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Thursday, March 22, 2001 11:44 AM -

I have a question:
Can you tell me why tradition includes the burning of clipped nails? Or, do you have a reference suggestion for research? Thanks.

About me: Nancy
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Thanks for your question, Nancy.

Tradition regards the nails as repositories of negative spiritual energy.  

The Talmud records that one who leaves cut nails lying about (like in the street) is wicked; one who buries them is good; and one who burns them is a Tzaddik (i.e., holy).  The wickedness of the first person lies in the similarity of such a deed to digging a dangerous hole in a public thoroughfare and then not fencing or marking it.  Someone could be harmed by contact with the nails, such as by stepping on them.  (The specific example given in the Talmud is a woman's miscarriage.)  

Many observant Jews are careful to promptly flush their cut nails down the toilet. 

A tiny percentage of folks won't trim nails on Thursdays, feeling that the third day is when growth resumes after cutting, which they don't wish to begin on Shabbat.  (These perceptions are spiritual realities not necessarily physical realities.) 

At least one kabbalistic sage suggests cutting a different nail everyday, so as not to release too much negative spiritual energy all at once, but other rabbis ridicule the idea.  

You may recall many dybbuk stories, in which the body's portal is a nail.

And of course there's Joseph, who when tempted by Potiphar's wife, though he successfully resisted by running away, still ejaculated ten drops of semen through his ten toenails, spiritually bringing about the later murders of the ten martyrs recounted in the Yom Kippur liturgy.

Kohanim in the Temple left their thumbnails grown long, since they were used to slaughter the birds.   And ritual slaughterers today use their nail to test the knife before each use. All others keep their nails short, women trimming them monthly before immersing in the mikveh.

--- Jordan