Did You Know?
By Rabbi Fabian Werbin
Many Jewish houses, even mine, have a Hamsa. Many Jewish people hang a Hamsa on their walls and, probably, many of them believe the Hamsa is an amulet against the evil eye or for good luck. But it’s possible that many people don’t exactly know the origin of the Hamsa. Let’s see…
Hasma means five in Arabic, and it’s very similar to the word “hamesh” in Hebrew. The number five in the Jewish tradition is very important. For example, we have the five books of the Torah. In addition, the letter “heh,” ה which represents the name of G-d and was added to the names of Abraham and Sarah, has a numeric value of five.
Some people call the Hamsa the “Hand of Miriam” in reference to the sister of Moses and Aaron.
Some of the Hamsas are decorated with an eye. To some the eye represents the eye of G-d that can see everything. To others it is a way to keep away the evil eye.
Some Hamsas are decorated with a fish that apparently represents good luck…
If we look a little deeper at the root of this amulet, it seems that the Hamsa has its origin in Islam… Yes, believe it or not… In Muslim culture, it is sometimes referred to as the “Hand of Fatima,” for Mohammed’s daughter Fatima, and represents the five fundamental Islamic virtues, of charity, faith, prayer, pilgrimage and fasting. Another interpretation is that the Hamsa represents the five senses of a person.
Probably that’s the reason the Hamsa is very popular among the Sephardic Jews because its root are in Islam…
But if we continue to search the origin of the Hamsa, we will find that it goes back to Tanit, who was a Phoenician lunar goddess worshiped as the patron goddess of Carthage in the ninth century BCE.
So, probably, the Hamsa was taken from Carthage, went through Islam and, now, it’s in our homes decorating our walls and “protecting against the evil eye.”