The following question is so ridiculous and abhorrent to even repeat, but it must be stated to identify the problem: “Can baking keys in challas make a barren woman fertile?”
“Religious” Jews today actually believe that by baking house keys in bread, changes take place in a woman’s biology. Alarming. What is worse is that community members in authoritative positions encourage such foolishness in this and other forms. Suggest this theory to a scientist, or any of our great Chachamim, and they will laugh. I can almost hear their response: “Well, can I then lift this paperclip, and by doing so…tilt the angle of the earth, or make it snow in Africa?”
The Torah’s 613 commands include the prohibition to perform Nichush (Deut. 18:10). An example of Nichush is one who saw a black cat walk by and subsequently refrained from leaving his house, or practicing business; since he now fears this to be a sign. He thinks something bad will occur, all because a harmless kitten walked this way, and not another route.
The rule that applies to any number of cases is this: man is prohibited to gauge his activities based on events or objects unrelated to another. Similarly, as Rashi describes, if one was eating and his food fell out of his mouth, he must not view that as any sign to remain home, or stop eating, or that it carries any meaning at all. It makes no difference whether it is a stick falling from your hand, or a red bendel bound on your wrist. The rule is this: God prohibits both Jew and Gentile from attributing any meaning to objects, or events, unless proven by natural law. (Tal. Sanhedrin, 56b) It therefore follows that while it is permitted to refrain from walking on frozen ground, out of fear of “evil” occurrences (slipping on ice) it is clearly prohibited for one to refrain from a business transaction due to his keys falling from his hand. Ice causes harm, but keys dropping is meaningless, and creates no effects. Creating a sign that “dropping my keys is meaningful” is the precise prohibition. It does not appear to matter at all whether the event occurs and then we gauge our activity, or if we are the ones performing the event, like baking a key in a challa, and then forecast unrelated effects. Since there exists no natural relationship between keys and fertility, this popular practice is a severe violation. God gave us a mind and He created natural law. He wishes that we use our minds and work within the laws He created. Sarah, Rachel, Leah and Chana did not respond to their infertility by baking keys in challas, or other follishness. They prayed to the One who alone affects our fate.
No woman in her right mind would suggest that baking a key in a challa would re-grow an amputee’s right arm. Nor would any sane individual claim that an amputee would re-grow her arm if she immerses in a mikva, following a pregnant woman in her ninth month. Such nonsense violates all natural laws God created, and all reason. It violates the prohibition of Nichush. A similar impossibility applies to infertile women who would practice these idolatrous methods seeking fertility. Baking a key in a challa cannot affect fertility. Medicine might help, or surgery. But a key?
Equally absurd would be a woman suffering with cancer who abandons chemotherapy, and instead, bakes a key in a challa. To those who follow these notions, ask yourself this: “If I had cancer, would I abandon chemotherapy, and bake keys instead?” Your answer should make you realize that keys do not relate to fertility any more than they relate to cancer.
Reason demands that you visit a doctor and accept his treatments when sick.
God demands that we do not violate His laws.
Our Yeshiva’s can discuss these idolatrous prohibitions and make positive change. And leaders would benefit so many if they would openly address this issue. In either case, both parties cause great harm to Jewish communities if they remain silent.
This practice is one of the most obvious infractions of a D’Oraissa level. So fundamental to Judaism is the abolishment of idolatry, that the Rabbis teach, “One who denies idolatry is akin to having fulfilled the entire Torah; One who commits idolatry, is akin to denying the entire Torah”.
It should be noted that rarely does God refer to something as an “abomination”. But He does so here: “And due to these abominations, Hashem your God has driven these nations out from before you.” (Deut. 18:12) God’s very words prohibit Nichush, and attest to the exile of people who practice it. God says that He drove these nations out of Israel precisely because they practiced this very same Nichush practiced today. Therefore, if today’s communities continue to encourage these heathen violations of God’s commands, inviting husbands of pregnant wives to open the Ark; allowing red bendels to be worn; and encouraging women to bake keys and immerse in mikvahs believing these acts to be effective, we can thank these misled individuals for our continued exile, and delay of Moshiach. God exiles peoples due to Nichush. Those are God’s very words.
Isaiah commences with the Messianic forecast, when all nations will literally stream to Jerusalem to learn God’s Torah. They will see the truth of Judaism and the fallacy of their religions. However, that event where they respect Judaism cannot possibly occur, while Jewish communities commit idolatrous practices. If you truly seek the Messianic era, you will do your part to insure that others abandon Nichush, and uphold Torah: the Book of ideas that make sense to the minds of other nations.
But if we retain such prohibited and foolish practices that reason unveils as lies, we have ourselves to thank for delaying Moshiach.
Reader: I like your publication very much. I publish excerpts of it in our weekly 36-pages-plus Shul booklet, and have rarely disagreed with your views. BUT, the final paragraph on page 5 Volume V, No 12…Jan 13, 2005 astonishes me, to put it mildly. Your entire article deals with some of the shenanigans some people go into with references of Mezuzas. But your final paragraph damns the basic concept of Mezuzas with a totally disconnected harangue. You could not possibly have meant what you said because it is my understanding that Mezuzas DO protect Klal Yisroel, and you seem to be saying as plainly as possible that this belief is erroneous – indeed you are even making fun of this belief!
