Black, Gay, and Jewish, Part Two: Finding the Path

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Black, Gay, and Jewish, Part Two: Finding the Path

I have a weird quirk — I can quote many movies for the sake of relating it back to my life. One of those movies is Practical Magic with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman.When Sally Owens is in her beautifully magical green house with the detective she tells him something along the lines of, "It's just a star, your talisman... it has power because you believe in it."

Around my neck I wear a Hamsa Hand. I purchased it from a Middle Eastern man at an Oriental carpet store off 5th Ave. It's silver, "diamond encrusted", with an evil eye in the middle. The other day, while rubbing my Hamsa, which I sometimes do, I noticed that it felt bent. I took it off and examined it and sure enough the sterling silver hand is bent-right at the evil eye! The post-pagan in me would like to think that someone was trying to "zing" me and my Hamsa, ever vigilant, blocked the evil-doer and repelled their evil thoughts back at them.

The Hamsa isn't particularly Jewish, as much as it is Middle Eastern. I suppose, then, it could be considered Jewish but it really has little to do with Judaism. Traditionally Hamsas are worn as protection from the Evil Eye as pendants on necklaces, bracelets, and I've even seen a few on rings. There are also beautifully ornate Hamsas that are placed above baby cribs, on the walls of homes and outside of homes, kind of like a mezuzah. While the mezuzah is not an amulet or to be used as protection, the Hamsa hand is. Muslims sometime refer to the Hamsa as the Hand of Fatima, Muhammad's daughter, while Jews sometimes refer to it as the Hand of Miriam, Moses' sister. The Five fingers of the Hamsa are to remind us of the Five books of the Bible.

I was asked in my previous post "How did you get here?" Meaning, what path brought me to this choice of Judaism. I was on the phone with a Rabbi of one of the many temples I'm considering and she asked me the same question. I find phones to be quite impersonal. I gave her a short answer and scheduled an appointment for a face-to-face chat for mid-August. I'll give you the short(ish) answer which is still shorter



Comments [16]

Erika Davis's picture

The little line that could.

"The Hamsa isn't particularly Jewish, as much as it is Middle Eastern. I suppose, then, it could be considered Jewish but it really has little to do with Judaism."

So I just reread my post and can understand how it got jumbled.  The statement I was trying to make was that Hamsa is more Middle Eastern and to do with the culture of the Middle East rather than the culture of Judaism-which isn't necessarily true, especially if you're a Sephardic Jew or a Jew of Middle Eastern decent.  Blanket statement?  Totally.  I suppose, also, in referring to the mezuzah, which is actually in the Talmud, and one of the 603 mitzvahs we're required to do (a lot, I know) is "Jewish" while the Hamsa is "Middle Eastern"  The other thing I love about Judaism is the complete overlapping of culture and religion and for someone like me, a convert, a black woman, what is culture?  I'm not Ashkenazi or Sephardic, really...so.  what.  then?

 

And just for shits and giggles ... my resources (online because I'm at my GF's and all my books are at home)

http://www.jewfaq.org/signs.htm

This is one of my favorite sites by an Orthodox layman.  He's funny and his was one of the first sites I visited and bookmarked over a year ago.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamsa

Wikipedia is NOT god, no matter what anyone says.

 

 

AGAIN, Thank you, all of you, for all of your varying opinions!  I love the passion and I really do appreciate your words.

Erika has spoken.
Now, go read my blog Smile
www.blackgayjewish.com

Erika Davis's picture

I'm trying to read these in order...

But I'm think I'm going to fail miserably so I'll try to reply individually!!

Sorry for the delay, as well, work.

Erika has spoken.
Now, go read my blog Smile
www.blackgayjewish.com

Not2Taem's picture

All our many tallismans

Erika,

Thank you for this very thought provoking post. Your opening quote, "It's just a star, your talisman... it has power because you believe in it," brought me back to the many totems that have helped me through the different stages of my own journey. We all need something to believe in, even if it is not a higher god. We naturally latch on to things that ignite some safe and comfortable memory. For some these are formalized symbols of faith or heritage. For others of us they are glimpses and reminders of people who saw us through some difficulty or places we once found shelter.

I wish you all the best as you continue your journey. Thank you for sharing it here.

