Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Surprising History of Ayin Hara

What is the “Evil Eye,” known in Hebrew as ayin hara? Does it affect the person giving it (the person looking) or the person receiving it (the person being scrutinized)? Can it be given to inanimate objects, or only to people? Can you bring an ayin hara upon yourself? Does it require seeing something? Does the damage result from the eye, or from the mind? How exactly does it work? And is there a way to protect against it?

Over the past few years I have been engaging in extensive study of this topic, and I discovered several things that were surprising, even astonishing. One of the most important rabbinic figures in history stated that you can block an ayin hara with a window, and based on that, a certain Chief Rabbi suggested that you can avoid giving an ayin hara by wearing glasses! The medieval rationalist and non-rationalist views turned out to be completely the opposite of what one would expect. Rambam's denial of ayin hara turned out to be very difficult to explain. And I found that the key to this topic lies in the ostrich eggs that are found hanging in several ancient synagogues!

I have finally written up my research in a 7000-word monograph. This will eventually be published in my planned book, Rationalism vs. Mysticism: Schisms in Traditional Jewish Thought. But it will also be e-mailed to contributors to my most important project, The Biblical Museum Of Natural History. We are inspiring and educating tens of thousands of people, from across the full spectrum of society, about the relationship between Torah and the natural world. And we are working on taking the museum to the next level, such that we can reach hundreds of thousands of people. We are planning to move to a much larger facility, and become a premiere national attraction! You can make a tax-deductible donation at this link (please add a note stating that it is for the Ayin Hara monograph). While the monograph will be sent for contributions of any amount, we are really hoping for substantial donations with this end-of-year giving campaign. Thank you for your support of our mission, and we look forward to the museum rising to even greater levels of success - bli ayin hara!

34 comments:

  1. When will this book be coming out?

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  2. Oh that's just cold... doesn't it bring Ayin Harah on the money and the museum if donations are made שלא לשמה? :)

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    1. Quite the opposite. He wants to make sure that the donations are Lismhah :).

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  3. R'Natan, I don't understand your brief comment about the Rambam's disbelief in 'ayin ha'ra' being difficult to explain. I would think that it is entirely consistent with his disbelief in magic, despite the numerous references and acceptance of such matters in the Talmud. Ayin ha'ra would have to be a magical 'phenomenon' since divine involvement would be a case of 'hashgacha pratit', according to the Rambam, and that is reserved for the most worthy and enlightened. If you're considering that the Rambam's skepticism runs counter to Talmudic sources, the same is true about his general disbelief in magic, demons, and astrology. His view on ayin ha'ra, as I see it, fits with his rationalist perspective.

    Y. Aharon

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    1. Right, that was *exactly* my starting presumption. And I was wrong.

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    2. "The medieval rationalist and non-rationalist views turned out to be completely the opposite of what one would expect. Rambam's denial of ayin hara turned out to be very difficult to explain." Those sentences don't seem to make sense. Do you mean that the details of Rabam's denial are difficult to explain? I don't find this a tease, it just seems like there's a typo somewhere.

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    3. I mean that once I discovered what the medieval understanding of ayin hara actually was, it was difficult to account for why Rambam didn't believe in it.

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    4. I would argue (loosely) that the Rambam was both more materialist and more willing to reject Chazal than his colleagues. Thus his opposition to astrology. You could also cite his opposition to the music of the spheres. Others were more interested in squaring Chazal with "scientific" viewpoints if they could. Rambam seemed to form his own opinion and then go back to see where he thought Chazal had it right or wrong (outside halachah). Certainly, he was not perfect, as he did believe in spontaneous generation.

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    5. David

      The Rambam seems quite happy that each planet has some sort of soul. And that's in the Yad. Doesn't sound very materialistic to me.

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    6. I said "more materialist", not "materialist".

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    7. R'Natan I have now read your article on 'ayin ha'ra' and still maintain that the Rambam was being consistent with his world view in denying the reality of an 'evil eye'. It's not that he was necessarily more of a rationalist than other medieval savants, but that his intellectual milieu was different. He was, presumably, influenced by the writing of Muslim scholars who also denied this phenomenon, as you stated in the article. The contemporary and subsequent Christian west, however, was still under the influence of a long-standing tradition about the 'evil eye'. There was no science involved in their beliefs about such matters. Experimental verification and testing of hypotheses about 'natural' phenomena was still absent. Hence, the agreement of those rationalist sages about the evil eye and the supposed nature of the eye as a light source is not a scientific conclusion, but one based on an ignorance of the phenomenon of vision. It is disturbing that sages in more recent times still held on to this superstition, and to a provably false notion about the nature of the eye. We, today, should dismiss this 'evil eye' notion as something that was never true, albeit very widespread. Even the more refined notion that the mechanism for this alleged phenomenon is that it induces a divine reconsideration of the people involved, is objectionable, since it treats divine judgment as if based on imperfect knowledge.

