Monday, December 18, 2006

segulos for sale?

An ad in a local Jewish paper boldly offers “Well known proven segulahs!” You can have someone pray at the kosel for 40 days for $40 (yes, folks, that’s only $1 a day!), recite Shir haShirim for 40 days for $40, have 10 talmidei chachamim learning mishnayos & say kaddish $30 for 30 days, etc. All that’s missing is a money back guarantee, but I guess you can’t have everything.

Some days I wonder just why I am slaving away here at work (I have a regular job in corporate America). Were I more enterprising I would incorporate as a non-profit and send out my rate card for segulos and zechuyos for all your life problems. Just how much is a blatt gemara worth? What about a blatt Yerushalmi (can’t get that just anywhere!)? Or maybe the better way to do it is a daily auction on e-bay, where the highest bidder gets a portion of the zechuyos?

Giving tzedaka to support people learning is a great thing, but it seems to me that there is something wrong here.

40 comments:

  1. yehuda12:57 PM

    I also don't know why someone would slave away in corporate America if(1) he is capable of being a yissocher (2)has a zevolun to support him.For the record; although I was in kollel for many years noone (other then my wife)supported me (my inlaws included)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Baruch Horowitz1:14 PM

    I don't believe in sensationalizing segulos in advertsing or articles on the topic(one article on segulos in a charedi weekly, unbalanced in my opinion, quoted without comment the segulah of using a deceased tzadik's mikvah water, unaware that the very practice was criticized in a Jewish Observer article by a Rosh Yeshivah) , but I understand that some relate to them as an important part of their Avodas Hashem. We need a better balance.

    Some of my comments elsewhere on the net:


    “While authority is a bedrock of our religion, conditioning towards appeals to authority are, frankly, why people believe in the Babas and the red strings.”

    That’s precisely why I am concerned about imbalances as far as supra-rationality goes. Because I want people to believe in the authenticity of the Zohar, and certainly more fundamental parts of Judaism, that is why red strings can be problematic for rational types. From a pychological perspective—and to speak of psychology regarding emunah does not contradict the concept of free-will(see R. Dessler’s Nekudas Habechirah)—, we all have a finite degree of credibility. One certainly shouldn’t equate the thirteen ikkarim with belief in red strings, even if there is basis for them in a sefer.

    We should view our faith as something delicate and precious, and not strech our capacity for credibility. As an analogy, see Alei Shur, Volume II, page 296 regarding telling stories of tzadikim of dubious veracity, where Rav Wolbe states that this can be very harmful to Emunas Chachamim.

    It is especially relevant for people who have greater exposure to the secular world, although one may argue that even insular Meah Shearim types are potentially at risk as well(one might distinguish between not exposing people to certain topics, which has basis in the Gemera, versus actual distortions). There is also unfortunately an organization which missionizes charedim, and will counter any intellectual arguments which are not rigorous.

    I also agree with the article in Hamishpacha Magazine that quoted Rabbi Slifkin that distorting truth is unacceptable in Kiruv, based on the Yam Shel Shlomo. Yiddishkeit based on a lack of truth can only be detrimental for a person’s Yiddishkeit in the long run.


    I would like to add that I am not knocking segulos, as the concept is in the gemera; rather, I merely pointing out imbalances in this regard, and that some people would benefit concentrating on “bread and butter” type of issues in Yahadus.

    For example, I was once part of a group walking down the steep mountain , on which sits the old Beis Hakevaros of Tzfas. I davened at the graves of the different mekubalim and tzaddikim(but did not immerse in the Arizal’s mikvah!). At the bottom, we were told that it is a segula, or an inyan, to walk seven times around a certain grave(Hoshea ben B’eri?).

