The following belief has been circulating, with no rejection from Torah leaders, and unfortunately, endorsement:
“Going into the mikvah following a pregnant woman who is in her ninth month is a segula for becoming pregnant.”
This belief is becoming accepted as truth, along with other similar promises of segulas. But is this the Derech HaTorah? And I don’t mean, “Is this the derech of frum Jews”, for I know many misguided Jews and Rabbis who condone segulas. Clearly, two Rabbis who argue on this opinion, cannot be simultaneously correct...one must be wrong. But who? How do you decide? Torah practice must be based on authentic Torah sources. I hope my provision of these very sources below will put an end to the notion that segulas are Judaic. In fact, they are heathen, and have no more of a track record of success, than a flipped coin landing on heads more than tails.
Culturally Jewish popularities -- even among Rabbis -- is not the barometer for what is Torah (Chulin 124a). We must adhere only to what God has written in his Torah, Neveim and Kesuvim. These are the authoritative, Hashkafic sources. Whatever deviates from these, is not Torah, and is therefore not from God, and hence, not true. Sforno teaches that even the performance of another mitzvah cannot atone for a separate sin. Only teshuva -- on THAT sin -- atones. Certainly, one is not atoned for one sin, when performing heathen practices, even with Torah objects, like mikvas.
When barren, Rachale Imanu did not perform such acts. And even when she asked Yaakov to “give me children”, Yaakov grew angry saying, “Hasachas Elokim anochi?” , “Am I in God’s Place?” Yaakov did not suggest any segulas, nor did he give her a “bracha” to become pregnant. Rather, he urged her Tefila. The same is true with regards to Chana who was barren: she davened to God, who controls everything. She perfected her view of children, dedicating her would-be-son Shmuel to the Mikdash, only then, she conceived. No segulas. No shortcuts. Only teshuva.
The Shima’s words, “Va-avaditem miharah may-al HaAaretz Hatova”... teach that only through Torah adherence do we merit God’s Hashgacha, and through Averos, do we lose it. A sinning woman may be punished by God with barrenness. A barren woman may simply have health issues. But if indeed punished by God with no children, such a woman will not conceive if she wears a red bendel, or follows the practice cited above of following pregnant women into mikvah. These are the “ways of the Emorites” (Tosefta Shabbas, Perek 7). Such practices violate our very Torah Fundamentals cited by Rambam, that of Schar v’Onesh -- Reward & Punishment. God gives punishments to correct us, “For those who God loves does He rebuke.” (Proverbs, 3:12) And not until the sinner repents, does God remove the onesh, the affliction. Red Bendels and all other segulas are not found in Torah, and cannot change God’s plan...certainly if not endorsed by our Avos and Imahos. Therefore, if, and I stress “IF”, a woman is barren due to sin, then any other practice -- aside from teshuva -- will not help her to conceive. And if she has not sinned, she is well advised to follow medical advice, not inexplicable practices.
No rational individual will say to a female amputee, “Immerse in the mikvah following a woman whose arm was saved from amputation, and your arm will re-grow”. Why we never hear this, is because reason teaches the impossibility for cells to grow based on water immersion. No limb will reappear. Similarly, no infertility is cured by immersion, regardless of the practice being a mitzvah.
Due to the absence of the Torah Yesodos in Yeshiva education, such practices and beliefs have grown popular. Mass silence from educators and Jewish leaders also contribute to the proliferation of these lies, granting false hopes to women who are already hurt enough by their childless state.
Let us truly help these women as the Gemara teaches (Baba Basra 116a) that they shall “seek a chocham” who can probe their lives, perhaps uncovering a flaw, so they may do teshuvah, and God will give them a home full of smiling children. The Gemara does NOT say resort to useless segulas manufactured by man, and never instructed by Neveim or the Avos. It teaches to follow a wise man. Why then do our people succumb to today’s masses, when we have the Neveim and Avos from whom to learn God’s truth?
Let us all follow the lessons in God’s Torah, and not popular beliefs, which the Avos never practiced.
Using our Tzelem Elokim as God desires, we will arrive at truths, dispel all falsehoods, and earn God’s specific providence (hashgacha pratyos), exemplified by Avraham Avinu and all our Avos and Imahos.
