Throwing coins into a wishing well
Rivka from Maryland asked:
Is there anything wrong with making a wish and then throwing a coin into a wishing well?
There are a number of possible scenerios; I will deal with two of them here. In the first one, a coin is thrown into a fountain or the like, but it will eventually be retrieved by someone and given to charity. In this case it would be permitted for a Jew to throw the coin and make a wish, provided of course that the wish is directed to G-d, asking Him to fulfill the wish. (Asking another force or power to grant a wish is tantamount to idol worship). The Talmud states that it is permitted for a Jew to give charity and ask that such and such happen, because even if he is not granted his request from G-d he will not regret having given charity.
In the second scenario, the money is being thrown into a well, where it is irretrievable. I asked Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita, a renowned Halachic authority, and he told me that it would be forbidden in this case because it would be a waste of the coin, which violates the prohibition of bal tashchit (do not waste).
The second scenario reminds me of a joke I once heard. Three men, one of whom was a Jew, were standing around the grave of a friend. According to the local custom, all the friends threw money into the grave so that the deceased would have money in the Hereafter. The grave was filled and the friends went off to have a drink in honor of their dear friend. While sipping their respective beverages, one of the friends announces "I threw in five hundred dollars!" The next friend, proudly exclaims "I threw in a thousand dollars!" Looking meditatively into the distance, the Jewish friend says "I removed the five hundred dollars, and I removed the thousand dollars, and I left a check for twenty-five hundred."
- Talmud - Tractate Rosh Hashana 4a.
- Maimonides - The Commentary of the Mishna, Tractate Sanhedrin, ch. 11, principle no. 5.
- Deuteronomy 20:19.