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What are those red strings I see people wearing around their wrists?

by Rabbi Moshe Miller

  

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The red strings are quite simply superstitions with no basis in Scripture or Jewish Law. There does seem to be a custom of wrapping a red string around the Tomb of Rachel1 , to ward off the “evil eye.” But again, this “tradition” may well have its origins in non-Jewish superstitions. The strings are being presented as protection against the “evil eye” by unscrupulous peddlers who want to make a quick buck from unsuspecting people.

If one wears the red string as a momento of a visit to Rachel's Tomb, that would not be a terrible thing in my opinion.

But what if someone believes in the 'power' of such a string? Does the Torah permit such a belief? It reminds me of a story about the famous quantum physicist Neils Bohr. A friend of his noticed that he had a horseshoe above his front door and asked him, "What? Do you, Niels Bohr the famous scientist, believe in such nonsense?" "No," he replied, "but they say it works even if you don't believe in it." In the case of the red string I would say, "it doesn't work even if you do believe in it."
 
Is it against the Torah? The Torah tells us to remain faithfully wholehearted in our belief in G-d.2 G-d gives us the Commandments that we need to fulfill, and how to fulfill them as laid out in the Code of Jewish Law. We don't need to search high and low for dubious good luck charms.
 
Of course, there are certain segulot prescribed by Kabbalists and saintly rabbis, but the red string is not one of them, as far as I am aware. If you have a specific issue that needs attention, you would be advised to discuss it with a competent rabbi, kabbalist or Torah teacher.

The strings are being presented as protection against the “evil eye” by unscrupulous peddlers who want to make a quick buck from unsuspecting people
[This shouldn’t be confused with the (white or blue) strings you see hanging near the pockets of men’s pants. They are in fact strings tied to the edges of a four-cornered garment worn by orthodox Jewish men in fulfillment of Biblical commandment in the verse “They shall make fringes upon the corners of their garments.”]3

Footnotes

  • 1. According to the mystical book "Otzrot Yerushalayim", it appears that the strings from Mother Rachel's grave can indeed offer salvation, particularly in regards to having a successful pregnancy and healthy children.
  • 2. (Devarim/Deuteronomy 18:13)
  • 3. Numbers 15:28.

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Rachel
Third of the four Jewish matriarchs. Daughter of Laban, favorite wife of Patriarch Jacob, and mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Died while giving birth to Benjamin in 1557 BCE.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.