Thoughts on Judaism

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Ayin Hara

No, this is not a variation of Jewish cultures most famous dance. It is the "evil eye", one of mankind's oldest superstitions. Most often, across cultures, it seems to be attributed to jealousy, the crooked look that one gives when they disapprove of your good fortune.

In Jewish sources, it is first mentioned in the Talmud, and mefarshim ascribe certain verses in the Bible to its effects, such as the prohibition of counting people directly. Later sages attribute its power to G-d opening a book and reassessing whether the person actually deserves the good fortune. Since He might then retract the good fortune, the ayin hara might cause someone to suffer ill fortune to compensate. In mystical terms, the ayin hara is some independent malevalent force. Defenses include spitting, wearing garlic, saying "no ayin hara" (bli ayin hara, kein ayin hara), or minimizing the cause of jealousy, as can be heard daily on any Jewish street in the world. Here is an example of such an exchange:

Yid A: You have such a beautiful mink coat, kein ayin hara.
Yid B: I got it on sale at a flea market. Someone bought it for me as a gift, $15.99, ptui!
Yid A: Oh my G-d, did you just spit on my shoe?!
Yid B: Small price to pay to defend myself from an ayin hara, chas v'shalom
Yid A: Yes, I agree.

Many sages understand the ayin hara in a rational way. It simply means that a person is not generous. In other words, he looks at others with a bad eye, not deserving of his largesse. The concept is akin to the halacha of ayin tov and ayin hara, in Trumah for example. A baal ayin tov gives 1/40, a benoni 1/50, a baal ayin hara 1/60.

In the case of Rashi al haTorah, he brings several instances of the ayin hara, in the independent force interpretation. Whether Rashi meant this literally or not, or whether he was just using this to resolve the pasukim at the child level is another pilpul. But, this whammy seems to be a universal part of frum culture from a very ancient base.

So, what can we gain or lose from it? Can we threaten people with an ayin hara if we do not like them? Can a Beis Din administer an ayin hara, in lieu of other punishment? (Mi sh'para, which the Beis Din can adminsiter for unscrupulous, but technically exempt actions can be understood as simple embarrassment, so it cannot be an example here.) Are there special mekubalim that can remove the ayin hara? Is there any way to discern whether a person is affected by an ayin hara or whether he is just a plain unencumbered shlemazel? Can I charge money to perform the service of removing ayin hara? Can I charge to train people to give an ayin hara? Does it work on goyim (as they believe it does)? If it does, and we had this awesome power, why did we let them run all over us for all those centuries?

25 Comments:

  • important discussion.However you were very kind.
    Is there a real ayin hara today. Was there ever an ayin hara?
    Have you ever seen one?

    By Anonymous daat y, at 5:08 PM  

  • I cannot say for sure if it exists or ever existed.

    I would ask what is the difference between having an ayin hara and not having one, before we even begin to discuss its existence. What is it?

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 5:44 PM  

  • THERE ARE THOSE WHO RUN THEIR LIFE TO PROTECT THEMSELVES AND THEIR FAMILY FROM AYIN HARA.-magical thinking,They act as if it is REAL.

    By Anonymous daat y, at 7:18 PM  

  • Welcome to the wacky world of the "mystical approach", which so fascinates the Yeshiva and Charedi world of our times.

    You have used the correct term "magical thinking", which underlies the entire body of Torah-science debates. You GET IT!!!

    Curious: Why the name Daat y?

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 9:33 PM  

  • Who says there don't exist process beyond our current understanding that facilitates these "paranormal" phenomena?

    If you would have explained radio waves to someone living 200 years ago, he would have thought you were off the planet.

    By Anonymous Boruch, at 1:30 AM  

  • Baruch

    There is simply no perceivable evidence that any such phenomenon functions anywhere. If it is not perceivable, if it has no effect on our physical world in any way, it might as well not exist.

    Radio waves are real, and they have an effect on things even though they are invisible. It works along known physical laws, just not within our sense of sight.

    No one claims that ayin hara works along some unknown physical law. It is simply superstition. If one were inclined, with a little effort, we could devise a scientific test, whereby the effects of ayin hara could be perceived or falsified. We would have to agree what constitutes an ayin hara, how it is properly applied, what effects it would be expected to have and at what frequency. We could then develop a double blind protocol and determine if the experiment group deviates by the frequency expected from the control group in the areas of expected effect.

    In fact, there is an organization called JREF, which specializes in creating such tests and offers a million dollars to anyone who can demonstrate a predefined (by the applicant) paranormal effect of any type.

    http://www.randi.org/research/index.html

    This goes for ANY paranormal effect.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 10:15 AM  

  • daat or daas has multiple meanings.

    By Anonymous daat y, at 10:22 AM  

  • Do you mean knowledge, opinion or shita? And why "Y"?

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 4:01 PM  

  • all.Multiple meanings to y.
    Daat also has deeper meanings which I'll post one day.
    How rebel are you?

    By Anonymous daat y, at 5:17 PM  

  • also see 'evil eye in encyclopedia judaica.

    By Anonymous daat y, at 5:22 PM  

  • What do you make of Eav E Dessler's explanation, Michtav M'Eliyahu, vol. 3, pp.313-314; vol. 4, pp.5-6 where he says it has to do with Devine judgement?

    By Anonymous Boruch, at 5:45 PM  

  • "No one claims that ayin hara works along some unknown physical law. It is simply superstition."

    Really? Seems like circular reasoning to me.

