Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Evil Eye II: The Talmud and Midrash on the Ayin ha-Ra

By Late Antiquity the belief in a supernatural malevolent gaze had thoroughly permeated Jewish communities. The ʿayin ha-ra as spiritual phenomenon is repeatedly discussed across the tractates of the Talmud, both with and without a biblical context. Some passages assume it is inflicted unintentionally (B.T. Bava Metzia 84b). Others indicate it is deliberate witchcraft. At times, the ʿayin ha-ra is characterized as an independent demonic force, seeking its own victims. Most intriguing, several passages regard it to be a power the righteous can wield to just ends (b Shabbat 33b-34a; Bava Metzia 58a; Bava Batra 75a).

The Rabbis seemingly believe there is no end to its malicious power. One Sage goes so far as to say, “Ninety-nine perish by the evil eye; only one by natural causes” (b Baba Metzia 107b).

Seen as pervasive in their own time, the Sages assumed the ʿayin ha-ra would have a role in the lives of the biblical worthies and their antagonists.
The midrashim introduce the ʿayin ha-ra into many stories in the TaNaKH. The eye is used as a weapon in the rivalry between Sara and Hagar (Gen. Rabbah 53). Fear of attracting its attention inspires Jacob to instruct his children to each enter a city by a different gate (Gen. Rabbah 91.6).

A debate appears in the Talmud (b Sota 36b) over Joshua’s instruction to the Joseph tribes to settle in a forest (Josh 17:15). One Sage theorizes this was done to conceal their prosperity from the eye, but he is refuted by others who, citing Gen. 49:22, insist Joseph and his descendants are immune from its baneful gaze. The prooftext proffered in this pericope is derived from a word-play on Jacob’s dying blessing to his son. It plays a key role in shaping the Jewish ʿayin ha-ra tradition, and so merits detailed attention.

Characteristic of midrashic discourse, this “Josephite immunity” is derived from a philological “occasion,” a linguistic ambiguity in 49:22. First, the word ʿayin means both “spring” and “eye.” The second ambiguity is the question regarding ʿayin-lamed-yud, the word before ʿayin: what part of speech is it? Centuries after the Rabbis the Masorites would vocalize this key word as a preposition, ʿălê: “…Yôsep bēn pōrāt ʿălê ʿāyin,” “Joseph; a fruitful bough upon a spring.” But by reading it vocalized as ʿōlê, the Sages reveal a different message “…Joseph; a fruitful bough [that] transcends [the] eye.” This only slightly more fanciful reading is reiterated frequently in rabbinic sources (b Ber 20a, 55b; Baba Metzia 84a) and over the centuries beyond, earning it a central place in Jewish efforts to neutralize the eye’s power.

Another biblical text singled out as a resource against the ʿayin ha-ra is the “Priestly blessing” (Num 6:24-27) (Numbers Rabbah 12.4; Pesikta Rabbati 5).
Yet even this late in Antiquity, the term “evil eye” does not always carry a supernatural connotation, as evidenced by a passage from Tractate Pirkei Avot, “Rabbi Yehoshua said: An evil eye, the evil inclination, and hatred of others remove a person from the world” (2:16). From the context it is clear that “evil eye” has a strictly psychological connotation here.

Zal g'mor - To learn more consult the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050


Blogger malka985 said...

It is very simple, evil eye /ayin ha raah, is an action that a person in his/her unique way thinks of someone else, of whatever thing you can think, from a person , to a thing.... evil eye/ayin ha raah, involves wrong attitudes like covetous , envy , hate, etc..., OBVIOUSLY the evil eye/ayin ha raah can develop , in a worst monster, and in a mind of a person, can affect his life, making him or her take actions that can be bad and dangerous, each person has to be aware and not have it , ayin ha raah is completely personal , I can assure you that if a person has this bad feelings, making just ayin a raah, NOTHING will happened or affect the other person , the only person affected will be the one who is making the ayin ha raah , because in the future, to satisfy psychologically this bad feelings and thoughts, could do something against the Torah, and obviously it can have his consequences. That's why the chachamim teach us about ayin ha raah , lashon ha raah, this are attitudes against the derech eretz and midot tovot that we can learn from the Torah.

5:31 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home