From HSM’s Mail Bag

What do you think of saying the expression “I’ll keep my fingers crossed”.  is this something Jewish people say nowadays?  Do you personally say this?  just was discussing this with someone….thanks!

Thanks for emailing me. I don’t say “I’ll keep my fingers crossed” nor do I say “knock on wood” or anything of that nature. I didn’t hear those expressions in my house growing up, so they wouldn’t be normal parlance for me. However I have heard religious Jews use these phrases without knowing the symbolism behind them. I always thought they both were derived from Christianity – but read the following paragraphs for enlightenment.

From Wikipedia:

Crossing one’s fingers, by curling the middle finger over the index, or the index over the middle, is thought to bring good luck. This dates back to when crossed fingers were used as a gesture to ward off witches and others considered to be or possessed by evil spirits. It is also seen as bad luck to cross your fingers on both hands.

Some believe that the gesture originates from pre-Christian times and, in many early French-Brazilian cultures, two people were required to use their index fingers to form the sign, one to make a wish and the other to send it up to the heavens to the mighty Alah. It was believed that the cross was a symbol of unity and that benign spirits dwelt at its intersecting point—to wish on a cross was a figurative way of securing the wish at the intersection until it came true. Over the years, the custom was modified so one person could cross any part of their body to make the wish.

From Associated Content:
The exact origin of the phrase “knock on wood” is unknown, however many speculate that is could have come from rituals in early times where trees were considered sacred spirits. Others believe the phrase originated in Ireland. To knock on wood was to alert leprechauns that you were thanking them for giving you good luck. Another popular belief is that by knocking on wood you prevent the devil from hearing what you have just said, which in turn prevents the action from occurring. It is possible that the origination of the phrase “knock on wood” is derived from Christianity and the wood is a reference to the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

The earliest reference of the phrase “knock on wood” was recorded in the early 1900′s. There are some references to a similar phrase, “touch wood,” that were recorded in the late 1800′s. “Touch wood” means essentially the same as “knock on wood.” Today we more commonly use “knock on wood” rather that “touch wood”.

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  1. RubyV says:

    Every culture has acts of superstition, with the origins of most lost to history. Doesn’t matter the religion or culture, there are odd quirks that we retain and act upon, without understanding why.

  2. YC says:

    I avoid those sayings but….

    The bible (in Psalms, Isaiah, Job…)has references to myths that no reader of the bible then believed in. (ie God beating back sea-monster. This could be a polemic or a way to express strength…)

    It is like me saying “Great Zeus”. No one thinks I believe in Zeus. So too when saying “he walks on water”. It does not mean one believes in Jesus’ miracles.

  3. Hadass Eviatar says:

    I don’t use those expressions, but my kids make fun of me for saying “tfu tfu tfu” to ward off the Evil Eye! (Same as saying “keine hora”).

  4. lady lock and load says:

    Maybe it’s good luck to cross your chicken feet? ;) CACKLE CACKLE!!!

  5. Ari says:

    Our rabbi says “gee,” and I wonder if he is aware of the origins!

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