Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Shah! The Evil Eye!

“Oh, what a beautiful baby!” a woman says to another.

Kayn ayin harah,” the mother replies, “There shouldn’t be an evil eye!”

What a strange reaction this is! Wouldn’t “thank you” be sufficient and proper?

There is a part of Jewish tradition that believes firmly in the power of ayin harah (the evil eye). There are a number of varying opinions about what exactly is an ayin harah. Some believe it is a curse that a person may put on another--for instance a curse against a wealthy person that his business should fail. Others define it as an emotional or psychological state. All sources, however, agree that ayin harah draws its power from envy and jealousy.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (1892-1954, England/Israel) once explained that the purpose of ayin harah is to instill humility in each person. One must recognize that the things with which one has been blessed are gifts from G-d and no one should flaunt their gifts, lest it cause pain to others.

To protect themselves and their loved ones from the evil eye, many people will add the phrase "bli ayin harah" (without the evil eye) to statements they make about their own fortunate situations (number of children, wealth, age, etc) or will respond "kayn ayin harah" (against the evil eye) to statements of praise made to them by others. This is sometimes accompanied by “spitting” three times (poo, poo, poo) over the left shoulder!

Amulets and charms against the evil eye were common in centuries past, and several have remained common talismans to this day, such as the hamsa. Recently, it has become popular to wear (around one’s left wrist) a section of a red string that had been previously strung around the tomb of the matriarch Rachel. More often than not, however, these red strings have never been within 10 miles of Rachel’s Tomb!


C Yocheved said...

But what about the mitzva d'oreita to not accept omens? It's somewhere in Devarim I think.

the preppy debutante said...

what a great blog!

Jewish Treats said...

You are correct that their is a mitzvah not to accept omens. The Ayin Harah is a little different then an omen, as we see that the sages held there to be power in it and not just superstition. Although we today do not know how these spiritual influences work, here is one idea:

When a person flaunts what they have, they draw attention to themselves and not all of that attention is positive. Suddenly in the spotlight, a person is open to criticism about any and all things...and the attention drawn is not just from other people, but also from the Yetzer Harah, the evil inclination (who may incite the person to arrogance) or from the katagor, the metaphysical prosecutor in the heavenly courts, who then scrutinizes the person to see if they truly merit the good they are receiving.

The amulets and physical protections against the evil eye usually stemmed from those who were not learned in Torah but lived simple, G-d fearing lives. Many of these ideas of amulets for protection were assimilated in from other cultures. That does not mean, however, things such as blessings from a rabbi do not have power...it is just difficult to judge what their effect might be. As for saying bli ayin harah or kayn ayn harah - this is, perhaps, a way of a person announcing that they themselves don't feel worthy of the blessings that they have received, so please don't judge them.

I hope this helped with your question

Sarah Rochel Hewitt
Jewish Treats