Faith Versus the Evil Eye

In many cultures, there is the concept of the Evil Eye. Unfortunately for me, Judaism is one of them.

Not every Jew grows up believing in the Evil Eye. However, many of us do, especially those with immigrant parents or grandparents from Eastern Europe.

I actually never heard the term, the Evil Eye, until adulthood, when I met another Jewish friend, Barb, in my 20’s. I casually mentioned to Barb that she was lucky not to have caught a nasty flu virus that was going around. Barb responded reflexively by shushing me. When Barb saw my puzzlement, she explained that I must not say such things because of the “Evil Eye.”

Barb explained to me the meaning of the Evil Eye: as Jews, we cannot say something positive or we will tempt fate. The Evil Eye will react by making our worst fears come true. Thus, if I assert that Barb is fortunate flu-wise, the next day she’ll be as sick as a dog.

Barb helped crystallize for me what I experienced growing up, though I didn’t have a term for it. The concept of the Evil Eye explained so many of my family’s odd rituals and belief systems.

While my family never used the term, the Evil Eye, we lived our lives in fear of it. Like Barb, we were discouraged from being optimistic. I had always thought my parents were pessimists; but I realized they were just being superstitious. My family was engaging in an ancient folk ritual to ward off evil spirits.

I do recall my mother frequently talking about a “Kana Hara,” which is another Jewish superstition, a kissing cousin of the Evil Eye. Kana Hara is a Yiddish word for a jinx. By saying or doing something, one may bring on a Kana Hara, that is, a curse.

So, for instance, if my father mentioned that a friend needed surgery, my mother would exclaim, “Kana Hara,” and then spit over her shoulder. (Some Jews throw salt over their shoulder instead.) Whenever we drove past a cemetery, my mother would utter, “Kana Hara,” and then spit. She was attempting to mitigate the bad omen of driving past a gravesite.

Now in some ways this would simply be fascinating to me, grist for the psychotherapeutic mill. The problem, however, that in the past year, I am cultivating a spirit of faith. And everything I learned from my family runs counter clockwise to a life of faith.

For instance: Trust the Lord Your God with all Your Heart and all Your Soul. The ritual of the Evil Eye proscribes doing such a thing. In fact, as the superstition goes, if I dare to express such a desire and wish, the Evil Eye may punish me.

Or if I articulate my gratitude for all of God’s blessings, well that pesky Evil Eye may pay me a visit: “You think you’re so happy. Well, I’ll show you who’s in charge!”

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. That kind of devotion could invite all sorts of trouble. Expressing gratitude each day for the blessings of my life? Uh, oh; the Evil Eye may teach me a lesson.

On the one hand, I understand how absurd is this way of thinking. It assumes that human beings have more control than we do. Interestingly, though, the power doesn’t come from thinking good thoughts or from our relationship with God. Our supposed power arises from repelling evil forces by assuming the worst.

However, the good news is that I’ve already started on the road of faith. I’ve done all kinds of things I’m not supposed to: praying to God, and asking Him for help; praising the Lord with all my heart. And somehow, someway, I’m still alive to tell the tale.

What I realize is this: my family turned to superstitions like the Evil Eye and Kana Hara because they lost their faith in God. Sadly, so many Jews abandoned their religion amidst the atrocities in Europe. Having no Higher Power to protect them, they turned to rituals that offered an illusion of safety.

But I don’t have to live my life this way; in fact, I’ve already left much of this mindset behind.

I can make a radically different choice: to embrace God; and to remember that He is the supreme Force over evil, not humans beings, no matter what words we say or how we say them.

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17 Responses to Faith Versus the Evil Eye

  1. jib says:

    Robin,

    It may go back to Job, who while he preceded the patriarchs and therefore is not Jewish, exclaimed when he lost his wealth and family-“what I feared the most has come upon me”. I would note that there are many of the word of faith/prosperity movement who feel that to acknowledge having something like cancer is to give cancer a place in your life and make it incurable. Same thing. And yes they should know better.

    I would agree that they probably gave place to this because they chose not to acknowledge or claim God.

  2. NotGodinKy says:

    Dear Robin,
    I just love your writing style. Your expression of thought joins a host of good essays going back 300 years. Please keep writing and sharing your journey. It teaches me how to better express my own thoughts and it also encourages me in my journey of faith.
    God is near,
    Marion

  3. River says:

    This is so fascinating, and in a strange, roundabout way, it proves God’s word. He told Abraham, even though he and his wife Sarah were elderly, that they would have children who would scatter throughout the world to the end of days: “Then the word of the LORD came to him… He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then God said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Genesis 15:4

    The Jews are the last surviving ancient people. Their contemporaries were the Hittites, Assyrians, Persians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Canaanites, etc. All vanished. Hebrew was being spoken before the pyramids were built, but it wasn’t written until Moses invented their alphabet around 1,400 B.C.E. Superstitions such as the Evil Eye are literally remnants of 5,700 years ago. We have in Jewish culture a perfect window into the most primitive and childlike origins of human beings on earth.

