ASUSA, ASUTA ( = "health!"):
A sentiment expressed toward one who is sneezing. In Tosef., Shab. vii. (viii.) 5 it is declared to be a forbidden heathen (Amorite) practise to wish one health ("marpe"), whereas R. Eliezer b. Zadok, of the first century, says: "It is forbidden only in the schoolhouse, as causing a disturbance during study"; to which is added: "Those of the house of Rabban Gamaliel would not say 'marpe.'" In Ber. 53a the reading is: "Those of the house of Rabban Gamaliel avoided saying 'marpe' in the schoolhouse." Maimonides (Talmud Torah iv. 9) follows the Talmud, prohibiting the saying of "refuah" (healing) only during study. So also Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 246, 17; but the later annotators are inclined to permit it during study. In Yer. Ber. v. 10d, R. Mana teaches that while eating one should not say , explained by Frankel, Levy, Kohut, and Krauss as ἰάσις ("healing") or as ("may He heal!"). 'Aruk reads , interpreted by Frankel and Kohut as ζήτω ("may he live"!); both readings explained by Jastrow as abbreviations either of ("the Lord my help") or of ("my sneezing be for good!"), as there is the danger of choking. In Pirḳe R. El. lii. and Yelamdenu to Toledot, quoted in 'Aruk, s v. (compare Yalḳ., Gen. 77), the story is told that until Jacob's time man, at the close of his life, sneezed and instantly died; but Jacob prayed to God to grant him time to prepare for his death by making his will. This, to the surprise of all, was granted to him; and so it was told Joseph, "Behold thy father is sick" (Gen. xlviii. 1). Henceforth it became the rule that illness should precede death. For this reason when one sneezes he should wish himself "ḥayyim" (for life!) or "ḥayyim ṭobim" (for a happy life!); so that the sign of death was transformed into a sign of life, according to Job xli. 10 [A. V. 18].
The wish "Asuta" is often given in the vernacular, "Your health!" or "God bless thee!" "God help thee!" To children, people would say, "Good and old and fair until your hundredth year!" The one who sneezes usually cites from Gen. xlix. 18, "For thy salvation I wait, O Lord!" and in response to the wishes offered by his neighbor, he would say in Hebrew, "Be thou blessed" ("baruk tiheyeh"; see Solomon Luria, "Yam shel Shelomoh"; B. Ḳ. viii. 64; "Magen Abraham Oraḥ Ḥayyim," 230, note 6). The custom of uttering some prayer or wish atsneezing was universal among ancient and is also observed among modern nations; it originated in the belief that it was the work of the spirits, good or evil (see section on "Sneezing" in Tylor, "Primitive Culture," i. 97-102).
- A. Lewysohn, Meḳore Minhagim, 1846, pp. 111-112;
- Tendlau, Sprüchwörter und Redensarten DeutschJüdischer Vorzeit, 1860, p. 142;
- Berliner, Aus dem Leben der Deutschen Juden im Mittelalter, 1900, p. 95;
- Frankel, Talmud Jerushalmi Seder Zera'im, i. 39b;
- Levy, Neuhebräisches und Chaldäisches Wörterbuch, and Jastrow, Dict. s.v. and ;
- Kohut, 'Aruk, s.v. ;
- Blau, Das Altjudische Zauberwesen, pp. 163, 164.