Red string (Kabbalah)
Wearing a thin scarlet or crimson string (Hebrew: חוט השני) as a type of talisman is a Jewish folk custom 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 Kabbalah and religious forms of Judaism.
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.
In Relation to traditional beliefs
The wearing of a red string cut from a longer length that has been wound around Rachel's Tomb is a recent (20 years) "fad" and is not segula (propitious remedy) to protect the wearer from danger. Some Jews argue that it has the opposite effect, saying that it is used in idol worship which is against God, and that therefore no good can come of it.
For example, the "Ask The Rabbi" column on the Ohr Somayach, Jerusalem website asserts that there is no specific mention of this custom in Jewish sources. Its origin is in Arab business and secular business which is not Jewish in origin. In fact "Ask The Rabbi" traces this red string to the veneration of east Indian deities, a practice which continues to this day.
A "Kalava" is the Hindu sacred thread, also called 'mauli' in Hindi. In theory, however, there is no such thing as true idol worship in Hinduism. It is worn while performing Hindu spiritual prayer worship called Yajna or Puja. It is tied by a priest on the wrists of all the people attending the idol prayer ceremony. Kalava is tied on the right hand of males and unmarried females and on the left hand of married females. Sometimes it has small yellow parts throughout the mostly red string. It sometimes has knots which are tied while reciting Sanskrit mantras to invoke the idol god and is worn to ward off evil (meaning the opposite of good) from the person who wears this red thread.
There is no written mention in the Torah, Halacha, or Kabbala about tying a red string around the wrist. It seems to be a custom that has been around for some time due to secular Israelis visiting india and bringing this thread back to Israel in the last 30 years.
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 include: Aramayis Abgaryan, Michael Jackson, Rosie O'Donnell, Ashotik Eghiazaryan, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, Ariana Grande, Kyle Richards, Camila Cabello, 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, Blake Anderson, Colin Haskins, Ansley Parks, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Logan, David and Victoria Beckham, Avril Lavigne, Pedro Andrade, Sebastian Bøtcher Bonde, Sandra Bernhard, Reese Witherspoon, Sasha Cohen, Lauren Conrad, Billie Joe Armstrong, Harry Styles, Lisa Rinna, Anthony Kiedis, Alex Saunders, Kian Lawley and Leonardo DiCaprio. The popularity in the West is often linked to Philip Berg's controversial Kabbalah Centre. Vladimir Putin was seen wearing the red string on a meeting with the president of the Republic of Indonesia, although on his right hand instead of the left. 
- (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)link to article
- 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". academia.edu. 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.
- "Vladimir Putin met with the President of the Republic of Indonesia Joko Widodo". Channel One Russia. 2016-03-18.
- Tomb: Kabbalah Red String from the Tomb of Rachel
- 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.