      Y. Aharon

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    8. Y. Aharon, what about this from the Medical Aphorisms of Moses:

      Chap. 22:37. Staring at the eyes of a wild donkey permanently [guarantees] healthy vision, and helps against tearing of the eyes. He [Ibn Zuhr] further states that this is absolutely true, and without doubt. De Usu Partium X.

      It appears that the Rambam believed in Ayin Tov.

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  4. The Ayin Hora is a superstition commonplace in many societies and religions. The name and it’s modus operandi of mayhem differs, as well as its banishment , among different cultures.
    Ever hear of the Malocchio? See here:

    https://www.quora.com/What-does-the-malocchio-prayer-mean

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  5. I think you are giving yourself an Ayin Hara with that picture !@#$

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  6. Any way to make a tax deductible donation in the UK?

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    Replies
    1. Sure, that link is also for that.

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    2. Sorry, i mean via any of the charity voucher accounts (achisomoch etc.)?

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  7. When are you emailing the essay?

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  8. After making a donation, you should receive the essay within 12 hours, max 24.

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  9. I read the essay. Thank you for researching. Do you have any outright rabbinic sources that say explicitly that ayin hara does not exist? my understanding from the essay is that the Rambams rejection is learned out from inference and Rav Moshe doesn’t discount it entirely.

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  10. I really cannot stand astrology,magic and expecially that ugly north-african PAGAN IDOL called Chamsa that too many (expecially Sefardim)wear as a necklace!

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    1. It's something that both Sephardim and Ashkenazim indulge in. I like seeing it for one major reason. It shows that Judaism is not unique - it shares many pagan beliefs with Christianity and Islam. We copied pagans, the monotheists copied us and we copied them. The current vogue for ultra-conservatism, insularity, bellicosity and suspension of disbelief within the Jewish world dilutes our 'uniqueness' and shows us to be as hypocritical and meaningless as any other human being on this earth as we dismantle the values of Judaism from within. Truly we are simply reverting to a Manichean and Sabbatean nationalist sect.

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    2. Regarding the Chamsa,I have to correct your statement:albeit many in the Muslim world wear it,it is definitely forbidden in Islam.

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    3. Yes - this is true - and it's use stems from the pagan influences on both faiths from the Arab peninsula.

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  11. evil eye is scientific phenomenon which rabeinu yonah explained.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evil_eye

    Plutarch's scientific explanation stated that the eyes were the chief, if not sole, source of the deadly rays that were supposed to spring up like poisoned darts from the inner recesses of a person possessing the evil eye. Plutarch treated the phenomenon of the evil eye as something seemingly inexplicable that is a source of wonder and cause of incredulity.

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  12. I greatly enjoyed reading your monograph. It deals with a perplexing subject in a clear and thorough manner. When I first saw the Ralbag's explanation of Ayin Hora a few years ago, I was very disappointed. How can a Rishon who's commentary I so admired say something that makes no sense? Your monologue makes it all understandable by providing context to this theory from historical and prevailing scientific sources. Thank you.

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  13. Rashi's view, that "things that are counted are vulnerable to the Ayin Hara" seems to indicate that there is an "absolute" spiritual aspect that is not rooted in explainable causes such as jealousy or divine retribution. Can this be a completely different view of Ayin Hara from those you discuss; neither physical nor pseudo-rational (divine retribution)?

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  14. Interestingly, the eye is not a purely passive structure:

    "Here, we present the first experimental in vitro evidence of the existence of spontaneous and visible light-induced ultraweak photon emission from freshly isolated whole eye, lens, vitreous humor, and retina samples from rats. These results suggest that the photochemical source of retinal discrete noise, as well as retinal phosphenes, may originate from natural bioluminescent photons within the eyes. During normal vision, the eyes are continuously exposed to ambient powerful photons that pass through various parts of the eyes, which can produce ultraweak delayed bioluminescent photons that arise from diverse parts of the eyes. Although the importance and possible role of ambient light-induced permanent delayed photons (within different parts of the eyes) during vision requires further investigation, our study may provide evidence of an origin of discrete dark noise and retinal phosphenes."

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006899310023462


    Of course, that doesn't speak to whether the photon emisison has any connection to a person's (or in the case of the experiments, a rodent's) "inner recesses" or even whether the energy involved might sometimes be enough for the photons to be emitted from the eye.

    Or whether they can communicate the state of the "inner recesses" if they did were emitted.

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