By Emily Goldberg, Layout Editor
One afternoon, after what seemed to be an endless wait to get a spot in the Brookdale elevator, I was finally able to jam into the cramped space and ride up to my room on the sixteenth floor. As I was standing in my tiny area, staring at the numbers on the elevator screen, I noticed that floor number thirteen was skipped; we instantly went from floor twelve to fourteen. This subtle detail is more prominently noticed when students choose to take the long trek up the stairs to their rooms. Quite often, I notice that my peers are wryly amused when they reach floor twelve, knowing that floor thirteen does not exist and they have fewer stairs to climb in order to reach their destinations. Is this really a feature of Brookdale Residence that should put smiles on peoples’ faces? I happen to think that this attribute should be questioned rather than celebrated.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines superstition as “a widely held but irrational belief in supernatural influences, especially as leading to good or bad luck, or a practice based on such a belief” and can even be known to have a “pagan or idolatrous character.” Superstitions are common throughout Western culture – people take deliberate measures to avoid any actions they believe will cause them harm and purposely perform acts they think will cause them otherworldly benefit. Some common examples of actions that may bring bad luck include opening an umbrella indoors, breaking a mirror, seeing a black cat, and walking under a ladder, regardless of how arbitrary or innocuous such activities may be. Along these lines, the number thirteen has long been considered an unlucky number by many within the West. This specific superstition is also associated with Friday the Thirteenth, a day on which unlucky occurrences seem to commonly transpire. The reason for the deliberate absence of a thirteenth floor within most buildings in New York City is precisely because tenants are concerned that residing on the floor will result in bad luck.
Naturally, the Torah firmly condemns the belief in such superstitions and magical forces and notes that placing one’s faith in these mystical tricks rather than in God might be an act of Avodah Zarah (idolatry). The Torah states that “you shall not act on the basis of omens or lucky hours” (Leviticus, 19:26). Rashi quotes a Gemara in Sanhedrin that states that this refers to “one who says: ‘this or that day is auspicious for beginning a work, this or that hour is inauspicious for starting on a journey” (Rashi, Leviticus 19:26, quotes Sanhedrin 66a). The Stone Chumash, in its commentary, elaborates, explaining that one “should not base their decisions on superstitions, such as the belief that black cats crossing your path or that walking under a ladder will cause bad luck” (The Stone Chumash, Rashi, Leviticus, 19:26). Similarly, the belief that the number thirteen will bring bad luck into one’s life goes completely against this pasuk. One should not believe that an “unlucky” number can control the occurrences in one’s life, but rather should have faith that God is in total control of the entire universe and all that occurs within its realms.
The Torah warns people “Do not turn to ghosts and do not inquire the familiar spirits, to be defiled by them: I am HaShem your God” (Vayikra, 19:31). The addition of the words “I am HaShem your God” emphasizes that when one turns to magical spirits or “ghosts” as a means of controlling what occurs in one’s life, one is essentially denying and discarding HaShem as the one true God and Ruler over the world (Vayikra, 19:31). In addition, the Torah heavily condemns acts of black magic and states “you shall not tolerate a sorceress” (Shemos, 22:17). The Sages note that black magic practices, “weaken the Divine power from above, as it is stated [in a pasuk]: there is no one but [God]” (Sanhedrin, 67b). To simplify, even if the black magic practices seem to have worked, the outcome must be a result of divine providence from God and not sorcery. God is the sole Being that is capable of regulating the incidents within our lives, and certainly, simple actions such as breaking a mirror, knocking on wood, or living on the thirteenth floor of a building have no impact on us. By believing that mystical forces, black magic, sorcery, or superstitions have an actual effect on one’s life, one is essentially denying the foundational belief of Jewish theology that God is the King and sole Ruler over the world, as well as the only Being capable of complete control over the universe.
The fact that Brookdale Residence Hall does not have a thirteenth floor is disturbing and goes against these Torah values our university claims to hold dear. Yeshiva University asserts itself as the leading religious institution in America, and Torah is a prominent part of the ideology and founding merit on which the institution was established. Although the fact that Brookdale does not have a thirteenth floor may be a seemingly minute detail to some, this feature contradicts the core teachings on which the institution relies. It is ironic that many of the elevators in Stern College contain depictions of the five Torah values on their exteriors but forget to include them on their interiors by deliberately eliminating a button for the thirteenth floor. Action should be taken in order to ensure that the ethics and morals of the Torah remain constant throughout all aspects of Yeshiva University and the environment within which the students are living every day. Moreover, Yeshiva University should do everything within its power to renumber the floors of its buildings so as to avoid this superstitious practice, and all the more so, to demonstrate its opposition to the belief in such superstitions.