Re-envisioning the evil eye: Magic, optical theory, and modern supernaturalism in Jewish thought

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This essay is a case study in the modern emergence of the “supernatural.” I argue that pre-modern understandings of the evil eye were predominantly naturalistic, based on extramissionist, haptic concepts of vision. The need to believe in the evil eye first arises when sight becomes universally understood as the result of light entering rather than emerging from the eyes. In the Jewish context, rabbis then begin to develop alternative explanations for its existence and efficacy. These novel etiologies were, for the first time, supernatural. Furthermore, an under-appreciated consequence of the emergence of the modern category of the supernatural is here revealed: rather than signifying the opprobrium of rejected knowledge, for certain religious communities, its embrace has come to represent spiritual conviction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-59
Number of pages30
JournalEuropean Journal of Jewish Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2020


  • Evil eye
  • Extramission
  • History of science
  • Kabbalah
  • Magic
  • Rabbinic literature
  • Supernatural

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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