October 17, 2009 on 7:00 pm
Three types of jewelry serve as the underpinnings of Jewish jewelry. They are the Star of David, the Hamsa and the Chai (to life) symbol. Looking closely within at the symbolism underlying this Jewish jewelry, one is overwhelmed at the depth and breadth of this extraordinary Jewish heritage representing a people persecuted for thousands of years who have managed to retain their dignity, education and spiritual identity amidst unbelievable and prolonged persecution and violence. The Jews have emerged as victorious not only for themselves but as fighters and advocates for others who have had their lives and civil liberties threatened.
They have made their suffering count in numerous ways by defending others disenfranchised and violated.
The Star of David as a singular focus of Jewish jewelry is a six-pointed star made up of two triangles superimposed over each other. In Hebrew it is called the Magen David, which means the “shield of David” While originally it had no religious significance in Judaism, this piece of Jewish jewelry has become one of the symbols most commonly associated with the Jewish people and is a symbol of unity. Many Jews wear this Jewish jewelry with the Star of David as part of the design. The flag of Israel has a blue Star of David in the center.
There are many ideas about the symbolic meaning of the Star of David as representative of Jewish jewelry. Some Kabbalists thought that the six points represented God’s absolute rule over the universe in all six directions: north, south, east, west, up and down. They also believed that the triangles represented humanity’s dual nature and that the star could be used as protection against evil spirits. Thus wearing this particular piece of Jewish jewelry became almost an amulet of protection.
The structure of the star, with two overlapping triangles, has also been thought to represent the relationship between God and the Jewish people. The star that points up symbolizes God and the star that points down represents us here on earth. Stripping this piece of Jewish jewelry from its ethnic content, it can also be seen as representative of the intertwining of yin and yang qualities or masculine and famine attributes. Whatever its religious significance, this piece of Jewish jewelry has managed to rise above a parochial status to becoming an interesting symbol of interfaith unity.
This piece of Jewish jewelry eventually rose to its status as a Jewish symbol when during World War II, Hitler forced the Jews to wear a yellow Star of David as a “badge of shame.” How interesting now that this piece of Jewish jewelry has risen to a badge of honor for anyone who wears it. In the 20thth Century, more than any other minority, ethnic or cultural, Jews have been recipients of the Nobel Prize, with almost one –fifth of all Nobel laureates being Jewish. In fact, in the history of the Nobel Prize, Jewish names appear 127 times on the list, about 18 per cent of the total. This is an astonishing percentage for a group of people who comprised up to 1/24th of one percent of the world population This positive disproportion is seen even further in the over-representation of Jews, compared to the general population, in the fields of physical and social sciences and in literature. Some have even boldly stated that notwithstanding wearing the piece of Jewish jewelry, just to be Jewish is a true Badge of Honor.
Another popular symbol used in Jewish jewelry is the hamsa, also known as “hamesh hand”. The hamsa appears often as a hand with three fingers raised, and sometimes with two thumbs arranged symmetrically. This Jewish jewelry is used for protection and as a superstitious means to ward off the evil eye in amulets and charms. This piece of Jewish jewelry can also be found in various places such as home entrances and cars. It is also common to place other symbols in the middle of the hamsa that are believed to help against the evil eye such as fish, eyes and the Star of David. The color blue, or more specifically light blue in Jewish jewelry, is also considered protective against the evil eye and we see many hamsas in that color or with embedded gemstones in different shades of blue, often decorated with Jewish prayers for a protective quality.
Perhaps because the lives of Jews have been so threatened through the millennia, that is why they toast and honor “life.” This symbolism is seen in the particular piece of Jewish jewelry called the “Chai,” meaning “life,” When one toasts at a Jewish get-together it is “L’Chaim. L’Chaim reveals a lot about the Jewish approach to life. The phrase is not to a good life, to a healthy life, or even to a long life. It is simply to life, recognizing that life is indeed good and precious and should always be celebrated and savored: L’Chaim!!
For these and other Jewish jewelry products, visit Ma’s India Spiritual Gift Store.