In Defense of Segulas: If this segula were not permissible, do you think the Rabbanim who told the women to do it, would have suggested it? It is way too widespread and long-term a practice, for it to not have the haskama of more than one rabbi. There is no issur in ANY married woman going into the Mikvah, and particularly as it is on her lail tevila. So respectfully, I think you should leave the inyan of mikvah to the people who are fulfilling their mitzvah. If a woman wants to go to be toveil a thousand times, it is really not anyone’s business but her own and Ha-Shem’s. If you disagree, then no men should be going to the mikvah either on a regular basis, because they are not even mitzuvim to go since we have no Beis Hamikdash to take away tumah, and since the days of Ezra.
I can appreciate your point of view, but must respectfully tell you that it is not shared by most people in my neighborhood. If you do not want your wife and/or daughters or sisters to avail themselves of such a segula, then I suggest you teach them not to, and hope and pray that they never have to go through what those ladies have had to endure emotionally and physically by being childless. And whatever you do, feeling as you do about segulos, please don’t eat the crumbs from a rebbe’s tish, or let your daughters hold the kallah’s jewelry at a chuppah. Or is that already assur, too?
Rabbi Reuven Mann
With regard to a segula ritual prescribed for pregnant women, a defender of the practice asks: “If this segula were not acceptable do you think the Rabbanim who told the women to do it would have suggested it?” This is a powerful and challenging question. The answer is that, unfortunately, I do believe Rabbanim suggested it. One must question the behavior of these rabbis. It is irresponsible to mislead innocent people along a false path – which takes the away from Torah and from a true relationship with God.
Judaism commands us to base our actions on the genuine teachings of Torah – the only authentic guide to an appropriate relationship with God. It cautions us to avoid the temptation of unfounded practices. The Torah also warns us against inventing our own religious actions in addition to the Mitzvos. Our well being depends upon scrupulous observance of the Mitzvos, without distorting them in any way to conform to our emotional needs. Every Mitzvah was designed with exact precision and it is our task to use our minds to study, understand the Mitzvah and perform it in the most proper way. Thus, we are bidden to follow the direction of legitimate Torah authorities, the masters of the Oral Law, whom God has entrusted to elucidate the requirements of His religious system.
The dangers of deviation are very great. For by inventing new practices not prescribed by Torah one, in fact, implicitly denies the Torah. He is in effect saying that the Torah is not perfect, for it does not work in my case, and there are other man made practices out there which will work for me. In effect this is a negation of Torah and constitutes a form of idolatry, heaven forbid. For one needs to ask: How will the observance of the segula help me? What connection is there between putting a key in the dough of a challah (schlissel challah) and the improvement of my material situation (parnasa)? What connection is there between immersing in a mikvah at an advanced stage of pregnancy and having an easy childbirth and a healthy child? Another segula practice in the same area is having the husband of a woman in advanced pregnancy being called up for Pesicha, the opening of the Ark from which the Torah is removed. Apparently the opening of the Ark is associated with the “opening” from which the baby will emerge and the husband’s Pesicha somehow effectuates an easy childbirth for his wife. How do these activities work? Is the intention that they are pleasing to God and He rewards us with our heart’s desires because of them?
This cannot be the case for He has instructed us to live according to His commandments without deviating to the right or to the left. These segula practices are not included in His commandments – neither in the Written or Oral Law. Nor are they suggested by any of the great rabbinical authorities of the ages. We must conclude that they have no Judaic validity. These actions must therefore be deemed as useless from the standpoint of Torah. The act of performing them indicates that a person has lost faith in the authentic prescriptions of Torah. By performing these “unauthorized actions” one is implicitly affirming that there are other “forces” out there besides God which will respond to the needs of the performer of these ritualistic practices. This constitutes a form of “Avodah Zorah”.
We should be cognizant of the great spiritual dangers in seemingly harmless actions. The defender of this segula asks: “What difference does it make to you if a woman feels a little more kedusha for having gone to the mikvah?” The implication is that there is no harm that can come from this action and that indeed it is beneficial for it makes the woman “feel a little more kedusha”. This however, is precisely the problem. The woman feels holier because she believes she has done something meritorious and holy. However, in truth, she has deviated from the path of Torah and performed a meaningless ceremonial act, which was invented 28 years ago. The introduction of bogus segulas has the effect of undermining a person’s faith in God and His Torah as the only legitimate path to achieving Divine favor. True emunah demands that we serve God and constantly seek to perfect ourselves through the study of Torah and performance of mitzvoth. We should do so regardless of whatever difficulties befall us, with the confidence that when our deeds find favor in His sight He will provide us with all our needs. We must never lose faith in God and, unfortunately, that is exactly what we do when out of desperation we put our hopes in alien segulas.