Thursday, January 03, 2013

A halachic condemnation of Facilitated Communication

Shirat Devorah has taken a comment of a commenter, Ephraim, and turned it into a post. It is about the lack of halachic justification for Facilitated Communication. An excerpt:
Now, the תשורת שי that I mentioned above already prohibits the practice of divining the future by means of a table of letters- even if children are involved. Certainly, that posek was aware that prophecy is found amongst children- and yet he forbade the practice anyway. Why? I suppose it's because of the methodology.
Indeed, having seen videos of Jewish facilitated communication, it is indeed like an Ouija board, with the facilitator grabbing the autistic's hand and making it point to various letters on a page, often with the autistic person closing his/her eyes and looking the other way. In both cases, the scientific explanation of the phenomenon is the ideomotor effect.

I don't know that pointing to a halachic condemnation of the practice, and trying to argue against the practice in this way, will succeed. Indeed, it sets the stage for counter-argument based on Rabbi X or Rabbi Y approving it. (For example, HaRav Hagaon Rav Nosson M. Wachtfogel, zt"l "approved" it. Of course, these folk only consider him HaRav HaGaon Rav because he supports a belief they want to believe; his haskama explains that he didn't read the darn book but he trusts the person who said it was good stuff -- just as Rav Chaim Kanievsky trusted others about Elior Chen's innocence and so signed onto a letter of support. And, of course, he he stresses one should not use it to practical end, but should rather follow rabbis, who are the leaders of klal Yisrael. The foolish people then take this as support for autistics as neviim that one should follow in practical matters, instead of following their rabbis.)

Maybe more on this later. For now, here is a rough translation of the teshuva. There were a few places I could not make sense of the words. Comments welcome in this, and other, regards.

The teshuva in question, from Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Tabak (d. 5668),  follows. It regards the use of an Ouija board, and a planchette - a small three-legged 'table' positioned over the board, to point to the letters. See the image to the right so that you understand what the teshuva is describing.

"129: Question: A Jewish man came from Eretz Yisrael and fashioned for himself a small table upon three legs, and under the table is a tray or page upon which are written all the letters of the aleph-beis on one side, and upon the second side are the secular letters. And five children stand around him and rest their hands upon him. And Jews and gentiles go to him to ask of him the future, whether in matters of shidduchim or travels, and upon many similar matters. And he asks the question and the table lifts one of its legs and displays the letters to combine to arrive at the answer. And he works great wonders with the questioners, which are concealed from the eyes of the intellect. And I heard that he first goes to the mikveh and says a certain chapter of Tehillim, and that he says that this is a chochmah (a craft / science) and there is no magic or incantations involved. And that he learned this craft from a great Torah scholar and God-fearing individual, and that also, there, in Eretz Yisrael, great and holy tzadikim make use of this. And it appears that [Iyov 15:15הֵן בִּקְדֹשָׁו לֹא יַאֲמִין, "Behold, He [Hashem] putteth no trust in His holy ones [these tzadikim]" since regardless, it is forbidden to ask [in this manner] because of [Devarim 18:13תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם ה אֱלֹקֶיךָ,  "Thou shalt be whole-hearted with the LORD thy God", as is stated in [Shulchan Aruch] Yoreh Deah at the beginning of siman 179.

However, there is to say that a single witness is believed in matters of prohibition [eid echad neeman be'issurin] to everyone, when the prohibition is not established [lo itchazik issura], and he is not invalidated because he causes others to stumble in the prohibition of  תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה, for this is not as stringent as one who performs acts of divination, and as is stated in Terumat Hadeshen in pesakim uchtavim [rulings and writings] siman 96. And further, people do not generally understand this to be prohibited, whereas divination everyone knows that it is prohibited.

However, this is difficult to believe, for I think that this is in the realm of kosem kesamim [engaging in divination], for there are many different sorts of divination  For the Rambam writes about it in one way, and the Semag [Sefer Mitzvot Gedolot] in another way, and Rabbeinu Yerucham wrote that they make points [?] in writing or in sand, and similar matters to this. And the intent is to say that that which is not [?] of the natural order and intellect is divination. Thus, these questioners [to the man with the Ouija board] are adding upon  תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה, the prohibition of 'put not a stumbling block before the blind' [causing someone else to sin] for divination is punished with lashes if they ask from a Jew.

