Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Kabbalah Red String

This week Target offered (and then took of their website) Kabbalah Red String, for 26 dollars, presumably because the gematria of Hashems name is 26.

The Kabbalah Centre had previously attempted to trademark the phrase "Kabbalah Red String." Here is the Centre's explanation of the red string. And from the description from Target:
'believed to protect against the evil eye.' Each is guaranteed to have 'traveled to Israel, to the ancient tomb of Rachel the Matriarch, and returned imbued with the essence of protection.'
At kever Rachel, widows circle the tomb reciting Tehillim and making this string. People give charity to the women and they give the red string in exchange. How this protects from the "evil eye?" The best explanation I've seen is that the merit of the charity supporting widows and orphans serves to give an extra merit which can protect in certain situations, including ayin hara, "the evil eye."

(This "evil eye" is also not of necessity something superstitious - one classic explanation is that if one (person X) behaves ostentatiously and causes someone to think to himself, 'Why does that person deserve these riches,' Hashem then sits in judgement to see if that person (X) really does deserve that wealth.)

I've seen these red strings given out now in other locations, such as the kotel. It smacks of superstition, given the explanation that it protects against the evil eye, and given that in India red strings are put around the wrists of a bride and groom-to-be as a good luck charm. A bubba maaseh that sprung up among some seminary girls in Israel is that the girl wears the red string on her wrist, and the first man she sees when it finally breaks is her bashert!

Jewish law does not like superstition. We are commanded to be complete with Hashem, and direct prayers towards Him, and not attempt magic or charms or any superstitious practices. There is a Biblical prohibition to avoid going in the ways of the Emorites. based either on Vayikra 18:13, according to Rashi on Bavli Shabbos 67a:
כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ-מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁבְתֶּם-בָּהּ, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ; וּכְמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ-כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ, וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם, לֹא תֵלֵכוּ
And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: I am the LORD your God. After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do; and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do; neither shall ye walk in their statutes.
or Shemot 23:24, according to Rashi on Bavli Chullin 77a or Ramban on that pasuk:
לֵאלֹהֵיהֶם וְלֹא תָעָבְדֵם, וְלֹא תַעֲשֶׂה כְּמַעֲשֵׂיהֶם: כִּי הָרֵס תְּהָרְסֵם, וְשַׁבֵּר תְּשַׁבֵּר מַצֵּבֹתֵיהֶם
Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their doings; but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and break in pieces their pillars.

(I recently gave a shiur on the concept of Chukat Emori/superstition.)

<>At any rate, in Tosefta Shabbos, 7:1, the red string is in fact listed as a superstition/chukat Emori.

ז,א אלו דברים מדרכי האמורי ... והקושר [מטולטלת על יריכו וחוט אדום על אצבעו והמונה ומשליך צרורות לים או לנהר הרי זה מדרכי] האמורי המספק והמטפח והמרקד לשלהבת ה"ז מדרכי האמורי.
These things are from the ways of the Emorites ... attaching a precious stone to the girdle above the thigh or a red thread to one’s finger; counting pebbles while throwing them into the sea or into a river [and observing their manner of sinking for omens]. These are the ways of the Emorites. Striking hips, clapping hands, and dancing before a fire [in order to extinguish it] - these are ways of the Emorites.

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