Red string (Kabbalah)
The red string itself is usually made from thin red wool thread. It is worn, or tied, as a type of bracelet or "band" on the left wrist of the wearer (the receiving side).
Traditional Jewish beliefsThe wearing of a red string cut from a longer length that has been wound around Rachel's Tomb is an ancient segula (propitious remedy) to protect the wearer from danger.
According to the "Ask The Rabbi" column on the Ohr Somayach, Jerusalem website:
...There is no written mention in the Torah, Halachah or Kabbalah about tying a red string around the wrist. However, it seems to be a custom that has been around for some time, and may be based on Torah or Kabbalistic ideas. If there is any validity to the custom, it would be considered a segulah or protective type of act...There are sources for such special properties of seguloth. The Torah states, "The Lord your God has chosen you to be His Am Segulah (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 segulah? Rabbi 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 mitzvoth 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 to spare Leah shame and embarrassment. Later, Rachel willingly returned her soul to God on the lonely way to Beit Lechem, in order to pray there for the desperate Jews that would 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.Similarly, Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky writes more critically on the Aish HaTorah site, pointing to the ambiguous origin and controversial nature of using the red string even among the ancient rabbis:
Firstly, there is absolutely no genuine kabbalistic source for wearing a red thread around one's wrist to ward off the "evil eye." While there exists such a practice amongst some devout Jews, it is not mentioned in any kabbalistic work. Yes, there is a fleeting mention in the Talmud about the practice of tying a bundle of herbs or gems and wearing them in order to ward off the "evil eye." No special color, nor Rachel, nor even thread are mentioned. Also, the comment is an offhand remark concerning laws of Sabbath observance.
One of the late great scholars, the Debreczyner Rav, mentions it as a practice he saw in his father's home, but his extensive search could not find a written source for the practice.
The good news is that there is a clear and early source that mentions tying a red string to ward off an "evil eye" and that is in the Tosefta, an early Talmudic work (Shabbat, ch. 7-8). The bad news is that it clearly states that tying a red string around oneself is severely prohibited. It is characterized as "Darchei Emori," a worthless, superstitious practice, close to idol-worship.
Biblical historyA scarlet thread, tied about the wrist, is mentioned in Genesis 38. Tamar becomes pregnant by her father-in-law, Judah, and gives birth to twin boys. The following verses about this event are taken from the Etz Hayim chumash:
- Genesis, chapter 38:
- 27 - When the time came for her to give birth, there were twins in her womb!
- 28 - While she was in labor, one of them put out his hand, and the midwife tied a crimson thread on that hand, to signify: This one came out first.
- 29 - But just then he drew back his hand, and out came his brother; and she said, "What a breach you have made for yourself!" So he was named Perez.
- 30 - Afterward his brother came out, on whose hand was the crimson thread; and he was name Zerah.
Modern trendThere was a contemporary resurgence of the red string in the 1980s post-Intifada period in Israel, perhaps best understood as a type of folklore created under conditions of personal and national anxiety and stress.
In the late 1990s the red string became popular with many celebrities in the United States, including many non-Jews. Led by Madonna and her children, those that have taken to wearing them have included: Michael Jackson, Rosie O'Donnell, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, Paris and Nicky Hilton, Britney Spears, Sienna Miller, Paulina Rubio, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, Charlize Theron, Sid Curtis, Mariah Carey, Lucy Liu, Kylie Minogue, Mick Jagger, David Paterson, Naomi Campbell, Camilla Parker-Bowles, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, David and Victoria Beckham, Avril Lavigne, Sandra Bernhard, Reese Witherspoon, Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Lauren Conrad, and Anthony Kiedis.
This resurgence is often linked to Philip Berg's controversial Kabbalah Centre.
CriticismA report in The Guardian newspaper casts doubt on the claims that commercially sold red string has been taken to holy sites in Israel.
- Tannenbaum, Rabbi Gershon (10 February 2012). "The Red Strings of Kever Rochel". The Jewish Press. Retrieved 17 March 2012.
- Rossoff, Dovid (October 1997). "Tomb of Rachel". The Jewish Magazine. Retrieved 17 March 2012.
- Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman (19 June 2004 / 30 Sivan 5764). "The red string of proctection". ohr.edu. Retrieved 18 October 2010.
- Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky (August 28, 2004). "Is there any substance behind the latest fad: kabbalistic red strings?". aish.com. Retrieved 18 October 2010.
- (Teman, Elly. 2008. "The Red String: A Cultural History of a Jewish Folk Symbol," in: Bronner, Simon J. (ed.), Jewishness: Expression, Identity, Representation, Inaugural volume in book series on Jewish Cultural Studies, Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization)
- Simon J. Bronner. "Jewish Cultural Studies, Volume 1 - Jewishness: Expression, Identity, and Representation". littman.co.uk. Retrieved 18 October 2010. Elly Teman. "The Red String: The Cultural History of a Jewish Folk Symbol". scribd.com. Retrieved 18 October 2010.
- "Kabbalah: who has a red string and why?".
- Nephin, Dan (12 February 2005). "Kabbalah not a celebrity fashion statement, Jews say". Deseret News.
- Lappin, Elena (11 December 2004). "The Thin Red Line". London: The Guardian., investigative article
- "Inside Hollywood's Hottest Cult". radaronline.com.
- "Madonna Gives Her Money Away". Fox News. 2006-07-12.
- Elena Lappin (11 December 2004). "The thin red line - part one". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 18 October 2010.
- Elena Lappin (11 December 2004). "The thin red line - part two". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 18 October 2010.
- Faithful of Rachel's Tomb: The Mystical Red String from the Tomb of Rachel
- Beliefnet: Why the Red String?
- Teman, Elly. 2008. "The Red String: A Cultural History of a Jewish Folk Symbol," in: Bronner, Simon J. (ed.), Jewishness: Expression, Identity, Representation, Inaugural volume in book series on Jewish Cultural Studies, Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization.