Over the course of their thousands of years of years of history and their displacement throughout the world, the Jewish people have cultivated many customs internally and through the cultures they lived alongside.
- The evil eye
Known in Hebrew as “ayin hara,” the evil eye is belief that there are beings who can cast spells onto victims with a glare of contempt. The concept of the evil eye is found in myriad cultures across Asia, Africa and Europe. Over the centuries, Jews developed methods to ward off these spells, ranging from amulets, to mantras, to spitting.
- Spitting three times
Speaking of. Did something good happen to you? “Pu, pu, pu,” so the evil eye doesn’t come and spoil it. Did something bad happen to you? “Pu, pu, pu,” so the evil eye will leave you alone — it’s really the Swiss Army knife of superstitions.
- Sneezing while praying
Some say that sneezing during prayer is a good omen while others say the opposite — so who is right? Well, according to the sages, it depends what you mean by “sneeze.” Apparently, “sneezing from above” — that is, through the nose — while in prayer is a good omen. A discussion in the Talmud concludes that means one’s prayers are well received. “Sneezing from below” — flatulence, according to the rabbis — is a bad omen.
- Covering mirrors while in mourning
While there is more than one reason for covering mirrors while mourning the loss of a loved one, kabbalists give perhaps the most eerie reason: so we don’t see demons in the mirror. In the vacuum left by a recently departed soul, demons creep into homes in mourning. Though normally invisible, kabbalists say that demons become visible in the reflection of a mirror. This isn’t to say they’re not still there, but this way you can at least live ignorant to the fact that they might be right behind you.
- Amulets for protection
Jews have carried amulets of protection with them as they have moved throughout the world. These amulets often included the Magen David or the hamsa, and were believed to protect against evil demons and other spirits that might seek to do harm to the wearer. The Magen David has come to symbolize the Jewish identity and Israel. The hamsa can be found throughout Islamic and Christian history, and is often broadly associated with the ability to ward off the evil eye.