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Pregnancy & Segulot

 

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Although nothing can replace prayer and the performance of good deeds, “segulot”, omens, are spiritual and mystical practices that are believed to assist in attaining desired outcomes in a variety of situations.[1] Although I am generally not a supporter of segulot, nor do I necessarily subscribe to any of the segulot cited here, I thought I would share this collection of segulot and minhagim related to pregnancy and childbirth. One should never place one’s faith in segulot, especially if their origins are not well known. Segulot that are completely illogical or otherwise distant from common sense should be avoided.[2] 

Praying to God for a smooth delivery and a healthy child is the supreme segula that a woman can engage in with no fear of a possible overdose. It is especially auspicious to pray for one’s children when lighting the Shabbat candles. Some have the custom to recite Psalm 20 twelve times. Giving charity is always a powerful tool in securing Divine favor, and it is certainly appropriate in the hopes of a smooth delivery. Eating the Melave Malka meal at the conclusion of Shabbat is also known as a promising segula for pregnant women.  

While it goes without saying, a pregnant woman should be even more meticulous to ensure that she eats only kosher foods. We are taught that the consumption of non-kosher foods, even accidentally, has the power to cause extensive spiritual damage. Becoming angry is also considered to be harmful for a fetus. As such, a husband should be careful to ensure that his wife is always in a good mood. 

Another spiritual practice, actually mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch, is for pregnant women to be very careful not to step on discarded human fingernails. It was once believed that doing so could trigger a miscarriage. Attending a funeral or visiting a cemetery is also discouraged for pregnant women. Participating in such activities is known to arouse grief, something a pregnant woman should not be made to feel. Additionally, cemeteries are deemed to be places where dangerous spirits are to be found which can potentially cause damage to the fetus.

Some pregnant women have the custom of wearing or otherwise keeping close a special stone known as an “Even Tekuma” which is believed to assist against miscarriage.[3] Other women wear a ruby, while others have the custom to carry around the key to the tomb of a holy person. It is believed that ensuring that all of one’s holy books are in their upright position and properly stored is a segula to prevent a breeched birth. The clothes that a newborn wears for the first time should always be brand new – hand-me-downs should only begin later in life. 

There is a well-known custom to bite the end of an etrog that was used over the course of the Sukkot holiday as a segula for an easy labor. Some say this segula only works if performed on Hoshana Rabba, while others insist that it “works” at all times. Another version of this segula is to simply eat jam made from an etrog. Placing holy objects, especially a holy book, on the bed of a woman in labor is also an ancient practice in the hopes for a smooth delivery. A variation of this custom was to put it under the woman’s pillow. Although no longer practiced, there were even communities where it was customary to provide a woman in labor with a Torah scroll to hold!

An always resurfacing segula for overcoming all of life’s ills is to examine the Mezuzot in one’s home. A Mezuza, a mitzva from the Torah, is known for its protective properties and is believed to provide protection to pregnant women as well. It is customary to honor the husband of a woman in her ninth month with the opening of the ark and the removal of the Torah scrolls at synagogue services.[4] The opening of the ark, a mitzva that is done with great ease, is intended to parallel the wish for the arrival of the baby from the womb with ease as well.

Many women have the custom to immerse in a mikva in their ninth month of pregnancy in order to give birth in absolute purity in the event that they may have inadvertently become impure while they were carrying. Furthermore, immersion in a mikva is always accompanied with the theme of teshuva, repentance, where a woman can “cleanse” herself of her sins. Indeed, teshuva on its own has tremendous powers and is certainly auspicious to merit an easy labor. The first place a woman should go prior to resuming her normal daily routine after having given birth should be a synagogue or other holy site.


[1] This entire chapter is based completely on excerpts from the book: “Nine Spiritual Months: A Treasury of Jewish Insights for Pregnancy, Birth, & Beyond” by Rabbi Michael Green (Practical Torah Publishers, 2007) as was found on the anonymous website at http://rabbigreen.posterous.com/segulot-minhagim-of-pregnancy-birth-beyond. As such, most individual references have been omitted.

[2] Chochmat Adam 89:3, Darkei Teshuva Y.D. 179:21

[3] Shabbat 66b

[4] Minhag Yisrael Torah 134:7. Enacted primarily for the opening of the Ark for the prayer “Anim Zemirot”.

 
 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

32 Responses

  1. Jenny says:

    Link is not working.

  2. “It is customary to honor the husband of a woman in her ninth month with the opening of the ark and the removal of the Torah scrolls at synagogue services.”

    my friend used to bid for neila pesicha because he said this in particular was a segula for easy delivery

    “The first place a woman should go prior to resuming her normal daily routine after having given birth should be a synagogue”

    in nidda?!

    “Becoming angry is also considered to be harmful for a fetus.”

    this is probably true medically as well

  3. Ari Enkin says:

    Lemaaseh, a nidda should NOT avoid going to shul. Sefardic women should go too, though there is a widespread custom for a nidda not to look at the Torah during hagbah

    Ari Enkin

  4. R. Enkin:

    isn’t there a strong trend (but not unanimous) in minhag ashkenaz that keeps niddot out of shul?

