Folk Belief – Jewish

“I guess I can talk about the Evil Eye. And this is almost kind of a universal um idea that not that many cultures have a concept of evil presence, or Evil Eye. And specifically, in Eastern Europe and southern Europe a lot of cultures um have talked about it that there’s this kind of evil presence in the world and uh you just kinda wanna scare it away. It’s really common among older people who are in the immigrant generation like the late 1800s or early 1900s and I’ve heard stories of my great-grandmother who would um almost spit at the ground if something bad was said and there is a Yiddish phrase called ‘Kanahora’ uh which kinda means God Forbid, it’s kinda like ‘knock on wood’ and uh basically you say that if you do say something bad. You say that and it kinda scares away any evil presence that might actually cause that to happen. Um the Jewish phrase is ‘Kanahora’ but I know that a lot of different cultures and religions have this notion of the evil and try to keep it away. I don’t know if it’s so much of a literal eye, I think it’s more just the fact that there is that presence watching over you and you wanna scare it away. I know that different cultures have talked about this and there’s always that fear of the unknown, nobody really knows for sure what’s gonna happen so they just hope for the best. Occasionally I would hear my grandfather who grew up speaking Yiddish yell out or say ‘Kanahora’ after something. But they haven’t told me any stories about them actually seeing any evil. I think my grandfather uses it because his mother or my great-grandmother used it all the time. There was a lot of lack of communication between my great-grandparents who came here from Russia and Poland and my family here now because they spoke Yiddish. Um, my family here basically weren’t so aware of how to speak that language so there is a lot of kind of cultural traditions that were lost there and a lot of lack of understanding ‘cause my parents would have been like the third-generation here so even my grandparents who were like the first-generation born here, there was a lot of Americanization that went on there so even if my grandfather says ‘Kanahora’ I don’t know if he really thinks that there is an evil presence. It might just be him using a term that he heard his mother speak when she came here. So ‘Kanahora’ is kind of the Yiddish version of ‘God Forbid.’ I guess the notion of the Evil Eye, specifically, is common in Eastern and Southern European cultures, mainly Eastern.”

I think this belief in the presence of an Evil Eye is more prevalent among religious cultures because they speculate that if there is a god(s) to help or protect them, there must also exist negative forces out there that harm them. This fear of the unknown reinforces people’s faith in God as they use the phrase ‘Kanahora’ in their everyday speech to call on God’s power to protect them from any unseen evil.

More information on the Evil Eye in the Jewish tradition can be found in:

Brav, Aaron. “The Evil Eye Among the Hebrews”. The Evil Eye: A Casebook. Wisconsin Press: 1981. page 44-49.