10. Dreams

10.1. Dreams II

The rabbis also maintain that although the imaginative faculty is in part  correct, much  worthless  material is contained therein, and consequently most dreams are useless things. Even "true dreams," which derive from prophecy and intellect, also contain useless things. Some rabbis write that a dream can only contain a true or prophetic matter if it pertains to the future; if it relates to the past, however, it is considered meaningless. Similarly, some rabbis write that whether a person dreams about himself or another person dreams about him, the contents of dreams have no effect one way or another. This is a general rule for all dreams.

There is, however, a very small minority of dreams which are true and correct and which have no relationship to physical causes but occur due to strength of the soul. If the imaginative faculty in a person is very strong and healthy, dreams can be a teaching from heaven, "a small prophecy,""one sixtieth part" of prophecy. Despite the ephemeral nature of the dream experience, Jewish thinking is not quite ready to discount these experiences altogether. Thus, halacha (law) and hashkafa (philosophy) do address the issue.

Certain general principles apply to the validity of dreams from a halachic viewpoint. Most dreams are considered of questionable validity and therefore, in monetary matters, the doubt is resolved leniently - money is not taken from one person and given to another merely on the basis of a dream, but only upon clear and convincing evidence. However, in matters of what is permitted or forbidden, the doubt as to the dream's importance is resolved stringently, and one must be concerned about the contents of the dream. Some rabbis, however, rule that even in such matters one need not be concerned with a dream because dreams have no effect one way or another.

In general, Jewish law follows the rule of the majority and considers most dreams as meaningless. However, in matters of danger to life, the law does not follow the rule of the majority. There is concern even for a minority circumstance. Therefore, a dream whose  contents deal with danger to Life is of concern. In matters which are not contrary to Jewish law, one should be concerned about the contents of a dream. For example, if one dreams that raging troubles will occur to the general populace, one should pay attention thereto, fast, and do penitence. However, if the dream indicates that one should nullify biblical or even rabbinic commandments, one is not allowed to heed the dream.

In halachic literature, there is a difference of opinion among rabbinic decisors whether or not a scholar is allowed to inquire in a dream about a halachic decision, and whether, if he saw the answer to a halachic question in a dream, he should pay attention to it. In biblical times dreams were frequently consulted, and some rabbis note that talmudic sages at times inquired of dreams. A number of early rabbinic decisors affirm that in dreams they saw answers to and interpretations of halachic questions. Rabbi Yaakov from Marvish, one of the Tosafists, inquired in dreams about legal questions and disseminated the questions and divine answers in his book.

By contrast, some rabbis write that a person should refrain from asking in a dream which woman to marry and in which business undertaking he might succeed. Although some later rabbinic decisors accept as authoritative the content of dreams which revealed Jewish Jaw to them, most rabbis reject his view. Dreams should have no effect one way or anotl1er, for the Torah is "not in the heavens," and a  dream is "fleeting and without substance."

However, books and treatises have been written attempting to interpret various dreams, according to the view that dreams do have significance and one should pay attention to their contents.

Specific Laws

Since by their very nature it is very difficult to determine whether a person's dreams are nonsense or should be taken seriously, Jewish law and literature reflect a cautious approach, based on the possibility that the dream might indeed carry a portent.

"Neutralizing" a Bad Dream

On going to bed one recites the prayer "Who causes the bands of sleep to fall upon my eyes" (hamapil), part of which includes "and let not evil dreams and evil thoughts disturb me."

The way to "neutralize" a bad dream ,is  as  follows: if  one has a dream which makes one sad, even if it  contains nothing bad but only makes him sad, he should have a "good  turn" given to it in the  presence of  three  people.  Let him go to three of his friends and say to them, "I have seen a good dream". And they should say to  him,  "Good  it  is  and good may it be. May the Holy One, blessed be He, turn it to good. Seven times may it be decreed from heaven that it should be good and may it be good." They should then say  three verses in which G-d promises to tum bad to good, three  verses with the word redemption and three verses with the word place. Some sources interpret the "seven times may it be decreed"... to be part of the text of the incantation.  In this view, the entire incantation is recited three times. Other rabbis state that this sentence is not part of the text of the incantation. Rather, the incantation should be recited seven times and one should respond "Amen" after it seven times.

During the "neutralization" one should remember the dream in one's mind. One rabbi states that the dreamer should describe his dream to the three people, who should then "interpret" it for good. The time to perform the neutralization ritual, according to some rabbis, is at the end of the day after one leaves the synagogue; other rabbis suggest that morning is the proper ti me.

