“Jewish” Superstitions


Moshe Ben-Chaim



Last week we published a letter sent to a Jewish email group moderator. This week we commence with that initial letter, now also including the ensuing dialogue. As you will read, the moderator could not produce promised sources validating segulas, while the member has produced quotes from Rambam and the Baal Shulchan Aruch prohibiting segulas. Our objective is not to critique this single moderator, but to expose prohibitions, which he spreads, and states are endorsed by orthodox Rabbis. If his claims are true, community leaders and members must denounce such superstitious practices.




Member: Dear Moderator: After reading numerous “pro” posts on segula challas, bereft of any Torah source, I kindly request your fair posting of an alternative post, an actual Torah source:


Rambam, Hilchos Avodah Zara (11:4):


“One may not practice sorcery, as do the idolaters, as it says, “Do not divine”. What is sorcery? For example, those who say, “since the bread fell from my mouth, [or] since the staff fell from my hand, I shall not travel to such a place...for if I do travel, my wishes will not be fulfilled.”


Rambam is not discounting proven, medical cures, or logical actions that have rational, causal results. He describes prohibited actions, as they are not found in the Torah, since they have no natural relationship to their imagined promises. So too, keys in challas have no relationship to fertility. The Kessef Mishna – author of the Shulchan Aruch – states that Rambam merely describes the “principle”, which includes many other actions. Rambam could not list the innumerable permutations of sorcery, and therefore, described the Torah's prohibition with a few examples. In his conclusion, Rambam writes this:


“And these things [listed herein] are all fallacy and lies. They are what the original star worshippers misled the gentile nations to accustom themselves after them. And it is not fitting that Israel, who are very wise, be drawn after these futilities, and they shall [also] not assume they afford any help...But wise people, with complete knowledge know with clear proofs that all these matters prohibited by Torah, are not wise matters, but they are emptiness and futile...and because of this, the Torah prohibited them.”


Moderator: This sounds very familiar. Have I not previously articulated my reasons to you for not posting your "rebuttal?"


Member: Yes, you articulated your position before. But your continued posting of Torah prohibitions requires another reiteration of those prohibitions. This time, I have sent you exact quotes from the Rambam, and the Baal Shulchan Aruch. Although you previously expressed your sentiment, that you feel these acts offer infertile women comfort, there are no opinions that allow these practices that you continue to reprint and spread among unknowing Jews. Comfort does not override Torah prohibition, certainly, a comfort that is a lie. “Midvar Shekker Tirchak”, “From a lie, distance yourself”[1]. Similarly, we do not allow someone who is cold, to warm themselves with a Shaatnez sweater. More severely, we do not allow an infertile woman to violate idolatrous rites, namely, Kosame and Nichush (sorcery) by performing invented acts, assumed to provide fertility...no matter how desperate she is. It matters none that within these prohibited, fabricated acts, women include challas and mikvahs, i.e., Jewish ritual objects. Such inclusion does not condone foolish practices prohibited by Torah.

The Talmud[2] cites this very practice where consulters of the dead – a severe Torah prohibition – would say that certain consulting would not ‘work’ on the Sabbath. Now, why would such liars[3] include the Sabbath in their false practices? The reason is to gain legitimacy. It is widely misunderstood, but accepted, that provided a practice includes a true Torah object like a challa, a mezuza, or is connected with the Torah’s leaders like strings wrapped around Rachel’s grave…that such connection with legitimate Torah elements actually endorses the foolish act. Thus, we do not find Jewish leaders endorsing rabbit’s feet, since this item shares nothing with Torah But we do find a preponderance of practices, which are exactly as sinful rabbit’s feet, but swap a mundane object with a Torah object. This inclusion of a Torah item fools the masses into believing there is some truth to the superstition. But according to the Torah and our greatest minds, it matters none if someone uses a rabbit’s foot, or opens the door of an Ark, if the intent is to procure some good for the self. Both acts are equally forbidden. So the sale of Pesicha D’Neila, (opening the Ark) or any Torah need, in exchange for the promise of any good, is forbidden.

Objects, events, or times have no affect on our success or failure in any area of life. To believe this nonsense, is to deny God’s institution of “Reward and Punishment”, what Rambam classifies as a Jewish Fundamental, and a large part of our Shema Yisrael blessing.

Rambam cites this very flaw of superstition where Torah is included in an attempt to validate this foolishness:


“One who whispers over a wound, or recites a Torah verse, and also one who reads for an infant so it should not be worried, and on who places a Sefer Torah or Tefillin on a minors so they might sleep, it is insufficient for them that they are considered enchanters (Nachashim) and diviners (Chovrim), but they are in the category of deniers of the Torah -- Kofrim -- rendering Torah as a bodily remedy, when the Torah is truly only a remedy for the soul.”


