(c) 2000 Dr Hendel; 1st appeared in Bais Medrash (c) Torah.Org

Date: Mon, 30 Jun 1997 20:00:33 -0400
From: rhendel@mcs.drexel.edu (Russell Hendel)
Subject: RE: Ayin Hara

I recently claimed that many (though not all) examples of Ayin Harah
in the Shulchan Aruch emanate from the concept of Privacy: For example,
a father and son should not get 2 consecutive aliyahs since it would
make them the talk of the shule and "Being the talk of the shule" is
violation of their privacy (similar to Hezek Riiyah in the Talmud).
I also suggested that this "privacy" explanation would distinguish
Ayin Harah from superstition.

In response to the above theory Joel Guttman made three comments:
1) >  >  the prohibition to look at anothers field when it is
>  >  flourishing..>  >  simply seeing the field is assumed to cause the
>  >  damage ..>  >   is this a prohibition about talking (vs seeing) the field

2) >  >  The separate entrance of Joseph's brothers to Egypt to avoid Ayin Hara
>  >   what did they care if the Egyptians talked about them>  >  The very sight of
>  >  them entering would be a danger for them

3) >  >  In other words the simple understanding of ayin hara as causing direct
>  >  physical damage to the one seen is superstition? ..

I believe my response to point 3 is important. Halachah is based on
physical law. Both the laws of damage (Chap 1, end) and Murder (Chap 3)
clearly state (to use Joels own words) that >  >  we only classify acts as
murder or damage if they follow our own limited understanding of physical
reality>  >  . If you throw a heavy enough stone at a person and he dies you
have committed murder; if you throw a piece of paper with G-ds name written
on him and he dies you have not committed murder. This is the view of
halachah, not my view.

Halachah does recognize other non physical damages. For example the
continual potential exposure of one person to a neighbor thru open windows
is called "privacy damage" and justifies civil actions in which they can
coerce each other to build partitions. I suggested that "being talked"
about by everybody is a similar invasion of privacy which is called Ayin

If seeing a flourishing field could cause damage then I would be liable to
a tort. So Joel's example proves what I am saying: Do not see other peoples
fields because you might start talking about it and make him the talk of
the town. In fact Joel's point is well taken >  >  Is the prohibition one of
talking or seeing>  >   If a person does see his neighbors field then he should
abstain from talking about it.

Similarly precisely because the Egyptians were foreigners, Josephs brothers
had a need to be as inconspicuous as possible--the fact that >  >  they were in
danger anyway>  >   simply means that they replaced the "privacy invasion
danger" with the another danger.

In conclusion I think this privacy concept will help us understand many
peculiar laws. I also think that it is important to Jewish Hashkafah to
demand recognition of physical law and to classify correctly superstition.

Russell Jay Hendel; Ph.d.; A.S.A; rhendel @ mcs drexel edu