The Red String


 
 
 

The Red String of Protection

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman


http://ohr.edu/yhiy/article.php/1732
From: Debra

Dear Rabbi,

Is it true that according to Kabala or possibly the Zohar that a person who wears a red string will be protected from the evil eye or evil forces?  When did all of this begin? What is the meaning of wearing a red string? What kind of a red string are they talking about? Why would the red string protect us from the evil eye? Is there any truth in this? Thank you.

Dear Debra,

There is no written mention in the Torah, Halacha or Kabala about tying a red string around the wrist as protection from the evil eye. In Genesis 38:28 we do find the following: “And it came about when [Tamar] gave birth, that [the infant] stretched out his hand. So the midwife took and bound a crimson thread on his hand, saying, ‘This one came out first’”.  However the commentaries don’t view this as protection, rather as a sign as to which twin breached first.

Several Talmudic sources mention “tying”, “thread”, and “red”, but none mention specifically tying a red thread around the wrist for protection against the evil eye. The Gemorra (Shabbat 67a) allows painting a red band around the trunk of a fruit tree as a sign for people to pray that the fruit not fall. The Tosefta (Shabbat 8:4) may prohibit “tying a thread on red” which, according to the commentaries, either means tying a thread on something red, or on account of a red skin condition; in any case the thread itself is not red. The closest we get is the Tosefta (Shabbat 7:1) that prohibits tying a red string around the finger because of "Darchei Emori," a superstitious practice resembling idol-worship. However, since this is enumerated among other witchcraft-like practices, it is different than the custom of tying around the wrist, which would not be include in the prohibition.

On the contrary, a great Rabbi, the Debreczyner Rav, wrote that he recalls seeing the custom in his father's home, but he was unable to find a written source for the practice. A revered Torah scholar in Jerusalem also told me that he remembers as a child seeing very reliable people practicing the custom. Therefore, even though the practice is not mentioned in our sources, it seems to be a custom that has been around for some time, and may be based on Torah or Kabalistic ideas. If there is any validity to the custom, it would be considered a “segula” or protective type of act.

There are sources for such special properties of segulas. The Torah states, “The Lord your God has chosen you to be His Am Segula - treasured people, out of all the peoples upon the face of the earth” (Deut. 7:6). Why are the Jewish people called G-d’s segula? Rav Chaim of Voloshzin says it’s on account of the Torah and mitzvoth that have a miraculous effect on them, enabling their prayers to be answered in a special way. In fact, the mitzvoth themselves are protective: Charity protects from natural death, Sanctifying the new moon protects from unnatural death, the Succah protects from exile, and so on.

Therefore a custom that is based on Torah ideas or mitzvot, may also have special segula properties on a smaller scale. Regarding the red string, the custom is to tie a long red thread around the burial site of Rachel, the wife of Jacob. Rachel selflessly agreed that her sister marry Jacob first, in order to spare Leah shame and embarrassment. Later, Rachel willingly returned her soul to G-d on the lonely way to Beit Lechem, in order to pray there for the desperate Jews that would later pass by on their way to exile and captivity. Often, one acquires the red string when giving charity.

Perhaps for these reasons the red thread is considered a protective segula: it recalls the great merit of our matriarch Rachel, reminding us to emulate her modest ways of consideration, compassion, and selflessness for the benefit of others, while simultaneously giving charity to the poor and needy. It follows that this internal reflection that inspires good deeds, more than the string itself, would protect one from evil and harm.

One man I know jokingly said he keeps the red thread on as a segula against having to give money to the people selling red threads. However, a woman I know said she went to Rachel’s tomb and took upon herself to wear the red thread until she would find her soul-mate. On the day she met her husband, the thread miraculously fell off her wrist. Another woman said she took upon herself to wear the string until she would get married. It fell off a few years later before going to the mikvah in preparation for her chuppah.

