The Spectacular Sufganiya Segula
Today I received an email of segulos for Chanukah, in the name of the very popular Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi (no connection to Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi), from an extremely nice person who unfortunately does not realize that many people are genuinely religiously offended by this sort of thing.
In the long list of segulos were some things that are very valuable. For example:
Mothers should not say to their kids, during Chanukah or at all, "I am tired" or anything in correlation to 'I am tired... not now'. This makes a child feel like they are not important and a burden to their parents and is very hurtful to them and so even if you are tired, and who is not... don't tell them this.
That is very nice advice. Of course, it's not a segulah.
There were other things in the list that are segulos and which, from the perspective of a Maimonidean rationalist, certainly lack any validity:
For all of those who are single or know of someone who wishes to marry, here is one for you: on the Shabbos of Chanukah, you must first light the Chanukah candles and then the Shabbos candles. After both are lit, glance at them both and ask for a zivug, your marriage partner.
Use olive oil, but not just the regular kind, the best one: the one you would use to dress your salad and cook with. And the reasons are that you'll merit:
• Children that have a great memory, consuming olive oil helps you retain your memory
• Children who are wise/smart, as oil rises above water
• Children who have great eyesight, they will be able to see things with a clearer perception.
And then there was this one, which really made my hair stand on end:
The Father of the holy RamBam, zt"l, had said that one should not belittle the power of frying soufganiot in oil. Use plenty of oil, don't be skimpy, it is a segula for parnassa. But unless you want to make the local baker wealthy, you must fry them yourself and eat them as well. Better to be rich and fat, I guess, than skinny and poor.... you choose... Anyway, it's the utmost importance that you make them, you fry them and then you say the bracha of "על המחיה" at the end, which mentions the מזבח which is of course of most relevance during Chanukah.
Why did this bother me so much? Firstly, fried food is positively unhealthy. (In fact, UTJ health minister Yaakov Litzman recently called for people to decrease their consumption of donuts.) Second, it seemed highly unlikely that Rambam's father could have said such a thing, since it goes completely against Rambam's worldview. Third, it was incredibly silly, and yet it was described as being "of the utmost importance"!
So I looked into it, and, much to my complete lack of surprise, it turns out that Rambam's father said no such thing.
Here is the source, first found in a Moroccan manuscript written in 1780:
אין להקל בשום מנהג ואפילו מנהג קל. ויתחייב כל נכון לו עשות משתה ושמחה ומעשים לפרסם הנס שעשה השם יתברך עמנו באותם הימים. ופשט המנהג לעשות סופגנין הנקראים בערבי אלספינ"ג והם הצפיחית בדבש ובתרגום האיסקריטין. והוא מנהג הקדמונים משום שהם קלוים בשמן זכר לברכתו.
Let us assume that the attribution is correct (though it is difficult to rely on a claim in 1780 regarding something allegedly written 700 years earlier). Rambam's father is indeed saying that it is important to have fried foods. However, he is not remotely saying that it has any "power," and certainly not that it is a segulah for parnasah. Instead, he says that it is important because it serves as a remembrance to the miracle. It's as simple as that.
In the past, I have written about how I am fairly tolerant of superstitions - 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)? Furthermore, they can be psychologically helpful.
However, I am gradually becoming less and less sympathetic to them. First of all, I have seen how major organizations capitalize on segulos in order to take advantage of people. Second, the entire anti-scientific mindset is clearly very harmful - just look at the measles outbreak, which seems to be caused by the anti-scientific anti-vaccination movement.
It's a pity that people can't make use of more traditional segulos. I would like to once again share the following list of segulos, sourced in Chazal and the Rishonim, and compiled by my late neighbor Rabbi Dovid Landesman ztz"l:
1. Segulah for recovery from illness – go to a doctor [Berachot 60a, Bava Kamma 46b)
2. Segulah for longevity – lead a healthy lifestyle (Rambam, De’ot 4:20)
3. Segulah for marriage – look for a suitable wife (Kiddushin 2b)
4. Segulah for shalom bayit – love and forbearance (Sanhedrin 7a, Bava Metzia 59a)
5. Segulah for children – prayer to Hashem (Shmuel I 1)
6. Segulah for yir’at Shamayim – learning (Avot 2:5)
7. Segulah for spirituality – learning and mitzvah observance (Megillah 6b)
8. Segulah for kavanna in prayer – take it seriously (Berachot 5:1)
9. Segulah for parnasa – learn a profession (Kiddushin 30a)
10. Segulah for pure faith – don’t believe in segulot (Devarim 18:13)
(On another note - tours on Chanukah of The Biblical Museum of Natural History are filling up, so if you'd like to come, book now!)