The A-list celebrity jeweler Lorraine Schwartz designed the ayin hara tennis bracelet with perfectly matched diamonds and blue sapphires to display in the windows of The Palace Hotel in St. Moritz and Bergdorf Goodman in New York. Her pieces can be seen on the wrists of Blake Lively, Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Heidi Klum, and Madonna. Outside of the Middle Eastern countries, evil-eye jewelry has been quite fashionable for at least 20 years. The Kabbalah Centers sell these types of spiritual adornments, including the famous “red string,” to their thousands of followers. One can’t go to the Kotel (Western Wall) without being approached by numerous merchants who want to entice your spiritual awareness with special red strings. I googled “evil eye jewelry” and explored the hundreds of sites selling everything from amulets to ankle bracelets, toe rings to diamond rings, all boasting a metaphysical meaning to their making. The evil eye crosses over every religion and offers an overall protection against negative energy. The red string is a personal boundary that keeps the positive forces in and the opposite out! Personally, I do remember the delightful store on Main Street in Kew Gardens Hills called PEREG. Tucked away between the scented spice barrels, assorted dried couscous mixes, and etrog jelly there was a mysterious shelf of evil remedies such as preserved fish eyes and other “Shakespearian” ingredients. This reminded me of the witch’s potion from childhood fables.
I also had a very superstitious grandmother who used spitting (three times) to ward away any suspicions of the harmful eye. Yes, as a little girl I found the behavior a bit frightening. Every greeting came with a hug, a kiss, and then a spit. My great-grandmother had issues with black jewelry and baths after Shabbos. I have no idea where that came from!
What are the origins of this jewelry trend? Does the Torah mention anything about evil eyes and red strings, eyes of newts, black caldrons, or spitting?
Let’s start with my favorite guide to practical life, Pirkei Avot (Ethics of The Fathers). In Chapter Two, the evil eye is discussed. “He [Rabban Yochanan] said unto them: Go forth and observe which is the right way to which a man should cleave? Rabbi Eliezer said: a good eye; Rabbi Joshua said: a good companion; Rabbi Yose said: a good neighbor; Rabbi Shimon said: foresight. Rabbi Elazar said: a good heart. He [Rabban Yochanan] said to them: I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach, for in his words your words are included. He [Rabban Yochanan] said unto them: Go forth and observe which is the evil way that a man should shun? Rabbi Eliezer said: an evil eye.”
In several pieces of Midrash, rabbis suggest that the evil eye played a role in various incidents in the Torah. For example, Sarah cast an evil eye on Hagar while Hagar was pregnant, causing her to miscarry before becoming pregnant with Ishmael. Elsewhere, rabbis argue that Leah’s fertility was adversely impacted when she “became subject to the power of the evil eye” for thanking G-d for allowing her to bear more than a fourth of Jacob’s sons (Rabbeinu Bachya, Bereishis 30:38:5).
In the Talmud, rabbis say that Joseph’s descendants are immune to the power of the evil eye — and that:
“One who enters a city and fears the evil eye should hold the thumb of his right hand in his left hand and the thumb of his left hand in his right hand and recite the following: I, so-and-so, son of so-and-so, come from the descendants of Joseph, over whom the evil eye has no dominion.” (Berachos 55b)
In Mishnah Berurah, Jews are urged to perform the Rosh HaShanah tashlich ritual in a body of water that contains fish for the reason of “fish are incapable of being affected by the evil eye.”
As mentioned in an article from Torah.org by David Twersky:
“The Chidah believes that a person with humility can escape the evil eye. Someone who is humble does not prance around and try to attract attention to himself. It is specifically such attention-grabbing actions that attract the evil eye. The Chidah points out that the Hebrew word anavah (ayin, nun, vav, hei) has the same numeric value as ayin (ayin, yud, nun) plus one, indicating that anavah (modesty) transcends the (evil) “ayin” (eye). The Gematria of ayin is 120; that of anavah is 121. Thus, the Chidah says that one with anivus “is above” the (evil) eye”!
I didn’t even know that the red string theory is to be used after you encircle the kever of Rachel with it, and then use a piece of it as a personal bracelet. I was also unaware of an entire book dedicated to all aspects or renditions of ayin hara, intentionally or unintentionally, either fueled by jealousy or amazement (Sefer Ayin Hara by R’ Moshe Yagudyov).
There are countless segulos discussed in the sefarim, and it is beyond the scope of this article to cite all of them. Ranging from a pregnant woman wearing the “even tekumah,” a type of ruby, to prevent her from miscarrying her unborn child, to direct prayers to Rav Meir Bal Haness.
It is important to understand that segulos of every variety work very similar to all other human endeavors, in that ultimately everything is up to Hashem. Even when you make the effort to utilize segulos, this is just a tangible vehicle for Hashem’s will to be fulfilled. If Hashem does not warrant something to happen, all the segulos in the world will not help. If Hashem does want something to happen, he sends us the means to come to fruition, which is not necessarily in the form of a segulah.
So, if your red string fell off in the shower, or your evil eye necklace that was a gift from your aunt in Tzfat suddenly broke… or if Lorraine Schwartz sold you a diamond eye bracelet (lucky you!), don’t have an anxiety attack over their power of protection over you. In all fairness, these pieces of jewelry probably attract more attention than they ever intended to, almost achieving a reverse reaction. The only true protection we have is G-d Himself, but a few “keineina haras” and a couple of “pooh poohs” couldn’t hurt!
Tobi Rubinstein is a retired fashion and marketing executive of 35 years who currently produces runway and lifestyle events for NYFW, specializing in Israel’s leading artists and designers. She is the founder of The House of Faith N Fashion, fusing culture and Torah. Tobi was a fashion collaboration and guest expert for ABC, Geraldo Rivera, Huffington Post, Lifetime, NBC, Bravo, and Arise. She hosted her own radio and reality TV series. Tobi is a mother, wife, dog owner, and shoe lover.