    Try to imagine life before the invention of science and advanced logical thought by the Greeks. Before the Romans perfected road building and public works, like sewers, running water, and baths. Before any deeper knowledge of the material world was possible. There were no tools of thought, and most people were illiterate. One had to be rich to afford paper, pens, and ink. There was no written form of mathematics.

    Scientists say each of our cells carry many remnants of DNA that seem to serve no purpose, and may be discarded strands of our ancestors; or perhaps memories of the lives of generations (my theory). The Evil Eye fear is just such a remnant.

    You always hit the mark, Robin!

  4. Thursday says:

    To whom it may be of interest, here’s a website founded by and for Jewish converts to Roman Catholicism and anyone interested in the theological link between Judaism and Christianity:

    http://hebrewcatholic.org/

  5. The truth shall surely set us free. You are learning truth now, Robin, and it will, He will, set you freer than you could have ever imagined. God bless your walk, your growing faith and trust in God, and may He help you to continue to see the truth and experience the victory that is yours for the taking.

  6. Bumr50 says:

    It’s funny that I read this article the day after a long night pondering on how many of my lapsed friends (progressive, neo-hippie types) have a vague yet insistent belief in their version of the concept of “karma.”

    My observation has led me to believe that this popular concept among the youth of today leads to the arrogant attitude that we see in Progressives worldwide in that it makes the believer feel empowered. They begin to project this belief that one’s actions have direct consequences on what occurs in their lives from a “chance” or “fate” standpoint onto others, which leads ultimately to condescension.

    It seems that the more they believe that they are living their lives to the “good karma” side of things, the more they attribute others bad fortune to the fact that those others have somehow committed “bad karma,” thus at once absolving themselves from having any empathy for those individuals and passing judgment on them in the same instance.

    It all leads to the cynical attitude that we see running rampant among a great many on the Left.

  7. bonnie says:

    Robin, just as a side note, I would like to thank you for not only your beautiful faith-based posts, but for moderating the comments to keep them pleasant to read. I look forward to coming here more & more, because it’s like a breath of fresh, clean air.

  8. American Wisdom says:

    It seems that there might be more Jewish converts to Christianity than I ever imagined. My first recollection of the possibility that there were Jews who believed in Jesus Christ came on the streets of Manhattan during my first visit to the city. I was approached by a couple of people from a group called “Jews for Jesus” who were handing out literature to the passersby. They believe that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. I have always found this intriguing, yet considering that Jesus was a Jew, maybe I should not. Regardless, it’s always nice to read about someone else’s journey to Christ.

    Here is a link to a page in the Jews for Jesus website which asks “What proof do you have that Jesus was the Messiah?” Although I am Roman Catholic, I enjoyed poking around their website. Best wishes to all Christians on their journey.

    http://www.jewsforjesus.org/answers/jesus/proofessay

  9. norcalgal says:

    I was fortunate to grow up in a loving religious home. My mother would always end sentences about things we hoped to do with “Lord willing.” So, we always knew that God’s hand was in our lives.

    My husband grew up in Ireland. also in a religious home, (his uncle was a Patrician brother). His parents do the same thing as my mother, except they say, “Please God,” not as a prayer, but as a way of saying “if it pleases God.”

    Although I was raised Protestant and my husband Catholic our upbringings were similar. We both did family prayers and continue that tradition with our son today. We were also strictly informed that we were not to mess with things such as astrology and palm readers, and Ouija boards were forbidden. My family is not at all superstitious, but my husband’s family still has some of the old Irish pagan traditions, including the cry of the Banshee. It’s interesting how these have been melded into their Christian faith.

    I’m so happy for you Robin, to find the peace of God is a wonderful thing and can never be understood by those who haven’t accepted it. When I have said to atheists that I’ve decided to “let go and let God” deal with a problem, they often say that that’s a cop out. However, it’s much more difficult to stop trying to solve a problem then it is to keep attacking it. Over the years I’ve discovered that by handing things over to God I free myself up to have the solutions find me. So many times these situations have been the catalyst for miracles. God is willing to work them, but sometimes we just have to get out of his way!