You may not be aware, so I will inform you of another Rambam, Hilchos Teshuva, 4:1:


“24 matters prevent Teshuva. Four of the are great sins and one who performs one of them, God does not allow him to do Teshuvah, on account of the severity of his sin, and these are they: 1) Causing many Jews to sin. Subsumed herein, is also one who has the ability to dissuade others from sinning, but does not, and let's them go in their stumblings.”


Please consider Rambam's words, as well as those of Rav Yosef Caro.



Moderator: Thank you. I am fully familiar with all of your sources and could not agree more with your underlying point (as I've indicated to you previously). But that's really not the issue here. You're misunderstanding what this group is all about. We do not represent any "halachic authority." We do not reject posts because the moderator believes the post to be contrary to Halacha. For example, I personally believe employing housekeepers illegally is at least an issue d'Rabbanan, as is underage employment, attending certain kinds of concerts and, perhaps, even attending Mets games and participating in office pools (and possibly, even having the internet in your home).

Yet, never once have you complained about posts like those - you only choose to pick on perceived "segulas" which, I agree, is a form of idolatry.

To be clear, we are a "frum" group e-mail list to the extent something is clearly beyond the pale and undoubtedly inappropriate (for example - "seeking pornographic magazines for my collection" would obviously be rejected). Segulas, however, are not as black and white, notwithstanding the fact that I agree with all your sources. The irony is that very few people are as vocal as me in opposition to segulas, yet I am now put in a position to defend their merits. I am doing so only as a "limaid z'chus" to allow the challah posts and not lump them in the same category as a pornography seeker. Stay tuned for sources.

As for why your particular post was rejected - this is not a "chat board" - and we do not allow "debates" on this group list. Try to be creative and maybe I'll allow. For example, if you G-d forbid have a choleh you know, ask people to keep the name in mind in their tefilos and add to your email (NOT as an attack on other posters) that in the z'chus of putting our faith in G-d (as distinguished from idolatrous segulas), the choleh should merit a complete refuah. More later, time permitting.


Member: Moderator, Thank you for your elaboration. However, nothing you wrote removes the prohibition of Nichush, violated by these challas and segulas. Nothing you wrote mitigates the prevention of your teshuva, as you are enabling sin, and not dissuading Jews from sin. Please consider what you are doing. Furthermore, your categorization that pornography is worse than segulas, is your own invention, and not based on Torah.

While your suggestion of my "being creative" shows your flexibility, it should not be the condition that you
remove those segula posts, or allow mine. The only criterion is Halacha.

And what you said, "I am now put in a position to defend their merits" was Shaul HaMelech's downfall, as Shmuel chastised him for listening to the people, instead of God's commands.

If you like, I will work with you to develop a strategy where all involved might save face, while no longer
proliferating prohibitions. But under no condition, does Rambam or the Shulchan Aruch allow the proliferation of idolatrous prohibitions.


Moderator: You wrote, “However, nothing you wrote removes the prohibitions of Nichush, violated by these challas and segulos. Nothing you wrote mitigates the prevention of your teshuva, as you are enabling sin, and not dissuading Jews from sin."

Of course not. First, that is not my role. Second, I told you I'll send you sources later. You're losing credibility very quickly with your non-responsive replies.

Before I respond further, I need to better understand your position so that I can tailor my response on point.  You state, "There are no opinions that allow these practices..."

Is your position that unless an act is specifically permitted by the Torah, the Rambam (or, I'm sure you'll be willing to include the Rif and the Rosh), or the Shulchan Aruch (or the Rama), then that very act is "prohibited?" So, for example, spending large sums of money on "Psicha D'neilah" for parnasa purposes, or a woman reciting "Perek Shira" each day is also prohibited?  What about the sourceless minhag for a "Yoledes" not to leave the house until she hears kaddish or kedusha?  Is that also an Issur D'Oraisah? Is going to Shul on Succos and performing the "Nanuim" with the Lulav not in accordance with the Rama (say, for example, in accordance with the Ari-z'l) also an Issur D'Oraisa?

Personally, I might say that the answer to all these questions is "yes" and, in fact, these practices are all contrary to the Torah and, therefore, a form of Nichush according to the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch, but I would like you to clarify whether you are challenging these practices as well.


Member: Rambam, Hilchos Avodah Zara (11:4): "What is sorcery? For example, those who say, "since the bread fell from my mouth, [or] since the staff fell from my hand, I shall not travel to such a place...for if I do travel, my wishes will not be fulfilled."

Rambam describes prohibited actions, as they are not found in the Torah. His rule: practices with no causal relationship to their imagined promises are considered Nichush, and prohibited. So too, keys in challas have no relationship to fertility, nor does opening the Ark (pesicha d’neila) help pregnancies. "Nichush" – divining/sorcery – refers to any activity where the act is in no way causally related to the desired outcome. Just as penny pitching into wells does not grant my wish, keys baked in challas do not ease pregnancies. Both are clearly Nichush.

