Hamsa (חַמְסָה) is a symbol, or an amulet in the shape of a hand. It is recognized as a symbol of God’s protection against the evil eye (ayin ha-rah) – hence there is often a shape of an eye in the middle of it. It’s a popular amulet across the Middle East and the Maghreb and can be seen used in decorations and jewelry. It also sometimes called the Hand of Fatima, the Hand of Mary or the Hand of Miriam.
Birkat HaBayit means Blessing for the Home. You can often see wall art or smaller plaques near the entrance or windows with Hebrew or Hebrew and English text praying for the prosperity of all who live there.
The tradition of placing blessings in our homes is surprisingly not that old. Through the ages, there always have been a variety of amulets used among the Jewish people, but a blessing for the home seems to be a pretty recent phenomenon.
Shiviti (sometimes pronounced “shivisi” in the Ashkenazic tradition) is a name given to a group of liturgical art incorporating a verse from Psalm 16:8. They are made as visual meditations and reminders of the constant presence of God. Its purpose is to inspire one to create an appropriate spiritual attitude (kavannah) when praying.
Shema Israel is one of the two most important prayers in Judaism. In contrast to the other one, Shemone Esre, it was not composed by the Sages but comprises of three quotes from the Torah (Pentateuch). The most famous is the first verse of this prayer: Shema Israel, Adonai Elo-heinu, Adonai Echad, “Listen, O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai alone”. If you are interested in art dedicated to this verse alone, please jump over to this post.
The first paragraph of Shema is usually the first prayer a child learns. It describes the obligation to read the Shema and to educate the next generations. It also proclaims the commandment to love God with all we have and are.
For thousands of years, the Jewish people face Jerusalem when we pray. First, it was towards the Holy Temple, the holiest place on Earth. Then, when the Jews dispersed all over the world. But whenever we moved to, we faced toward Israel. In Europe, it meant the general direction of the East or “mizrach” in Hebrew.
The time of lighting the Shabbat candles is magical. Traditionally, this mitzvah (commandment) is the domain of women. After preparing for the day, the whole family stops and welcomes the Shabbat Bride. The candles are lit, and one lifts hands and covers the eyes. Now is the time to recite the blessing over lighting the Shabbat candles. After it is said, one takes their hands away and sees the light anew.