My friend and I were comparing Hamsa necklaces the other day, and we wondered – why is it a Jewish symbol? What does it mean? How could we be wearing something without knowing what it stands for?
Hopelessly Hung Up on my Hamsa
Dear Hung Up,
Ah, symbolism! For those darlings who don’t know what we are talking about, a Hamsa looks like a funky hand. Funky, because typically the ‘thumb’ and ‘pinky’ on a hamsa are symmetrical (the same). If you look at yours, you’ll notice they most certainly are not! Hamsa are worn as jewelry, hung on walls, even decorate religious books.
This symbol can be found throughout the Middle East, and its original origins may pre-date monotheism. However, in its present form, it would appear to come from Islam where it is a symbol of good luck and often referred to as ‘the hand of Fatima’. What? You say, a Jewish symbol comes from Islam? Yes dear, get over it. Things were not always so contentious in the holy land. Hand of Fatima
The Arabic and Hebrew words for “five” khamsa/hamesh are very similar, and where the symbol gets its name. In Judaism it is said that the five fingers represent the Five Books of Moses, though others say it represents the hand of God, and in kabbalistic manuscripts it often doubles as the letter shin standing for the first letter of the divine name Shaddai.
The hamsa is said to protect against the ‘evil eye’, a look that brings bad fortune. Additional protection is offered by other symbols added to the hamsa. Some common ones are a blue eye; the letters chet-yud for chai- life; a Star of David; or fish – which are thought to be symbols of luck themselves. Hamsa
The hamsa became more popular as interest in the Kabbala grew in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Tanta Golda thinks it is wonderful when a symbol unites cultures, instead of separating them! Perhaps when more of us wear them, there will indeed be peace in the Middle East.