Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Combatting Jewish Superstition?

This is what I was complaining about. Mesora quote a Tosefta and a Rambam to support their position that tying red string around your wrist for good luck is idolatry.

But let's throw our net a little wider. R Meir ha-Cohen of Rothenburg, in his Hagahot Maimoniot, ad loc (Mishne Torah, hilkhot Mezuza 5, no. 4) quotes authorities both for and against the custom of writing magical names into the mezuza. This was a widespread Ashkenazic custom (see further: Daniel Sperber, Minhagei Yisrael 2, 103-106).

In Tosefta ki-fshuta on the words "and he who ties a red string on his finger" (vol. 2, p. 82), after citing classical parallels to this custom, Saul Lieberman remembers that the nurses in his home town would tie red strings around the necks of children, to protect them from scarlet fever. He concludes that the Tosefta should be interpreted narrowly, to forbid only strings around fingers and not around other limbs.

My point is this. I also think that the popularity of red strings, and the whole culture that surrounds it, is pathetic and insidious. But the way to combat it is not to excise chapters from our history. Humour seems a much better tack to me.

Ultimately, what will draw people towards Judaism and away from quackery is sensitive, thoughtful and open-minded practitioners and representatives, not polemics with cynical opportunists.

Thanks to Avraham for the Mesora link


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