    I had never heard of this practice, and I therefore did not do so. Now, if my lack of participation could have been construed as challenging this practice, I would have probably done so, despite my feelings on the matter. Also, if I had studied Kabbalah and had an appreciation for mysticisim, that would be something else. However, since that wasn’t the case, I felt no need to do what the others were doing, merely because there is an “inyan” to do it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous1:35 PM

    You think segulos are crazy, thats nothing. I know people who think that if they don't eat a cheeseburger somehow they will get rewarded for that!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous1:39 PM

    check this out.

    http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/PYes/ArticleDetails.cfm?Book_ID=12&ThisGroup_ID=235&Type=Article

    ReplyDelete
  5. "You think segulos are crazy, thats nothing. I know people who think that if they don't eat a cheeseburger somehow they will get rewarded for that!" :

    Anonymous,

    If you are referring to me,that is unfair. I wrote explicitly:

    "I would like to add that I am not knocking segulos, as the concept is in the gemera; rather, I merely pointing out imbalances in this regard, and that some people would benefit concentrating on “bread and butter” type of issues in Yahadus."

    I tend to think that Yiddishkeit on a whole, has embraced more mystical aspects since the Rambam's time, and were the Rambam here, he might make peace with it(eg, see Rambam at the end of Meilah regarding supra-rational chukkim).

    Nevertheless, one can respect the concept of segulos, feel that a better balance is needed-- such as eschewing sensationalist advertising-- and stll be a charedi l'mehadrin(at least I hope so!).

    ReplyDelete
  6. BTW, this topic was discussed previously on this blog. See also my comment at the end of the thread.


    http://divreichaim.blogspot.com/2006/06/yes-virgina-there-is-more-to-judaism.html

    ReplyDelete
  7. Just to clarify: I have no problem with anyone digging up some segulah they choose to believe in and acting on it. That's not my form of Judaism, but hey, if it works for you and you have a source that says it is OK, go for it. My problem is that advertising it to the masses who do not discriminate between not eating a cheeseburger and saying 40 kapitlach of tehillim for some benefit 1) leads to a complete distortion of perspective re: what Judaism is about; 2) preys on the uneducated who contribute money in an act of desperation hoping this is the proven miracle cure to their problems. This borders on out and out theft and misrepresentation.

    Yehudah,
    There is that little idea of 'yigiya kapecha ki tochal ashrecha v'tov lach', but if you are making an offer can I forward my mortgage bill to you : )

    ReplyDelete
  8. "Just to clarify..."

    That was the thrust of my comments as well.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Perhaps I can start charging people for being mafdrish Challah ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anonymous4:28 PM

    > My problem is that advertising it to the masses who do not discriminate between not eating a cheeseburger and saying 40 kapitlach of tehillim for some benefit

    If I recall correctly, you are not a fan of rational taamei hamitzvot, but rather believe that they are beyond our ability to understand, and may all have mystical ends rather than rational ends. If so, please explain the difference between a segulah and not eating a cheeseburger. I can't see any.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Litvak6:39 PM

    Another problem with such ads is that they make it sound like someone will be doing those things for the sponsor personally, when I suspect that actually they do it for all customers simultaneously and collect the fee from each of them. That should be spelled out in the terms of the advertisement.

    'Perhaps I can start charging people for being mafrish Challah ;-)'

    Yes, that's it, maybe you gotta get into that big time, it could be the next big new segula fad to hit the market. Maybe some nice ads and maybe a Challah magazine or something. Kallah magazine is an older concept, we need something newer and more original, challah, kallah, almost the same anyway... ;-)

    Hey, I just thought of a better idea - segulos (or segula) magazine ! There can also be a newsletter 'segula-watch' and maybe there could be an accrediting agency for segula-mongers. Segulas with hechsheirim perhaps ? Wow, there is potential for a whole industry here.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Litvak6:42 PM

    For the first issue of Segula magazine, I suggest an expose on the Amuka segula scam.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Litvak6:45 PM

    Different issues can have different themes, e.g. issue # 1 segulas for parnosso, issue # 2 segulos for refuah, issue # 3 for shidduchim, #4 children, etc.

