Monday, June 29, 2009

The segulah of Amtelai bas Karnevo

Life in Israel takes note of an interesting segulah, which I hadn't heard of before -- that of saying Amtelai bas Karnevo, who midrashically is Avraham Avinu' mother, some number of times in order to get hatzlacha for X. Seems awfully superstitious to me. But anyway, he writes:
Today I found out that it is not just frum jews who are driven by the segulah craze, doing every segulah they hear of and ascribing more importance to many segulahs than to basic mitzvahs and behaviors. Traditional Jews always were known to do segulahs too, but today i found out the secular Jews do segulahs as well.

It seems there is a "segulah" to say the name Amtelai Bas Karnevo in order to be granted success. After some discussion with a secular jew who has done this and knows other people who do it as well, it seems it is a generic segulah and can be used for hatzlacha in almost any endeavor - she used it for a university test...
See there for the particular form of the segulah. He asks what its basis is. So I did a bit of research (or rather, Google search), and I accumulated the following.

Firstly, it seems that its basis is in the Chida. Thus, in a question and answer to hidabroot:
מי היתה אמתלאי בת כרנבו?
ומהי הסגולה לומר את שמה?

שלום וברכה

בתלמוד (מסכת בבא בתרא דף צא):ק

"אָמַר רַב חָנָן בַּר רַבָּא אָמַר רַב, אִימֵּיהּ דְּאַבְרָהָם - אַמְתְּלַאי בַת כַּרְנְבוֹ. אִימֵּיהּ דְּהָמָן - אַמְתְְּלַאי בַת עוֹרַבְתָּא. אִימֵּיהּ דְּדָוִד - נָצְבָת בַּת עֲדָאֵל שְׁמָהּ. אִימֵּיהּ דְּשִׁמְשׁוֹן - צְלָלְפוֹנִית. לְמַאי נַפְקָא מִינָא? לִתְשׁוּבַת הַמִּינִים".

וביארו ראשונים שזוהי הוכחה נגד האפיקורסים שאינם מודים בתורה שבעל פה אלא בתורה שבכתב בלבד. ולהם אנו עונים, אילולי הקבלה שבידינו איש מפי איש מנין היינו יודעים דברים אלו שאינם מפורשים בתורה שבכתב, ומאחר שאתם מודים בזה שהוא ממה שקבלנו איש מפי איש, ולא בדינו את הדברים מליבינו, תודו גם בתורה שהוא בעל פה וכל דבר שהוא בידינו, אינו אלא קבלה איש מפי איש.

ואכן יש בהזכרת שמה של אם אברהם אבינו סגולה, כפי שהביא הגאון החיד"א זצ"ל בספרו עבודת הקודש [כף אחת - ט]:ד

"סגולה להולך לפני מלך או שר ומושל. יאמר שבעה עשר פעמים אַמַתְלָאִי בַּת כַּרְנְבוֹ, קודם שיעמוד לפניו".

בהצלחה - מנשה ישראל

In terms of people recommending doing this, see here and here and here.

Perhaps the fact that it is a bit of knowledge, according to the give and take of the gemara (Bava Basra 91a) as a response to heretics, for this is only Oral knowledge, the merit of acknowledging this helps. But why specifically going before a melech or sar? Frankly, the whole thing smells of superstition to me. Next, we have to track down this Chida (in his sefer Avodat Hakodesh, Kaf Achat, 9) and see precisely what he says.

I would add one more reason to be wary. Amitlai, or rather Amiltai, is connected with the goat which nursed Zeus, and is the sign of the horn of plenty. This might then be connected with the segulah, in which case it might have roots in avodah zarah. Nothing sure, but here is the Jewish Encyclopedia article on the connection of the name Amiltai:
In Greek mythology, the goat, whose horn overflowing with nature's riches has become the symbol of plenty (the cornucopia), and that nursed the infant god Zeus with her milk. This name occurs twice in ancient Jewish legend: (1) Job's daughter, Kerenhappuch (Job, xlii. 14), is translated in the Septuagint "Amalthea's Horn," wherein the Hebrew words are reproduced. This daughter of Job, Amalthea's Horn, plays a prominent rôle as a type of saintly beauty in the "Testament of Job"—a Jewish apocrypha (see Kohler, "Testament of Job" in "Semitic Studies in Memory of Al. Kohut," p. 288); her "unicorn-like beauty" and her "smaragd-like radiance" are dwelt on also in B. B. 16b. (2) The name of Abraham's mother, called Edna (the Graceful One) in the Book of Jubilees (xi. 13), is said by Rab (B. B. 91a) to have been Amiltai, the daughter of Karnebo, which seems to be a corrupt reproduction of Amalthea-Keren-happuch, the daughter of Job—Job's and Abraham's histories being constantly interwoven in ancient legend. Possibly the Zeus legend prompted the name, as it is narrated that the infant Abraham was miraculously nourished by milk and honey in the cave where he was hidden.
Perhaps more as more surfaces.

Update: Here is more. I found it the Chida's sefer Avodat Hakodesh, Kaf Achat, 9. This is what he writes (starting at the bottom of the page):


Rafi G. said...

very strange. thanks for doing the research I was too lazy to do. It would have confused me anyway...

michael said...

This is a bit scary, because you have found a connection between greek mythology and midrash. Zeus and Abraham. Isn't this a bit problematic? I find it disturbing.

joshwaxman said...

nice point. though this is by no means the only link between Greek mythology and midrash.

it depends how one regards midrash, of course. if it is supposed to he a historical account of supernatural or unspoken happenings, then it is slightly problematic. if it is carrying thematic commentary on the Biblical text, or conveying homiletic messages, and to an audience familiar with these Greek myths, then it is not necessarily as problematic...


reader said...

how does your last comment work with the "leteshuvas haminim"? If it's just a thematic commentary on the text, then what evidence is there of kabala of tsb"p?

joshwaxman said...

very good point, and i don't have an answer within the give and take of the gemara.
i would note though that even לתשובת המינים is somewhat cryptic even within the regular peshat in the gemara, such that it is Rashi and not the gemara itself (Rabbenu Gershom suggests that it is to show them that no matter is concealed from Talmidei Chachamim, rather than evidence of Oral Tradition); perhaps it is an effective answer to Minim even though that was not its intent; and that perhaps this question and answer were given well after the traditions were established (and the meanings lost).

alternatively, the lemai nafka mina in the gemara in Bava Basra is not going on all of it. rather, it is only going on the last statement, that the sister of Shimshon was Neshiin. Giving the names of mothers of Biblical figures makes some sense, since we hear e.g. of Manoach and Manoach's wife (though not her name), and we hear of Terach and assume he must have had a mother. but who cares about the sister of Shimshon?! And particularly this is a teshuva to the *Christians*, that it is not a virgin birth, despite pesukim that might suggest otherwise. see at ishim veShitos how he develops this idea.

not that i am entirely convinced by it; but the idea that it attaches to only the last random factoid about a sister seems plausible, and regardless, it is cryptic and prone to be interpreted in all sorts of ways.

kol tuv,

Unknown said...

Why make the assumption that Chazal and other Torah sources borrowed from the Greeks rather than the other way around? Greek culture and literature, like that of the Christians, some Buddhist schools, and possibly Hindu mythology, is known to be syncretic, meaning that the Greeks borrowed from regional religious systems as it Thanks 'avodah zarah emerges as a progressive corruption of the truth; why should this case be any different? Amtelai bat Karnevo being Avraham's mother granted the Greeks material with which to "nurse" their myth. Other examples of such derivations abound. The effectiveness of repeating shemot Tzaddikim as a segulah is a separate question and needs to be assessed on its own merits.

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