Chassidishe Silver Rings
Moshe Ben-Chaim
Dear Jewish Press,
In the July 20th issue of the Jewish Press you ran an article endorsing "powers" reportedly contained in chassidishe silver rings. I wish you to give equal time in your publication to the view that there are no powers in the world other than Hashem. A human does not have power over his own life, how can he control another's life, even with rings? We do not rely on "any" inanimate object of any kind for protection. I will support my claim by the words of the Torah and Rishonim.
If you choose to endorse the Torah's views, I strongly urge you to see what the Torah says for yourself, and make it known to others. "Talmud Torah k'negged kulam".
I understand many may be awed by the reputation of those endorsing these silver chassidishe rings. However, just as the Rishonim themselves did not follow people, rather, they followed ideas, arrived at after critical analysis, we too must follow this mode of operation, engage reason and choose a view not based on an author, but based on the validity of its content. The Talmud teaches, "I would not follow (that view) had even Joshua said it". (Talmud Chulin 124a, at the very bottom). The doctors of the Talmud paid no respect to reputation. Ramban didn't simply follow Maimonides due to the fame of the latter. Reputation played no role in Ramban's Torah adherence. We don't find Ramban while arguing with Maimonides, yet saying Maimonides is also right! This is absurd and against reason. Celebrity endorsements play no role in the validity of reality and Torah.
Unfortunately todays religious communities are impressed with names, not chochma (wisdom). Our communities echo with sentiments like, "who am I to argue with so and so?" People abandon the use of their own minds if someone supposedly greater makes a philosophical statement. People feel if someone is a Rabbi, he must be right and "who am I to argue?" In psak halacha, yes, but not in hashkafa. You must realize that simple reasoning shows the fallacy of this argument. If there are for example, two Rabbis who argue with each other's opinion, by definition, they cannot both be correct. Astonishingly, I have even heard people say they can both be right. Amazing! How far are people from honesty. The Ramban showed both he and Maimonides cannot both be right when they argue. So how do people hold such self-contradictory positions? They evidently are not following Chazal, but following their emotions. The Chovas HaLavavos says we must do just the opposite. (See below)
The same way we look to the words of the Chumash to determine what is Torah shebicsav, we look to the Rishonim for Torah she'bal peh. Torah has at its core the system of the Mesora, the oral tradition, which originated with Moshe and which was passed down through generations. We must limit our sources to these to determine what falls within the pale of Judaism and what does not. This is our sole barometer:
Tefila (Daily Prayers)
We say every day "Ki hu livadu po-ale g'vuros" , For He alone works might". We ourselves attest to man's incapability to perform wonders, or the like. This is clear. This clearly denounces the silver chassidishe rings.
Amulets may have been accepted by certain individuals, but keep in mind they are "mutar", permissible, not obligatory. This teaches that their existence in limited forms is tolerable, not a suggested practice. The acceptable forms are based on the reasoning that people have the need for psychological ease. Perhaps reflecting on a pasuk in an amulet places a person at ease when in straits. He is thereby reassured of God's word. However, not one of our masters of the Talmud ever held that there were any powers on Earth - except for those empowered by Hashem Himself, as we say in davening each day "...He alone works might". We must not endorse amulets as they are falsely understood today as having powers. This is clearly false, against reason, and against our Tfilos.
It is crucial to understand that assuming silver rings contain power goes directly against Hashem's unshakeable laws of Reward and Punishment discussed throughout the Torah, and so clearly in Yeshiah, chapter 18. Hashem teaches us that a wicked person is punished, and a righteous person rewarded. According to this view of "rings", someone deserving a punishment from Hashem will not receive it if he wears one of these rings. So what is mightier, these rings or Hashem's laws of Reward and Punishment? If they will respond that Hashem still punishes a wicked person, even while wearing these rings, and he rewards the righteous even when they don't wear these rings as we see throughout the Chumash, then these rings do not effect any change! We have now proved conclusively that silver chassidishe rings have no powers. This applies to any object.
I will now quote our authentic sources - not for the sake of gaining endorsement, but for the sake of showing the undiluted Mesora:
Sabbath, Chapter 7 states the wearing of red threads on fingers is considered "ways of the Emorites". Against Judaism. (This clearly denounces the popular red bendels.)
Ibn Ezra - Parshas Kedoshim (Lev. 19:31)
"..the brainless people say if it wasn't for the fact that the Ovos (idolatry) and also the witchcraft worked, the Torah would not have prohibited them. But I say opposite their words, as the Torah doesn't prohibit what is truth, but rather, (it prohibits only that) which is false. And the proof is (the prohibition) against "elilim" and "psilim" (statues of idolatry which all attest to their inability to do anything). If it weren't that I do not desire to go into this at length, I would bring clear proofs against Ove".
