Cutting Nails

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by R. Ari Enkin

One should trim one’s fingernails as part of one’s Shabbat preparations in order to ensure that one has a pleasant appearance in honor of Shabbat.1 One should not trim them in the order of one’s fingers,2 finger after finger, as it is taught that doing so can lead to forgetfulness and bad luck.3 Some believe that since the nails of the dead are cleaned and cut in order in preparation for burial, we should cut them out of order. The recommended order for trimming one’s nails on the left hand is: the fourth finger, followed by the second, fifth, and third fingers, concluding with the thumb. When cutting the nails on the right hand, the order is: the second finger, followed by the fourth finger, the thumb, the third finger, concluding with the fifth finger.4 Others are not particular about the order in which the fingernails are cut.5 It does not matter in what order one’s toenails are trimmed.6

A number of halachic authorities advise against trimming one’s fingernails on a Thursday as we are told that fingernails start to regrow three days after having been cut. This would mean that one’s nails would begin growing again on Shabbat. As such, trimming one’s nails on Thursday might be viewed as if one is arranging for a forbidden act to take place on Shabbat.7 However, considering that most of us use Shabbat timers without hesitation nowadays (“arranging for a forbidden act to take place on Shabbat”), this consideration is no longer relevant.8 It is also said that fingernails don’t look nice and tidy when they first begin growing back, which defeats the whole purpose of cutting one’s nails in honor of Shabbat in the first place.9 None of this applies to one’s toenails, which may be cut at any time. As such, the best option would be to trim one’s toenails on a Thursday, and one’s fingernails on a Friday.10 There is an opinion that one should not cut one’s fingernails and toenails on the same day.11

One should not allow one’s fingernails to grow too long, as it said that evil spirits are attracted to long nails.12 One should ensure that one’s nail clippings do not fall on the floor, as it is taught that if a pregnant woman steps on them, it can cause her to miscarry.13 If they do fall on the floor, they should be promptly swept up.14 This includes the nails of non-Jews, as well.15 In a place where women are generally not found, such as in a yeshiva, one need not be concerned if some nails clippings inadvertently fall on the ground.16 The Zohar, however, seems to say that nail clippings can harm anyone who steps on them.17

Some people have the custom to burn their nail clippings, while others bury them.18 Disposing of cut nails in the toilet is considered to be as if one buried them.19 So too, when burying them directly in the ground, there is no minimum depth to which they must be buried – even a shallow covering in the ground will do.20 We are taught that one will be rewarded in Heaven for ensuring that one’s hair and nails were always trim and tidy in honor of Shabbat.21

There is a somewhat unusual custom in some Chassidic circles to slice some wood from a table after cutting one’s nails.22 As mentioned, the Talmud teaches that pregnant women may be harmed by stepping on cut fingernails. According to some sources, however, this is only true if the fingernails were cut with scissors, if the fingernails and toenails were cut on the same day, and if one did not promptly cut something else afterward. As such, the custom to cut wood from a table was born, based on the verse, “With a nail of a shamir engraved on the slate of their heart and on the horns of your altars.”23 Rashi comments on this verse that after one cuts one’s nails, one should cut some wood from one’s table, which is said to symbolize an altar. Some even slice wood from each of the four corners of their table.24

Other sources disagree with this custom and teach that it is not proper to ever cut a piece off from one’s table, precisely because it represents an altar, and is, therefore, holy. According to this approach, one should slice wood from some other object instead.25 The practice of slicing a piece of wood from one’s table (or other wooden object) is also cited as a remedy for the superstitious belief that it is dangerous to burn one’s hair or nails unless they are burned together with some other item, as well.26 Therefore, those who burn their nails should burn this slice of wood along with them. It must be noted, however, that these wood-slicing customs are not practiced, and not even heard of, in most communities.

It is interesting to note that cut fingernails are not considered to be “repulsive.” Therefore, if fingernails fell into a pot of cooking food, the food may be eaten whether or not the nails were successfully removed. Nevertheless, those who are “spiritually sensitive” might want to consider not eating such food, as fingernails are associated with impurity.27

One who cuts one’s nails is required to wash one’s hands.28 However, one who cuts someone else’s nails is not required to wash his hands, only the one whose nails were cut.29 The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that fingernails represent our ability to scratch someone and, therefore, all these nail cutting customs should remind us not to “scratch” others with rebuke. So too we should “pare our own nails before paring the nails of others,” meaning, that we should work on improving ourselves before we work on improving others.30

  1. OC 260:1. 

  2. Kaf Hachaim, OC 260:17. 

  3. Machzor Vitri 524; Sefer Kushiot 166. 

  4. Rema, OC 260:1. 

  5. Tashbetz 5:57; Shulchan Aruch Ha’arizal 260:10; Kaf Hachaim (Palagi) 27:15. 

  6. Ketzot Hashulchan 73:7. 

  7. Mishna Berura 260:6. 

  8. See also Aruch Hashulchan, OC 260:6. 

  9. Kaf Hachaim, OC 260:15. 

  10. Mishna Berura 260:6. 

  11. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 72:14; Mishna Berura 260:6. But see Shulchan Hatahor 260:3. There is some discussion whether the “same day” includes the day and night of the same day, or whether they are considered to be two different days for this purpose. Ketzot Hashulchan 73:2; Eishel Avraham, Mili D’chassidusa 57. 

  12. Kaf Hachaim, OC 260:9. 

  13. Nidda 17a; Moed Katan 18a. After the sin of the forbidden fruit, the fingernail-like covering which protected Adam and Eve fell off and forever remained on the tips of the fingers. Since it was Eve who was responsible for this development, there is fear that if women were to “trample” upon fingernails, they may be punished. Pri Megadim, OC 260. So too, nails, which are dead matter, represents death, and pregnant women represent life. According to Kabbala, harm can occur when these two opposites come together. 

  14. Be’er Heitev 260:2; Mishna Berura 260:6; Pitchei Olam 260:4. 

  15. Rivevot Ephraim 8:88:1. 

  16. Pitchei Olam 260:4. 

  17. Zohar, Vayakhel. See also Likutei Maharich, Erev Shabbat; Yesod V’shoresh Ha’avoda 8:1. 

  18. Nidda 17a. 

  19. Minhag Yisrael Torah 260:5; Piskei Teshuvot 260:4. 

  20. Daat Moshe 8. See also Mareh Yechezkel 25, 26 regarding someone who realizes he has nail clippings in his pocket while walking outside on Shabbat in a place with no Eruv. 

  21. Kaf Hachaim, OC 206:16. 

  22. See Sefer Matamim, tzipornayim p. 88. 

  23. Yirmiyahu 17:1. 

  24. Cited in Shemirat Haguf Vehanefesh 68.  

  25. Mateh Efraim 606:8. 

  26. Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 240:4. 

  27. Torah Lishma 213. 

  28. Pesachim 111b; OC 4:18,19; Shulchan Aruch Harav 4:18; Rivevot Ephraim 1:7:3. 

  29. Kaf Hachaim, OC 4:92. 

  30. Hayom Yom, Elul 22. 

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot.

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