Red string (Kabbalah)
Wearing a thin scarlet or crimson string (Hebrew: חוט השני) as a type of talisman is a folk custom among Jews as a way to ward off misfortune brought about by the "evil eye" (Hebrew: עין הרע). The tradition is popularly thought to be associated with Judaism's Kabbalah.
The red string itself is usually made from thin scarlet wool thread. It is worn as a bracelet or band on the left wrist of the wearer (understood in some Kabbalistic theory as the receiving side of the spiritual body), knotted seven times, and then sanctified with Hebrew blessings.
Traditional Jewish beliefs
According to the "Ask The Rabbi" column on the Ohr Somayach, Jerusalem website there is no specific mention of it in Jewish sources but has its origin in custom:
There is no written mention in the Torah, Halacha or Kabbala 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 "segula" or protective type of act.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.
A 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 King James Bible:
- Genesis, chapter 38:
- 27 - And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb.
- 28 - And it came to pass, when she travailed, that the one put out his hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first.
- 29 - And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? this breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez.
- 30 - And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah.
There 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. Today in Israel, it is common to see elderly women peddling scarlet thread for pilgrims and tourists, especially in the Old City of Jerusalem.
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, Chloe Bateman, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, Charlize Theron, Sarah Brightman, Mariah Carey, Lucy Liu, Kylie Minogue, Mick Jagger, David Paterson, Naomi Campbell, Camilla Parker-Bowles, Ariana Grande, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Logan, David and Victoria Beckham, Avril Lavigne, Sandra Bernhard, Reese Witherspoon, Lauren Conrad, and Anthony Kiedis. The popularity in the West is often linked to Philip Berg's controversial Kabbalah Centre.
- 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.
- (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.
- 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.
- Rick Ross: "Found a religion...can't wait to put on my red string"
- Michael Laitman: Practical Kabbalah has no use for red strings