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Just Another Witch Hunt -- Chronicle Online/The WORD 02/08/24

Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah

February 08, 2024

29 Shevat 5784

Rosh Chodesh

Parashat Mishpatim

We throw around the term “witch hunt” pretty casually these days. Anyone who has lost their job or anyone who thinks that they are being unfairly accused of wrongdoing immediately claims to be the target of a witch hunt. 

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a witch hunt as “the searching out and deliberate harassment of those (such as political opponents) with unpopular views.” But, historically speaking, witch hunts were much more serious, and often lethal.

In this week’s Torah portion, the Torah simply states, “No witch shall you let live (Exodus 22:17).”

The only problem is that the Torah doesn’t tell exactly what a witch does or how to identify one. Perhaps, people back then just knew. Although sorcery was prohibited, when King Saul was unable to communicate with God after Samuel’s death, he traveled to En-Dor in order to ask a sorceress for help (see I Samuel 28). He and his courtiers just knew that this woman was out there.  

Certainly, the religious leaders and judges of colonial Massachusetts thought they knew how to identify witches, and they executed 20 people during the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692-1693. Some of those found guilty of witchcraft were members in good standing of Salem Village’s only church. It took until 2022, but all those who were found guilty of witchcraft were ultimately exonerated.  

Still, no one really knows what a witch does or how to identify one. It seems to me that a witch’s greatest “crime” is going around the powerful men of her community and seeking direct contact with the spiritual world. So, those powerful men get upset when a woman tries to ignore or evade them. She must, therefore, be a witch.


We might write those events off as distant history that could never happen today, but the truth is that actual witch hunts still take place today across Africa, leading to terrible violence against women and children. And then we might dismiss these African witch hunts as something that could never happen here in our enlightened and modern society. And, hopefully, that’s true.

However, anyone who’s been reading the conspiracy theories about Taylor Swift need not wonder how these witch hunts may have started. For the “crimes” of publicly dating an NFL player and having some political opinions—in addition to being a wildly successful singer/songwriter and businesswoman—she has been accused of, essentially, witchcraft. According to her accusers, she is guilty of fixing the Super Bowl, influencing the outcome of the next presidential election, camouflaging Travis Kelce’s homosexuality, indoctrinating citizens to an elite agenda and away from religion, and much much more.

In order to do all that, I think she’d really have to be a witch. Perhaps instead of killing of witches, it’s actually time to kill off witch hunts.


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