| Halachah |

Minhag Yisrael or Made Up?

Real minhagim have a halachic power whereas a made-up practice does not 


Prepared for print by Faigy Peritzman

So many times, we come across an interesting “minhag” or tradition and we wonder, where did this come from? Does it have a source within our mesorah, or is one of those things that morphed from someone’s imagination to worldwide practice?

This is important to know, because real minhagim have a halachic power — they should not be dropped unnecessarily — whereas a made-up practice does not have the halachic power of minhag. Here are some examples:

A child fasting three fasts before bar or bas mitzvah

Although widespread in certain families, this made-up practice has no source whatsoever, and is a practice labeled by Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as not having the authority of a minhag. This means that families who have been instructing their children to do so should not continue this practice since they are making their children suffer needlessly. It is, however, permitted and recommended for children over the age of 10 or 11 to skip breakfast and fast part of the taanis, each child according to his strength and maturity.

Wearing a red string that was wrapped around Kever Rochel

Some people wear a red string around the finger or wrist as a segulah against ayin hara, or place such a string on their children’s wrists. While this practice is quite common in certain circles, we don’t know its origins. If anything, some contemporary poskim condemn and criticize this practice, since Chazal (Tosefta, Shabbos 7:1) consider it a non-Jewish custom that is forbidden to follow.

Whispering the words “Baruch Hu u’varuch Shemo” when waving hands by candlelighting

I have never heard of such a practice nor am I aware of a source for it. Actually, waving of the hands by candlelighting, although universally practiced, also has no halachic source, but it somehow developed from the halachic requirement for (Ashkenazi) women to cover their eyes after lighting candles and before reciting the brachah.

Not stepping or jumping over a child lying on the floor

This was practiced by some families in certain parts of prewar Europe, based on the common belief that doing so will cause a delay in the child’s growth or development. It does not have the power of a binding minhag Yisrael.

Kissing the mezuzah upon entering or exiting

This is a valid minhag Yisrael, quoted by Chida and others in the name of the Arizal. The exact minhag is to touch Hashem’s name (Sha-Kai) on the outside of the mezuzah with the middle finger of the right hand, and then kissing that finger. A lefty uses his left hand.

Naming after deceased relatives

This is an age-old minhag Yisrael, dating back to the days of Chazal and mentioned in the Midrash. It’s a worthwhile practice, since naming children after relatives keeps the memory of those relatives alive. In addition, naming children after grandparents or other close relatives is a fulfillment of kibbud av v’eim, since one is honoring his parents by naming his children after their close relatives.

Refraining from showing young babies their reflection in the mirror

This was practiced by some families in certain parts of Europe, based on the common belief that doing so will cause a delay in the child’s speaking ability or teeth development. It does not have the power of a binding minhag Yisrael.

Not sewing directly on a person

Kaf Hachayim quotes an early source that sewing a garment while wearing it may cause one to forget his learning. This is not universally practiced, and it does not have the power of a binding minhag Yisrael unless it’s your family’s custom.

Publicizing seeing success after saying Perek Shirah

Publicizing success, whether after saying Perek Shirah or not, is an obligation on every Jew. Every success that a person enjoys during his life must be attributed to Hashem, and one must praise and thank Him for it. This is one of the basic principles of Yiddishkeit.

Not sharing a chosen name before boy’s bris or a girl’s baby naming

Not disclosing a baby’s name until after the bris is a well-established minhag Yisrael, and is based on Avraham Avinu being given his chosen name (Avraham instead of Avram) only after his bris. While I’m not aware of any source for it, it’s common practice that a girl, as well, is only called by her name after she’s officially named by her father at krias HaTorah in shul.

A kallah wearing white

This is an established minhag, universally practiced for many centuries, and is quoted in several early sources, but the reason for it is unclear. Some suggest that it symbolizes the kallah’s purity from sin, as she comes to her wedding following a personal Yom Kippur and a complete atonement.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 762)

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