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Thursday, March 10, 2011


In my home I have a Turkish blue eye charm/bead (called Nazar Boncugu in Turkish) that sits on one of my shelves casting a protective gaze upon the entire house. Does it help? I doubt it, but it does not hurt either.

This is obviously an old superstition found all over the world: an envious glance can bring harm to the person or object. How do you protect yourself against it? You get a blue eye amulet that mirrors back, and stops the harmful look, the so-called, “evil eye.”

In Hebrew, the evil eye is called ayin hara or en raah (in Yiddish it is “kayn aynhora”). According to the Rabbis, whereas a benevolent eye (“ayin tovah”) is praiseworthy, "an ayin hara, (an evil eye), the evil urge and hatred of another human being take one out of the world.” (Av. 2: 11). According to another, ninety nine people die of an evil eye, and only one through natural causes (BM 107b). You can protect yourself against this malicious curse, by repeating ever so often, beli ayin raah (“without the evil eye” [having power over you]). In a popular Jewish joke, a Jewish patriarch who was on the witness stand was asked by a District Attorney: “How old are you? He answered, “I am, kayn aynhora, eighty one.” Similarly, when counting people, you are expected to say, “Not one,” “Not two, “Not three” etc. in order to avoid the disastrous effects of the evil eye.

This meaning of “evil eye” represents an extension of what the original word for “eye” meant in biblical literature. Ayin, (pl. enayim), simply refers to the physical organ of sight. Whereas, a person with tov ayin (lit. good eye) is considered a “generous person” (Prov. 22: 9), one with ra ayin (lit. evil eye), is “miserly” (Prov. 28: 22). One can have eyne gavhut, a haughty look (Isa. 2: 11), or shah enayim (lit. “lowly eye”) “humility”(Job. 22: 29). Being consumed by an attitude described as raah enekha (lit. an eye set on ill will), simply meant being “mean” to another person (Deut. 15: 9). God’s eyes (eyne YHVH) are placed upon the land of Israel as a promise of protection (Deut. 11: 12). It is not at all clear what the Bible implies when it states that Leah, Jacob’s wife, had “weak eyes” (rakot). (Gen. 29: 17). Did she lack luster (Sarna), or did she have lovely, delicate eyes (Speiser)?

The Hebrew word, ayin, (pl. ayanot), also means, “spring” (of water). Example: “An angel of the Lord found her [Hagar] by a spring of water (eyn ha-mayim)” (Gen. 16: 7). This may be an extension, maybe a figurative way of speaking of an “eye.” It is interesting to note that in Akkadian, inu(m) means both “eye” and “spring” or “source.”

The human eye is our window to the universe. What we see is a reflection of our personality and provides a frame of reference for our approach to life. Some see things in color; others consider the world a dark place. Those who find shadows everywhere use amulets and other defense paraphernalia against the corrosive impact of the evil eye. It is, however, better to have a positive attitude in life and face the world with optimism, courage and determination. In the long run, the talismans do not work.

Rifat Sonsino

March, 2011

1 comment:

  1. I've had one for a number of years, given by a Turkish friend who claimed to be an atheist :-)