I am intrigued by the age-old use of kemiot (amulets), particularly ones with the human hand. Apparently the Persian Jews especially used to employ quite a variety of kemiot for protection in marriage, childbirth etc. What is the halachic and rabbinical positions on these?
Dear Helen Block,
Amulets or kemiot are mentioned in the Talmud in many places and are not forbidden as superstitious. The amulets mentioned in the Talmud were parchments with prayers in them written by pious scholars, and they are like continuous prayers. An amulet which is just a symbol or hand, while not forbidden, does not have the same impact. Nevertheless they can serve to remind a person of Divine Protection and Providence (the 'Hand of G-d') and to focus on G-d. As Maimonides states in the Guide for the Perplexed, "The degree of Divine Providence is directly proportional to the degree of attachment of the person to the Divine."
It's said that the towering sage Rabbi Akiva Eiger once wrote a very effective amulet. Curious about what mystical letter permutations or Kabbalistic incantations lay within, someone opened the scroll. What did he find? A single paragraph of Tosefos's logical, straightforward commentary to the Talmud! The amulet was "powered" simply by the merit of Rabbi Eiger's sincere Torah study.