Judaism is one of the oldest and tenth-largest religions in the world. The followers of Judaism are called Jews. Judaism evolved as an ethnic religion from the Middle Eastern region around 500 BCE. It influences the other Abrahamic religions like Christianity and Islam. It is considered an ethnic religion because a substantial population following Judaism is limited to a specific part of the world, Israel, and America, unlike the universal religions of Islam and Christianity.
Symbols are a significant part of a religion. They form a way to connect between the divine power and the followers of that religion. In Judaism, too, symbols play an essential role.
Let’s look at five Jewish symbols and their meanings.
Menorah is an ancient symbol of Judaism. It is a six-branch lamp stand traditionally made of pure gold. Menorah has seven lamps in all. The six branch lamps symbolize human knowledge and the inclination of these branches to the central lamp shows guidance from God, represented by the center lamp. As per Jewish tradition, fresh olive oil is used to light these lamps daily. The Menorah is kept lit all the time. The seven lamps of Menorah also symbolize the creation of seven days of the week.
Menorah forms part of modern-day Israel’s coat of arms. It is displayed in the Synagogues. The seven lamp Menorah used as a Jewish symbol is called the Temple Menorah because it was used in the Temple of Jerusalem. Before keeping in the Temple, it was initially placed in the Mishkan, the first Jewish house of worship.
There is also a Hanukkah Menorah (or Hanukkah Lamp) lit during the eight-day Jewish festival of Hanukkah. It has eight branches and nine lamps.
2. Star of David
It is also called as Jewish Star or the Shield of David. It is a six-pointed star formed from two equilateral triangles. In the Jewish prayer book Siddur, the star is used as a symbol for the God of Israel.
It is associated with Jews and is one of the most recognizable Jewish symbols. The star also forms the center of the flag of Israel.
It is said that King David carried a six-pointed star as his shield- that’s how this symbol got its name. The two triangles in the star point to the opposite directions- the one pointing upward is said to point to heaven and the other pointing downwards towards the earth. The twelve sides of the star are believed to depict the twelve tribes of Israel. The star’s six points also denote the six days of the week, and the star’s core represents Sabbath. The day of rest in Judaism.
3. Tablets of Stone
They are also called ‘Tablets of Testimony.’ They are two pieces of stone on which the Ten Commandments of Moses are inscribed. Prophet Moses is the most revered prophet for the Jews. That’s why the Tablets of Stone is considered as the Jewish symbol of God.
The Ten Commandments also hold equal importance in Christianity. As per the Book of Exodus, the second book of the Bible, Prophet Moses gave these commandments when he climbed the mountain, Sinai. The book also mentions that the Tablets were stored in the gold-covered wooden chest known as the Ark of Convent.
As per the Jewish text of Talmud, the Tablets of Stone were made of blue sapphire that symbolizes the sky.
As per another legend in Exodus, the Tablets of Stone were only carved out by Moses. First, God revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses, then Moses inscribed them on the Tablets.
Hamsa is also called Hand of Miriam. It is an image of the open right hand with an eye in the center. Hamsa is a Jewish symbol and also holds importance in Islam. The Jews believe that Hamsa provides the wearer good health, fortune, and protection from the evil powers.
In Judaism, it is believed that saying ‘Hamsa Hamsa Hamsa’ (meaning ‘Five’ in Arabic) wards off the evil powers. It is similar to the phrase ‘Touchwood’ in western countries. That’s why they wear this symbol of hand with five fingers as protection from negative forces. It is an important holy symbol for Jews. It is used in marriage contracts known as Ketubah.
It is believed that Hamsa, the hand of God, helped the Jews come out of struggle. That’s why the Jews imbibed Hamsa in their culture, and now it is a common Jewish symbol. They now treat it as a talisman to ward off bad luck.
5. Tree of Life
It is an important symbol of Jewish life. In Hebrew, it is called Etz Chaim. As per a legend, the tree is one of the two trees planted by God in the Garden of Eden. The other being the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Jews consider the Tree of Life as a mystic symbol to understand how God created this world.
In modern times, Yeshivas, that is the Jewish educational institutions teaching Jewish religious texts, are named Etz Chaim. The same is the case for synagogues, the Jewish place of worship.
Etz Chaim is also sung as a Jewish poem. It is sung at religious services by the Roman Jews when they place the Torah Scrolls (the Jewish holy books) back into the chamber (Tora Ark) in the synagogue.
There are a few other popular symbols. ‘Four Species’ is an ancient symbol representing the Jewish festival of Sukkot and accompanies Menorah. Similarly, ‘Shofar’ represents the Jewish festival of High Holy Days. ‘Shin’ represents God Almighty. The ‘Lion of Judah’ is another Jewish symbol. It accompanies the Tablets of Stone.
Although Idol worship is not allowed under Judaism, the Jews still have some symbols with religious values. The hidden power of the symbols is that they unify the thinking of the believers in Judaism. The literature shows that the symbols were not merely designed. They are really the symbols depicting the Jewish philosophy. The sentimental value of these symbols for the religion is significant.