People are severely insecure, in need of physical ritual. It is from this insecurity that idolatry was born. They err grievously; assuming their inclusion of Jewish ritual objects condones any practice that includes them. Again, Rambam writes the following, after listing Nichush: "And these things are all fallacy and lies. They are what the original star worshippers misled the gentile nations to accustom themselves after them. And it is not fitting that Israel, who are very wise, be drawn after these futilities, and they shall [also] not assume they afford any help...But wise people, with complete knowledge know with clear proofs that all these matters prohibited by Torah, are not wise matters, but they are emptiness and futile...and because of this, the Torah prohibited them."

It matters none if a kabbalist condones such practices, for they already have. Their act to condone does not make sense out of these practices, and we are to be "wise" using wisdom, our "Tzelem Elokim" to judge our actions.

Just as one would be called foolish if he assumed that his opening of the Ark to be grounds for him to quit his job and assume a new "opening" will be waiting for him Monday, it is equally foolish to assume it helps pregnancies. This last example actually unveils the true feelings...people don't think these actions are a surety, since they see no relationship between the act, and their desired result. When it comes to risking a job, people won't rely on these Nichush practices. People are not consistent. But that matters none...we do not gauge Torah law on people's performances, but on the Baalei HaMesorah – the Masters of Traditonal Judaism.

This is Rambam's point: practices bereft of explanation are all Nichush. And proliferating matters of such penalty should be what we avoid first and foremost. Even if you find some Rabbi who endorses it, he is not a Baal HaMesorah, like Rambam, Ibn Ezra, Saadia Gaon, or Rav Karo...all whom prohibited Nichush.


Moderator: A simple "yes" would have sufficed (i.e., you believe all those actions are contrary to the Torah).

So here's the deal.  You go ahead and write a letter to every Rabbi in the community who allows Pesicha to be doled out primarily to men whose wives are pregnant, and you write a letter to every Rabbi who allows his Shul to sell Pesicha D'Neilah for thousands of dollars to raise money for his Shul (in effect - GENEIVAH - by virtue of the fact that the Rabbi knows that these people's intention for donating this money on the holiest day of the year to help a Shul is tantamount to worshipping idols).  

Once you have written that letter and ended the madness in all the community Shuls then - and only then - will I allow you to espouse your seemingly correct views on my email list. 

Until then, just like I need to live with the guilt that is facilitating incessant violation of labor laws, and facilitates the sale of tickets to concerts, which are clearly prohibited by Halacha for many reasons, I will also need to pile on the guilt of facilitating the violation of Hilchos Avodah Zarah. 

I encourage you to take on this mission, preach this throughout the world, write articles in newspapers, etc.  But my list - in my view - is not the place for such debate.  

I understand that this final decision will undoubtedly cause you to unsubscribe (since by participating you are also in effect condoning this practice - like buying membership at a Reform Temple) and, consequently, reduce our current membership.  The less members we have, the less attractive this site becomes for Tzedakah e-Sponsors through which over $10,000 has been raised thus far. But don't worry, I'm sure your intentions are for the sake of heaven, and the numerous cancer patients helped by this group will not be impacted.

I look forward to reading your community-wide letter/article on this topic and anxiously await Rabbinic response.”


This concludes the dialogue. In the end, not one Torah source was produced endorsing segulas, since Torah does not validate superstition. The moderator was evidently motivated by public approval, not Torah values. He did not view idolatrous superstitions on par with sexual deviance, although this week’s Parsha KiTavo equates the two in the curses.[4] This moderator informed us that many Rabbis in his area condone such superstitions. As concerned Jews, we can allow proliferation of these superstitions, as does this moderator, or we can try to improve Judaism.

Other Jews, leaders, and educators espouse the prohibited views discussed herein. Baking keys in challas, Red Bendels, Chamsas, promising easy pregnancies by opening the Ark, checking mezuzas upon bad tidings, and all such practices, are clear Torah violations, as Rambam and many others have stated. It is not proper to allow such lies to spread; rather, it is obligatory on each Jew to denounce these beliefs, since idolatry and superstition destroys the very core of Judaism: a God who is all powerful, “alone” all powerful, and a God who rewards not based on phony superstitions, but on truth…on Torah adherence.

If such leaders do not respond to Torah or reason, as is the case with this moderator, perhaps they too respond better to mass disapproval. We can at least use that to Judaism’s benefit, and disapprove of similar beliefs by informing others of these sources describing their Torah prohibitions. Although proper Torah practice requires understanding and not fear of human rejection, our disapproval will at least curb such lies, and shield others.

[1] Exod. 23:7

[2] Sanhedrin 65b

[3] Maimonides’ Commentary on the Mishna; Sanhedrin chap. VII, “Baal Ove…” (See last few lines)

[4] Deut. 27:15