Why do some Jewish people wear a thin red string tied around their wrist?
The wearing of a red string is a custom. It is commonly associated with Kabbalah and is believed to ward off the evil eye. The string is a simple red woolen thread. Often the red string has been wound around the tomb of the matriarch Rachel which is located near Bet Lechem. Most Rabbis do not endorse the custom of wearing a red string.
Where is a red string mentioned in the Bible?
In the first book of the Bible, Bereishit, chapter thirty-eight, Tamar gives birth to twin boys. When she was giving birth, one of the babies stuck his hand out and the midwife tied a scarlet thread so as to know which one emerged first. The baby then drew back his hand and the other baby emerged. The baby who came out first was named Peretz, which is Hebrew for “Breach” or “Burst out”, alluding to the nature in which he pushed himself out, despite his brother having put out his hand first. The baby who had stretched out his hand then emerged and was named “Zerach” which means scarlet in Hebrew.
There is no mention in the Bible of a red string being associated with warding off the evil eye.
Why are red strings wrapped around Rachel’s tomb before being worn?
Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman, of Ohr Somayach (a Yeshiva in Jerusalem), explains that although there is no basis in Jewish law for tying a red string around the wrist, it is a custom that is considered to be a protective act and has been around for some time.
He explains that the Jewish people are called “Am Segulah” or “Treasured People” in the fifth book of the Bible, Devarim. Rabbi Chaim of Voloshzin explains that it is due to the Torah and the commandments that they fulfill that they are considered treasured.
Rachel is renowned for having allowed her sister to have married the man she loved before her and is buried on the way to Bet Lechem so that Jews passing by can pray there. Rabbi Ullman explains that perhaps this is the reason that the red string is considered a protective measure. Recalling Rachel’s great deeds and emulating her ways leads to doing more commandments which in turn spare one from misfortune.