Maimonides - Peirush Mishnayos, Avoda Zara 55a
"...the good and pious of our own (Jewish) nation feel there is truth to idolatry, but they are prohibited only from the Torah. But they don't know that they are futile and lies, and we are commanded by the Torah not to do them, as we are warned in the Torah not to lie."
Saadia Gaon - "Emunos v'Daos"
"I say also that it was for this very reason that God made the prophets equal to all other human beings in so far as death was concerned, lest man get the idea that just as these prophets were capable of living forever, in contradistinction to them, so were they also able to perform marvels in contradistinction to them."
"For if God would have done that (allowed prophets existence without food or drink) men would have ascribed this fact to some peculiarity in the constitution of the prophets wherein they deviated from the rules applying to all other men. They would have said that just as the prophet necessarily deviated [from the character of the rest of humanity] in this respect so too it was a forgone conclusion that they be able to do what we cannot."
"God did not allow the prophets to commit miracles at all times nor permit them always to know the secrets of the future, lest the uneducated masses think that they were possessed of some peculiarity as a matter of course. He rather permitted them to perform these miracles at certain stated occasions and to obtain that knowledge at certain times so that it might thereby become clear that all this was conferred upon them by the Creator and that it was not brought about by themselves."
(This denounces any distinction given to kabbalists or rabbis feigning to have powers. If they defend themselves by stating they do nothing without God's intervention, they border on being false prophets.)
Rabbi Bachya - "Chovas Halavavos"
"Whoever has the intellectual capacity to verify what he receives from tradition, and yet is prevented from doing so by his own laziness, or because he takes lightly G-d's commandments and Torah, he will be punished for this and held accountable for negligence."
"If, however, you possess intelligence and insight, and through these faculties you are capable of verifying the fundamentals of the religion and the foundations of the commandments which you have received from the sages in the name of the prophets, then it is your duty to use these faculties until you understand the subject, so that you are certain of it - both by tradition and by force of reason. If you disregard and neglect this duty, you fall short in the fulfillment of what you owe your Creator."
Devarim 17:8-10 states: "If a case should prove too difficult for you in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, between (leprous) mark and mark, or other matters of dispute in your courts, must act in accordance with what they tell you." Regarding this passage, Rabbi Bachya states: "the verse does not say,.....simply accept them on the authority of Torah sages,...and rely exclusively on their tradition. Rather, (Scripture) says that you should reflect on your own mind, and use your intellect in these matters. First learn them from tradition - which covers all the commandments in the Torah, their principles and details - and then examine them with your own mind, understanding, and judgment, until the truth become clear to you, and falsehood rejected, as it is written: "Understand today and reflect on it in your heart, Hashem is the G-d in the heavens above, and on the Earth below, there is no other". (Ibid, 4:39)
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".
Beraishis (Genesis)
When Rachel asked Yaakov for children, Yaakov said, " Am I in G-d's stead?". Yaakov attested to the fact that he had no power to give her children. If people have powers, why did Jacob respond this way? It is clear that Jacob understood that no one is able to do what G-d does. Those were his very words, " Am I in G-d's stead?". (This denounces the practice of seeking brachos from rabbis, in this light. Rav Moshe Feinstein was once asked that he give a bracho, to which he responded, "If you are learning Torah, you have the greatest bracho, if you are not, there is nothing I can give you.") Additionally, when Yaakov said, according to Rashi, "God has withheld children from you and not me, he was not acting viciously. He meant to say, "You have the need, not me, and God has not answered you. You must then be the one to pray, as prayer enables one to reflect on their needs, hopefully directing you to your flaws, and then repent from whatever character trait prevents you from childbearing."
Navi (Prophets)
When Naaman requested Elisha to rid him of his leprosy, Elisha did not leave the house, but rather, he sent a messenger to instruct Naaman to bathe, and this would remove his ailment. Naaman was upset with Elisha, that he did not come out, call upon G-d's name, and "wave his hand over the place of the leprosy and remove it". A friend suggested wisely, that Elisha desired that G-d retain the grandeur for such a miracle, therefore, Elisha did not leave the house. He avoided the spotlight, as Elisha knew that G-d was the performer of all miracles, and did not want to mislead Naaman. Elisha was aware that people desire to believe in man as a miracle worker. Elisha therefore avoided at all cost, taking any credit for that which man has no connection with.
It is the crime of the belief in powers other than Hashem which our prophets so many times criticized the Jews. Hashem sent His prophets to warn the people of their error. The prophet did not speak his own mind, but what was instructed of him by Hashem. We must understand then, that Hashem wills us to follow only Him, as their are no other forces. Deviating from Hashem is what brings His abandonment of Israel, and all the ill fate we experience.
There are many arguments which clearly show the absurdity of such notions as these silver rings:
Ask any of these quoted rabbis if these rings can cause an amputee to regrow that limb. They will of course say the ring has no such ability. Then ask him what is the formula by which the ring may cause their miracles to occur, but not others. If they hold of miraculous cures, why do they not hold that all miracles can be performed by these rings? Why are they speechless when posed with our question? You will see that they have no answers, as these foolish notions are not based on reason as is the Torah and Hashem's laws, "v'chol darcheha, darchei no-am", "and all her ways are ways of pleasantness". Their practices are based on fantasy, but they cloak them with "halachik-type" mystique to resemble halachik institutions.
