I received a gift from an Israeli friend. It is a beautiful mosaic Hamsa, or Miriam's Hand. I am interested in the Hebrew prayer that appears on the back of it. I am wondering if there is an English or transliterated version available. Some say having a Hamsa in the house gives good luck, while others say it is a protection against the evil eye. Can you tell me more about this?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

"Hamsa" is the Arabic word for five. It is customary for Arabs and Jews from the Middle East to raise their hand (five fingers) for good luck and against (Ayin Hara) an evil eye. In Exodus 17:11, we see that when Moses raised his hand, the Jews were successful in battle against Amalek. Conceivably, this is where it originated.

Some have the Hamsa fingers drawn and filled in with Kabbalistic words. This is considered a "Kamaya" (amulet) which is a sort of prayer for good luck. (Code of Jewish Law - Y.D. 179:12)

There are some who advise against owning a Hamsa, considering it a superstitious practice of non-Jewish origins. However, many authorities permit it because it is a Jewish symbol as well, and has been in use by Sephardic Jews for many centuries. The "Chida" (R' Chaim Yosef David Azulai), in his travels, found that the religious Jews in Tunisia were using it (late 18th century). Its use is also mentioned in the work Ben Ish Chai (Year 2, Pinchas 13).

There is no set text to what prayer is placed on back of the "hand," but usually it is a blessing for peace in the house, or for a successful business. Although your text may be different, here is a sample of what the blessing may say:

"Let this house be a beautiful, peaceful abode. Let tranquility, unity, blessings and success abundantly fill each room, with help from the Heavens above. Let there be raised a righteous generation under the shade of this roof, who will fill this house with the sound of Torah. And let the Divine Presence exist in every corner."

Here's wishing you that all these words are fulfilled!

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