Here too the Rabbi will teach us nothing, since he has not defined what he means by “mystical.” Truthfully, the term mystical is used when a person cannot explain a phenomenon, but wishes to induce belief in others. Why do people induce others to believe what they cannot prove? In thus case, I suspect to preserve a pristine reputation of the Arizal. Even when his words do not make sense, loyal followers repeat them, as if communicating unintelligible theories impresses others.
It is crucial to recognize that claiming knowledge of the future denies free will. It suggest matters that have not yet occurred, are fixed. Thereby, we cannot choose otherwise. And as we know free will is a reality, any palmistry forecast must be false.
Rabbi X: It is important to stress that in Judaism, reading the face and palm was used only to help ascertain whether one was worthy of a certain position or knowledge, or to help improve oneself. However, reading the face and palms in order to tell the future is a violation of the prohibition against divining auspicious times (Leviticus 19:26), and the commandment to have perfect faith (Deuteronomy 18:13).
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Ibn Ezra differs with the Rabbi. Ibn Ezra states that all Torah prohibitions are prohibited, precisely due to their false nature: “Those with empty brains say, ‘Were it not that fortune tellers and magicians were true, the Torah would not prohibit them.’ But I (Ibn Ezra) say just the opposite of their words, because the Torah doesn’t prohibit that which is true, but it prohibits that which is false. And the proof is the prohibition on idols and statues (Leviticus 19:31).” This is sensible, that God prohibits falsehood and that palmistry is false.
Torah prescribes a specific, reasonable means of determining truth and falsehood. Our court system engages in inquiry and deliberation to arrive at convictions and acquittals. Imagine people’s outrage at a court that dismisses the evidence of witnesses and sentences individuals based on the lines of the litigants’ hands. But, if as the Rabbi suggests that truth is imprinted on our faces and hands, why would God demand a system where the courts are open to error relying on circumstantial phenomena, when we could attain absolute truth through palm reading? Would God not be committing a grave injustice by allowing His creatures to err, when He could in fact charge us to palm read and determine the absolute truth?
Such arguments clearly reject palmistry and all similar beliefs as falsehoods and lies. They are prohibited by Torah. Their inclusion in Zohar or Kabbalah does not mean it s true. These two areas are not Divinely written and free from error. Unlike the Rabbi’s assessment that palmistry was “lost” from Judaism, in fact, it is the farthest thing from Judaism.
It is wrong for the Rabbi to claim a belief is part of Torah, a belief which he did not prove. Regardless of the author, be it Arizal or anyone, if one cannot prove a notion, then he does not know it to be a truth. To then repeat unproven ideas is wrong, as it misleads others. Moreover, it is a lie to present as fact, that which one has not proved. Repeating Arizal’s teachings bereft of validity is of no merit to the one repeating, or to the audience. Therefore, it is meaningless. If one wishes to teach, this means he demonstrates a truth. But without proof, a notion is not a truth. Silence is demanded.
Finally, what of this notion of telling the future? It must be clear that man cannot do so. This is because human perception is only via one of the five senses. And as the future is not something our senses can detect, we cannot perceive it. It is unknown.
Primarily, the future is not subject to perception for it has not yet occurred. The future is not yet a reality. Thus, man’s senses do not relate to the future. No man can tell others about something unreal, and no man can perceive what is outside his senses.