Thursday, May 19, 2011

Keyn Eyn Hore! -- No Evil Eye!

"Incantations must not be taught to anyone," writes Avraham Rechtman in his 1958 book Yidishe Etnografie un Folklor (Jewish Ethnography and Folklore). During an expedition to Tomashpol (a shtetl in the Podolia region of Ukraine) in 2003, AHEYM met Liza Petrunenko, who believed in this rule of silence. Although she knew the formulas that one must say in order to ward off the Evil Eye, she refused to tell the interviewers. However, she did agree to demonstrate the procedure of "rolling an egg", which is done to dispel fear.

After a careful examination of a number of Jewish sources, I could not find any direct references to rolling eggs, though I did learn that eggs were used for other purposes in Jewish folk customs; for instance, the Talmud mentions eggs being used for divination (Sanhedrin 101a). I did find, however, an almost exact description of the procedure Liza performs on Dov-Ber on a website about remedies to ward off the Evil Eye among Mexicans and Latin Americans.

Scholars have proposed that the Evil Eye, as a folkloric and cultural symbol, originates in ancient Sumer and is present to this day in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim folk beliefs. The remedy of using an egg in the way we see above is most likely a fairly old practice and was probably brought over to Mexico by European settlers.

In Jewish custom, the Evil Eye is mentioned as far back as Proverbs in Tanakh (see, for instance, 23:6 and 28:22), and many preventative and curative measures for it exist, including spitting and incantations (mentioned in the video). Folklorist Dov Noy writes that "Although practices of this kind were disapproved of by rabbinic authorities... they persisted... In the Middle Ages there is evidence of a more widespread use of folk medicine among Jews. There are many folk prescriptions in the Sefer Hasidim (13th century), most of them derived from the contiguous Christian culture" (Encyclopaedia Judaica, Second Edition).

How does your family ward off the Evil Eye? Have you ever seen someone "roll out an egg"? Let us know with your comments below!

-- Asya Vaisman

1 comment:

  1. A contemporary discussion on avoiding or countering "eynore" (the evil eye) past and present can be read here (in Yiddish with Hebrew and Aramaic sources cited) here: