Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 12 February 2005 / 3 Adar I 5765

Evil Eye and Eye-Beads

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Erica

Dear Rabbi,

I was perusing your website and came across a question entitled "The Eyes Have It" regarding the "evil eye". At the very end, the Rabbi cautions against using non-common remedies, as they may be witchcraft. My question is this: Is the little clear marble-looking ball with the black dot in the middle a type of protection that is generally accepted by Jews? I'm not certain what it's called, but it's available on a bracelet with several of the little marble-looking "eyes" and can be had in just about any color. I would really appreciate your help and insight into this. Thank you very much for your time.

Dear Erica,

The myriad variations of the eye-bead, literally found in any shape, size, color and material is generally accepted by Jews (although blue, green or turquoise eye-beads strung on necklaces or bracelets is most common). The same applies to the other common evil eye antidote mentioned in that article, namely the five-fingered chamsa hand. This does not mean that Torah sources consider these amulets to really protect against the evil eye, but it seems that the Torah does not categorically prohibit them either. As far as I know, no source encourages using these charms, yet their use was and is very common and no Rabbis seem to object.

I can only conjecture as to why these symbols are used:
The verse states, "A charming son is Joseph, a son charming to the eye (alei ayin); women alighted the wall to see him" (Gen. 49:22). The Talmud (Berachot 20a) quotes Rabbi Yochanan as saying "I am a descendant of Joseph over whom the evil eye had no control", since alei ayin can also mean above the eye. Rabbi Yosi said, "Just as fish in the sea are covered with water and protected from the evil eye, so too the descendents of Joseph (who are said to multiply like fish) are protected from the evil eye". Perhaps the eye-bead (which incidentally resembles a big, wide eye of a fish) is meant to recall our being above/covered from the evil eye.

Similarly, the chamsa may intend to recall certain allegorical references in the Torah to the hand. The verse "Your right hand is glorious in power, Your right hand has dashed the enemy" (Ex. 15:6) symbolizes strength and protection. "For the Lord has placed his hand on His throne" (Ex. 17:16) symbolizes an oath. Fusing these two verses, the hand represents G-ds eternal commitment to protect us from our enemies. In addition, the chamsa is usually an open hand that symbolizes generosity as in "You open your hand and provide all living creatures their needs" (Psalms 145:16). Also, the five fingers of an open palm are associated with blessing: "And Aaron lifted his hands to the people and blessed them" (Lev. 9:22). Accordingly, displaying the open palm may signify our faith in G-ds benevolence and bounty.

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