Ancient Jewish Customs Are Revered Because…

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First of two parts


Dateline JerusalemBubba meises – Yiddish for grandmother stories — are old wives’ tales handed down for generations.

I used to love to listen to my grandmother who lived to 100, may she rest in peace.


She told me of customs and traditions passed down in her family. She did not know the reasoning behind some folklore, but she learned them from her mother.


Many are nonsensical superstitions, unfounded ideologies inherited from our ancestors. Some, though, have a logical basis.


In a Jewish treatise The Book of the Pious, Sefer Hasidim wrote, “One should not believe in superstition, but it is best to be heedful of them.”


Believe it or not, the Talmud often is quoted as a source of some sayings our families lived by.  There is even a bubbe meise about putting one’s finger in one’s nose because if you do, according to the Talmud, Pesachim 112a, “you will live in fear.”


According to Talmudic sages, a person’s luck or fortune, his mazal, changes when he moves to a new location.


According to Kabbalah, the most propitious day of the week to move is Tuesday.  It is the only day of which G-d twice said “it is good.”


Shabbat and Jewish holidays are days of rest. Moving cannot take place then. The divine attribute of severity is dominant on Mondays and Wednesdays, eliminating them.


I find living in Israel, almost everyday someone says “pooh, pooh, pooh,” with an accompanying spit three times. Three is considered a mystical number.


Jews have performed this ritual for centuries when seeing or hearing of something bad. It also is done when trying to prevent something bad from happening to ward off the Evil Eye when something good occurs.


It goes along with the automatic bli ayin hara, Hebrew for “without the evil eye.
Kein ayin hora is Yiddish for “no evil eye.”


A Few Superstitions

For example, whenever I tell someone she has a pretty or a smart child, I find myself automatically saying bli ayin hara.  Throughout our history, Jews seem to have been obsessed with the Evil Eye and evil spirits.


Other events may also bring on the Evil Eye or bad luck.  Boasting of one’s success is avoided.  I have friends who are hesitant to say how many children and/or grandchildren they have for fear of something happening to them.


Another common practice to ward off the Evil Eye is tying a red ribbon or string to a baby’s crib since red was used when creating the Holy Temple.


The red thread was from a species of worm. Although a worm is the lowest form of creation, the Temple would not have been built without it.  Therefore, the red ribbon reminds us that a person should be humble as a worm but that humbleness is a weapon against the Evil Eye.


Another form of protection is to change the name of a sick and dying person in order to deceive the Angel of Death, and to name a newborn child after an elderly Jew who has died but lived a long life.


In synagogue there is a common practice to close prayer books and Talmudic tracts when opening others to prevent the evil power of demons from taking “holy knowledge” and using it for nefarious purposes.


(To be continued)

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