Crossing Knives – Jewish Superstition

Informant: William “Billy” Weiss is my grandfather who is 85 years old and was born in Hungary, but moved to New Your as an infant. His parents and other family members were Jewish and practiced their faith and traditions very seriously. He was raised in a Jewish section of the Bronx in which most of his friends and neighbors were Jewish as well. Synagogues were close by and a lot of the schooling was run by Jewish faculty. Therefore; a lot of his upbringing revolved around his Jewish heritage. He worked as a peanut salesman at Yankee Stadium in his adolescence, and later moved to Los Angeles were he became a very successful manager in the fashion industry in the 70’s and 80’s. His hobbies include gambling at the racetrack and spending time with his family whenever possible. He does not practice his Jewish religion often but expects to be buried in a Jewish cemetery with a traditional ceremony. My immediate family is Catholic, so he has learned that faith as well over the years and celebrates those holidays too.

William said, “If you cross knives on the dinner table when setting it, it is bad luck for the upcoming dinner. It means that there will be ‘sharp words’ said in the conversation at the meal.”

My grandpa told me this belief by coincidence when I was collecting folklore at family dinner. He said that when he was growing up, his mother told him that it was wrong to set knives on the table crossing each other. If this were to happen, it was said that the conversation would not be a positive one and that there would be an argument, negative vocabulary, or an overall unpleasant mood at dinner or whatever meal was being had. Jewish meals are very important to the culture and the family takes the preparation very seriously. Having the “knives cross” on the table is something that stands out as being out of place and unorganized. In addition, the knives crossing forms an “X” shape that is generally looked at as a negative symbol. Moreover; it is simply a folk belief and presents bad luck for the conversation at dinner. Everybody wants to have a pleasant meal experience and overall it should be a time to relax. Having that time ruined by a simple mistake of crossing the knives would be very unfortunate.

I think this superstition only exists to show how much importance the Jewish see in their family meals. I have multiple Jewish relatives, and even though I am Catholic, I have been exposed to their culture and had many meals with them. Every meal I have had with my Jewish family has been a big ordeal. Always an excessive amount of food and happy traditional music playing. There are prayers and songs performed ¬†before and after the meal. So I have seen first hand how special meal time is for the Jewish culture. Having the superstition of knives crossing on a table is, in my opinion, a way to set a reminder that a meal should be filled with positive conversation. It should lack conversation about politics or any other topic that could cause strife or ‘sharp words’ because that would ruin the sentiment of the gathering.