Monday, January 15, 2018

The Thing About Nails

If you are a fan of manicures, you might be surprised that Jewish law has a thing or two to say about nail care. For instance, traditional Jewish thought discourages cutting one’s fingernails and toenails on the same day as it is said to lead to forgetfulness. It does, however, encourage a person to cut their nails on Friday in particular as part of one’s Shabbat preparation.

One would not naturally think that such a mundane activity as nail care could have spiritual ramifications, but it does. One such example is the fact that it is considered hazardous for a pregnant woman to step on discarded nails. This is based on the statement in the Talmud: Three things were said about nails: “One who buries them is [deemed] righteous. One who burns them is [considered] pious. One who throws them away is [regarded as] wicked. What is the reason? Lest a pregnant women pass over them and miscarry” (Talmud Moed Katan 18a). No further explanation of the danger is provided.

Beyond the considered danger of haphazardly discarding one’s nails, Jewish tradition also strongly suggests that one not cut their nails in order. Reference to this custom can be found in texts from the early Middle Ages along with the implication that cutting one’s nail sequentially might lead to forgetfulness,  poverty, and, even, God forbid, the death of one’s children! The preferred order, which has its roots in kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), is to begin with the left hand and trim the ring finger, index finger, pinky, middle and the thumb. Switching to the right hand, one then trims the index, ring, thumb, middle and then pinky. This custom applies to fingernails only.

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