    Okay, as per my previous comment issue #3 would have to come first.

    ReplyDelete
  14. "If so, please explain the difference between a segulah and not eating a cheeseburger"

    One is a mitzvah, whose validity comes from our basic belief in Torah min Hashomayim; a segulah, on the other hand, is as strong as its source.

    According to the Ramban in Veschanon, keeping a vivid, realistic, mental picture of Maamad Har Sinia is a mitzvah, based on the passuk:

    "Look out for yourself and guard your life exceedingly, lest you forget the words your eyes witnessed, and lest they are removed from your mind, all the days of your life; you will make them known to your children and to your grandchildren."

    To me, this is Yiddishkeit 101.

    Not eating a cheeseburger comes from Har Sinia, although it's ultimate meaning may be a mystical one according to kabbalah. See Rambam at the end of Meilah, regarding the genneral concept that there are deeper meanings to chukkim.

    Now if someone wants to fulfill the latest segulah--wonderful! The concept of segulos is in the gemera, and someone has the right to follow a segulah found in a reliable sefer. I assume such a person, has the above-mentioned ikkarim of Yahadus down-packed; if so, he is welcome to be "oseik in nistaros", which is a portion of Pardes, the latter being part of the mesorah of our understanding of the Torah.

    I believe, though, that as a society, we need a better balance between mysticism and rationalism, so as not to appear gullible, naive, or superstitious.

    This imbalance is found in what is to me, sensationalizing the latest segulah in advertising, or in the media. Do segulos if you wish, but don't sensationalize them in the charedi media.

    Rav Hirsch Zt'l made use of the Zohar HaKadosh in his writings , according to his notes which we have(see notes by R' Elias to the Feldheim edition of the Nineteen Letters, and also Artscroll's Rav S.R. Hirsch Biography). He certainly respected kabbalah.

    Yet, he addresses the "Benjamins" of his generation in his Nineteen Letters: people who saw in their generation an imbalance, perhaps similar to what we see today, and equated a segulah with a mitzvah:

    "What if , in addition, one aspect of Judaism, the actual repository of the spirit was studied in such an uncomprehending way as to reduce this spirit to physical terms, and man's inner and outer endeavors came to be interpreted as a mere mechanical, magical, dynamic building of cosmic worlds-thereby often reducing all those activities that were meant to train and give vitality to the spirit to a mere preoccupation with amulets?..."(Tenth Letter).

    Rav Hirsch Zt'l certainly had a balanced approach to the mystical parts of Yahadus, and that's good enough for me, the apparent current sensationalism and fascination with omens notwithstanding.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Bob Miller7:56 PM

    One has to allocate one's precious time to mitzvot in their correct halachic order of priority. If one of the mitzvot that needs to be done at a given time also happens to be known as a segulah, well and good. If not, also well and good.

    As a result of this ordering, segulot that have little or no mitzvah content are put into proper perspective and have low priority.

    Of course, those "segulot" that aren't suitable at all for a Jew to do (such as those that might have been recently invented for profit, or derived from old or new non-Jewish superstitions) are off the map altogether.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Bob Miller8:06 PM

    Just to fill out my thought above---

    Money, too, has to be allocated based on halachic priorities.

    Knotty questions about time and money priorities should be referred to a competetnt Rav.

    There is no place for a theory of segulot that treats them as methods of manipulation in a pagan/magical sense.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Bob,

    I think we are on the same page.

    I was also thinking about the precision of my language before, where I was contrasting segulos versus taryag mitzvos.

    The gemera in Peschacim 110b, mentions in the context of zugos("pairs") the term "halacha l'moshe misinia"(the applicability of zugos b'zman hazeh is separate question). I have not seen it recently, but I think that Tiferes Yisrael in Yoma discusses the use of halacha l'moshe misinai in this context. Has anyone seen this?

    Regarding Sefer Yetzirah, I believe that kadmonim attribute it to Avroham Avinu. However, this is not segulos, rather maseh bereishis.

