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Torah and Magic: The Torah Scroll and Its Appurtenances as Magical Objects in Traditional Jewish Culture

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This essay deals with a little noticed aspect of the Torah scroll in Jewish life and practice—namely, the usage of the scroll and its accessories in the context of sympathetic magic. The Torah is undoubtedly the holiest text in the Jewish tradition, and early on rabbinical authorities set a code that determined the fitting rules of conduct towards the scroll upon which it is written. In the course of time, the Torah scroll and the appurtenances associated with it emerged as the most sacred tangible objects in Jewish tradition and folk culture. Select Torah scrolls in various communities, especially in the lands of Islam, were elevated to a special position and were considered as possessing extraordinary protective powers. Aside from miraculous stories told about such scrolls, the popular beliefs in the power of the Torah scroll in general are best reflected in the ornamental appurtenances which enhanced the physical appearance of the sacred object. Thus, costly ceremonial objects such as the tik (Torah case) or rimonim (Torah finials) were decorated in several communities with magical designs and carefully selected texts, which reflect ideas of Jewish magic in general and are reminiscent of Hebrew amulets in particular.


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