The Evil Eye (Ayin ha-Ra) is alleged to be able to harm or cast a curse on a person. Although the Evil Eye is not referenced in the Bible, it is discussed in the Talmud and Kabbalah. The Evil Eye is traditionally believed to be the reason for sickness, tragedy, and pain in the world. Nothing is spared from the evil influences of the eye. The most frequent cause of harm from the Evil Eye is considered to be jealousy. Rabbis warned people against unnecessary flaunting of wealth and admiration to avoid resentment from others.
Many superstitions evolved to ward off the Evil Eye or prevent it from harming them. However, many of these superstitions were variations of non-Jewish customs. Dating back to Talmudic times, Jews have been wearing charms around their neck to guard from the Evil Eye. Today, some Jews often wear a chai necklace (charm symbolizing the number eighteen) to guard themselves from harm. Furthermore great lengths are taken to hide celebrations from the Evil Eye; for instance, double weddings are never permitted for fear of uttering too many blessings and tempting the Evil Eye. For Ashkenazic Jews, any blessing is normally lessened with the phrase “keyn ayen horeh” (without the Evil Eye) or abbreviated to “keynahora.”
Once the Evil Eye has been provoked, one must counter its harmful effects with magic. If the Evil Eye is attracted, mirrors and red or blue objects are utilized to veer away the glimpse of the eye, while a sacred verse or extreme motion (jumping around or throwing oneself upon the ground) may frighten it away. Some other ritual gestures developed to counteract the effects of the Evil Eye include:
• Placing a precious stone between the eyes,
• Putting a spot of dirt or ash on the forehead of a child,
• Spitting three times onto the fingers,
• Throwing salt into the corners of a room,
• Piercing a lemon with iron nails,
Sources: Eisenberg, Ronald L. The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions. PA: Jewish Publication Society, 2004.
Kolatch, Alfred J. The Jewish Book of Why/The Second Jewish Book of Why. NY: Jonathan David Publishers, 1989.
Wigoder, Geoffrey , Ed. The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia. NY: Facts on File, 1992.