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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Abraham & Independence

I notice that the first “command” given to the first Jew, Abraham, is to "Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father's house to the land that I will show you." (Genesis 12:1) Is this to suggest that leaving our hometown is integral to our maturation?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Where we live and how the people around us behave makes a big impact on how we think and behave. If people around us think powdered wigs and petticoats are stylish, we'll probably think so too. If our friends own slaves or believe in the divine right of kings, chances are we'll agree. And if people around us think religion is a joke and drugs are cool, chances are we'll agree with that too.

The first thing God tells Abraham is that he had to become independent. And to become independent, he has to move away from home. (Sound familiar?)

Dr. Stanley Milgrom once did an experiment at Yale University that became very famous. Milgrom brought two people into his laboratory; let's call them Harry and Jack. (Unbeknownst to Harry, Jack was really Milgrom's partner.) Milgrom told them they would participate in an experiment to explore how punishment affects learning.

Dr Milgrom: Harry, I'm going to take Jack into this little room over here and attach an electrode to his arm. He's going to have 15 minutes to memorize a list of words. Then you'll test him on them. Every time Jack makes a mistake, you're going to give him a shock. The shock will be a little stronger each time.

Jack: I have a bad heart. This isn't going to hurt me, is it?

Milgrom: It's all in the interest of science. Don't worry.

The experiment starts and Jack makes a mistake.

Milgrom: Okay, Harry, give Jack a shock.

Jack: Ouch!

Harry: You know, that did hurt him. Maybe we shouldn't do this.

Milgrom: Harry, the experiment requires that you go on. Please continue.

The experiment continues. Jack (Milgrom’s secret partner) starts screaming and pounding on the walls. The dial eventually indicates that Harry is giving Jack lethal shocks, Jack becomes totally silent. Harry is visibly upset, but goes on giving the shocks anyway, past the point where he believes he's killed Jack.

Milgrom's experiment showed it isn't necessary to be vicious, cruel, or sadistic to put people into gas chambers. You can be completely normal – but just not independent enough to consider whether what you're being asked to do is right or wrong.

"Independence of conscience" is an important part of how Abram's descendants (i.e. Jews) define themselves.

Pareve Food

Please could you explain to me the origins of the term Pareve and how this came to refer to food that is neither dairy nor meat? Thanks very much.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Yiddish word "Pareve" may have its roots in the Hebrew word "Pri" – meaning fruit. Fruit is, of course, neither dairy nor meat. In Yiddish, "ve" is frequently added when turning a noun into an adjective.

Alternatively, in old French, "parevis" is the term used for a vacant lot in front of a Temple. This vacant lot stands between the mundane street and the sanctified house of worship. Similarly, Pareve food lies between the two extremes of dairy and meat.

A few more suggestions:

The Latin word "par" means "pair." Pareve foods can be "paired" with either milk or meat.

The Latin "parus" means "equal," neither more to one side or another.

In the Holy Temple, a chamber called the Bais HaPareve was located half in, and half out of the Kohanic section. It was "neither here nor there," so to speak, just as pareve food is neither meat nor dairy.

Evil Eye – Ayin Hara

Is there such a thing as “evil eye” in Judaism? My family is lately having a serious spate of bad luck, and I’m wondering if there is some kind of jinx on the family and anything I can do about it.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

“Evil eye” is known as “ayin hara” in Judaism. It is a real force, mentioned many times in the Talmud and Kabbalistic works (e.g. Talmud Brachot 20a, 55b).

The concept behind it is actually rather straightforward. If we flaunt our blessings and draw undue attention to ourselves, it invokes the jealous notice of others. Drawing such negative attention also draws the notice of the Heavenly court. And it causes our judgment to be revisited: Do we really deserve this blessing which has engendered the ill-will of so many others?

Thus, in the eyes of Judaism, “evil eye” is not some spooky, nebulous force which goes about attacking the unsuspecting. It is a logical phenomenon – and for the most part, the result of our own indiscreet behavior.

The Talmud (Brachot 20b) does observe that one who does not covet what others have is less susceptible to the evil eye himself. He himself does not look askance at others’ blessings. As a result, the jealous stares of others will not affect him. Likewise, Joseph, who refused his master’s wife’s advances and did not covet that which was not his, became immune to the effects of the evil eye – as did his descendants for all time.

Regardless, when things go wrong, our general approach is not to blame it on invisible forces such as the evil eye – although of course we should always be wary of flaunting our blessings. Rather, we should take it as a sign from God to improve our ways. The Talmud writes that when suffering is visited upon us we should examine our ways (Brachot 5a). When things go wrong, our first reaction should be to turn to God and attempt to determine His message for us – as well as praying to Him for illumination. Before blaming our problems on mysterious forces, we look up to Heaven to help us.

Nevertheless, there are extreme cases in which a person feels just everything is going wrong, going completely beyond the bounds, and he wants to be sure he is not afflicted with an Evil Eye. There are women in Jerusalem who specialize in Evil Eye removal (for a fee of course). We have an article written by someone who used their services, with contact information provided in the comments. Here is the link:

Again, however, I would only recommend this as an absolute last resort.