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What is the Eye in Hand Amulet?

Many Jews connect the eye in hand amulet to the five books of the Torah.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 December 2014
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Today if you see the eye in hand amulet, you may be looking at the Jewish or Arabic symbol called the hamsa. The symbol is actually much older than Judaism, and you’ll find representations of it in numerous cultures, often as a piece of jewelry worn for protection. Instead of an amulet, the symbol could be woven into decorative art in murals or plaques.

The first use of the eye in hand is tied to various groups of people. Some say the symbol was worn by the Phoenicians and was a symbol of the goddess Tanit. Others suggest that the symbol may have originated in India, in honor of one of the Hindu religion’s gods or goddesses.

There are several different types of the eye in hand amulet designs. In some, the eye sits in the center of a clearly defined hand with four fingers and the thumb to the side. In others, only the fingers are represented. A common symmetrical presentation is a three-fingered hand with thumbs on both sides. The amulet can be jeweled, made of various metals, and very artsy depending upon where you purchase it. The fingers may point up or down.

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In Judaism, the hamsa is a symbol that protects the wearer from the evil eye. It can be called the Hand of Miriam, after the sister of Moses, or be a symbol representing the five books of the Torah. The amulet may be worn, used on keychains, or make up a decorative wall plaque, and larger ones may feature special prayers.

Islamic people tend not to wear the eye in hand amulet, since most sects of Islam strictly forbid the wearing of any type of protective jewelry. The name, hamsa, though, is Islamic. Instead, the symbol may be depicted on a wall plaque, and can feature prayers in Arabic. Islamic people can call the hamsa the Eye of Fatima, who was a daughter of Muhammad. In Sunni Islam, the five fingers of the hand may represent the Five Pillars of Islam.

You might also see the eye in hand amulet worn as a specifically protective symbol by people with pagan beliefs. Again, the idea of repelling evil or an evil glance may be the predominant symbolic connection. In Sicily, Catholics may also wear the amulet, since folk legend in that area has created the belief in some that people really can give the “evil eye” with a glance.

You might see both Jewish and Arabic people wearing the hamsa not as good luck, but as a hope for peace. Since the symbol is present in both belief systems, some younger Arabs and Jews have taken to wearing it as a peace sign between these two religious groups. It may thus be not so much a charm, but a means of expressing the desire that warring between Islam and Judaism will come to an end.

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burcinc
Post 3

@simrin-- The fingers are supposed to face down because it is believed that the eye in the center captures any evil energies and sends them down through the fingers and into the earth.

I have seen hamsas which face up, but it's not too common. I actually have a theory that these ones originate from India because it reminds me very much of the blessing hand of some Hindu deities.

As for where you can put it up, practically anywhere. Most people I know like to put it in the entrance of their homes so that it's one of the first things people see when they enter. It's said to protect the house from any jealous glances of visitors. Small hamsas are also placed in cars, it's usually hanging from the rearview mirror.

SteamLouis
Post 2

Is the hand with eye amulet supposed to face down or up?

My friend recently brought this wall ornament for me from Israel, but I don't know where to hang it up and which direction the fingers are supposed to look?

I'm taking some classes on Kabbala and I learned that images like human eye, birds and fish are especially lucky and bring blessings to the home or the person. I requested the hand with eye amulet especially for this reason. But is there a particular place in the house where I should put it up to get the most benefit?

candyquilt
Post 1

I always find it interesting to learn about different cultures and the objects that they feel have magical and protective powers. I think this must say something about that culture's belief system, their spirituality and worldview.

The eye in hand amulet is also interesting because it is found in both Jewish and Muslim culture. These peoples must have interacted with each other in a positive way at some point in history to have adopted the hamsa, don't you think?

Maybe it was pre-Judaism or pre-Islam, but it's a great idea to use this amulet to point out the two cultures' similarities and common history.

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