The Evil Eye in the Bible and Rabbinical Literature

Rivkah Ulmer

Though mentioned only a few times in the Hebrew Bible, the notion of the “evil eye” figures frequently in the Talmud, Zohar and midrashim. It was, in fact, commonly assumed that many of the most revered rabbis themselves wielded this power against listeners unreceptive to their message. Much of the evidence produced in this volume demonstrates how this belief has been used to reinforce obedience to the mitzvahs. We learn that the evil eye was often equated with an envious glance, and that the sin of envy, in turn, was often produced by ostentatious displays of wealth or some form of vanity which would bring the recipient into a position of high visibility and therefore vulnerability. The evil eye is also associated with the taboo on the exchange of prolonged gazes between the sexes, a reason for the veil and the expression “setting one’s eye on” to euphemistically denote sexual conquest. The hypnotic power of the kohl-blackened feminine eye is discussed as is the inescapable gaze of the Angel of Death, whom the Talmud describes as being completely covered with eyes.
The representation of ritualistic countermeasures by magical charms, such as a “spoken” spell worn as a scroll or a protective gesture of the hand “frozen” in a five-fingered amulet is likened to the religious use of phylacteries worn in the temple, the household mezuzah (inscriptions on door post) as well as later more secular forms of feminine jewelry. Spitting and obscene gestures, it turns out, are also particularly efficacious against the evil eye, and the various rabbinical sources quoted on these topics are by turns entertainingly self-effacing and earthy. RA

Publisher: KTAV
Hardback: 213 pages