Our culture has planted in our minds that 13 is a particularly unlucky number (Triskaidekaphobia = fear of 13). “Friday the 13th” (Paraskevisekatriaphobia = fear of Friday the 13th) is a particularly inauspicious day to a large portion of the population, and many buildings even avoid having a 13th floor, etc.

In Judaism, however, the number 13 has positive associations and is significant in many ways. At 13, a boy becomes Bar Mitzvah. God has 13 attributes of mercy. Maimonides lists 13 principles of faith. Talmudic law and logic was reduced by Rabbi Ishmael into 13 principles. There are 13 months in a Jewish lunar leap year. The Purim victory celebrated by Queen Esther took place on the 13th day of Adar.

That’s not all. In the Talmud, there is an abundance of portentous 13s mentioned: in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem there were 13 charity boxes, each with a different phrase etched onto it (Temurah 23b), 13 partition curtains (Yoma 54b) and 13 tables (Tamid 31b); Rabbi Oshiya suggests 13 categories of damages that can be litigated in court (Kritut2b); Israel will one day be divided into 13 tribal sections instead of the original 12 of Joshua (Bava Batra 122a); 13 covenants were sealed between God and the Jews through the brit milah (circumcision covenant) (Brachot 49a); and when tying the strings of a talit (prayer shawl), the maximum number of knots permitted is 13 – symbolic of the 7 heavens and the 6 air spaces between them (Menachot 39a).

In Judaism, the number 13 is definitely not unlucky. In fact, it is quite significant!

This Treat was last posted on March 13, 2009.

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