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A recent article in the 5 Towns Jewish Times claims

Blei gissen, the technique of pouring lead to nullify ayin ha’ra, the poisonous evil eye, has its source in the Gemara ...

In his critique of the article, R' Natan Slifkin points out that the article does not provide said source, and that he has been unable to find it. He goes on to show that there are sources for this practice outside the Gemara, and indeed, outside Judaism - in ancient Greece and in Germany.

R' Yosef Gavriel Bechover also appears to be unaware of a source in the Gemara, suggesting instead, tongue-in-cheek, that "Gemara" must be a typo for "Germany."

So, is there a source for this practice in the Gemara? If so, where?

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    Pouring molten lead was what we called sreifa:) – user6591 Jan 22 '15 at 19:11
  • @user6591, exactly! In Mishnat Sanhedrin, we find it described as a method for execution! We don't find it as some sort of segulah for ayin hara. If R' Slifkin is right, then this is a case of chukat hagoyim, rather than a Jewish practice. – Noach MiFrankfurt Jan 22 '15 at 19:38
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    hebrewbooks.org/… – Gershon Gold Jan 22 '15 at 20:28
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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner when asked regarding Blei Gisen for an Ayin Hara said that a procedure which is not mentioned in the Mishna, Gemara, Rishonim, Shulchan Aruch, & Achronim should not be done. He quotes this in the name of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky.

ש: כדאי להוציא עין הרע על ידי עופרת? ת: המצאה שלא מוזכרת במשנה, בגמרא, בראשונים, בשולחן ערוך ובאחרונים וכן אמר הגר"ח קניבסקי: אין לעשות כן. סגולות רבותינו 338-336

  • Well, it is mentioned in Achronim, although not about an Ayin Hara. – Yishai Jan 23 '15 at 15:13
  • @Yishai: The question is about Ayin Hara. This answers that there is no source for doing this for an Ayin Hara. That is the reason the Achron was left in a comment, and not mentioned in this answer. – Gershon Gold Jan 23 '15 at 15:29
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Rav Aharon Yuda Grossman discusses this practice in his sefer of Su"t "ודרשת וחקרת". He ascribes it to a tradition among the "yekari yerushalim" that is recognized as medically helpful by those who practice it. He therefore permits it (as anything done with medical intent does not have an issue of Darchi Emori).

So it would seem that it has no (obvious) source in the Talmud, because if it did, he would have mentioned it as a reason to permit it.

  • Medically? The article doesn't say anything about that. Are you sure it's the same practice? – Isaac Moses Jan 22 '15 at 20:24
  • @IsaacMoses, the symptom he describes is frightened children (nightmares I guess, something similar). The molten lead is poured into the vessel that is above the child's head and the shape the lead forms is said to be an animal or whatever was in the child's thoughts, thus calming the child down. So yeah, I'm thinking we are talking about the same thing. – Yishai Jan 22 '15 at 20:30
  • @IsaacMoses, the question in the Teshuva isn't about Eiyn Hara, specifically. But vis-a-vis your question, if there was a practice about Eiyn Hara or anything else, he would discuss it. – Yishai Jan 22 '15 at 20:36
  • It sounds like the same procedure, but for a different purpose. I think your source is evidence that this procedure isn't sourced in the Gemara, so +1, but, as a side point, I'm not sure that the heter in this responsum would apply to using the same procedure to cure evil eye rather than nightmares. In other words, what you said while I was typing this. – Isaac Moses Jan 22 '15 at 20:39
  • The fact that it used to be practiced in Jerusalem medicinally doesnt preclude it being darchei emori now; it might nevertheless be a forbidden superstitious practice given that it contradicts currents medical knowledge. – mevaqesh Jan 23 '15 at 1:43
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Other answers have attempted to demonstrate that there is no source in the Talmud for pouring lead to remove ayin hara.

I agree with those answers, that there is no such source.

However, this false assertion probably arose via a miscommunication, and a misunderstanding on the part of either the author or editor of the article.

What was likely intended was that ayin hara, or even the idea of nullifying ayin hara, has its source in the gemara. Therefore (so they argue), it should not be cast as superstition.

To give an example of exactly this claim from another article about Blei Gissen and Aidel Miller:

“I don’t believe in superstitions. It’s not Jewish,” I said to my friend.

“It’s not a superstition,” she replied. “Ayin-hore” – the evil eye – is real. The Talmud mentions it a lot.”

So this author, or whoever the author interviewed, tried putting forth the same argument, except it got messed up in transmission.

An example of the Talmud discussing the Evil Eye, and practices to remove it, may be found in Berachot 55b:

The second commenced and said: If a man on going into a town is afraid of the Evil Eye, let him take the thumb of his right hand in his left hand and the thumb of his left hand in his right hand, and say: I, so-and-so, am of the seed of Joseph over which the evil eye has no power, as it says: Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine by a fountain. Do not read 'ale 'ayin [by a fountain] but 'ole 'ayin [overcoming the evil eye]. R. Jose b. R. Hanina derived it from here: And let them grow into a multitude [weyidgu] in the midst of the earth; just as the fishes [dagim] in the sea are covered by the waters and the evil eye has no power over them so the evil eye has no power over the seed of Joseph. If he is afraid of his own evil eye, he should look at the side of his left nostril.

  • Interesting. I was mildly surprised when Rav Schachter said that ayin hara is real, but so he did. – Shokhet Jan 26 '15 at 1:31
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In Sanhedrin (52א), we find the burning of lead described as a method for execution, which user6591 refers to accurately as s'reifa (burning). We don't find it there as some sort of segulah for ayin hara. Perhaps, at some later point, a less accomplished reader derived from this, and the crimes which were punishable by burning (sexual promiscuity), that this was a segulah (a talisman or ritual) against the evil eye. It is also possible that this (along with certain other customs of which I am aware) was formed as a mis-representation of the material owing to a game of interpretational telephone over the years.

On the other hand, R' Slifkin is right that this is derived from German and Greek practices, then this is a case of chukat hagoyim, rather than a Jewish practice and should certainly be avoided. It should also be avoided on health grounds, as lead gas (which will be given off by boiling lead) is highly toxic.

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