Sunday, February 17, 2008

Abracadabra Jewish-Style

"Youngsters" look at all the segulas and "omens" that seem to abound and go "Good grief!" That is, they say that when they are not quickly and furtively looking around if anyone can see them, and then indulging in the segula. B4s posted about the relationship of segulas and shidduchim here Let me go a step further and look at segulas in general.

B4s is not wrong that some of the segulas extant came about through ignorance and an attempt to control a world that was scary. There was no rationality to the segula, but then there was no seeming rationality to the world either. They fit together. But then there is this: the more "rational" we become, the more we know about the world, the more frightened we become, not less. Believing that a plague was a manifestation of the "dark humours" and knowing that it is the manifestation of a bacteria or virus does not change our reaction to that plague: we're scared witless, only now we know why we are. For many people, antibiotics act like a segula--give me one and I'll get healthy right away--even though they don't work on viruses, nor do they work on all bacteria. What is a doctor's saying "Take two aspirin and call me in the morning" if not a segula for a good night's sleep?

But I digress. The younger generation does not, in general, have any idea just how many acts of a superstitious nature have wandered around in the frum world, some of which do so "ad hayom." If you want to know what a real segula-driven world was like, talk to your grandparents. But let me give you some you may or may not have heard of to "make your day."

Havdalah. Custom that an unmarried girl should hold the havdalah lecht. When you get to "LaYehudim" how high she raised the candle was how tall her future choson would be. Women were not allowed to drink from the havdalah wine because it might cause them to grow a mustache or hair on their bodies. After havdalah was over everyone would go to the becher and dip in their fingers into the wine. You put a drop in each hand as a segula for parnoseh and a drop on each temple as a segula for wisdom and good health.

If your palms itch that is a segula that money is coming your way. According to that logic, when my husband got poison ivy all over his hands we should have become multi-billionaires. It didn't happen.

The night before a bris the "soton" tries to come to grab the baby for his evil ways. As a segula against the soton's being successful, the baby sleeps with the mohel's knife under the mattress. I first saw this one 37 years ago. When the mother saw the baby's father pulling the knife out from under the mattress she indulged in a good fit of hysterics. I believe the custom was not followed for her other sons. I sure did not follow this one. My mom says that she remembers being told that it somehow relates back to akedas Yitzchak.

Long, long before the advent of the modern state of Israel people were tying red bands around a newborn's wrist. They were also sewing red threads into children's clothing as protection for an "ayin ho'rah." The only difference between then and now is that today's red threads are "blessed" and you have to pay an arm and a leg for them.

How about mezuzot for a car as a protection for accidents? No, I'm not kidding. Someone brought us one from Israel.

How about leaving "kvitlach" in the space between the stones of the Kotel? This one has been modernized a bit. There is a web site to which you can send your kvitle and have it put at the kotel--for a price. There was also the website--I don['t know if it still exists--that advertised as bypassing the "middleman" of the kotel and just sending your kvitle directly to God.

Praying at k'vorim is not new. Kever Rochel started the whole thing centuries ago. But who has not, at least on a first trip to Israel, if not subsequent trips as well, done a k'vorim tour?

Did you know that whatever you eat on Motzai Shabbos does not add on a single extra ounce? What is eaten for Melave Malka is a mitzva and a mitzva can't cause you harm, ergo no weight gain.

Then there is the one about not sewing up anything that is on a living person. If it becomes necessary, like if a button falls off and you are not where you can strip off the piece of clothing, then the person being "sewn upon" has to hold a piece of thread in their mouth which they can pull out after the sewing is done as protection against "sewing up a person's seichel."

You know all about taking home a piece of the plate broken at a vort or at a chasoneh. It's a segula for getting married if you are single and for getting your children married off if you are a parent. Then there is mitzvah challah. For a single person it is a segula for getting married to eat a piece of the challah that the new choson makes a motzi on. But challah plays a different role as well. You give the "shpitz" of the challah (the very end piece) at a bris to a pregnant woman because it is a segula for having a boy.

A man with a pregnant wife should be given "p'sicha" in shul as a segula for an easy delivery. "P'sicha d'Nilah" guarantees an extra easy delivery.

Want to close on your new home or open a new business? It has to be on a Tuesday. That day is a segula for success in new undertakings.

