Jewish Charlatan

Jewish Charlatan

Question How can you distinguish real holy men from charlatans?

Rabbi REUVEN BULKA is head of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa and host of Sunday night with Rabbi Bulka on 580 CFRA.

In your question, you focus on men. I will presume that this is just an innocent use of gender specifics. As to the question itself, the first and maybe not so obvious way to distinguish real holy persons from charlatans is that anyone who claims to be holy is almost guaranteed to be a fraud. Holy people are modest people, more inclined to think of themselves as sinners than as holy.

The second point, partially derivative of the first point, is that the more “in your face” the person is, the less likely is that person to be holy. Holy people are more than just modest and humble; they are also more likely to be off the radar screen, almost unknown. Those who insist that others follow them are great at sales but poor when it comes to delivery.

Another alarm bell is if the person at issue claims that though there are rules, they do not apply to him/her. Those who claim special status have an agenda that is assuredly inconsistent with holiness.

In the Bible, wherein the issue of false prophets is discussed, the test of authenticity is that the prophet’s predictions are 100-per-cent accurate. Otherwise they are condemned as charlatans who happened to make lucky guesses. So, those “holy people” who claimed to know exactly when the world would come to an end and who were obviously wrong are at the very least false prophets.

Excuses to explain away the false prophecy do not change this. Generally, unless and until a person has an unblemished record of prophecy, it is best that such person be ignored.

Additionally, if the prediction or the advice seems to be of the “hard to believe” variety, it is best to be sceptical and therefore best to stay away.

More important is the matter of why anyone would be concerned about who is holy. If it is in order to be guided in life, one is better off seeking a knowledgeable and reputable teacher. Charisma inspires but can also mislead. Solid, time-honoured wisdom rarely disappoints.

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