  5. Ari Enkin says:

    The Rema does mention the idea in 2 places, but for whatever reason, this Rema is not followed.

  6. r. enkin:

    i know this minhag isn’t followed today. just interesting how one minhag gets replaced by anther that advocates the opposite.

  7. Ari Enkin says:

    Yeah…. Just like fasting on a yartzeit turned into feasting on a yartzeit!

    Ari Enkin

  8. Shalom Spira says:

    Ye’yasher kochakha, R. Enkin.
    R. Simchah Rabinowitz, in his Piskei Teshuvot commentary on Mishnah Berurah, points to the gemara in Ketubot 61a as a source for the segulah of eating an etrog during pregnancy.

  9. Shlomo says:

    We are taught that the consumption of non-kosher foods, even accidentally, has the power to cause extensive spiritual damage.

    We are also taught that the consumption of wine, even accidentally, has the power to cause extensive damage to the fetus. This is learned out from eshet manoach.

  10. aaron says:

    The even tekuma is the ‘eagle stone’. Not a ruby as you mention. Others say it is a metal from outer space but again cant be right since pliny says its the eagle stone.
    This segula is very surprising. It is from ‘pliny’ so not even Jewish at all. The gemoro mentions it only in passing that one can wear it on shabbos and carry it. But what one has to do with it, one has to look at pliny. This is typical of all gemoros. The gemoro is not meant to teach you anything apart from how it concerns the din. The rest one has to learn from non Jewish sources. Not like others say, the gemoro contains ‘everything’.
    These eagle stones are commercially available. I also have a few different kinds. I always wonder why a proper segula like this, mentioned in the gemoro and shulchan aruch used by the chasam sofer, his descendents still have his, but I fear broken, that one can even wear on shabbos is not taken up.

  11. Y says:

    There is apparently a longstanding tradition to hang Shir HaMaalos (Tehillim 121) in the room where the mother is giving birth. The Lubavitcher Rebbe enthusiastically endorsed the revival of this cumstom.

    http://www.sichosinenglish.org/books/healthy-in-body-mind-and-spirit-2/41.htm

    If I remember correctly, the birth-related books and website of Chana Jenny Weisberg (which my wife loves) contains a fair amount of information about segulos.

  12. Dov F. says:

    Very informative post. My only quibble is that I think it would be more constructive if the article would clearly break into categories segulas which are mentioned in the Gemara (such as the nails thing), ones that are only mentioned in more recent sources, and of the latter group, which of them might be controversial. For example I’m sure the idea of any person sleeping with a holy book under their pillow is not something everyone would agree to, regardless of whether or not one is pregnant.

  13. J.K. says:

    “Placing holy objects, especially a holy book, on the bed of a woman in labor is also an ancient practice in the hopes for a smooth delivery. A variation of this custom was to put it under the woman’s pillow.”

    Anyone heard of a minhag to specifically use the sefer Noam Elimelech for this segula? Anyone know the source?

  14. avi says:

    been doing these things for 5+ years… still no child.

  15. Anonymous says:

    My wife and I had been childless for nine years. When she told me that she was told of a segulah that we should eat a cake baked by a pregnant woman, I absolutely refused. When we did have a child (and Baruch Hashem, more thereafter, and now grandchildren), my ayshess chayil (that’s the same person mentioned before) attributed it to the zechus of obeying her husband.

    Before that, my ayshess chayil was devastated when the specialist told us we could not have a child. (Details would be too personal, but let me just say the situation was not what is normally assumed.) She remembers what I told her then: In Shoftim we learn that Hashem informed Klal Yisroel that they would lose a war. Yet they did teshuva and the gezeyra was reversed. If even after Hashem Himself predicts failure, success can be attained, how can we give up hope based on the opinion of a mere basar v’dam?!

  16. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know if the above poster meant it this way, but, yeah, this post is really offensive to those who’ve had issues with childbearing. Good segulot involve God and medicine, not all this Darkei Emori stuff like (gag) rubies.

  17. Mark says:

    this post is really offensive to those who’ve had issues with childbearing.

    Issues? Only because you’ve been using the segulot the wrong way!

    [sarcasm off]

  18. Dov F. says:

    …this post is really offensive to those who’ve had issues with childbearing. Good segulot involve God and medicine, not all this Darkei Emori stuff like (gag) rubies.

    If anyone finds this post offensive it is not the fault of the author or the ba’al hablog. It is unfortunate that this touches a raw nerve with some people, and I’m sure everyone’s hearts go out, as do mine. המקום ירחם עליהם ויוציאם מצרה לרוחה. However it’s not like the topic was broached with any disrespect. And if this particular hashkafa in Judaism makes you gag then WADR you have other issues to deal with. We’re adults in a free society. Get over it.

  19. Ari Enkin says:

    Anyone who wants documentation on the Noam Elimelech segula (mentioned by JK above), or other Rebbe Elimelech segulas can email me for them.