    ReplyDelete
  18. BTW,

    Rabbi Bechhofer has mareh mekomos on kemeiim(amulets) here:

    http://rygb.blogspot.com/2005/05/amulets.html

    ReplyDelete
  19. Anonymous9:15 PM

    > I believe, though, that as a society, we need a better balance between mysticism and rationalism, so as not to appear gullible, naive, or superstitious.

    What on earth are you talking about? Chaim B (and presumably you hold) that all mitzvot have mystical ends, certainly chukim. Are you saying chukim are rational? Should we balance out chukim, because they are non rational? If you want to balance rationality, become a reform jew. Orthodoxy IS mystical.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Anonymous9:17 PM

    > "If so, please explain the difference between a segulah and not eating a cheeseburger"

    > One is a mitzvah, whose validity comes from our basic belief in Torah min Hashomayim; a segulah, on the other hand, is as strong as its source.

    Of course. No one is saying that a seguloh is as strong as a mitzvas asey deoraysoh. However Chaim B was casting aspersions on segulot, because they are 'non rational'. With that kind of attitude, he may as well cast aspersions on kol hatorah kulah.

    ReplyDelete
  21. "If you want to balance rationality, become a reform jew. Orthodoxy IS mystical."

    Was the Rambam a Reform Jew? Was Rav Hirsch? If so, I am in good company! I hope that we are not renewing the Maimondean controversy in the year 5767.

    See the Rambam at the end of Meilah; accordingly, we may understand that there is a place for a deeper understanding of Torah according to the Rambam as well.

    I was calling for a balance regarding segulos; being intensely involved in them is not for everyone. You are welcome to differ with me if our community's attitude indeed projects balance.

    Despite calling for balance, I made clear that there is a basis for segulos in the gemera, that mysticism is an important part of our overall Mesorah, and that we should respect those for whom omens form a significant part of their Avodas Hashem.

    The issue which I have is how much they should be stressed and sensationalized in the public arena; eg., "do XYZ and ABC will happen--guaranteed or your money back". I assume Chaim B thinks similarly, but I'll wait to see his comments.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Boruch you keep on referring to Rambam end of meilah. He says no such thing as you allege. See my comment on Chaim G. post on Dov Bear. His retort is unconvincing.

    Rambam did not have a mystical bone in him. It would be an insult to say otherwise.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Anonymous10:31 PM

    > Was the Rambam a Reform Jew? Was Rav Hirsch? If so, I am in good company!

    Oy please. Its well known that the Gedolim don't hold of RSRH. As for the Rambam, everyone likes to claim him as their own, even the reformers. In case you hadn't noticed, the Rambam lost the Maimonidean controversey. Orthodoxy has gone very mystical. Do you omit Brich Shmay in davening? And a million other examples. I'm not saying every seguloh is 100%, but once you start criticizing, there is no end, it's a slippery slope. Do you see the Gedolim critciizing segulos? I don't think so. First you criticize segulos, and ultimately you will come to be kofer bakol. Maybe not you, but the average person. Thats why nobody should criticize segulos.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I called for balance, and I get it from both end, as expected :)

    Whether you are right in interpreting the Rambam, I will leave it for someone whose knowledge of the Rambam is greater than mine.

    But this Rambam's emphasizes specifically regarding chukkim:

    (1) the depth of the Torah's commandments(" v'lo yachashov bahem machshavto b'divrei hachol") and

    (2) depth of mitzvos beyond a particular person's understanding("v'davar shlo yimtza bo taam...al yehi kal b'eneav")

    This might not prove that the Rambam advocated mysticism, but he is pointing in the direction of profundity of the Torah regarding chukkim("kivan shnikrah shem adon haolam aleihem b'dvarim bilvad niskadshu"). Mysticism is one way of showing the profundity of the Torah, even if that's not the Rsmbam's derech.

