Halacha for Wednesday 16 Sivan 5778 May 30 2018

Superstitions

Question: Is there any basis for the custom observed in certain communities that a woman who has recently given birth does not attend a relative’s wedding as long as she is within thirty days of giving birth?

Answer: This practice was based on a custom that was observed in certain countries where people claimed this caused an evil eye or that the woman who had recently given birth would, G-d-forbid, cause the bride not to be able to bear children by merely participating in the wedding.

This practice surely does not sit well with anyone who is intelligent and logical and these distorted customs emerged from the people of those countries who believed in all sorts of superstitions based on their minimal intelligence. Indeed, several great luminaries of the previous generation, including Hagaon Harav Mansour Ben-Shimon zt”l (one of the greatest Mekubalim of the previous generation) were asked about this custom to which they responded that this custom has no logical foundation and has no roots neither in Kabbalah (mystical section of the Torah) nor in the revealed Torah. Thus, the only thing left for us to determine is whether or not it is prohibited to follow such customs according to Halacha.

Since this custom is based on gentile practices, it would seem that it should be prohibited to follow it based on the verse, “And you shall not follow their tenets.” Nevertheless, Maran zt”l discusses this matter in several of his works and rules that according to the letter of the law, not every non-Jewish practice is prohibited and only those which are obscene or idolatrous practices are forbidden. Besides for the customs listed explicitly in the Gemara (Shabbat 67b) which our Sages have ruled that one may not follow, we may not add more non-Jewish practices on our own and say they are forbidden, as Rabbeinu Eliezer of Metz and the Rashba write. Thus, we cannot forbid walking around without a Kippa (skullcap or head-covering) according to the letter of the law. Similarly, there is no prohibition according to the letter of the law to lay a wreath of flowers on a deceased person’s grave (although it is incorrect to do so). Moreover, there is no prohibition to place tree branches in the synagogue for the Shavuot holiday in honor of the Torah although non-Jews have this custom as well (as we have discussed regarding the customs of the Shavuot holiday). Additionally, there is no prohibition to write the secular/civil date which is based on the Christian calendar, although it preferable to abstain from doing so. Based on this, it seems that regarding the prohibition of following non-Jewish practices, there is no prohibition to follow these customs although they are indeed senseless.

Nevertheless, Maran zt”l writes (in his Responsa Yabia Omer, Volume 10, page 346) that anyone who is intelligent, wise, and follows Hashem’s Torah should distance himself from such foolish and nonsensical practices followed by unintelligent people, such as the custom of those who say that a woman who has given birth within forty days and attends a wedding places the bride in danger, for this is merely ignorant babble and was adapted from old wives’ tales in foreign lands. Indeed, the Rambam writes that “it is improper for the Jewish nation, which is wise and intelligent, to be drawn after the foolish practices and hallucinations (such as superstitions) of the other nations. Anyone who believes in these things in his heart and thinks that they are true and wise is mindless and foolish. Those who are wise and intelligent, on the other hand, know that these customs are not wise and are merely acts of foolishness pursued by the ignorant. Because of this, the Torah has warned us, ‘Be completely innocent with Hashem, your G-d.’” Furthermore, Hagaon Harav Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel zt”l, the late Rishon Le’Zion, writes regarding this custom of a bride and groom not entering the home of a woman who has recently given birth or vice versa, that not only are such customs foolish and senseless, but such superstitions cause much strife and contention between many Jewish families. We see countless times every day that brides and women who have given birth visit each other and no harm befalls either of them. Thus, one should not follow or believe in such superstitions and should publicize that they are merely baseless old wives’ tales. Similarly, one should distance himself from other such things that are foreign to clear, natural, and logical thinking.

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