Pooh pooh pooh!
Especially common among Jews from Galicia and Lithuania, the practice of pulling on one's ears when sneezing has engendered heated arguments. Should one ear or both be pulled (or tugged) and should one pull up or down? The reason for this custom is unclear. Originally, it was performed if the sneeze occurred when speaking about one who was dead. However, tugging has long been extended to all sneezes and is usually accompanied by reciting the Yiddish phrase "tzu langehmazaldikker yohrn" (to long, lucky years).
Sneezing on the Truth
Midrashic legend maintains that a sneeze used to announce impending death: "The story is told that until the time of Jacob, a person, at the close of his life,sneezed and instantly died." Some ancient peoples believed that the"little explosion in the head" ensured approaching eternity.
Rather than a mere irritation of the nasal passages, a sneeze was deemed a grave omen. Indeed, this may be the underlying reason for the development of the custom of saying "long life" and "good health" to one who has sneezed.
A traditional belief is that when a person sneezes during a conversation, whatever has just been said will occur, based on the concept of "sneezing on the truth." While not as foolproof as direct prophecy, it is said to indicate that events that are rational and plausible will actually come to pass or that an event that has already occurred really happened just as the story related.
Closing Books That Have Been Left Open
Closing prayer books, Bibles, and talmudic tracts is a common practice in synagogues and study halls. The explanation appears to be related to the medieval fear of the evil power of devils and demons, who would take "holy knowledge" and somehow use it for their own nefarious purposes.
Placing Salt in Pockets and Corners of the Room
Demons and similar creatures were known to reside in new houses and cause such chaos that people were actually paid to live in them before the arrival of their intended occupants. Because salt was generally regarded as having superb powers against evil spirits, it was often placed in the corners of a room where these creatures hid. The same reasoning applied to new clothes, where smaller goblins and elves could secret themselves in pockets. By placing a small amount of salt in the pockets, the owner of the clothing hoped to drive these beings away and foil their evil designs.
Wearing a Metal Pin on Clothes When Embarking on a Trip
In some communities, a safety or straight pin is attached out of sight under a shirt collar or on a sleeve before taking a journey. Metal was thought to be a powerful protective substance. According to the renowned Eleazer of Worms (a leader of the pietistic Hasidei Ashkenaz of the medieval period), metals were the products of civilization and thus could successfully attack and repel the evil spirits of a less sophisticated society.
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