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Hamsa

Although it may derive from Islamic or pagan culture, the hamsa today has become a Jewish and Israeli symbol.By Menachem Wecker–  @ New York Jewish Guide.com

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The symbol of an eye embedded in the palm of an open hand has had several names throughout the ages, including the hamsa, the eye of Fatima, the hand of Fatima, and the hand of Miriam. The form is sometimes rendered naturally and other times symmetrically with a second thumb replacing the little finger.

The hamsa has been variously interpreted by scholars as a Jewish, Christian, or Islamic amulet, and as a pagan fertility symbol. Yet even as the magical form remains shrouded in mystery and scholars debate nearly every aspect of its emergence, it is recognized today as a kabbalistic amulet and as an important symbol in Jewish art.

hamsa painting

Origins

As the references to Fatima (Mohammed’s daughter) and to Miriam (Moses’ sister) suggest, the amulet carries significance to both Jews and Muslims. One of the most prominent early appearances of the hamsa is the image of a large open hand which appears on the Puerta Judiciaria (Gate of Judgment) of the Alhambra, a 14th century Islamic fortress in southern Spain.

The Alhambra hand of Fatima seems to draw upon the Arabic word “khamsa,” which means “five,” a number which itself is identified with fighting the Evil Eye. The Alhambra motif, as well as other Spanish and Moorish hand images, hints at the five pillars of Islam (faith, fasting, pilgrimage, prayer, and tax) in the five fingers of the hand.

According to Islamic folklore, Fatima’s hand became a symbol of faith after her husband Ali came home with a new wife one day. Fatima, who at the time had been cooking, dropped the soup ladle she had been using. Yet she was so preoccupied by the new arrival that she continued stirring using her bare hand, hardly noticing that she was burning herself.

It would not be unusual for an Islamic symbol to find its way into Sephardic Jewish culture, which flourished alongside Islam. However,amulets are somewhat problematic in Judaism. Still, the Talmud refers on several occasions to amulets, or kamiyot, which might come from the Hebrew meaning “to bind.” One law allows for carrying an approved amulet on the Sabbath, which suggests that amulets were common amongst Jews at some points in history. (Shabbat 53a, 61a)

Art historian Walter Leo Hildburgh also raises the possibility that the hamsa has Christian roots, and might be influenced by the Christian artistic form where Mary often carries her hands in a”fig” pose, or a configuration where the thumb is tucked under the index finger beside the middle finger.

According to University of Chicago professor Ahmed Achrati, the hamsa did not necessarily arise in a religious context. The form of the open hand appears in Paleolithic caves in France, Spain, Argentina, and Australia, including one site in Algeria that earned the name The Cave of the Hands

In Egyptian art, the human spirit (called ka) is represented by two arms reaching upward (forming a horseshoe shape), albeit with only two fingers on each hand. The symbol of the Phoenician lunar goddess Tanit resembles a woman raising her hands, and hands also found their way into tomb decorations. Etruscans painted hands with horns on their tombs, and some Jewish burial practices featured images of hands (suggesting the priestly blessing) on stone markers of Levite graves. All of these could be considered very early precursors to the hamsa.

pink-hamsa-sandra-silberzweig

Jewish Beliefs

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact time when hamsas emerged in Jewish culture, though it is clearly a symbol of Sephardic nature. Jews might have used the hamsa to invoke the hand of God, or to counteract the Evil Eye with the eye embedded in the palm of the hand. Some hamsas contain images of fish, in accordance with Rabbi Yose son of Hanina’s statement in the Talmud that the descendents of Joseph, who received Jacob’s blessing of multiplying like fish in Genesis 48:16, are protected from the evil eye like fish. He explains: “the water covers the fish of the sea so the eye has no power over them (Berakhot 55b).”

Other icons besides eyes and fish have also found their way into the hamsa, including the Star of David, prayers for the traveler, the Shema, the blessing over the house, and the colors of red and blue, both of which are said to thwart the Evil Eye.

The symbol of the hand, and often of priestly hands, appears in kabbalistic manuscripts and amulets, doubling as the letter shin, the first letter of the divine name Shaddai. This mapping of the human hand over the divine name and hand might have had the effect of creating a bridge between the worshipper and God.

Present Day

The recent revival of interest in Kabbalah, in part due to the efforts of celebrities including Madonna, Brittany Spears, and Demi Moore, has brought with it a new public for Kabbalah accessories, including hamsas.

hamsa

Hamsas can be purchased today in Kabbalah shops around the world, and even through companies like Sears and Saks Fifth Avenue. Many people hang them in their houses, and it’s not uncommon to see them dangling from the rearview mirrors of taxis and trucks The gift shop of the Jewish Museum in New York includes hamsa mezuzahs, necklaces, pendants, bracelets, earrings, bookmarks, key chains, and candleholders.

Contemporary Jewish artists are using the hamsa form, and some like Mark Podwal are finding a large public for their work. Podwal’s Mystical Prague Hamsa Bookmark, Prague Hebrew Amulet Pendant, and Mystical Prague Hamsa Pin sold at the bookstore of the Metropolitan Museum in New York in conjunction with its 2005-2006 exhibit, Prague, The Crown of Bohemia,1347–1437.

Hamsas still play a role in some Sephardic rituals today. During the henna ceremony, when brides are decorated in the preparation for their wedding, brides may wear a hamsa around their neck to ward off the evil eye.

Even as the hamsa is today affiliated with kabbalah, Israel,and Judaism, it is perhaps the symbol’s mysterious origins and the superstitions surrounding it that attract the attention of celebrities and ordinary people alike.

