In the days of the Talmud, many people were careful not to drink an even number of cups or eat food in an even number so as not to be harmed by demons (Pesachim 110a). Some halachic authorities explained that these demons received their power from the Mazdayasna religion, which believed that there are two forces in the world – good and evil – and those who ate or drank in pairs were harmed by demons and harmful spirits of this idolatry (Maharsha).
However, our Sages added a basic rule: “When one is particular, [the demons] are particular about him, but when one is not particular, they are not particular about him. Nevertheless, one should take heed” (Pesachim 110b).
Every person has a world of consciousness of his own, and the forces acting in that world have influence on him for good and for evil. So someone who in his consciousness lives in a world of certain spirits and demons is influenced by their actions. But someone whose consciousness is not in that world, those same demons will not influence him.
Nevertheless, our Sages said it is wise to be careful of things known to be dangerous because although one’s consciousness is removed from such demons and spirits, since he lives in an era where their perception is widespread, and he himself occasionally worries about demons and spirits of various kinds, the demons and spirits can also have a certain influence on him.
Today, however, when almost all of us live in the consciousness of intellectual spiritual worlds that have no room for demons and spirits, it is wrong to encourage concern for the danger of harmful spirits. Although in other worlds these harmful spirits most likely still exist, since in our world there is hardly anyone who thinks about them, they have no effect on us. Regarding such things, it is said: “Hashem protects the thoughtless.”
In other words, when many people are unaware of a certain thing, Hashem safeguards them. Moreover, since it is preferable for a person to live in an intellectual world, in which the influence of one’s choice is clearer, it is appropriate not to concern oneself with these dangers. Only those who still give them a place in their worldview should take heed of them. But someone who comes to ask if it is proper to be careful of such dangers should be instructed not to take them into account.
The Rambam and His Opponents
There were gedolei Yisrael, chief among them Rambam, who, even in the past, fought against the opinion of those poskim who took into consideration sorcerers, evil spirits, and demons. In their opinion, the harm stems only from the fear they caused people, but in truth, there is no need to fear them (Hilchot Avodah Zarah 11:16; Commentary on Mishnayot, Avodah Zarah 4:7; Moreh Nevuchim 3:37; ibid. 46).
However, the majority of our sages disagreed because people’s consciousness also creates reality, especially when it comes to intelligent people. Therefore, when human consciousness interpreted certain spiritual forces as demons and spirits, they appeared in the world as such (Ramban, in his commentary to Shemot 20:3; Leviticus 17:7, Deuteronomy 18:9; Rashba, Teshuvot 1:413; Rivash 92, and the end of 93; Radbaz, 848,4 and many more).
However, they too would agree that when the public at large does not live in an awareness of such dangers, it should not be provoked.
Nevertheless, it is appropriate to take into consideration warnings that also have ethical reasons. For example, our Sages said that it is correct to be careful not to throw breadcrumbs on the floor for one who does so causes himself poverty, seeing as the angel responsible for sustenance and livelihood is named “nakid,” or cleanliness, and the angel responsible for poverty is named “naval,” or filth. Therefore, in a place where there are crumbs on the floor, the angel of poverty dwells, while the angel of wealth dwells in a clean place (Pesachim 111b, Chulin 105b, and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 180:4).
This warning should be observed because it is in accordance with ethical guidance, for someone who throws crumbs on the floor gives the impression that he despises Hashem’s blessings and therefore does not deserve to be blessed with wealth. Moreover, neglecting cleanliness of one’s house leads to neglect in other areas, including managing money, which causes poverty (Peninei Halakha: Berachot 13:4).
Peeled Garlic, Onion, and Eggs
It is mentioned in the Talmud in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai that someone who eats peeled garlic, onions, and eggs kept overnight “forfeits his life, and his blood is upon his own head” (Niddah 17a). The Gemara explains that even if they are placed in a bag or vessel, an evil spirit (ruach ra) rests upon them, but if a bit of the peel or root remains, there is no reason for concern.
However, the majority of Jews are not accustomed to concerning themselves with this warning because it does not appear as halacha in the Rambam, most Rishonim, or the Shulchan Aruch.
Even if in the times of the tanna’im ruach ra could have been harmful, in the times of the Rishonim concern about it had already ceased. Some poskim write similarly regarding all harmful spirits – namely, that they lost their influential power (Tosafot Chulin 107b; Maharam of Rothenburg, Yam Shel Shlomo, Chullin 8:12, and others).
According to halacha, it is improper to introduce prohibitions that have no basis in halacha and whose reason is based on a danger that is not evident in our times. So said Rabbi Ovadia Hadaya, zt”l (1890-1969), who was one of the leading poskim and head of the kabbalists two generations ago.
He explained that all the poskim who did not mention this prohibition were of the opinion that in their times there was no concern, and since people are unaware of this concern, clearly, even according to the approach of the machmirim they are not harmed. As he wrote, “We have never seen or heard of anyone in our location that was harmed by them” (Yaskil Avdi, Orach Chayim 7/44; see also Tzitz Eliezer 18:46; Aderet; Yad Meir 19; Beit Shlomo, Yoreh De’ah189; and Shem Aryeh 27).
The Minhag of Those Concerned
There are those who maintain that l’chatchila, one should make sure that no peeled garlic, onion, or egg is kept overnight, but if they were, they can be eaten (see Yabia Omer, 2 Yoreh De’ah 7-8). Others say they may not be eaten (Ben Ish Chai, Pinchas 14, and others).
It seems that anyone who follows the custom of his family and refrains from eating them even bedi’eved does not have to worry about transgressing the prohibition of bal tashchit since he destroys the leftover food in order to fulfill the minhag, not in vain.
Even they, however, can eat the food if they mix in with the garlic, onion, or egg some type of food – even salt or oil (S’mak, Tzitz Eliezer 18,46,4; Yabia Omer 10, Yoreh De’ah 9).
Nevertheless, as I explained above, if someone asks if he or she should be concerned about such warnings, it is proper to instruct him that it is preferable not to be concerned.
Food Under the Bed
The Babylonian Talmud states: “It was taught: If food and drink are kept under the bed, even if they are covered in iron vessels, an evil spirit rests upon them” (Pesachim 112a). The Jerusalem Talmud also states that one should not keep food and drinks under the bed, but it is not clear that the reason is because of ruach ra (Terumot 8: 3).
The Rambam writes: “A person should not place a cooked dish under the couch on which he is reclining, even though he is in the middle of his meal, lest something harmful falls into the food without him noticing” (Hilchot Rotzeach 12: 5).
Therefore, the proper minhag is not to place food and drinks under one’s bed because, according to Rambam, there is a logical reason for this practice. And there is also an ethical reason, for sleep is considered 1/60 of death, and it is not honorable for foods meant to give vitality to be placed under a bed upon which one lies still, similar to a dead person.
Bedi’eved, if food was placed under the bed, it is permitted to be eaten. There are poskim who are machmir (Gra, Birkei Yosef 116:10; Ben Ish Chai, Shana 2, Pinchas 14), but according to what we have learned, it is appropriate to be lenient as is the custom (Shvut Yaakov 2:105; Pitchei Teshuva 116:4; Rabbi Akiva Eiger and Yad Ephraim ibid, and others).