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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Nail

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  1. The finger nail. In Hebrew the corresponding word occurs only in the plural, (Deuteronomy 21:12 ), the singular of which denotes the point of a stylus (Jeremiah 17:1 ). In the passage in question occurs in connection with the verb (= "to make"), and the meaning of the phrase has been the subject of controversy among commentators. According to the Haggadah, Adam's entire body, before he had sinned, was covered with a horny substance like the finger nail but after he had sinned this disappeared, remaining only on the ends of his fingers and toes (Pirḳ e R. El. xiv. Gen. R. 20:12 ). The later cabalists find in this haggadah the origin of the law requiring the paring of the nails before Sabbaths and holy days. They explain that the impurity ("zuhama") of the serpent which caused the first man to sin was under the nails, and that every pious Jew must purify himself and honor the coming holy day by trimming and cleaning the nails beforehand (see "Ḥ emdat Yamim," 1:23a, Leghorn, 1762). The Rabbis are not agreed as to when they should be pared some prefer Thursday, for if cut on Friday they begin to grow on the Sabbath others prefer Friday, as it will then appear that it is done in honor of the Sabbath. It has, however, become the practise to cut them on Friday (Shulḥ an ' Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥ ayyim, 260,1), and certain "posḳ im" even prohibit the paring of the nails on Thursday (comp. Jacob Zausmer, "Bet Ya' aḳ ob," No. 48).

    According to a German superstition, the nails must be pared on Friday, as otherwise they would not grow again (Krause, in "Zeitschrift ' fü r Ethnologie," 15:84 et seq. ). The "Keneset ha-Gedolah" asserts that one may not pare his nails even on Friday when it happens to be the first day of the month ("Be' er Heṭ eb," on Shulḥ an ' Aruk, l.c. ). On Ḥ ol ha-Mo' ed, though it is lawful to pare the nails, it is customary to avoid doing so, except under certain circumstances (Oraḥ Ḥ ayyim, 532,1 comp. "Naḥ alat Shib' ah," No. 56). While mourning one is forbidden to pare the nails with any instrument they must be either bitten off or left to grow. A woman, however, under certain circumstances may cut her nails after the first seven days of her mourning (M. Ḳ . 17b Shulḥ an ' Aruk, Yoreh De' ah, 390,7). The ancient Persian belief that misfortune will follow the cutting of the nails in the order of the fingers (comp. Schorr in "He-Ḥ aluẓ ," 7:42 Geiger, "Jü d. Zeit." 9:259) has spread among the Jews. Cutting the nails in this order is supposed, according to French rabbis, to cause poverty, loss of memory, and loss of children. The order 4,2, 5,3, 1 of the Zoroastrians (comp. Anquetil du Perron's French translation of the "Zend-Avesta," 2:117, Paris, 1771) has been accepted by all the Rabbis only for the left hand with the right hand, according to some authorities, including Elijah de Vidas ("Reshit Ḥ kmah," end) and Isaac Arama ("' Aḳ edat Yiẓ ḥ aḳ ," gate xcvii.), the order should be 2,4, 1,3, 5, and the nails of the left hand should be cut first but Abudarham's opinion is that one should begin with the right hand and observe the order 1,3, 5,2, 4 (Isserles, in Shulḥ an ' Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥ ayyim, 260,1).


In Habdalah.
According to one authority (quoted in the "Be' er Heṭ eb" on Shulḥ an ' Aruk, l.c. ), one should not cut toe nails and finger nails on the same day. The parings must not be thrown away the Rabbis declare that he who burns them is a pious one ("ḥ asid"), he who buries them is a righteous one ("ẓ addik"), and he who throws them away is a wicked one (M. Ḳ . 18a Niddah 17a). The reason for this is that if a pregnant woman steps on them the impurity attached to them will cause a premature birth (comp. "Be' er Heṭ eb," l.c. ). The Persian custom of washing the hands after cutting the nails (comp. Schorr, l.c. ) has been adopted by the Jews and explained cabalistically (Zohar, 2:172b, 208b 3:79a, b). Saturday evening, at the Habdalah benediction, it is customary to look at the outer side of the nails, but not at the under side (Oraḥ Ḥ ayyim, 298,3, quoting the Zohar).

The modern belief that white spots on the nails are a sign of good luck is found in the Zohar (ii:76a). "Sometimes there are on the nails brilliant white spots of the size of lentils if these spots are not concave they do not mean anything but if they are concave they are a good omen the person having them will be successful in his affairs, or will escape a fatal decree" (comp. also Gü demann, "Gesch." 1:208). The nails occupy a certain place in the ritual code for instance, as the nails must not be cut on a Sabbath, there are certain regulations about a broken nail (Oraḥ Ḥ ayyim, 328,31). Certain of the regulations with regard to the ritual bath likewise concern the nails (Yoreh De' ah, 198,18-21).

  1. A metal pin (in the Old Testament plural only, or , and once, Ecclesiastes 12:11 , ). David "prepared" iron for the nails of the Temple (1Chronicles 22:3 ), but Solomon made the nails of the Temple of gold, the weight of which amounted to fifty shekels (2Chronicles 3:9 ). The nails mentioned in Isaiah (xli.) and Jeremiah (x:4), and used by the artisan in making idols, are not described. The "nail" of Judges 14:21-22 , 5:26 was a tentpeg which Jael drove through the temples of Sisera. The word "nail" is metaphorically used to denote a prince on whom the welfare of the state depends (Zechariah 10:4 ). A proverbial application of the word is found in Ecclesiastes 12:11 . In the Mishnah the nail () is mentioned as having been used for various purposes: the "nail" (= "lancet") of the bleeder is spoken of the "nail" of the weaver (that is, the "nail" by which he winds the thread upon the bobbin) the "nail" with which the money-changer secures his money-chest the "nail" of the dial-plate the "nail" which is used to open or lock the "nail" that fastens the bolt in the door and the "nail" for opening a barrel (Kelim 12:4-5). Nails were fastened in one end of a stick to be used as a weapon, and sticks were ornamented by being studded with small nails (ib. 14:2). Nails, probably small ones, were used in making sandals and merchants hung their wares upon nails driven into a pillar (Shab. 60a). The nail from which a man had been hanged had curative powers and was accordingly sought after and worn ( ib. 6:10-67a).
    The word "nail" is used also figuratively by the Rabbis. Eleazar says, "My son, drive nails into it [the Halakah]" (B. B. 7b). In the story of Daniel and the dragon it is narrated that Nebuchadnezzar asked Daniel why the power of the dragon, which swallowed everything thrown before it, was so great. Daniel thereupon, with Nebuchadnezzar's permission, put nails in the straw which the dragon ate, and the nails pierced the dragon's entrails (Gen. R. 68:20 ).
Bibliography : Lampronti, Paḥ ad Yiẓ ḥ aḳ , s.v. Levy, Neuhebr. Wö rterb. s.v. and Lö w, in Kaufmann Gedenkbuch , pp. 81-85.J. M. Sel.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Nail'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tje/n/nail.html. 1901.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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