In general, the rabbis advise people not to pay attention to dreams because most are meaningless. However, if he is sad and anxious about a dream, he should perform the neutralization ritual.

The Talmud advises that if  a  person  had  a  dream  but does not remember what he saw, (whether he cannot remember whether it was good or bad or whether he entirely forgot the dream), let him stand before the  Kohanim when they raise their hands to offer the priestly benediction and offer a prayer that the dream have a good outcome.

In Israel, where the Kolumim bless the people daily, one does not recite this praier every day but only if he bad a dream the night before. In countries where the priests offer the priestly benediction only on Jewish Holidays, it is customary for the entire congregation to recite this prayer during the priestly benediction - even the people who did not dream.

Fasting on Account of a Bad Dream

Halachic literature indicates that a person who experiences a bad dream should fast the next day, because fasting is as potent against a dream as fire against tow.

It is permissible to fast on account of a bad dream, even on the Sabbath, but he must afterward observe the next day of fasting in penance for having failed to make the Sabbath a delight. If one is weak and unable to fast on two consecutive days, he should fast on another day. Some rabbis, however, rule that one should not fast on the Sabbath on account of a bad dream unless he saw that dream three  times .  Others rule that nowadays one should not fast on the Sabbath at all on account of a bad dream because we are not experts on dream interpretation to know which dream is good  and  which  is bad.

It is commonly stated in ancient books that for three types of dreams one should fast on the Sabbath: If one sees a Scroll of the law (Sefer Torah) burning, or if one sees Yom Kippur at the time of the late afternoon service, or if one sees the  walls of one's house or one's teeth falling out. Other types of dreams are sometimes included in this list. Some rabbis rule that one should not fast on the Sabbath for any of the aforementioned occurrences but should fast two week days, one on account of  the bad dream and the other to compensate for the Sabbath. In any event, one should not fast on the Sabbath unless fasting gives him pleasure; for example, he is very sad, fasting may give him peace of mind.

While some rabbis minimize the need to fast for a bad dream, others seem to feel that it is important to do so - both for the individual personally or even for the benefit of the community.

Vows in a Dream

What a person in his dream swore to do something, or vowed not to perform a certain act?

Some rabbis rule that the oath does not require cancellation (hatarah, literally: regret) whereas others rule that it does. Some rabbis even maintain that a vow made in a dream is more stringent than one made while awake and therefore requires ten persons to cancel it.  Some rabbis rule that a husband cannot nullify his wife's vow made in her dream, but that she needs ten people to cancel it. Other rabbis however, rule that the law in regard to a woman's vow is the same whether it occurs in a dream or while awake.

Some rabbis write that one need be concerned only with obligatory vows made in a dream but not with vows which are only made as a sign of piety and asceticism.  Interestingly, some rabbis rule that if a person swears or vows in a dream to fulfill a commandment, he is obligated to do so, such as if he vows in a dream to write a Scroll of the Law.

Monetary Matters in a Dream

The Gemara talks about a person who was distressed over some money which his father had left him but whose location was not disclosed. In a dream the specific amount and its location were disclosed to him - and also the fact that it was money for the redemption of second tithe. On that occasion, the rabbis ruled that dreams do not matter one way or the other and the money was not considered tithe money and could be used by him for any purpose. The same rule applies if a person was told in his dream that the money belongs to so-and-so; even if it was given for safekeeping to his father, he can keep it. So, too, if he was told in the dream that so much is earmarked for charity, he can keep it. The rabbis explain that one cannot rely on a dream to remove money from the person who is in possession of it. It matters not whether or not he is distressed; in every instance, these dreams are of no significance.

Some rabbis write that the principle that dreams are of no effect applies only in regard to commandments. But if one dreams about a deceased person and his indignity, one should pay attention to the dream. The aforementioned applies, however, only within thirty days of the death of a relative. Later than that, one pays no attention to the dream.

If a physician is prepared to prescribe a medication for a patient but is warned in a dream not to do so because the patient might die - if he is in doubt about that medication, he should not prescribe it. If he is sure it will not harm the patient, he should pay no attention to the dream. If he is in doubt but another physician is not in doubt, the second one should pay no attention to his friend's dream.

The various rabbinic teachings cited herein hardly offer a concrete or coherent approach toward the question of the relative importance one should ascribe to a dream. Dreams are evanescent, and the laws pertaining to them seem similarly obscure. If a person is troubled by a dream experience, it would appear to be prudent to consult a Torah scholar wise in the depths of this deep issue, in order to receive direction and guidance on the proper reaction.

For a deeper and more comprehensive study we encourage you to take the 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course' taught by the Talmudic University of Florida or the 'Home/Study course', 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course'.