Kosher Fodem: Sacred Threads between the Living and Dead
Kosher fodem ("fit string") is an outgrowth of the Ashkenazi pious custom known variously as Kneytlekh Legn ("laying wicks") or Korim Mesn ("measuring graves"). In Poland and other Eastern European communities, pious women would go, en mass, to graveyards and lay thread around the graves of people known for their piety in life. This seemingly morbid practice was actually a spirited and popular women's outing . The string so prepared were thought to "absorb" a measure of the dead soul's merit. Most often, the strings would be cut into wicks, made into candles, and then donated to a synagogue or house of study.
This was a charitable effort to support these sacred institutions, but it was also done, pardon the pun, out of 'enlightened' self-interest. Often the donation would be made to coincide with High Holidays or an illness or trouble in the family, in hopes of receiving divine intercession. The candles could also be reserved for rituals of divination or as a means to protect the household against malevolent forces .
No doubt, some of this string was simply attached to places of vulnerablity one wanted to protect - a baby crib or birthing bed, for example. And some just got tied around the wrist.
Zal g'mor - To learn more consult the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050
1. Wex, Born to Kvetch, p. 178.
2. Weissler, "Measuring graves, Laying Wicks," pp. 61-80.