The reason the proponents of rings will not claim that they make limbs regrow or the like, is simple: They will not place their reputations at risk. The phenomenon which they say are caused by these rings are natural, and for which man cannot pinpoint the cause. Since there is no way - in their minds - of proving these rings didn't cause the phenomena, they will give credit to the rings. People do heal in time, make fortunes, find psychological ease from stress, all without these rings. All that is occurring when one wears the rings is the rabbi taking credit for natural phenomena which will happen anyway. Had the successful business man not worked for months, he would not have made a fortune just sitting at home wearing these rings. But these foolish followers still maintain the rings caused the fortune. if a sickly person wears the rings without taking medicine, he will die. I don't think any of these rabbis quoted would - if sick - abandon medicine in favor of wearing metal ore on a finger. If they would, they are foolish. Maimonides never prescribed such nonsense, he worked within the confines of natural science.
The Talmud states (Avoda Zara 55a) that Zunin, a Jew, asked Rabbi Akiva, "We both know that there is nothing to idolatry, so why is it that I see a sick heathen enter a church, and then see him leave all healed? Rabbi Akiva responded, 'Diseases have a duration, they would have left his body at this time anyway, so just because this fool chose to enter a Church at the precise moment his illness was to leave, should the illness remain and oppose natural law because of this fool?"
This gemara teaches that people will always try to view a phenomena as "cause" for events, if such relationships fit a person's fantasies. In this section of gemara, the heathen undoubtedly felt his prayers to his idols caused his health to return. A chochom as Rabbi Akiva saw the truth. Unfortunately, these rabbi supporting the rings are falling sway to the same idolatrous emotion as this heathen, as they fabricate relationships between the wearing of these idolatrous rings and the latter found success or health. When confronted with such stories, the gemara is what we follow. We don't follow these stories and throw out the Talmud.
Authentic Torah principles are those which sit well with man, they are of ease to his mind and jive with his God-made intellect. yes, there are Chukim, but this does not mean they are bereft of reason, even Shlomo Hamelech knew the reasons for all except one of the Nechash Henechoshes, the Brass Serpent, that it was a physical object which healed, there are two sound responses; 1) This was commanded by Hashem Himself and therefore not Avoda Zara, 2) Chazal already explained that the snake didn't heal, but Hashem did the healing. The snake had no powers.
To arrive at a clear hashkafa, (philosophy) I urge you, read the Torah, see Chazal (the commentators), and understand clearly the precise laws and principles which Hashem wishes we understand. Follow Hashem's word in the T'Nach and talmud, not current view which differ. What will you do when two rabbis argue? You cannot hold they are both right. You must use your own mind to determine the truth, and without Torah knowledge, you will have no tools to do so. Philosophy has no psak (ruling), so study Torah carefully and accurately. Think for yourself, arrive at conclusions only when matters are clear to you.
You are living your life for yourself, and only once. Take great care during your one chance here. Learn what Hashem has placed before you to discern. Hashem designed each of us with reason. We each have the ability to determine what makes sense, and what is false. Don't be afraid to do so.
It is Hashem's will that each person use their own mind, as He has given each of us free choice.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
(Reader's response to article)
"Dear Editor;
It was with great amazement that I read your article regarding Chassideshe men wearing silver rings as amulets. While true amulets are also problematical from a halachik point of view, at least they usually have some writing on them; words that may bring to mind hashkafically true ideas. These rings do not even have the benefit of such words. They are purley physical
objects. Although you cite to a long list of approbations, without seeing what those Rabbis specifically wrote, I cannot accept
them as authority for the investment of powers in thes physical objects. The biggest deficiency of the article is the lack of any suggestion that ascribing powers to these rings is a controversial halachik issue. There are many sources in Chazal and the Rishonim which indicate that investing powers in physical objects is prohibited. A prime example is the Tosefta in Maseches
Shabbos, Perek 7, which states that the wearing of red threads on one's finger is considered being in the "ways of the Emorites". You wrote that if one takes one of these rings into a cemetary, he must immerse the ring in a Mikveh. During the conquest of Eretz Yisrael, the Aron Kodesh went into battle with the Jews. Surely there were dead bodies on the battlefield. Yet the Torah didn't require the purification of the Aron. Are these rings more holy than the Aron Kodesh? People routinely take siddurim & Sefer Tehillim into cemetaries, without immersing them in the Mikveh afterwards. Are these rings more holy than these seforim? It seems to me that elevating these rings to such a "holy" level is an indication that deep in their hearts, the
proponents of wearing these rings recognize the fallacy of attributing powers to thes man made objects."

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