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Kindly support your claim with reason, and a Torah source, explaining how mezuzas have some protective quality.
Reader: Not being all that learned, I called in for reinforcements, please see below:
“The Talmud relates that when Unkelos, the Ger, (proselyte) adopted the Jewish faith the Roman emperor sent a company of soldiers to arrest him. As he was taken from his home, he stopped to place his hand over the Mezuzah. When the soldiers asked him to explain the meaning of his action he replied, “A mortal king lives within and hires guards to stand outside to protect him, but the Holy One has his servants inside while He stays outside to protect them, as the scriptures say, ‘G-d shall protect you as you come and as you leave, forever”. The soldiers were so impressed by this remark that they let him go, and they, too, became converts.”
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: This quote contains the words “the Holy One stays outside to protect them”. This is not literal, as God is not “outside” or in any position. “Position” is a physical phenomenon unrelated to God, Who is in no way related to the physical world. This forms one of our 13 Fundamentals of Judaism. This truth should now awaken your mind to ponder if other statements herein are also part of the metaphor.
Yes, Unkelos was quite wise to offer this specific response! Consider this: Unkelos was addressing the emperor’s servants, individuals who lay themselves on the line, and who are unprotected by others. Certainly, they would welcome a release from their risky business. Unkelos wisely played on their fears, offering them a lifestyle where they could rid themselves of their fears. He described God as protecting his people, something quite appealing to the emperor’s servants. He expressed that the mezuza is affixed towards the outside of the house, and that observing God’s laws entitles a person to God’s providence.
The mezuza is no more protective than a pebble on the street. It is the person who follows God’s laws who earns God’s protection. Unkelos in no way intended to elevate mezuza above its brute, physical characteristics. “Any” mitzvah entitles the performer to earn God’s protection.
Certainly you do not believe if a wicked person places a mezuza on his doorpost, that God will not punish him! That is absurd, and violates another of the 13 Fundamentals: God rewards the good people, and punishes the wicked. A wicked person deserving of God’s punishment will not be saved, despite his mezuza. God knew evil people throughout time who had mezuzas on their homes, and nonetheless, God punished him. But let us understand the rule, and not examples: Ironically, the Shima inscribed on the mezuza states that if we violate God’s prohibition of idolatry, He will exile us from Israel…regardless if there is a mezuza on our house! The very mezuza that people feel protects them, is actually their refutation!
There are many Jews who believe that the mezuza has some “power” of protection. Ask these people if you can light a match to a mezuza and it should not burn, and they will respond, “of course it burns.” Our obvious response, “If a mezuza cannot protect itself, how can it protect anything outside itself?”
Maimonides admonished foolish people who look to the mezuza for physical protection. (Hilchos Mezuza, 5:4). There, he calls such people fools for seeking protection. He states that they take a command, which is in fact for the lofty purpose of guiding us towards profound ideas on the Unity of God, His love and His service, and they make it into an amulet of physical benefit. Maimonides states they have no share in the next world.
These unfortunate individuals make the same error as those who wear red bendels. Just as the Tosefta in Talmud Sabbath (Chap. 7) says red strings on fingers are prohibited, so too those who mock God’s command of mezuza. I would like to quote the Shulchan Aruch, in the Gilyon M’harsha, Yoreh Daah, 289, page 113 on the bottom: “If one affixes the mezuza for the reason of fulfilling the command, one may consider that as reward for doing so he will be watched by G-d. But, if one affixes the mezuza solely for protective reasons, it in fact has no guidance, and the mezuza will be as knives in his eyes”. These are very strong words. But what is his lesson? He is teaching us that God is the only source of protection, and that physical objects have no power. Rather, if one feels they do, these objects, even a mezuza, will be the opposite, “knives in his eyes” - something destructive.
Maimonides writes, “A person should pay heed to the precept of the mezuzah; for it is an obligation perpetually binding upon all. Whenever one enters or leaves a home with the mezuzah on the doorpost, he will be confronted with the declaration of God’s unity, blessed by His holy name; and will remember the love due to God, and will be aroused from his slumbers and his foolish absorption in temporal vanities. He will realize that nothing endures to all eternity save knowledge of the Ruler of the universe. This thought will immediately restore him to his right senses and he will walk in the paths of righteousness.” Maimonides teaches that mezuza is simply a reminder.
The Rabbis quoted herein knew the reference in Menachos 33b which “suggests” God protects from the outside. Nonetheless, they wrote “But, if one affixes the mezuza solely for protective reasons, it in fact has no guidance, and the mezuza will be as knives in his eyes”. You must conclude that this source is a metaphor. The Rabbis did not understand as you do.
Again, the Shima inscribed on the mezuza states that if we violate God’s prohibition of idolatry, He will exile us from Israel…regardless if there is a mezuza on our house. Therefore, it is our “perfection” that earns for us God’s protection, not the mezuza.