Sunday, July 11, 2010

Two Segulos to Cure a Toothache

Prompted by a recent Hirhurim post, I did a bit of investigations of segulos to cure a toothache.

Here is one that appears to be popular:

סגולה לכאב שיניים לומר לחש זה מול הירח ג` פעמים ":אליהו זכור לטוב היה מהלך בדרך ופגע בו איש אחד ואמר לו רבי יש לי כאב שיניים והשיב לו כשם שריפא הקב"ה את נעמן מצרעתו , כן ירפא הקב"ה אותך מחולי הנקרא כאב שיניים,

To translate: A segulah for a toothache, to say this incantation three times under the moon. "Eliyahu, zachur latov, was walking on the road, and a man met him and said to him, "my master, I have a toothache. And he responded to him: Just as Hashem cured Naaman from his leprosy, so shall {/should} Hashem cure you from the sickness called toothache."

This is somewhat mystifying. I understand the tangential connection of Eliyahu to curing toothaches, because there is a gemara in which Eliyahu haNavi, in the guise of Rabbi Chiya Rabba, cures a toothache of Rabbi Yehuda haNasi by touching his tooth.

But what is the connection to leprosy? And why should Eliyahu haNavi refer to the curing of Naaman, which was done by Elisha, not Eliyahu? And why specifically under the moon? And why specifically three times, which makes it very much like a superstitious incantation?

And why is the cure for a toothache to relate a story about someone else who had a toothache and was cured by Eliyahu?!

Then I saw the following, from a book called Witchcraft, Healing and Popular Diseases, volume 6.

That is, in the 19th century, in Wales, there was also a charm to cure a toothache, which involves telling a story about how Peter had a toothache, and Jesus cured him. In (5), we see that there is a parallel between curing other diseases and curing a toothache. I would note that in the New Testament, mention is made of Jesus healing lepers (as well as reference to Elisha doing the same).

My strong suspicion is that this began as a Christian folk-cure / superstition, and some enterprising individual modified the text of the cure to be more Jewish. Thus, Jesus walking down the road became Eliyahu Hanavi walking down the road. Peter became just some unnamed person with a toothache. And Jesus healing a leper became Elisha healing Naaman.

The threefold repetition in the segulah is because it is indeed a superstitious and forbidden magical incantation. Under the moon in the segulah is because so many of these forbidden magical incantations to cure toothaches are said under the moon.

To cite The Dental Cosmos:
INCANTATION TO THE MOON Very many toothache charms are devoted to tbe moon. Some of them show a close, almost literal resemblance to each other, so that we may confine ourselves to the recital of one or two paradigms of each type.
And to cite the Psychoanalytic Review, which references threefold repetition as well as the moon:

The Japanese believe the sun and the moon to be the father and the mother of the Kami (gods). In a great number of toothache charms the invocation of the moon is combined with the number three in some form...
From the New Ireland Review:
I have already given three or four other charms against this complaint, but this particular charm is to be said on one's first seeing the New Moon. ANOTHER CHARM AGAINST TOOTHACHE. Seven Paters, an Ave, a creed and a prayer...
and so on and so forth.

It is sad that such passes as holy Jewish tradition, when it is just superstition and idolatry made to sound Jewish.

This brings me to the second segulah, via Hirhurim, which is either simply saying kiddush levana or saying something specific in Kiddush Levana. Thus, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, in Igros Kodesh, mentions that kiddush levana is a segulah for the teeth. In English:
Surely you scrupulously observe Kiddush Levanah — which is a segulah for the teeth. ...
Or as Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky taught, saying specific words in Kiddush Levana:
The increasingly mystical Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky teaches[1] that for a toothache, it is a “segula m'kadmonim", a segula from early generations, to add several words to the Kiddush Levana at a specific point in the prayer for relief from toothaches. After one has recited the passage of “kach lo yuchlu kol oyvai lingoa bi lera'a", so too, may my enemies not be able to harm me, one should immediately add “velo yehiye li ke’ev shinayim", and I should no longer have a toothache.

It seems that the Lubavitcher Rebbe concurred with the efficacy of this segula, as well.[2] This segula is also cited in the siddur "Beit Yaakov" of Rabbi Yaakov Emden. Rabbi Kanievsky adds that his father would recite these additional words not only for himself when needed, but also on behalf of others who were suffering from toothaches. The reason why teeth are associated with the moon and Kiddush Levana is because these words are all closely related to the word, lavan.
I would note that if you say this after kach lo yuchlu, it would seem that you are doing a threefold repetition. Unless it is only after the third time. Also, it is said under the moon, just as these other clearly superstitious practices are. Even though Rav Yaakov Emden did this, the Steipler did this, Rav Kanievsky promotes it, I would still call it superstition and possible Darkei Emori. And would say that this is an unfortunate direction in which to take kiddush levana.


rabbi sedley said...

In Toldos Yeshu HaNotzri it says that Jesus himself pretended to have toothache in order to trick his mother into revealing the truth about his parentage (that he was really a mamzer). I'm not sure how this relates to the moon or Eliyahu (though it is an interesting cure that is described), but it predates the Welsh charm by several hundred years (Toldos Yeshu was printed in 1705, but apparently has been found in the Cairo Geniza and is much older)

Anonymous said...

Yasher Koach!

Ari Enkin

Joe in Australia said...

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe Z"YA didn't say that the charm is a segula; he said that being scrupulous in reciting kiddush levana is a segula. He was not known for making additions to prayers, and was punctilious in identifying (what he understood to be) the proper text. I recall Lubavitch publications with exhortations like "Always pray from a siddur!", which implicitly rules out making these sort of additions.

joshwaxman said...

thanks, everyone!

"he said that being scrupulous in reciting kiddush levana is a segula"

indeed. someone made that point on Rabbi Ari Enkin's post, which is why I took care not to specify that the Rebbe said to say a charm, but just that "Thus, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, in Igros Kodesh, mentions that kiddush levana is a segulah for the teeth."

Given the context of moon charms to cure toothaches, though, I would regard even this with suspicion. Kiddush Levana is a mitzvah, not a segulah. Though it has its own threefold repetitions.



Blog Widget by LinkWithin