  10. bonnie says:

    What’s amazing is, as a natural pessimist, I have noticed a blessing of peace and optimism as my faith grows. It’s not that everything always works out as I hoped, but that I’m slowly coming to understand that He has “plans to prosper and not to harm” me (Jeremiah 29:11) and that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

    So, while I may never be a Pollyanna, I am gaining a confidence that He is working to my good according to His purpose, even if the path I may be walking seems particularly rocky to me. One more scripture:

    “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:25-27

  11. Margie2 says:

    I suppose that the “Evil Eye” is much like “step on the cracks and you break your Mother’s back!” Or if you break a mirror you’ll have 7 yrs. bad luck. I used to laugh at those things even when I was a child, probably because my parents did. I do know though, that fortune telling and other things like reading astrological predictions and all of that, along with trusting in anything other than God and His Word are wrong. But they’re wrong because He wants us to trust in Him, and only Him and not assign power to anything or anyone else. I never really understood for years that by practicing superstitions that that’s really what I’d be doing~ assigning power to it. Power to the powerless! Some superstitions are just plain sully, but things like Astrology, the Devil really uses.. to try and replace belief in God with pure evil.

    I remember reading the book of Isaiah when I was newly saved, (when I allowed Christ to come into my heart and chose to stop sinning).. in that book it talks about how astrology is wrong. Just take a look at Isaiah 47:12-15.

    Just another thing to be thankful to Jesus for~ that He saved me from having to be beholden to all kinds of superstitions and false teachings, and thankful for the Bible, because as long as I keep my head there, and not in my own, I have everything I could possibly need or want. Right, Robin? :^)

    Thanks for sharing your walk with us!

  12. Walt Gottesman says:

    You hit the nail on the head Robin. “Kana Hara” is a contraction of three Yiddish words, Kein Eyn Hara, meaning “no evil eye” or “without evil eye” (Kein is from the German for none or without, Eyn is eye and Hara is evil). I don’t know where or when that superstitious folk belief started.

    The beautiful Bible passages you mentioned are first found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Psalm 23. Jesus knew these and other passages from Jewish scriptures. He probably knew them all.

  13. baseballmaven says:

    I never knew about the ‘evil eye’ until my grandmother (Jewish/Polish/Russian) tied little red ribbons to my sons’ crib to “ward off the evil eye”…. but I remember her saying kana hara for everything—I see how that worked along with the expectation of bad things happening (pessimism) within my family…. and the idea that such superstitions (along with putting one’s self in the place of God) have become the substitute for God makes sooo much sense. Like you, I’m a Jewish believer in Christ…

  14. Thursday says:

    Right on, Robin!

    Looking back, I think that I and many of the other spoiled Catholic kids I grew up around took it to the other extreme, our actions and attitudes revealing an assumption that we were in a safe little cocoon regardless! Inevitably, of course, life or reality would slap us upside the head. Thus we learned, some quicker than others.

    I think God, in His mercy, allows us to experience life’s hard knocks from time to time, if only to remind us, ironically, that He is there. One’s faith is really tested when all visible means of support seem to vanish. In Matthew 8:20, Jesus says “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest.” This and other teachings of His make it clear to me that the more we rely on God the better off we are, but how difficult a step this is to take! I think this takes all the help we can get from Him (grace), including humility, the complete abandonment of pride. The lives of the Saints are full of such examples (my personal favorite being that of Saint Francis of Assisi, the best account I’ve read being that by G. K. Chesterton).

    Anyway, faith is definitely something to thank God for.

  15. greenfairie says:

    Greeks are big on the Evil Eye, as are Armenians and Persians. I have an Evil Eye charm I got in Athens years ago.

    My mom’s culture is Spanish-Afro-Caribbean and I think it influenced me to be pretty superstitious. I would wear certain colors or not bring certain items for “good luck” on tests. Even now, I’m wary of doing certain things or wearing certain things because I think they might jinx me on an important day; or conversely I’ll do other things because they are “lucky.” I’m an educated person. I know on an intellectual level it’s silly. But I do it anyway.

  16. Every Thought Captive says:

    I grew up Jewish in the 60’s and have the same recollection. As an adult, I’ve struggled to put my finger on the profound pessimism of the Jewish people (in a recent discussion with my sister, she said, “You can have your optimism, but remember that the top half of the glass is always completely empty!”). We all laugh at Woody Allen movies, but they express the sad truth of the tawdriness of our pursuit of idols. We still bear the weight of our rejection of Christ’s atonement, just as we bore the weight of our rejection of His Father to pursue the idols of Canaan.

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