    What would the Rambam do, if he would come today, and realize that mysticism is an important part of the overall Mesorah ? I think it's an interesting point to contemplate. If you wish to debate me whether mysticism is partially a part of today's overall mesorah, I'll leave and let you and anonymous discuss it!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Anonymous10:58 PM

    > Rambam did not have a mystical bone in him. It would be an insult to say otherwise.

    Some scholars disagree:

    http://www.js.emory.edu/BLUMENTHAL/PM2.5.html

    ReplyDelete
  26. Bob Miller11:04 PM

    "Thats why nobody should criticize segulos."

    The aspect of advertising segulot with "guaranteed" results is the main object of criticism here. Not the proper use of proper segulot in the proper context.

    By the way, both Rambam and Rav SR Hirsch were indeed Gedolim, whether we ketanim follow their approaches or those of other Gedolim.

    ReplyDelete
  27. "Its well known that the Gedolim don't hold of RSRH."

    I am mocheh for the kavod of Rav Hirsch, zecher tzaddik livracha.

    Also, which Gedolim don't hold of him? I can tell you those who do from previous generations.

    Furthermore, RSRH was himself a Gadol, as was R' Schwab who discussed his derech in "These and Those". Are we playing the "who is a bigger Gadol" game?

    "As for the Rambam, everyone likes to claim him as their own, even the reformers"

    That's true, but irrelevant to my rejection of "if you want to balance rationality, become a reform Jew. Orthodoxy IS mystical". I argued that there is a place for rationality in the Mesorah, specifically the Moreh. I did not define how great of a place that is, but kefirah it is not.

    Parenthetically, RSRH did criticize the Rambam for synthesizing Greek philosophy regarding taamei hamitzvos, and he wasn't the first. I brought RSRH for his balanced approach to segulos, but despite his critique of the Rambam, I would not call him a Kabbalist.

    "Thats why nobody should criticize segulos."

    I did nothing of that sort. I criticized the lack of balance and the apparent sensationalization in the media.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Steve Brizel2:33 AM

    Segulas remind me of what R Y Hutner ZTL and many other Gdolim said ( and say) re the veracity of stories about Admorim and Gdolim. Those who deny all of them or their efficacy are Apikorsim. Those who believe in all of them are Amei Haaretzim.

    ReplyDelete
  29. >Mysticism is one way of showing the profundity of the Torah, even if that's not the Rsmbam's derech.

    Mysticism is pure imagination and does not belong in Torah.

    >http://www.js.emory.edu/BLUMENTHAL/PM2.5.html

    No need yo go there the igdal Oz already tried that as did R. Yosef Giktilla and Avraham Abulafia. They are all wrong as anyone who really learns Rambam both Halacha and machshava knows and as the gedolei harishonim, Ramban and Rashba understood him.

    R. Steve Brizel, stories of admorim and others may bring Yirat shamayim . A fable can also teach sometimes. That is why they tolerated them though to me it is a mistery how that helps but keshem shepartzufeihem.... What do segulos teach except pure Sheker. Why Posskim are lenient about them I will never understand. maybe meishiv chachamin achor.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Anonymous8:03 AM

    Now that David Guttmann has sat in judgment of mekubalim, admorim, and poskim and found them wanting, the world can again turn freely on its axis. Talk about overreaching!

    ReplyDelete
  31. Anonymous,
    I assume you are asking a serious question and this is not leitzanus. I think I already answered the question, but I will do a seperate post on it bli neder when I get a chance, so please bera with me.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Anonymous9:40 AM

    > Also, which Gedolim don't hold of him?

    Rav Moshe Shapiro, he said 'Hu lo mibetmidrasheynu'

    ReplyDelete
  33. I wonder why believing in Shtuyos is considered frum while sechel is copnsidered apikorsus. Is this what the Torah meant Ki hi chochmaschem ubinaschem?