    "If it is not perceivable, if it has no effect on our physical world in any way, it might as well not exist."

    How about Hashgocha Pratis then. No scientific test could prove it.

    Your above quoted statement needs to be qualified:

    "If it is not perceivable, if it has no effect on our physical world in any way, it might as well not exist in a *scientific sense*."

    Because the existence of something has not yet (or never will) be proven it still MAY exist.

    For me, if the Torah says something exists, like AH, it's good enough for me.

    By Anonymous Boruch, at 6:00 PM  

  • AinHara is not mentioned in Torah
    shebichsav,

    By Anonymous daat y, at 6:08 PM  

  • Daat y - fair enough
    "How rebel are you" - I am a rationalist who believes taht the modern "mystical approach" is a corruption of the intent of Torah sh'b'ksav and b'al peh, including our interpretation of halacha. A rationalsit still believes in the centralness of the halacha regardless of its relationship to the reasoning. I think most people in the Ortho Jewish world think this way, as it is not reasonable to think otherwise. Yet, saying publicly that magic is the emperor's clothes is somehow totally rebel. I am totally rebel against the infusion of magic into Judaism.

    I would only add to your statement that Ayin Hara is not mentioned in Torah but that valid hashkafas exit that completely exclude it from the literal interpretation.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 6:53 PM  

  • The first mention is in Brachos20a
    and Pirke Avos2;11.Much better understood if not taken literally
    but as internal psychological drives.re:Rambam,Meiri.

    By Anonymous daat y, at 7:12 PM  

  • Baruch - excellent insights and concise statements

    Ayin hara may have to do with Divine Judgement or anything else literal or figurative. It has no universal definition, therefore it is whatever one wants it to be.

    The comparison to Hashgacha protis is qualified. HP is a belief about why things happen. If you want to say that certain things happen because of ayin hara, then ayin hara is just about why things happen, ie superstition. If you want to say that it is something specific, then it would have to be defined in the way taht I ask in the post, what is it?, what to we expect when it is present?, when it is absent? etc. In that respect it is testable and not comparable to HP.

    So we cannot ask if it IS, until we know WHAT it is.

    Daat Y
    I now understand that the y is for yashar.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 7:34 PM  

  • Rebel (I hate that name!), you have it the wrong way around. Torah and the mesorah should be the starting point. If it's says so in Torah, it's real.

    To what extent we can understand and to what extent it's applicable physically today, is debatable.

    This is why you will miss out on so many concepts, because you a priori reject them. Learn some Maharal and you'll get a feel for his "mehalech".

    By Anonymous Boruch, at 8:35 PM  

  • Boruch,
    That's not fair.You don,t know how much someone someone has learnt the Maharal.
    Is real only interpreted as concrete?
    See the Rambam and Meiri on 'ruach ra-a.'

    By Anonymous daat y, at 9:32 PM  

  • What's not fair? All I'm claiming is that if you start with the assumption that there are bobba maayses in Torah, you will find them. If you start with the assumption that Torah (including TSBP) is actually a revelation of the Devine Will, then you will try you best to understand and simply accept what you don't.

    For me what it says in Torah, is like the facts that a scientist observes. Because the scientist can not yet fit some phenomenon into his theory does not mean that the phenomenon does not exist. If it appears in Torah is exists. If we don't understand yet how it works, too bad.

    It's all a question of a priori assumptions.

    By Anonymous Boruch, at 9:55 PM  

  • "Rebel - I hate that name"
    Treason is word invented by the winners as an excuse to hang the losers. -- Dr. Benjamin Franklin

    "If it appears in Torah, it exists. If we don't understand yet how it works, too bad."

    I actually agree with your comment, up to a point. The question is not of what appears in the TSBK or TSBP but what we interpret it to mean in our lives. Obviously, in the cases of Motzi Shem Ra and Ganva b'Machtera, and many others the Chachamim found self contradictions that forced them to a nonliteral interpretation.

    So, if we start from Torah is always true, we cannot define the essence of truth away, as with the $100 promise parable in the "infallibility post" down the page. True means I can rely on it, not just that I can refute a later attempt at falsification. So I would agree that Torah is dogmatically true on the second level (I can refute the falsification), but our interpretation or understanding of it is not always reliably true.

    I feel that anyone who thinks into this, yourself included, will find that this is the case. The intro to Moreh Nevuchim explains all.

    "It's all a question of a priori assumptions."

    I agree. However, if we assume our interpretations or the literal interpretation or a particular sage's interpretation to be reliably true and we say that what we see with our eyes is false, we are overstepping our mandate. That was never the intention. Otherwise we would be using the cures in the Talmud, instead of using modern medical science.

    The a priori assumption should be that if we reach an an apologetical conclusion that is absurd, we should re-examine our path of interpretation. (Moreh Nevuchim)

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 11:39 AM  

  • Here's an excellent article on the subject: http://www.rashiyomi.com/evileye.pdf , written by Dr. Russel Hendel.

    Greg
    http://presence.baltiblogs.com/

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:12 PM  

  • Ayin hora means that if you have something that others may not have,you need to keep it quiet.If you are going to flaunt the fact that you have lots of kids,tons of money,etc while the next guy has no children or is very poor,it hurts the poor guy.G-d takes action if someones feelings have been hurt.I heard this from Rabbi Avigdor Miller.

    By Anonymous heshys house, at 6:15 PM  

  • G-d takes action of someone's feelings have been hurt.

    Rabbi Slifkin will be overjoyed to hear it.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 10:13 PM  

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