And further, regarding how five children stand around him and rest their hands upon him, and that he also says beforehand some chapter of Tehillim, it seems that he is performing some act utilizing demons and is afraid lest they harm him, and as is states in Bet Yosef and Rama in Yoreh Deah siman 179, that most who engage [with them] do not go away from them in peace [unharmed]. And it is made clear in Bet Yosef, and in Shulchan Aruch, and in the Shach there, seif katan 120, that if he performs some act, it is prohibited. And in the language of Rabbeinu Yerucham, brought down in Bet Yosef, which is that if he takes something and using it performs some act, this is called an act of divination."


zach said...

People that promote facilitated communication are either frauds or self-delusional (I believe that they are mostly the latter). But to equate this with sorcery is absurd. And to then use such conclusion to assur FC (if indeed it worked and were the only means to communicate with an autistic person) would make a mockery of the halachic process.

joshwaxman said...


maybe not absurd. an additional point is that they distinguish between regular FC and telepathic FC. (Google search for the term.) This is then communicating with the soul of the autistic person, rather than the autistic person himself, via telepathy.

Was Shaul communicating with the soul of the departed Shmuel considered kishuf, though it worked?

Jr said...

פו״כ is פסקים וכתבים

רי״ו is רבינו ירוחם like you wrote

לפ"ע לת"מ stands for לפני עור לא תתן מכשול

It seems that מלמות is a ט״ס for מלקות

He's saying that besides the prohibition of תמים תהיה׳׳, they are also violating לפני עור if the קוסם is Jewish because it is punishable by מלקות. It could be that מוקפין should be מוסיפין (notice other printing mistakes like דחשה instead of דחמשה)

At the end, it's probably supposed to be ובש"ך.

Ephraim said...

Thanks for posting this and providing the translation. (I would only mention that 'sorcery' is a poor translation for קוסם. A better term would be 'divination' or 'soothsaying')

"I don't know that pointing to a halachic condemnation of the practice, and trying to argue against the practice in this way, will succeed."

Interesting. I just assumed, and still believe that a scientific discussion would be useless too. I need not tell you about scientific illiteracy. Many years ago when I emailed one of the main FC proponents to provide scientific proof. He replied back with three citations. Only one was a real study- and even there the study was flawed and the results while statistically significant were underwhelming. All it did was show that FC failed 80% time whereas the control group failed 95% of time. Of course, one study alone doesn't authenticate a phenomenon as real. I concluded then that I was not dealing with someone who understood science.
You think you can mention 'ideomotor effect' and be understood? How about 'control group'? Can these people tell the difference between the DSM-IV and the complete works of Charles Dikkens (sic)?

So I thought that a halachic discussion would be more appropriate. I don't claim to be a scholar, so I just provided with the results of my own limited understanding and hoped to get a scholarly Torah response.

Instead I discovered that I could write דרכי האמורי and get the same response as if I would write 'placebo effect'. I wrote קוסם and just as well could have written 'control group'.

Anonymous said...

joshwaxman said...

thanks. i'm going to fix the post with these corrections.

joshwaxman said...

by the way, my responses on the Shirat Devorah thread are now not going through.

thanbo said...

People are still pushing facilitated communication? I thought that went out years ago when it was disproven. Well, I guess we're re-fighting the abortion and birth-control battles of the 1960s and 1970s in the political arena, so I shouldn't be too surprised.

Ariela Butler said...

As a Jewish mother of a child with Autism, I can say fc is not total bunk. I do know with my son it was a gateway for him coming out of his shell. Some think that it can help in establishing neural pathways for the recognition of letters with sounds and expression. A PECS board is itself a form of FC, using recognizable symbols. Over time the symbols can become more complex as the child learns to expand their vocabulary with life experience. My son is not high functioning and talking quite well on his own, all the time:) However, I have seen FC work and had others WITH Autism tell me it worked for them at some point as well. It is not divination, and to call it such is sheer silliness. Many people with Autism also communicate by drawing pictures over and over again. I have spent 13 years in the Autism community and pretty much debunked most of the protocols and treatments, but fc does work for some of these kids.

joshwaxman said...


Thanks for commenting.

I think what you are missing is that we are not discussing **standard** facilitated communication here, but rather **telepathic** facilitated communication.

That is, instances in which it has been demonstrated that it is not the autistic person communicating. Such as that a correct answer is only given if the facilitator knows the answer (that there is an apple on the page) but not if only the autistic person knows the answer. They then claim that the autistic person is telepatically communicating via the facilitator. In other words, divination.

This is different from the FC you know, where your son is now talking quite well on his own.

Please read this link, where Arthur Golden discusses this, and then re-comment.



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