Superstitions: Fingernails and Miscarriage

Moshe Ben-Chaim

 Reader: I have a query. The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 260:1) says it is a mitzvah to trim ones nails on erev Shabbos. The Rema (ibid) adds that one should not trim them consecutively. Although the Taz (260:2) says one need not be concerned about this. Magen Avraham (260:1) says that nevertheless one should be careful. This is echoed by the Shulchan Aruch HaRav (260:3) and Mishneh Berurah (260:8).

The Mishneh Berurah (260:6) mentions that it is the practice not to trim one's nails on Thursday. It is also mentioned there that there are authorities who say one should not trim one's finger nails on the same day as they trim their toenails.

The Mishneh Berurah also cites the Gemara (Niddah 17a, Moed Katan 18a) which says one who burns their nail trimmings is a Chasid (pious person), one who buries them is a Tzaddik (righteous person), and one who trows them out (haphazardly) is a Rasha (wicked person). It proceeds to explain that it is sufficient if one sweeps from their original location, there is no need for concern, but cites the Elya Rabba that only when they have been removed from the original room is it considered a change of location (ibid 5).

There is no mention that one should refrain from trimming one’s nails at night, but I have seen one should not do so on Rosh Chodesh (Be'er Heitev 260:2 citing the Will of R. Yehuda haChasid) and that one should only trim one's fingernails on erev Shabbos or erev Yom Tov (Be'er Heitev ad loc).

There is a practice to trim ones fingernails and toenails on Erev Shavuos, since this is the practice of women prior to ritual immersion and on Shavuos Am Yisrael is, as it were, the kallah (bride) of Hashem.

Is this all a minhag, halacha or superstition? There is also a manner in cutting the hand nails. Why? 

Finally, why is it dangerous for a pregnant woman to walk on cut nails? Please explain.

Rabbi:  Let us review the Talmudic source and jump to the portion of which you question:

“R. Simeon b. Yohai stated, There are five things which (cause the man] who does them to forfeit his life and his blood is upon his own head: Eating peeled garlic, a peeled onion or a peeled egg, or drinking diluted liquids that were kept over night; spending a night in a graveyard; and blood-letting followed immediately by intercourse.”

“Removing one's nails and throwing them away in a public thoroughfare.” [This is dangerous] because a pregnant woman passing over them would miscarry. This, however, has been said only of a case where one removes them with a pair of scissors. Furthermore, this has been said only of a case where one removes the nails of both hands and feet. Furthermore, this has been said only in the case where one did not cut anything immediately after cutting them but if something was cut immediately after they were cut there can be no danger. This, however, is not (to be relied upon]. One should be on his guard in all the cases mentioned.

Our Rabbis taught: Three things have been said about the disposal of nails: He who bums them is a pious man, he who buries them is a righteous man, and he who throws them away is a wicked man (Tal. Niddah 17a).”

What’s the significance of pregnant women: why don’t cut nails affect everyone? 

What’s the difference if cut by scissors, one’s teeth or tearing them off?

Why not trim one’s fingernails and toenails the same day?

Torah is not superstitious. In fact, Torah prohibits superstitions which are the ways of the idolatrous nations. “All her [the Torah’s] ways are pleasant…(Proverbs 3:17)” This means we will find sensibility in all Torah laws and ideas. 

The clues direct us towards the answer. Pregnant women are most sensitive. Sight emotional jolts can cause miscarriage. What is disturbing about cut nails? Nails are part of the body. Cut nails are now essentially a part of the body that has been removed, and psychologically, they are akin to lost limbs, to a degree. This is even more apparent when cut nails are from more of the body; i.e., hands and feet. And even more apparent is when the nails are trimmed by a scissor that retain the nail’s form, in contrast to if one bit his nails or tore them. 

Causing the public to come in contact with one’s disposed nail trimmings can be disturbing to delicate personality types, even more so to women, and even more so to pregnant women. Thus, burning them destroys their character fully and fully shields others from encountering their form. Burying them is a lesser but adequate manner of disposal, but placing them in a thoroughfare is a careless act. We must be sensitive to even the most delicate of personalities.

Regarding a custom or law of not trimming one’s fingernails on the same day as trimming toenails, this might be the flip side of the pregnant woman. Meaning, as one views nails as part of the body, the very act of cutting one’s nails smack of bodily mutilation. To preserve the correct emotion of bodily care, the Rabbis suggested one not cut “all” nails in one day. This might give rise to the emotion of bodily mutilation, and the Rabbis at all costs, create enactments to shield man from engaging any destructive emotion.