Sunday, September 09, 2007

Hafrashat Challah Segulah

One of the things that drives peoples to segulot are dire circumstances. When a loved one is seriously ill, in desperation, sometimes people are willing to try anything, things they would not normally consider to have any likelihood of being efficacious. And to rip away that shred of hope is quite mean, and possibly harmful. After all, even if the segula is silly, or even if the kabbalist happens to be a charlatan, it/he is providing hope, and with change of attitude may come change of condition -- the placebo effect in action.

This is similar to the way precedent is set in the American legal system. Precedent is key, and so often people find the most heart-wrenching case and put that case forward. But, even though the decision may be legally dubious, once precedent is set in that case, it is used in many other cases, which are not as heart-wrenching. So too, though we feel for the predicament of the person and family, it is questionable whether we should remain silent and allow extensions of Jewish practice into dubious territory.

Such is the case here. I saw the following posted for a certain choleh:
The instructions again are 43 women must commit to making challah. You need to use at least 5 pounds of flour so that challah can be taken.
There are diffferent customs regarding how to say the bracha. This is what I follow. Please do what you're comfortable with. The most important part is to say the bracha of hafrashat challah and to daven for the choleh.

INSTRUCTIONS (these are the one i have, if you know different ones, go right ahead and use it)

There are three steps that should not be interrupted after the dough is made:

1. You need four coins (dimes or quarters only). Give each coin in the zechus of the Rabbeim listed below and say this before giving the coins for tzedukah:
1st coin in the zechus of Rebbi Meir Ba'al HaNess
2nd coin in the zechus of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai
3rd coin in the zechus of Rebbi Levi Yitzchak ben Sara Sasha
4th coin in the zechus of Rebbi Menachem Mendel ben Reb Yosef Mayriminov

2. Say the Yehe Ratzon from the Shacharis Shmoneh Esrei -it is below the Rifa'aynu paragraph. In the gray area, say the choleh's name (it's at the bottom of the page in the Artscroll siddur).

3. Immediately take challah and say the challah bracha
Some of the details here are understandable, at least from a halachic perspective. Thus, the requirement for 5 pounds of dough is approximately that of the Chazon Ish, in terms of how much dough one must have before one would take off challah with a blessing. (Minhag Yerushalayim is about 3 pounds.) Similarly, the act in #3 of taking off the challah and saying the blessing for hafrashat challah is the carrying out of the (Rabbinic) command.

Why specifically women? When a male baker does it (as he surely does, on a more consistent basis) it is also a mitzvah. There is a Mishna in Shabbat 31b which states that for violating these three things, women die in childbirth. Thus, some suggest, the opposite, being careful doing this, is great to ensure safety. This does not really follow. However, these are three things typically entrusted to women, and when women want to create new ritual and imbue them with meaning, they are likely to seize upon these things.

However, just as an aside, Moach Kemo Ephroach has been looking for excuses for avoiding diaper changes. I have a great one for him. In the gemara on that Mishna, we have another reason given for women dying in childbirth:
Our Rabbis taught: For three sins women die in childbirth. R. Eleazar said: women die young. R. Aha said, As a punishment for washing their children's napkins {of excrement} on the Sabbath. Others say, Because they call the holy ark a chest.
Therefore, based on Rav Acha's words, I have a great new segulah! Women can arrange together to change diapers halachically on Shabbat (in groups of 67 exactly, because why not?), having in mind a specific choleh. Of course, the husband should not volunteer for this duty, for it is specifically a woman's mitzvah.

So we have specific practice, with halachic basis and fulfilling a halachic requirement. The dough has to be disposed of in a specific, careful manner, and is also being wasted. It is no sin to regularly bake less, but OK, they are deliberately putting themselves into this specific situation so that they can take off challah.

In terms of these three sins mentioned in the Mishna in Shabbat, by regularly baking less than the halachic requirement, she never puts herself into a situation in which she may serve someone bread from which challah has not been taken off, which is another way of being careful about the prohibition.

So some of these instructions make sense, or at least are justifiable. I still don't buy the bit about specifically women, since if it is the merit of doing the mitzvah, a man gets that merit as well. It is only this extra reading to transform the opposite into a segulah. Other instructions seem to come out of nowhere, though:
  1. Why specifically 43 women? Is it because it is one more than the Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything?

    No. If I had to guess, it is gematria-zation. That is, challah has the gematria of 43. The ches is 8, the lamed is 30, and the heh is 5.

    So we are now coming up with meaningful, magical numbers, yesh me'ayin. So specifically 43 members of the coven must participate in order to get the desired results from this ritual. 42, despite being tremendous merit, is nowhere near as great as 43, which enables you to get challah squared. 44 is straight out as well. 43 shall be the number.

    Whenever I see such particularism, I begin to suspect superstition or segulah-ism.

  2. Why specifically 4 coins, each one given with in the zechus of a particular rabbi? These particular rabbis are required? Some, I have seen elsewhere, like Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes in order to perform the incantation of recovering lost articles. Rav Menachem Mendel MiRiminov is the source of the reciting of parshat haman at certain points in time. Rav Levi Yitchak ben Sara Sasha is more popularly known as the Berdichever Rebbe, or Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, but there is a segulah when traveling, or when in trouble while traveling, to say his name לוי יצחק בן שרה סאשה מברדיטשב. And Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is the one to whom the Zohar is attributed. There is a special segulah for people to give tzedakka to "Tzidkas Rashbi," for those who support charity at the kever of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. (Which is different from just invoking his name.)

    Hey, if they are good for these other segulot, then it can't hurt to add it to our segulah as well. And the giving of coins is something done to find a lost object, after invoking Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes.

    So, when coming up with this new ritual, they added these 4 names. Who cares if they are appropriate to the situation at hand.

    In the good old days, people had demonology or angelology, where specific demons or angels had specific powers and invoking their names brought certain mystical forces to the fore. Or people invoked various Sefirot from the Godhead. Now, with sainthood pervasive in Jewish practice, we invoke specific powers attributed to various Tannaim and chassidishe Rebbes.

    Of course, in Shemoneh Esrei, we invoke the zechut avot, but that has basis in pesukim that have promises to the descendants of the avot, the Jewish people. It does not feel the same to me.

  3. Why dimes of quarters only? If I give a nickel or a penny for tzedakka in each of these people's zechut, it won't work? Only that specific American currency? What if I give a half-dollar, or a Susan B. Anthony dollar? What about paper money? The person passing the instructions along noted that the important part is really the actual hafrashat challah, and praying for the choleh, but I wonder at the particularism.

    My guess in this case is that this practice originated in Eretz Yisrael, and thus the instructions were to use a shekel or a half-shekel. Based on approximate conversion rates of dividing by 4, we have a quarter and a dime, approximately.
I am noting this because I am trying to oppose the segulah-ization of Judaism.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

43 could also be because the shiur for challah is 43 1/5 eggs.


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