In this post, Rabbi Slifkin draws attention to the questionability of certain modern day segulos and for this he should be commended. It is not often that members of this blog find common ground with Rabbi Slifkin and his approaches to yahadus. But this blog is dedicated to an analysis of Rabbi Slifkin’s views and fair is fair. In this case, I happen to identify with his attitude to modern day segulos (I do not speak for the other members). Accordingly, I felt it should be noted.
To be sure, segulos are an important part of Talmudic literature and are discussed in halachic works such as Rambam and Shulchan Aruch. Sometimes the rationality behind them can be detected; sometimes it is difficult (see, for instance, Shabbos 67). But that’s Chazal. Modern day segulos do not possess anywhere near the level of reliability (or rationality) as Chazal’s suggestions. There is a plethora of Torah literature on this subject. I have reviewed much of the material but at this time am not inclined to examine the sugya in depth, at least not publicly.
I’d like to focus on a troublesome statement Rabbi Slifkin made in the aforementioned blog entry. He writes:
I find this statement difficult. The entire middle part of our shemoneh esrei is written b’lashon bakasha (supplication). But while it remains true that the purpose of segulos is to effect a change in the current condition, this is not the primary purpose of tefila at all. Chovos Levavos supplies five reasons for the purpose of tefila and none of them relate to "the efficacy of petitionary prayer". Even in instances where the seforim ha'kedoshim discuss tefila in the role of changing the status quo, these cases can be understood rationally. (Rav Dessler speaks about this at length). To my mind, there is no comparison whatsoever between modern day segulos and tefilos bakasha. IMO, Rabbi Slifkin pulled his punches unnecessarily.
Furthermore, one person's segulah is another person's fundamental religious belief. How much more inherently irrational are segulos than, say, tefillas haderech (which I am extremely makpid about)? True, one can draw distinctions, but the efficacy of petitionary prayer may be difficult to justify on a solely rational level.