Being the Zoo Rabbi, I receive some unusual questions and requests. There was the woman who wrote to ask me if she should teach Torah to her dog, because it was the reincarnated spirit of her late husband. There was the man who asked to borrow my chameleon, in order to cure cancer. There was the new couple who consulted me about their shalom bayis problems, relating to the husband not wanting to murder any bugs that were in the house, much to his wife's distress.
Today's request falls into that category. My administrator at The Biblical Museum of Natural History just contacted me about how to handle a request that we received. Somebody desperately wants to borrow goat horns to place in her home for a few days, as a segulah. And we do indeed have some goat horns at the museum (along with horns of kudu, oryx, impala, blackbuck, eland, springbok, blesbok, pronghorn, mouflon, aoudad, rhinoceros, jackalope and unicorn), which were made into shofars (strangely, many of the alleged "ram's horn shofars" on the market are actually from goats). What should we say?
Now, I didn't hear what the goat horns are allegedly a segulah for. (It might have something to do with the Amiltai segulah.) But, coming from a Maimonidean rationalist perspective, I am confident that they don't actually function as a segulah for anything. So what should I tell her?
On the one hand, I don't want to cooperate with, and effectively endorse, highly irrational beliefs that have nothing to do with traditional Judaism. But on the other hand, the person appears to be in a situation of distress, and it could be psychologically beneficial to provide the segulah. It also depends on whether the problem is a medical problem, which can be greatly alleviated by the placebo effect, or an external problem, which cannot be solved merely because one believes it will be solved. If it's the latter, then either her problem will be solved, in which case it doesn't matter if she doesn't get my goat, or it won't, in which case any comfort derived from the goat horns will be undone.
So what should I reply? Yes? No? Only if it's a medical problem? Unfortunately I don't think that there is any objectively correct answer to this question.