 

mh- New York Jewish Guide.com

Moroccan Theme Bat Mitzvah Party

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A Beautiful Bat Mitzvah with Middle Eastern Flair in Boston, MA!

Middle Eastern & Moroccan Theme Bat Mitzvah Party

Bat mitzvah girl Lauren shares two of my favorite loves, so I was very excited to get this submission from Nathalya at NM Events and share it with you all!  Lauren and I are both inspired by the Middle Eastern culture, and share a love for the hamsa, as you can see from both of our logos!  And I am completely in awe of her photos and the story from her special day.  Photography by Dan Aguirre Photography.

Moroccan Bat Mitzvah EntranceLauren’s bat mitzvah was December 8, 2012, the first night of Hanukkah!  The ceremony was held at the family’s synagogue in the morning with the bat mitzvah party venue at a different local synagogue later that evening.  From Lauren’s Mom:  “The theme Lauren wanted was “Middle Eastern – Lite,” which meant that there would definitely be the lamps, the rugs, tents and Middle Eastern music but allow Lauren to have the American music she wanted and the type of food she wanted to have with her friends.”

Moroccan Middle Eastern Escort Card TableThe entrance way was lined with large Moroccan lamps.  “It was the intention that the theme be a generic Middle Eastern desert/Bedouin theme inspired from the parsha (Vayeshev) about Jacob, Joseph and his brothers in the desert that my daughter had read in synagogue that morning. However, I met a Moroccan gentleman with a business in my area designed to sell and consign Moroccan goods.  Using his items worked great!”

We totally agree!

Moroccan Lantern CenteprpiecesThe principle colors were orange, red and green for the tablecloths.  The family wanted warm, inviting colors for the cool December evening.  The chiavari chairs were gold with an ivory cushion.  The glasses had gold rims.  Some tables had Moroccan lamps as centerpieces surrounded by small Moroccan tea glasses filled with orchids.  Other tables had tall centerpieces with red and orange orchids and willow branches. Then votives in Moroccan tea glasses were lit and surrounded the tall vases.

Moroccan Bat Mitzvah Party Theme LanternsThe table numbers and seating cards were made to match the bronze/gold colors on the table.  A stamp with a henna-like motif was used to stamp the cards, which were then embossed  to give the stamp a raised effect. Purple up-lighting gave the room a fun yet elegant feel.

Middle Eastern Bat Mitzvah FoodThe food was a blend of Middle Eastern inspired food, traditional Chanukah hors d’oevres, and a variety of different cuisines

Hanukkah Chanukah Bat MitzvahSince the bat mitzvah fell on the first night of Chanukah, the family lit the candles on the menorah.

Bat Mitzvah Entertainment

Bat Mitzvah EntertainmentScotty from Northern Lights Entertainment did an amazing job of making every guest feel comfortable and energized.

Middle Eastern Music Bat MitzvahThey also featured an Israeli/Arabic music segment, bringing nearly everyone to the dance floor to belly dance.

Father Daughter Dance

Bat Mitzvah Father Daughter DanceLauren and her dad Alan shared a special moment in their choreographed father-daughter dance.

Hora - Bat MitzvahThe family enjoys getting lifted on chairs.

Bat Mitzvah Friend GiftAfter giving speeches and reading poems, her friends gave her a beautiful thoughtful collage that they made.

Bat Mitzvah Cake

Moroccan Bat Mitzvah CakeThe dessert was a 4-tiered vanilla cake with each fondant tier decorated with a Middle-Eastern theme.  The cake was topped with a mosque top and a votive inside.

Bat Mitzvah Favors

Bat Mitzvah Favors Hamsa Pajama PantsA hamsa logo was specially-created to put on the pajama pants given to Lauren’s friends. The hamsa also carried over to the sign-in board and the logo on the bottom of the photo booth strip guests posed for.

Mitzvah Project

Lauren’s bat mitzvah involved volunteering with the local organization Cradles to Crayons which distributes clothing, hygiene items, books and toys to underprivileged children from birth to age 16.  She and one of her classmates collaborated to hold a winter clothing drive asking for gently worn or new clothing, particularly winter coats.  Coats to Cradles to Crayons paralleled the Joseph’s multi-colored coat in her Torah reading.

Lauren also took the initiative to include her synagogue community in the drive as well as our local dry cleaners whose customers were cleaning out their closets. The project was an overwhelming success.  The entire family spent a Sunday morning at the organization sorting clothing, and helped 355 youngsters in a two-hour period.

Advice from Mom: Feeling a comfort level to discuss and brainstorm with one’s party planner was important to me.  It was also important that she shared my vision for an elegant, warm and inviting evening.

Bat Mitzvah FamilyMazel Tov to Lauren and her family!  Thanks to you and Nathalya from NM-Events for sharing your special and beautiful bat mitzvah day with us.

 

New York Jewish Guide- Bar & bat Mitzvah, Chanukah, moroccan decorations, jewish travel, photos, videos, hamsa, event planners, entertainment, invitations

Bat Mitzvah Theme: Morocco, Israel, Middle East, Hamsa

Colors: Orange, Red, Green, Gold, Purple

Vendor Credits:

Party Planner:  Nathalya Mamane, NM Events
Caterer:  Margery Gussak Catering
Entertainment:  Northern Lights Entertainment, Inc.
Moroccan Decorations:  Addi Ouadderrou, Moroccan Caravan
Florist: Teresa Fung, Mimosa
Invitations:  Toby Dondis, Toby Dondis, Ltd.
Reception Space:  Congregation Mishkan Tefila, Chestnut Hill, MA
Photography:  Dan Aguirre, Dan Aguirre Photography
Videography:  Mike Callahan, Black Tie Video – View Lauren’s Highlight Video