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Why do some orthodox Jews burn their finger nail clippings?

by Rabbi Yossi Marcus


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Some orthodox Jews have the custom to get rid of nail trimmings either by fire or by flushing it down the toilet. The source for this custom is in the Talmud, tractate Nidah, page 17a:

“One who trims his nails and throws them into a public area [causes great harm] because a pregnant woman may walk over them and miscarry… Three things were said about nail trimmings: He who burns them is pious (Chassid); he who buries them is righteous (Tzadik); he who throws them [to the ground] is wicked.”

For some reason, if a pregnant woman walks over nail trimmings it could be harmful to the fetus. Whether this is a physiological or mystical thing I do not know. I suspect it is mystical.

(I have noticed that on Rabbi Ginsburg’s Kabbalah website, the idea is explained very simply: “lest a pregnant woman come and step on them, causing pain or fright that could lead to a miscarriage…”

when something appears "weird" in the Talmud it is more likely due to my ignorance than to the Talmud's supposed naiveté.
From a Kabbalistic perspective, the nails are representative of negativity in general and must therefore be destroyed.

So a righteous person buries them (or flushes them down the toilet as is done nowadays by “the righteous”), but the pious person goes even further and burns them. The pious person is concerned that if he buries them they may eventually be dug up and cause harm. So he burns them to a crisp ensuring that they never resurface.

The talmudic commentator Tosafot explains that destroying something of your own body is harmful. Again, I don’t know if this is physiological or mystical. So when the pious person burns his nails he is overlooking his own harm in order to protect another person. That’s why it’s only the pious that will do it.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe often referred to this comment of Tosafot when encouraging his students to engage in Jewish outreach in spiritual deserts, saying that even if you will suffer spiritually because of your exposure to the secular world, as a Chassid (“pious one”), you ought to overlook your own spiritual harm for the sake of another.)

There may be some who would point to such statements in the Talmud and say that it is full of superstitious rubbish. (That’s why you have people like Rabbi Ginsburg explaining these things in a rational way and sometimes they do a good job.) As for me, there is enough wisdom in the Talmud to convince me that when something appears “weird” in the Talmud it is more likely due to my ignorance than to the Talmud’s supposed naiveté.

TAGS: nails


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destroying nails

Posted by: Ilan, Sarzeau, Brittany, France on Jan 05, 2005

I am wondering if human nails, which are similar to bone, hard material in contrast with the soft skin (hands) do not allude to our "animal side": the claws of predators... So, in order to be more "human," more spiritual beings, we have to cut off the nails, not letting them growing like predators' claws. And so, throwing them in fire or in the ground is also casting off our animal side? (and all what is related to it according to the Torah: lust, greediness, etc.) Forgive my English! which is a little rusty...

More comments will be appreciated!


Posted by: Hundredquestions, Berlin, Berlin, Germany on Mar 07, 2005

Actually, fingernails are a very filthy thing. Bacteria, rests of human hair and skin gather under the fingernails, even if you wash thoroughly. And you clip it and throw it to the ground... So if maybe a pregnant woman walks barefoot, she could prick her foot stepping on this filthy, contaminated object and the bacteria and dirt could enter through that mini-wound. Since the wound caused by the clipped fingernail is quite little, it will not bleed very much, so that the contamination will enter the body of the pregnant woman.

In the human foot, there run a lot of nerves and blood vessels which could transport the contamination further into the body of the pregnant woman. This could lead to a blood poisoning with high fever. This usually leads to death of the fetus and abort.

cut finger nails

Posted by: Arie, Hezelia, Israel on Apr 21, 2006

An ancient kabalistic opinion is:

finger nails are actually part of the human body. when cut off and thrown on the floor or the garbage, it gives an opportunity to Satan or other negative energies to "hook on" the person and posses him, therefore one should remove the nails with a knife place them a sheet of paper and burn them.

Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) A follower of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
One who follows the teachings of the Chassidic group which was formerly based in the Belarus village of Lubavitch. Today, the movement is based in Brooklyn, New York with branches worldwide. The Lubavitch movement is also widely known as "Chabad."
(adj.) Pertaining to Kabbalah—Jewish mysticism.
(fem. Tzidkanit; pl. Tzadikim). A saint, or righteous person.