    ReplyDelete
  34. Anonymous9:46 AM

    > Anonymous, I assume you are asking a serious question and this is not leitzanus.

    There seem to be a couple of different anonymouses (anonymice?) on this thread, but I think you mean me. My original cheeseburger comment was actually meant as a joke, but people took it seriously. However, there is very much a serious point here. In a religious worldview where we perform mitzvot for other purposes besides reason, and where there is constant talk of mitzvot creating 'tikkunim' in other worlds etc, is it not surprising that people turn to segulot? Instead of 'am chochom venavon' we have become a nation of superstitious magic-trick performing people, where we think that if we buy the more perfect esrog, that's somehow more important than common decency. David Guttman is correct, the Gedolim should pasken more forcefully against this. But of course they don't, because once you get skeptical of segulos, there is the danger you can get skeptical of everything, because to the average man, whats the difference between a seguloh (based on a Godol), and a mitzvah? Both are non rational. Both have sources (and we are reminded constantly how we must venerate our Gedolim almost to the point of infalibility), both have non-mystical non-rational effects, and both are fairly easy and fun to do, require a small outlay of cash, and don't require much soul -searching or hard work (or thinking).

    ReplyDelete
  35. Let me take this up in a new post - I hope you don't mind me starting by quoting this...

    ReplyDelete
  36. Anonymous very well put. It is the abrogation of responsibility and turning everything into a segula including Mitzvot like Shabbat that should make us reflect about the Cretaor, become segulot for parnassa and other such nonsense.

    Ameila shel Torah is relegated to the Beit Hamidrash while Lo hamidrash ikar ela hama'aseh is forgotten. It is there where the focus of the ameilut should be, understand the ta'amei hamitzvah rather than the physical benefit thereof. One of the things Ialways galls me is when people explain hilchot niddah as benefiting the sex life of the couple. Chas vechalila, puknt kapoyer and it is sanctioned in our community!

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  37. Note:

    Not all European gedolim accepted, or were aware than RSRH's writings clearly seem to be a l'chatchilah. RSRH himself, while believing TIDE was indeed l'chatchilah, didn't force it on other community's. That having been said, the following Gedolim admired his tzidkus, or work in saving German Jewry:

    R. Baruch Ber Liebowitz
    R. Elchanon Wasserman
    R. Yitzchak Elchanon Spektor
    R. Chaim Ozer Grodzinski
    R. Yisrael Salanter--said to the effect "there is not a big enough Gan Eden for RSRH !" He read Nineteen Letters, and wanted it translated to Russian.

    Sanzer Rav-"What I am for Galicia, RSRH is for Germany !"

    R. Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz--Said to the effect:"How can an American bochur *not* learn Nineteen Letters?"

    Chazon Ish: Advised a translator into Lashon Kodesh of Nineteen Letters(he felt the translation of RSRH's critique of Rambam was inappropriate for Israel's more insular community).

    ReplyDelete
  38. "Mysticism is pure imagination and does not belong in Torah"

    There are scholars who believe that RSRH's commentary was influenced by the Zohar, which is mysticism. RSRH was influenced by the symbolic system of Kabbalah, but clothed mystical concepts in rational terms.

    Rav Hutner said that RSRH must have studied Maharal day and night. The Maharal was not a pure rationalist.

    Ads I quoted ,above, from the Tenth Letter:

    "What if , in addition, one aspect of Judaism, **the actual repository of the spirit** was studied in such an uncomprehending way as to reduce this spirit to physical terms..."

    There are other sources as well regarding RSRH and Kabbalah.

    If balanced mysticism is good enough for RSRH, it's good enough for me.

    ReplyDelete
  39. BTW, an indication of RSRH's status may be that Mispacha Magazine actually included a piece on him recently. They didn't even try to claim that the TIDE philosophy was just an expediency for the situation. Consider also that without his precedent for education, there may have been no Bais Yaakov movement, as Sara Schneirer was very much inspired by RSRH.

    ReplyDelete
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