    Ari Enkin

  20. Nachum says:

    Yes, Dov, and I suppose if people want to believe that an alien named Xenu flew his enemies in DC-10s to a volcano on Earth 75 million years ago and blew them up and the remnants of their souls exists as “thetans” in our psyches, well, they’re adults in a free society and I should “get over it” and never voice my objections.

    I can get documentation for that, too.

  21. Sass says:

    I’ve heard of a segula for use when the baby is a breech – to make sure that all sfarim in the home are right side up is a segula for the baby to flip to the right position. Doeas anyone know a source for this segula?

  22. Dov F. says:

    Nachum – Don’t put words into my mouth. I am all for voicing objections. I do not believe in segulos myself. I do, however, have something against someone calling another’s such beliefs “offensive” when they are presented respectfully, and saying that one “gags” from them. That is not the way of mature adults in a free society.

  23. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    comments here must distinguish between fertility segulot, and easy pregnancy / delivery segulot. two separate items. r enkin did not mention anything about fertility issues, so no one should be offended (i dont think they should be offended by such discussion anyway, but …)

    2. eishet manoach wine is (prob) cause the shimshon was to be a nazir. not a pregnancy health issue.

    i guess the rabid chilonim will now buy wine at kibbutz tzor’ah kanyon on shabbat. (bad humor — the kanyon there is the only one legally permitted to open on shabat, due to a loophole in israel’s shabbat law.)

    3. pticha — there is an old yishuv story that rav shmuel salanter advised a women having a difficult delivery to have her husband tie a string to her toe, and have her open the aron kodesh (since there was a shul across the street, and physically, it could be done.) of course, as with all such stories, the child born grew up to be a big talmid chacham, etc.

    also, ne’ila pticha is a segula for wealth; never heard about easy preganancy.

  24. Shlomo says:

    And if this particular hashkafa in Judaism makes you gag then WADR you have other issues to deal with.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily unhealthy to be repulsed by avodah zarah masquerading as authentic Judaism.

    I can get documentation for that, too.

    Documentation that people use a certain segulah can certainly exist, unlike “documentation” that the segulah actually works. I assume RAE referred to the former.

    the kanyon there is the only one legally permitted to open on shabat, due to a loophole in israel’s shabbat law.)

    There are lots of kaynonim open on Shabbat, it may be though that it’s technically illegal.
    http://www.kenyonim.com/mallresults.asp?ISSAT=1

  25. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    shlomo — a number of years ago, misrad hadatot (it existed then) sent druzim (thats how they do it) to issue violations to that kanyon. they fought the summons (after paying it several times as a business exoense; sounds like america) and a court (i assume baga”tz) ruled that the shabbat law soecifies businesses; tzor’ah is a kibbutz, not a business, so the law doesnt apply to them.

    others are technically illegally open, as you state.

  26. David says:

    I do, however, have something against someone calling another’s such beliefs “offensive” when they are presented respectfully…That is not the way of mature adults in a free society.

    1. Segula = superstition, and superstition = (or at least leads to) idolatry.

    2. I would not automatically assume that the Gemara’s advice is supernatural. Discarded fingernail clippings are not, a priori, any more or less rational as disease vectors than unsterilized surgical tools.

    See, the first paragraph was not respectful, which will offend some people. The second was respectful, but based on the implicit assumption that the Gemara is fallible about matters of fact. Which will offend some people.

    In a free society (which a moderated blog isn’t) you don’t get to tell people what they can and cannot find offensive. But if you are going to get offended, ideas are far more significant than the words we use to describe them.

  27. avi says:

    Segulot don’t work. You can’t force Gd’s hand.

  28. Z says:

    While translating Yeshivish-to-English for a visiting Lakewood Rosh Yeshishiva giving a shaloshudis vort while on vacation in our (way) out-of-town community our Rav translated ‘segula’ as ‘magic’. Said Rosh Yeshiva was not particularly pleased.

  29. Alan says:

    Can anyone give an explanation please of how segulos are supposed to work?

    Possible mechanisms might be.
    1. God decides to act on the basis of the performance of the segulah – I cannot square that with my understanding og Yiddiskkeit.

    2. A scientific explanation – no way.

    3. A supernatural mechanism – well I cannot believe in that at all.

    My Rabbi has suggested that segulos can work because they are an inducement to prayer. I do not buy that because then the segulah loses any specificity.

  30. Shalom Spira says:

    R’ Alan,
    Thank you for the excellent questions. There is a discussion of the issue of whether segulot are effective (such that one may/may not desecrate Shabbat to save a patient’s life using a medical segulah) in Contemporary Halakhic Problems IV, pp. 203-217. Although not mentioned by the author, my impression is that that the segulah of amulets has largely disappeared from Jewish experience at the specific request of Noda bi-Yehudah (-whose letter on this topic was recently translated by R. Shnayer Leiman in Tradition).

  31. Anonymous says:

    Go to the Website of Rabbi Meir Baal Haness – Kolel Polin http://www.kramban.org/

 
 

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