Sources:

• For more sources see Yerushalmi, Shevi’it 4:4 and Ma’aser Sheni 5:1
• Beit Yosef, Yoreh Deah, Ch. 178
• Nefesh HaChaim
• Sefer HaBrit 4:82
 

(C) 2004 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved.
 Reproduced with permission
http://ohr.edu


 
Among some Jews it has been a custom to wear a red string around one's wrist -- a string that was cut from one wound a number of times around Rachel's cenotaph.  We are offering just such a piece of string to anyone who offers a donation to The Friends of Rachel's Tomb.

HOWEVER, so not to suggest taht the the red string is a magic or mystical amulet please realize that historically, the practice of wearing a red string from Rachel's Tomb around one's wrist is a custom that goes back only 150 years. The practice was started about then and it was most likely a string used as a souvenir by those who visited the Tomb - a souvenir and that's all.  The problem is that there are pseudo-kabalists around the world who claim that the red string has deep kabalistic significance and they claim - erroneously - that it is an amulet that, by wearing it alone, will bring profound blessings to the wearer.  Most are vague about the sorts of blessings one may expect to receive from the string but insist the blessings will be significant. A few go so far as to claim that it will cure disease, give a person a livelihood, direct a person to their life's partner.  All of those pseudo-kabalists sell their strings for a steep price - especially the ones who claim that they bless their strings with an obscure kabalistic blessing, supposedly known only to a very select few, which gives it much more 'power'.   I must emphatically state that there is NO mystical significance to such red strings.   There is NO mention of the red string in any volume of Jewish kabalistic literature. In fact the REAL kabbalists, rabbis of Jerusalem who are Torah scholars who border on genius, all say that such red strings contain absolutely no kabalistic significance whatsoever.

We may freely attach our own meanings to the strings, such as regarding it as a 'segulah' mentioned above by R. Ullman above, but that's not from a mystical source, that's a meaning we are free to attach to the string if we want.  And if, by wearing it, we are inspired to do good and improve our deeds then the good that will come of it will be due to our changed behavior, not just because we wear a red string.  The problem is that shysters are trying to make a fast buck by making ridiculous claims about it having deep mystical roots and being an amulet that will work near-miracles.

A number of years ago, in the mid-90s, the Israeli government was considering handing over Rachel's Tomb to the PLO as part of Israel's surrender of land in the form of the bogus "Peace Process".  In order to spread the word about their plans and galvanize public opinion against such a move our organization did it's part and handed out red strings by the bunches to people on the street while we talked to them about the threat against Rachel's Tomb. People here wore the strings in order to advertize what was going on, kinda like a button one would wear in order to show support for a political issue.  Well, once the word got around there was a hue and cry against handing over to the PLO so today Rachel's Tomb is an enclave surrounded by 30 foot concrete walls. The walls themselves aren't very pretty, but  thank God it's still in our hands.

Now we'll be happy to send 2 strings so long the recipients realize the true essence of these strings: it's just a string that was wound around Rachel's cenotaph at her Tomb, nothing more. If it inspires one to behave better and do more good, then that's a not becasue of the string itself, it's becasue the object inspired them.  We are happy to ship strings and we only ask for a donation of US $7.00 which is enough to cover our shipping and handling costs. We limit orders to 2 strings . We do not honor requests for "bulk" orders as that would defeat our purpose of trying to undercut those pseudo-kabalists who are out to profit from this.

If you would care to donate above and beyond the $7 we would very gratefully accept more, but it isn't necessary for the sake of a red string. You may go to our web site's donations page
html and use the credit card or PayPal feature. I'm sorry that we can't accept checks anymore, as recent changes by the American law now prevent money changers here from accepting personal checks not made out to the money changer itself, and our bank no longer accepts personal checks from abroad.  If you do donate, please then inform us of your postal address and we'll ship them out within a few days.

For Tax deductible donations in the United States, for over $100.00 please make your check out to "Central Fund of Israel" and mail to P.O. Box 24, Elazar, 90942, Israel

To find out more about our organization, click here to visit the rest of our site.