Wearing Red Thread.
On our recent trip to Israel we noticed at several sacred locations that there were ladies selling red threads, to be worn on one’s wrist. I believe it was claimed to ward off the “evil eye”. I tend to be skeptical of such magical cures. But I was curious what the basis for this practice is and if you would recommend it.
The Aish Rabbi Replies
As a matter of fact, the red thread (“roiteh bendel” in Yiddish) is one of those Jewish practices which has very little Jewish about it. The peddlers of red threads today claim that they come from a string wrapped around Rachel’s Tomb seven times and that they possess Kabbalistic powers, in particular warding off the Evil Eye. And in fact, there are rabbis who attest that similar customs has been practice going back several generations. (Many tie a red string to a baby’s crib for protection.) Yet there is no known early source which mentions or condones the practice. If it has any Kabbalistic powers, there is no work on Kabbalah which makes any mention of it.
The only classic source which does mention the red thread expressly forbids its use, saying that tying a red thread on one’s fingers is an idolatrous practice (“darkei emori”) which we may not follow (Tosefta Shabbat 7:1). This is loosely based on Leviticus 18:3: “You shall not follow their ways.” Any heathen practice which relates to idolatry, superstition or immorality we may not imitate.
My friend Rabbi Ari Enkin researched the matter thoroughly and found that the custom of wearing a red thread to ward off evil spirits is a religious practice found in several cultures, all idolatrous – in particular Hinduism and other religions of the Far East. Based on this, we should not subscribe to the custom of wearing the red thread. In fact, it’s quite possible that the rabbis who condoned the recent prevalent custom were simply unaware of its idolatrous associations.
Rabbi Enkin does find a few possible grounds to permit the custom. But I would certainly recommend playing it safe and staying away from it. In any event, prayer and good deeds are always far better guarantors of warding off the Evil Eye and blessings in general.
For an interesting discussion of the red thread and good luck charms in general, see this article: Threadbare.