One of the most common symbols found in the Middle East is the Hamsa, a hand shaped symbol. The symbol is frequently found in the Sephardic Jewish community, especially on the walls of a home and sometimes in places such as Synagogues and Houses of Study. It is attributed to Miriam the Prophetess. In recent years, the Hamsa has spread in popularity because of the numerous Kabbalistic meanings attributed to it as well as its association with Israeli and Sephardic Jewish culture.
The basic shape of the Hamsa is that of an open hand. The hand generally has three extended middle fingers with the thumb and pinky fingers bent outward to a degree. However, the Hamsa also appears as a regular hand. The center of the Hamsa generally is decorated with a large eye.
One of the meanings of the Hamsa is that of the Torah. This meaning is linked to the five fingers of the Hamsa, each of which represents a book. Other meanings that are similar is that of Hebrew letter “Heh”, the letter that has the numerical value of five and is also an abbreviation for the Tetragrammaton name of G-d that is considered to be the holiest of the names of G-d. It is also believed to symbolize the Hand of G-d.
The Hamsa is associated with good luck as well as other blessings such as power and strength. It is also believed to deflect the evil eye. This popular attribution is ancient in nature, predates Judaism and likely was linked to a similar symbol in ancient history. To further the good luck nature of the Hamsa, fish frequently appear on Hamsas as they are a symbol of good luck as well as fertility.
The other meaning of the Hamsa is linked to its shape. The Hamsa is considered in some Kabbalistic texts to be a five-branched Hebrew letter Shin. The Hebrew letter Shin begins one of the divine names of G-d that is an abbreviation for the phrase “Shomer Dlatot Yisrael” – “The guardian of the doors of Israel”. For this reason, it is common to find the Hamsa symbol on Mezuzahs.