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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Fingernails

I know that Judaism has something to say about every aspect of existence and our lives. But I never imagined there was something to know about fingernails, until my friend said there is a specific order to cut them. What’s the story?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There are many mystical practices associated with clipping nails. One of these involves the order in which the fingernails are cut: If you hold out your hands in front of you, looking at your fingernails, the fingers can be numbered on the left hand: 3-1-4-2-5, then moving to the right hand 8-6-9-7-10.

Some refrain from trimming nails on Rosh Chodesh. Further, according to kabbalah, one should not cut the fingernails on the same day as one's toenails. You should also wash your hands after cutting your nails.

It is a mitzvah to cut one's fingernails on Friday in honor of Shabbat, and before Yom Tov. However, one may not cut nails on Shabbat and Yom Tov, since that is one of the acts of forbidden labor. The habit of nail-biting is discouraged, especially since it may lead to biting fingernails on Shabbat, which is prohibited.

Another mystical source says that it can be harmful for a pregnant woman to walk on a cut fingernail. One should therefore be careful to discard fingernail clippings. If a nail does fall and you cannot find it, just sweep or vacuum the area.

To explain this, here’s an interesting bit from ohr.edu:

According to kabbalah, Adam was created with a hard shiny membrane covering his whole body. When he ate from the forbidden tree Adam lost this covering, but it remained on the tips of his fingers and toes.

This concept is a metaphor for a very deep idea: Every person is intrinsically immortal due to his spiritual soul. However, by attaching himself to the physical world through improper actions (Adam's sin) a person becomes vulnerable to death and material destruction (loss of protective covering).

The concept of a fingernail harming a pregnant woman is based on the following idea: The nail, which is dead matter, represents death and the mortality of the human being. The pregnant woman represents creation, life and immortality. In mystical thinking, objects contain “sparks” of the ideas which they symbolize. Opposite “sparks” brought together can cause harm on the spiritual and physical level. Hence, the fingernail – representing death – is kept away from the pregnant woman, life.

In Vitro Fertilization

I’ve been married for three years and have yet to get pregnant. I’m getting on in age and don’t want motherhood to pass me by. We are considering IVF but thought it may be circumventing God's will.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

I commend you for consulting with a rabbi before moving forward.

IVF is not a problem of circumventing God's will, because it was God Himself who gave mankind the wisdom and tools to develop IVF in the first place.

Many contemporary Sages allow IVF under certain circumstances, such as when other options have been exhausted. But there are Jewish legal issues involved with IVF which can be problematic, and therefore it must be conducted under strict rabbinic supervision of the process.

(See Rabbi Nebenzahl – Assia 34, Tishrei 5743; Rabbi Ovadia Yosef – Yabia Omer EH 8:21; Rabbi E. Waldenberg – Tzitz Eliezer 15:45; Nishmat Avraham – Vol 3, p. 15)

Focus on Education

I keep reading statistics about Jewish achievement in business, science, etc. For such a small people, the percentage of Nobel Prize winners is staggering. The theory I’ve heard to explain this is the Jewish focus on education. Is this correct?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Jewish education is surely a big part of it. The Talmud describes the greatness of Rebbe Yehoshua. The Talmud asks: How did he get to be such a big tzaddik? The Talmud answers: When Rebbe Yehoshua was born, his mother set his baby carriage outside the Yeshiva. This little baby was exposed to lots of Torah scholarship from a very young age.

Yet how did this contribute to Rebbe Yehoshua's greatness? After all, he was only a baby; did he absorb the material through osmosis or something?! The answer is that as much as the influence of being around the yeshiva made Rebbe Yehoshua great, it was also the influence of having a mother who was willing to sacrifice herself to bring him there every day, who showed him the importance of being Jewish, of having the right values, of being in a positive Jewish environment.

Jewish education is not just the technicalities of learning the alphabet and the multiplication tables. It’s about having a commitment to the values that have driven the Jewish people for all these millennia: the recognition that God runs the world; that we each have a soul that needs to be nurtured even more than our physical body; and that we have a responsibility to make the world a better place.

I believe that this, more than anything, is the secret to Jewish success.