• Issue: July 2006
  • Designer: Meir Eshel
  • Stamp Size: 40 mm x 30.8 mm
  • Plate no.: 645 (1 phosphor bar) 646 (2 phosphor bars) 647 (no phosphor bar)
  • Sheet of 10 stamps Tabs: 5
  • Printers: E. Lewin-Epstein Ltd.
  • Method of printing: offset

The hand is a vital limb of the human body, essential for work and daily activities, as well as a means for turning ideas into tangible practice. The hand is also a symbol of superiority and a means of displaying strength. In the belief systems of many religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the hand is associated with divine power. By way of example, the Ten Commandments states that the Lord took Israel out of Egypt "with a strong hand and an outstretched arm" (Deuteronomy 5:15). Jewish art and Christian art from Late Antiquity onward often depict the invisible divinity by an outstretched hand, for example in the mosaic of the Binding of Isaac in the ancient synagogue at Beit-Alpha.

In various cultures, the power attributed to the hand made it an accepted means of chasing away harmful elements and gaining protection against the evil eye. As far back as the prehistoric Stone Age, drawings of open hands appear on walls in caves in the context of protection. The motif of the hand continued to develop, especially in the Islamic lands, where it was widespread and was referred to both by the name of the Prophet Muhammad's daughter, namely "Fatima's hand," as Fatima was thought to have distinctive protective powers; or by the popular Arabic noun khamsa, which means five.

A wide variety of khamsas made of silver and other materials developed throughout North Africa, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Ottoman Eretz Yisrael. The khamsa became the primary symbol of protection against the evil eye and against devils and spirits, dangers, fears, illnesses and disasters. Jews who lived in the Islamic lands adopted the khamsa, and over generations imbued it with a specifically Jewish significance. The Jewish khamsa is distinguished by its Hebrew inscriptions and Jewish symbols. Jewish religious authorities in those lands pointed to the link between the single-letter name of God, n (Monogrammaton) and the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet - heh; or the similarity between the Khamsa shape and the way Jewish priests hold up their hands when reciting the Priestly Blessing. Some rabbinical authorities also linked the attributes of the khamsa to the motif of the fish, which symbolizes fertility. Indeed, many Jewish amulets are decorated with a representation of a fish side by side with an outstretched hand. The khamsa motif has gradually become common in Jewish ceremonial objects made for the home or the synagogue.

The popularity of the khamsa, which was widespread in the Old Sephardi Yishuv (Jewish community) in Eretz Yisrael, was reinforced following the mass immigration of Jews from the Islamic lands. Although during the early decades of Israel's statehood, interest in amulets and folk beliefs was dormant, from the 1970s and onward, its popularity in Israeli culture and society grew. The khamsa gradually shifted from a traditional object with protective attributes to an object of art representing folk culture. The production of khamsas and the use of the motif became commercial, appearing in advertising, posters, businesses, public institutions, key chains and pendants. So many sectors of society have adopted the khamsa, that side by side with its traditional properties, it is also viewed as a distinctly secular icon of Israeli society.

Prof. Shalom Sabar
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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