from “Hamsa” by Menachem Wecker
The hamsa has been variously interpreted by scholars as a Jewish, Christian, or Islamic amulet, and as a pagan fertility symbol…it is recognized today as a kabbalistic amulet and as an important symbol in Jewish art…As the references to Fatima (Mohammed’s daughter) and to Miriam (Moses’ sister) suggest, the amulet carries significance to both Jews and Muslims. One of the most prominent early appearances of the hamsa is the image of a large open hand which appears on the Puerta Judiciaria (Gate of Judgment) of the Alhambra, a 14th century Islamic fortress in southern Spain.
It would not be unusual for an Islamic symbol to find its way into Sephardic Jewish culture, which flourished alongside Islam. However, amulets are somewhat problematic in Judaism. Still, the Talmud refers on several occasions to amulets, or kamiyot, which might come from the Hebrew meaning “to bind.” One law allows for carrying an approved amulet on the Sabbath, which suggests that amulets were common amongst Jews at some points in history. (Shabbat 53a, 61a)…
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact time when hamsas emerged in Jewish culture, though it is clearly a symbol of Sephardic nature. Jews might have used the hamsa to invoke the hand of God, or to counteract the Evil Eye with the eye embedded in the palm of the hand. Some hamsas contain images of fish, in accordance with Rabbi Yose son of Hanina’s statement in the Talmud that the descendents of Joseph, who received Jacob’s blessing of multiplying like fish in Genesis 48:16, are protected from the evil eye like fish. He explains: “the water covers the fish of the sea so the eye has no power over them (Berakhot 55b).”
Other icons besides eyes and fish have also found their way into the hamsa, including the Star of David, prayers for the traveler, the Shema, the blessing over the house, and the colors of red and blue, both of which are said to thwart the Evil Eye.
Hamsas still play a role in some Sephardic rituals today. During the henna ceremony, when brides are decorated in the preparation for their wedding, brides may wear a hamsa around their neck to ward off the evil eye.
Main Entry: thau·ma·turg
Etymology: French, from New Latin thaumaturgus, from Greek thaumatourgos working miracles, from thaumat-, thauma miracle + ergon work — more at Theater, Work
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Throughout the production of The Whipping Man, CENTERSTAGE will be providing numerous opportunities for audiences to engage in discussion inspired by the themes of the show. Conversations will focus on the notion of inheritance— inherited faiths, political systems, racial struggles, and all of the inherited gifts and issues associated with our multifaceted identities. Prominent leaders of Baltimore’s African American and Jewish communities will participate, to encourage exploration of these two communities’ relationships over time. Theater scholars and artists will also contribute, offering historical and cultural expertise as well as behind-the-scenes insights to enhance audiences’ experiences of The Whipping Man and its rich subject matter. Click here for events, dates, times, locations, and guests.
This project was made possible by a grant from the Maryland Humanities Council, through support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this programming do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Maryland Humanities Council.
We received a query today regarding the Cardinal’s hat-wearing rituals. After poking around a bit and talking to a Jesuit priest at St. Ignatius next door (thanks, Father Waters!), it appears that the Galero (i.e. wide-brimmed, big hat) comes off indoors, but that the habit (yamulke-esque skull cap) stays on. I also found this fabulously weird tidbit:
“When a cardinal dies, it is traditional that his galero be suspended over his tomb, where it remains until it is reduced to dust, symbolizing how all earthly glory is passing. It is said that when it falls, the cardinal’s soul has entered Heaven. In the United States, where only a few cathedrals have crypts, the galeri of past archbishops who were cardinals are suspended from the ceiling. Some of the Cathedral churches in the United States that hang the galeri of past Cardinals from their ceilings are:
- Basilica of the Assumption, co-cathedral of Baltimore, Maryland
- Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, St. Louis, Missouri
- Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Baltimore, Maryland
- Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, California
- Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Washington, D.C.
- Holy Cross Cathedral, Boston, Massachusetts
- Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago, Illinois
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City”