Speaking Yiddish to Ward off Evil Spirits? When and Where did this originate?
When my daughter was a baby, my mother-in-law said something in Yiddish “to ward off the evil spirits”. When and where did this religious practice originate?
This brings back precious memories of my own mother, may she rest in peace, who not only would say “Kein eine hora” (translated as “without an evil eye”) every time we heard of a blessed event, or someone chose to praise a child. She followed that with the magical words “poo-poo”.
Of course, we knew this was superstition carried forward by mama’s ’shtetl’ heritage, meant with all her heart as a loving gesture to prevent any evil power from harming the child.
Thwarting the Evil Eye is not a Jewish religious practice. In fact, it has been part of many ancient cultures. However, there are talmudic references dating back to the Jewish Babylonian exile, affirming belief that envious glances, or gazes with malicious intent, carried a power that could cause illness, tragedy, even death. Rashi and other medieval scholars and philosophers like Thomas Aquinas elaborated their beliefs that eyes emitted certain vapors that could create havoc. Maimonides, with his more scientific approach, challenged the notion of the Evil Eye, but makes comparison to the Torah referring to the harm that could come from “coveting another’s fields, family or successes”.
Today, we recognize the Evil Eye as superstition, even though it is part of our tradition. However, we can glean goodness out of this if we were to substitute negative influences for the original Evil Eye. Negativity, like the original Evil Eye, has a force of its own.
With serious intent, we can help defray its influence. It’s as simple as stepping away from negative words, gossip or ‘fake news’. Instead of getting caught up in it and passing it on, reverse the message into a positive learning experience. Be creative. You can do it.
Fill your Jewish soul with goodness, share it , and perhaps we can help heal a little corner of our world.
Your bubbie would be proud.