What is the Evil Eye?
There is a prevalent belief in a number of cultures that a malicious gaze can bring evil upon the target of the gaze. It is widely understood that some human beings possess powers that allow them to send what may be termed as destructive rays that can harm those they are envious of or simply dislike. An interesting question is how Judaism relates to such ideas.The Evil Eye in Jewish Sources
As always, the best places to start when studying a subject in Judaism are the Jewish scriptures. The evil eye is not mentioned explicitly in the Bible but is discussed in the Talmud and Kabbalah. The evil eye merits mention in the timeless book, Ethics of our Fathers that is a part of the Talmud. In the second chapter, advice is given on how to follow a good path in life and to avoid the bad. It is there that Rabbi Eliezer is reported as having said that an evil eye is worse than a bad friend, a bad neighbor or an evil heart.
Good Eye versus Evil Eye
As far as Judaism is concerned, a “good eye” means an attitude of good will and kindness which leads to rejoicing in the prosperity and good fortune of others. An “evil eye” is therefore the opposite attitude, whereby one is distressed by the prosperity and good fortune of others. For this reason, many Jewish people will avoid talking about valuable items that they own, as well as good luck that has befallen them, particularly their children. In the case of one who has to speak about such things, many have the custom to say “bli ayin hara,” which is a Hebrew phrase that translates to mean, “without an evil eye,” or the Yiddish version of, “kein ayin hara.”
Descendant of Joseph? Fear not!
An interesting take on the Evil Eye in Judaism can be learnt from the comment made by Rabbi Yochanan in the Talmud (Berachot 20a) that as a descendant of Joseph, the Evil Eye has no power over him. It is explained that Joseph was untouchable as far as the Evil Eye was concerned due to his extreme caution not to look upon that which was not his- when the wife of Potiphar tried to seduce him, Joseph remained faithful to G-d.
Rav Kook explained that the Evil Eye is an example of the influence of one soul on another through unseen connections between them. One’s environment inevitably affects one and the Evil Eye is simply the harmful impact of malignant bad feelings of those surrounding us.
A person like Joseph, who went to great lengths to harden his inner resolve, thereby ensuring that he cannot be led from the correct path no matter what his surroundings do or say, builds an impregnable wall that protects his soul from outer influences. Joseph is famous as the Biblical character who demonstrated this character trait most powerfully- he was all of seventeen years old, extremely handsome, immersed in a foreign culture far from his family and home and had a powerful, attractive lady who was determined to seduce him. Despite all this Joseph stood by his principles and through his incredibly heroic actions he merited that the Evil Eye would have no power on him or his descendants.
The Evil Eye is kind of like fairies- you have to believe in it for it to exist!
Furthermore, in another place in the Talmud (Pesachim 110b) it is clearly written that one who ignores the Evil Eye is simply unaffected by it- only those who worry about it seemingly have what to worry about!
Evil Eye Jewelry
Where does Evil Eye Jewelry come into all of this then? It has become increasingly popular for people of all religions to don jewelry that is meant to protect the wearer from the effects of the evil eye. Keeping in mind that as descendants of Joseph the Evil Eye has no effect and only believing in it will bring it upon you, these pieces of jewelry are often quite attractive, decorated with eyes, fish (symbols of good luck in Judaism) and Hamsas (also associated with good luck in various cultures). We’d say that we wouldn’t rely on such pieces to keep you safe but you can surely enjoy wearing them while confident in the fact that actually you have no reason to fear at all!