I am very fortunate. I have an interesting circle of friends and acquaintances from all walks of life. Americans who are Asian, Hispanic and black, and people on almost every continent and dozens of countries that my husband and I know from work and travel. They are Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Jews; young, old and in-between; religiously observant and not. Yet as diverse as they are, I have found that they all have one thing in common: They all seem to notice the simple red string around my wrist and ask me about it.
It’s rare to be able to say, “I have a personal FAQ”—but I do. And it’s “Why are you wearing a red string?”
My response is as interesting and compelling to my friends and acquaintances as their wide-ranging histories and cultural practices are to me. But more significantly—my response always inspires the same reaction from each and every one of them.
Why I wear a red string
This is my response when they ask me why I wear a red string around my wrist:
“I wear this red string around my wrist as a talisman because it is thought to have magical powers of protection. It is said to ward off misfortune and attract good luck. It’s a tradition associated with some of the most observant forms of Orthodox Judaism and Kabbalah. While I am not Orthodox, I believe in its power.”
The string is made from thin red wool, and I am sure it is not a coincidence that it is such a vibrant shade of this powerful hue. I wear it on my left wrist, nearest to my heart. Seven tiny knots secure it. My husband, Shelly, wears one as well.
The rules of the red string
As part of this ritual, you must never cut off the string. It has to fall off the wearer on its own accord, at which time a loved one ties another red string around the wearer’s wrist.
My last red string stayed on my wrist for exactly one year to the day. And the one I am currently wearing is approaching that benchmark, and I am curious to see how long it will last.
Where the tradition comes from
In fact, the custom of wearing the red string dates back to biblical times, as it is mentioned in Genesis 38. But today, thanks to many celebrities who have embraced this tradition (such as Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mick Jagger and dozens more), it is most associated with Judaism’s Kabbalah, the ancient Jewish tradition of mystical interpretation of the Bible.
After I explain the meaning of the red string to someone, I always get the same questions, which in truth make it clear anyone can embrace this practice. So I am sharing them with you, dear readers, in the event that you want to embrace this tradition.
Frequently asked questions about the red string
- Do I have to be Jewish to wear a red string?
No. Anyone can embrace this tradition. The red string represents an article of faith in a number of different beliefs.
- Do you have an extra red string to tie on my wrist?
I only tie the red string on my family or my dearest friends. So my answer always depends on who is asking. But the lesson for you is that it this is something you can embrace yourself, since red strings can be purchased online, and passed on to others whom you want to touch in a meaningful way.
- Will it matter if I wear it on my right wrist?
Yes. It is worn on the left wrist because the left side of the body is the receiving side.
- How long will my red string stay on my wrist if I am lucky enough to have one?
There is no set time. It depends on the wearer. As I mentioned above, my last red string stayed on my wrist a year.
- How will I replace my red string when it falls off on its own?
My red strings are from Jerusalem. I get them at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem from religious Jewish women for a small donation. I will only wear red strings from Israel because these women bless them, and that holds great meaning for me. However, you can purchase them online.
- How do you feel wearing your red string?
I feel protected by something “bigger.” I feel closer to my religion. I know I am portraying who I am.
- What’s the best place to buy a red string online?
I do not endorse any one source, but these are sold by many online sources, including Amazon, the Kabbalah Centre and more.
So far, I have never run out of red strings for my family and close friends. And that’s a good thing because I can’t tell you how often I receive emails and texts with this message:
“My red string fell off! I feel lost without it! Please send another one soon…if you can!”
I can and I do. Thank goodness I brought back a number of “blessed red strings from Israel” last time I was there. And next time I go, I will be sure to deepen my stash. After all, and fortunately for me, my world of family and friends is always expanding.