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The Ring of Power
There has been much discussion about a large ad in last week's Mishpachah for a segulah ring; you can see the pages of the advertisement here and here. R. Josh Waxman has discovered more information about the ring and has some valuable analysis here and here. (And thanks to the Jewish Worker for alerting me to this.)
Many have observed that this ring has certain resemblances to the One Ring of Power in The Lord of the Rings. However, there are also certain differences; here is a table listing both similarities and differences:
Silver Segulah Ring The One Ring Crafted by G-d fearing Yidden in purity Crafted by the Dark Lord, Sauron, in evil Made from pure silver Made from pure gold Immersed in a mikvah Immersed in the volcanic fires of Mount Doom Must be double-wrapped at all times Must be secured as tends to escape its bearer Engraved with special holy Sheimos HaKedoshim Engraved with Sauron's incantations Cannot be manufactured by anyone other than Mr. Avraham Leib Schwartz Cannot be manufactured by anyone other than Sauron Possesses special powers Possesses special powers Can be purchased Not generally available
Contrary to what some might expect, I don't make a habit of scoffing at segulos on this website, for several reasons. One is that it's all too easy for blog to descend in scoffing; I try to engage in the more difficult task of constructing a school of thought rather than destructing others. It's not as though any of my readers are going to be buying it, anyway.
Furthermore, one person's segulah is another person's fundamental religious belief. How much more inherently irrational are segulos than, say, tefillas haderech (which I am extremely makpid about)? True, one can draw distinctions, but the efficacy of petitionary prayer may be difficult to justify on a solely rational level. In fact, it seems that according to Rambam, while petitionary prayer is of great religious importance, it does not actually serve to attain the object of one's requests. (See Marvin Fox, Interpreting Maimonides, for extensive discussion of this.) Of course, even according to this approach, there are still much better reasons for engaging in petitionary prayer than in segulos!
However, segulos can be helpful on a psychological level. In Making Of A Godol, Rabbi Nosson Kametzky describes how the whole Amukah-shidduch-segulah was invented a few decades ago by an enterprising tour operator. Yet Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was not in favor of revealing this to the public, since he believed that it was comforting for people to go there.
On the other hand, the "segulah ring" seems to be an attempt to extract money from gullible people via highly misleading claims, which makes it more dangerous. A few years ago, I was horrified to find that our cleaner was giving all the money we paid her to a person who claimed to have special powers of prayer. And when my father z"l was dying, the segulah-hawkers quickly came out of the woodwork. Last year, in Israel, there was a news report about a "kabbalist" who had taken a fortune from gullible people (can anyone provide the link?). And the tactics of Kupat Ha'Ir in Bnei Brak for preying upon people's emotional weaknesses, are simply disgusting (although at least in that case, the money is for charitable purposes, albeit debatably).
So, in light of the particular excesses of the segulah ring - its extreme promises and its requirement for payment - I think it certainly should be criticized. However, it is important to be thoughtful about this, rather than to have a knee-jerk reaction to scoff at anything that doesn't meet one's own personal standard of rationality.