Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ask the Rationalist Rabbi

When my reputation as the "Zoo Rabbi" spread, I began to receive hundreds of questions relating to animals. Now that I have a reputation as the "Rationalist Rabbi", I'm receiving new types of questions:

Dear Rabbi Slifkin: G’Mar Chasimah Tova.
I greatly enjoy your books as well as your blogs. I was wondering if you ever heard of a segulah for a pregnant women to wear a ruby (someone tells me it is a Rabbeinu B’chaya on parshas tezaveh) and if so if there are any rationalists who object to it (or any other similar segulah). My wife wants to wear a ruby necklace and I am objecting to it.

Here is the response that I sent:

There is discussion in the Shulchan Aruch etc. about a gemstone that is a segulah for a healthy pregnancy, and Rabbeinu Bachya mentions it too (although I think he talks about eating it, not wearing it). From a rationalist perspective, this is extremely unlikely to be physiologically helpful, and some might even be opposed to it as being superstitious. On the other hand, never underestimate the power of placebo, and of making your wife happy; there may to be more to lose than to gain by objecting to it.
Check out this post and the comments to it:
Best wishes,
Natan Slifkin


  1. You're answer is, in my opinion, a good one, but I see you chose not to answer this part of the question:

    "if there are any rationalists who object to it (or any other similar segulah). "

    Not that there's anything wrong with that.

  2. Here is a post from the Divrei Chaim blog about the R. Bachya; he also makes reference to kapporos, inyana d'yoma.

    Also, a link to an American Yated article on the segulah of red strings(quoting R. Shimon Schwab);

    Finally, a link to a shiur of "Segulos and Superstition" on Torah Web by RHS:

  3. In the shiur on segulos, RHS quotes a story about a chassan who asked RYBS about dressing in a certain way as a segulah which his mother in law requested. RYBS told him that it's forbiden, because of "darchei emorei", but "if it makes your mother- in- law happy, then you should do it".

    What is the mechanisim in halacha to transgress darchei emori to please one's mother- in- law?

  4. "What is the mechanisim in halacha to transgress darchei emori to please one's mother- in- law"

    it would seem to me that this might be encoded in the Tosefta:
    אל תעבור שלא תפסוק אהבתנו הרי זה מדרכי האמורי ואם מפני [כבוד] ה"ז מותר.

    and not just for kavod but for other reasons. if you are doing it for non-superstitious reasons, then it is not superstition. here, he is acting, but not because there is any superstition on his part -- indeed, he knows it is assur -- but he is acting rationally in order to make someone else happy.

    i can see how one can argue it the other way, in this particular case, however, since he is doing it to satisfy someone else's superstition whims and beliefs.

    kol tuv,

  5. It's weird, but it did happen with friends from our old neighborhood. The wife was having trouble with early labor, and the husband's Lubavitcher sister suggested wearing a ruby. So he got her a small ruby necklace, and the baby stayed in. Then when the time came, the labor was very long (it was her first), and the sister-in-law noticed she was still wearing the ruby. They took it off, and little Penina popped right out.

    I'm not claiming it's a "proven segulah", but it's something I can't explain. And I trust these people to be telling me the truth. Not that this makes it any better proof than FOAF, hence "urban legend." Still.

  6. Thing to keep in mind is that the Ruby segula is just about the only one mentioned explicitly in Rishonim. This makes it night-and-day different from any other practice, since Darchei Emori only discusses things that are of non-Jewish origin, not things that have a Jewish mesora.


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