Mysteries of the Scarlet Thread


Mysteries of the Scarlet Thread

Part and parcel of visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City these days is being asked by elderly Jewish women wrapped in colorful head scarves if you would like to put one of their red string bracelets on your wrist.


Weighed down by overstuffed shopping bags as they sit on the cool stone steps leading down to the sacred promenade below, these smiling grandmothers offer promises of geula, or redemption.


But what are these mysterious scarlet threads? What do they represent? And, most importantly, should you allow one to be put on your wrist?


The answers to these questions depend on who you ask. Some believe that wearing these red strings will ward off bad luck. Others that an unwed woman who wears the item until it falls off naturally will then meet the man she will marry. The scarlet strings are also connected to fertility and to protection in time of war.


But the wearing of such a red bracelet is not rooted in any Jewish text or tradition, and the source of the practice is murky. The scarlet threads these women peddle to pilgrims...