I Grew Up Not Knowing About The Concept of “Evil Eye” Until I Married an Israeli with Traditional Beliefs

I Grew Up Not Knowing About The Concept of “Evil Eye” Until I Married an Israeli with Traditional Beliefs April 17, 2023

Glass "evil eyes" adorn a tree branch.
Glass “evil eyes” adorn a tree branch. Photo by Taryn Elliott/Courtesy of Pexels

On a recent weeknight, my mother-in-law joined me in preparation of our Passover dinner.  We were expecting around 35 guests, and while each family was to bring a dish – just making sure we had the basic staples for the table proved to be a timely challenge.  We made a large quantity of tehina – a staple of Israeli cuisine made from sesame paste mixed with lemon juice, garlic, seasonings, and water.

After a lot of mixing by hand (sometimes tehina can be made in the blender) we sat back for a moment and admired our labor – a large plastic Tupperware filled with the condiment.  I promptly stuck it in the fridge to thicken.

I shut the fridge door and was started by the doorbell.  It was an out-of-town guest, known to make frequent unannounced visits at the most inopportune moments.  We (hesitantly) welcomed him in, making it clear we were busy with Passover dinner preparation.  After a few moments enduring the exaggerated clanking of pots and pans, our guest said goodbye.

I opened the fridge and the large container of tehina came pouring out leaving a slow trail of thick goopy paste all over the stainless-steel fridge and making its way onto the hardwood floor.

“He and his Ayin Hara,” my mother-in-law remarked, referring to our pesky guest, as we sopped up the paste with paper towels.

A Foreign Concept

The idea that someone else’s negative thoughts on us can cause harm or damage was certainly a foreign concept to me until I married a Sephardic Israeli (of Middle Eastern descent).

I was born in Israel and raised in the United States by Ashkenazi (of European descent) parents.

In most respects, my siblings and I assimilated in American culture and my parents were not particularly observant nor religious.

My father had certain superstitious beliefs that were legacies of his Romanian parents, yet the concept of “Ayin Hara” was not one of them.

After I got married, the concept and belief of Ayin Hara became a frequent topic of conversation in my immediate household, as it was part of my husband’s vernacular.

Roots of Evil Eye

Belief of Ayin Hara (Evil Eye) is prevalent among many Jewish Sephardim, as well as many cultures throughout the Middle East.     There are several different explanations and descriptions of Ayin Hara, but it basically means one should not draw too much positive attention (envy) to oneself as it can cause one harm.

The concept of Ayin Hara actually comes from the 10 Commandments – that one should not “covet”.

According to Chabad.org, some medieval sages explained that Ayin Hara is a physical phenomenon in which negative energy is emitted from a person’s eyes who casts his gaze on a person he feels envy or ill will toward.   It is for these reasons that believers in Ayin Hara will make an effort not to show off anything or boast their successes – things that may entice the envy of others.

The Talmud- a compilation of sacred ancient teachings in Judaism – logically explains that Ayin Hara is indeed “a thing”.  But weight you give it, the more weight it will carry.

Once I was introduced to the concept of Ayin Hara, it’s hard to disregard.

It becomes all too easy to reckon why things go wrong , “Must be Ayin Hara,” I may sometimes reason.

I try to catch myself from using this explanation too much when things go South and try to focus on the big picture: don’t brag or boast, and stay humble.

If I’m feeling especially vulnerable to Ayin Hara, the little blue-eye anti-evil eye amulets my mother-in-law gifted me make for beautiful jewelry.


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