Hand of Miriam, Hand of Fatima, Eye of God


People sometimes talk about being “touched by God,” and the hamsa takes this metaphor to a different level by giving it a physical manifestation.

The hamsa isn’t exactly God’s hand, but is rather a spiritual symbol in the shape of a hand that’s meant to convey luck and Divine guidance. Sometimes, an eye is drawn in the palm of the hand; other times, its pinky finger is bent back to look like a second thumb.

The hamsa is often depicted in Sephardic art, both in paintings and as a clay amulet. It’s said to have the power to ward off evil. The symbol is also significant for Muslims, who sometimes call it the Hand of Fatimah, referring to Muhammad’s daughter. The word “hamsa” is, literally, the Arabic word for five–alluding to the five fingers of the hand.

The origins of the hamsa are hotly contested. Some say it drifted into Judaism from its pagan or Muslim origins in Sephardic communities. Others point out that hand symbolism dates back to ancient cave paintings, and precedes such relatively contemporary religious divisions.

For its part, Judaism has mixed feelings about amulets. Some sages have feared that the idea of a charm which bestows luck might lead to idolatry, or could actually be a form of idolatry. Others argue that physical objects have the ability to harness our spiritual energy. If you lean toward the latter, you might want to hang a hamsa on your wall or around your neck. It may or may not keep evil away, but it’ll certainly look interesting and exotic.

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