And then there is my all-time favorite. I saw this one only once in my life but it left an impression. This involves something called "leshen breklach." A very elderly aunt of a friend of my mom's had come to visit on a warm summer day. She got up onto our front porch and was very woozy and looked as if she would faint. She screamed at my mother that she has to "lesh breklach." In its basic translation this means "to put crumbs on fire." I was totally flummoxed as to how this would help the faint feeling. Trust me, this has nothing to do with fire. A piece of bread is torn into small pieces and put into a full glass of water. And then comes the incantation. It begins "drei veiber shteyen of a stein" and it goes downhill from there. Makes you wonder if the classical fairy tale writers weren't eavesdropping on the frum jews. It also shocked the dickens out of me that my mother knew any of this--she came from an educated frum family and her father was entitled to be called "Herr Doktor Rabbiner." And yes, the woman did faint and she perked right up as soon as my mom went through the mumbo jumbo.

Somehow it came up at a Shabbos lunch table at a friend's house and I told this story. The woman's husband and kids all cracked up laughing. Apparently this friend is still in the habit of "leshen breklach" whenever anything untoward happens. And these are college educated people. In today's world.

Segulas and superstitions today have nothing to do with being illiterate or uneducated and a lot to do with not wanting to break the chain of "tradition," or perhaps being fearful to do so "just in case." My family really does not hold with the majority of these things, and yet there I am with a collection of broken pieces of plate. And yes, on their first day of school I made sure that my kids walked out of the door of the house with their right foot first.

Got any segulas to share? Please, be my guest.


Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh did you answer a question for me. My mom was fixing the hem on the dress I was going to wear and she was doing it with me in it. My aunt went nuts and shoved a wad of thread in my mouth. My mom and I never knew why and my aunt refused to answer. She just kept repeating narishe kinder.

Anonymous said...

Aw come on, you just can't leave us without the rest of the crumbs spell. My mother says she heard this as a kid but she doesn't remember the words. Spill!

Anonymous said...

The havdala segulos are new to me. As bad as it is today it sounds like we are not as bad as those in the past were. I guess that is something to be happy about.

Anonymous said...

My bubby has a whole encyclopedia full of segulas. My parents taught us to have kovod for our grandmother and we weren't allowed to make fun of what she did. They also told us that we couldn't do what she did. Didn't keep my mom from collecting all the broken plate pieces though or my dad from getting brochos from a rebbe but mostly we just don't have all the segulos in our house.

Anonymous said...

My mother kept the lulav until erev pesach. It was supposed to be a segula for having a fully kosher home for pesach. I guess if you could find the moldy lulav you must have been cleaning pretty thoroughly.

Orthonomics said...

A man with a pregnant wife should be given "p'sicha" in shul as a segula for an easy delivery. "P'sicha d'Nilah" guarantees an extra easy delivery.

Sure didn't work for us. ;) Oh well.

Anonymous said...

Re all those segulas for parnosoh, my dad used to always tell us that the best segula for making a living was getting a college education. That and getting a job of course.

ProfK said...

sephardilady--it didn't do too much for me either.

Anonymous--I have some students who consider me as "witchy" as it is, and I'm sure not going to further that image by writing out the crumbs incantation here. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

To Rivie: The reason your Mom kept the lulov to burn with the chometz has nothing to do with segulas. The lulov was used for something kodosh on Succos. You shouldn't just throw it out, it's not respectful. So when you are performing the mitzvah of biur chometz, you burn the lulov then too.

Anonymous said...

"Then there is the one about not sewing up anything that is on a living person. If it becomes necessary, like if a button falls off and you are not where you can strip off the piece of clothing, then the person being "sewn upon" has to hold a piece of thread in their mouth which they can pull out after the sewing is done as protection against 'sewing up a person's seichel.'"

I think this practice is because sewing clothes while they are being worn is something one does with shrouds. I doubt that seichel has anything to do with it.

ProfK said...

Even if the reference is to tachrichim the practice is strange. That would mean that holding a piece of thread in your mouth is a segula against dying? Against having tachrichim in your future?

ProfK said...

Just as a strange note: I asked my classes last night if they know why women are not supposed to drink from the havdalah wine. My assumption starting out was that they are young, yeshiva educated, so they wouldn't have heard about this. Only two boys out of 4 classes had not heard of this. What's more, all the boys answered "so they won't grow a mustache."

Okay, I'm asking. Is there something written somewhere in what the boys are learning that says it is ossur for women to drink the wine for the reason they gave me? If there isn't, then the younger generation is just as segula-laden as the older ones were. If there is something written, then for sure boys schools are not teaching biology and chemistry in any way, shape or form.