Erika Davis's picture

Your Welcome!!

I'm glad you liked it!

 

Erika has spoken.
Now, go read my blog Smile
www.blackgayjewish.com

geek4grammar's picture

that's not what I said...

I wasn't claiming ownership of the symbol, Moon. I was saying that there is a Jewish version of it, because Erika said in her post that it wasn't really a Jewish thing; so I tried to give more background about the Jewish version. I have no problem sharing symbols, and I agree w/ you in that I didn't think Erika was trying to be disrespectful; but I also feel that I have the right to say, "hey, you're misrepresenting this object's cultural and historical significance to my people; here's some more info." I never said that it belonged only to the Jews. But given that Erika is, by her own admission, only at the very beginning stage of her journey toward converting to Judaism, and given that she's sharing her journey so publicly with us here, I do have concerns about distinguishing her personal experiences from any expertise on the historical and cultural meanings of the Jewish symbols, rituals, etc., she's exploring here. And I thought I phrased my post in a way that was pretty darn respectful. I mean, if you don't want us to have dialogue like this, then what's the point of having comment fields enabled? Are we all just supposed to comment when we agree w/ each other? I didn't say anything nasty, just that I felt she was not informed enough to make the statement that the hamsa "isn't really Jewish," because it is Jewish, even while it is also Muslim and could be other stuff too for all I know. It's not about taking it away from anyone else. Isn't this reasonable?

We're all born naked. The rest is drag.
--RuPaul (appropriating Judith Butler for the masses...)

Grace Moon's picture

Yeah I'm not saying you can't

Yeah I'm not saying you can't disagree. And I believe all your points very valid.

But I definitly feel the "charge" here. Usually the "you" statements are a tigger. i.e. "You sound..., You are... " what happens is when that occurs on the threads is they spirl down into very heated disagreement of what everyone got out of it. And of course everyone will understand what they read differently and then take sides.

So I would just like to avoid that happening.

We can all totally still discuss history, religion, symbolism, interpretation, and Campbell, and might I add Jung into the mix by way of saying - lets not get our "shadows" invloved with this discussion.

thanks!

tweet tweet @gracemoon

Erika Davis's picture

Awww...

You're so sweet!  Mama Hen Editor in Chief Smile  Honestly, I know where everyone is coming from and appreciate all of it.  It's really good for me to read and learn from everyone.  This journey is very important to me and for me but as my Jewish girlfriend is telling me know as I'm reading all of this-I have a lot of learning to do.  It's personal for everyone as well as me.  It's not my culture, yet, but I'm making it my own and the beauty of the culture that is Judaism is the many influences, opinions, struggles, disputes, and shared opinions that have lead to the beautiful fabric of Judaism.  I'm excited, eager, and thrilled to be able to weave my little thread into the mix.  Judaism, like so many different cultures, religions, etc. has become so very personal and different for the individuals involved.  I can only listen to the individuals kind enough to impart their knowledge and take it with me.

 

Erika has spoken.
Now, go read my blog Smile
www.blackgayjewish.com

geek4grammar's picture

a little presumptuous

dude,

you know I totally support your spiritual journey (and everyone's right to follow their own path) toward Judaism-- but the way you talk about the hamsa is quite presumptuous, because you don't know about the Jewish version. Yes, there is an Arabic version, just as so many objects and traditions are shared by Jews and Muslims (and Christians, for that matter), because, oh yeah, Christianity and Islam both come from Judiasm and include the Torah as part of their own holy books; but there is absolutely a very Jewish tradition around the hamsa, which you have basically skipped over here with a dismissive, declarative statement that "it has little to do with Judiasm."

A word of advice: don't be so quick on the draw to make bold declarative statements about what is and is not Jewish. All you'd need to do to see how wrong you are about the hamsa not being "particularly Jewish" is to visit any Judaica store in NYC-- they're everywhere. They're covered in Hebrew prayers to ward off the evil eye (said, in much of Jewish mythology, to be the eye of lilith, the real first woman before eve, who refused to be subservient to adam and was banished from the garden-- children born with birth defects were often said to have been touched by the hand or eye of lilith in the olden days, when superstition was more mainstream). Similarly, one of the big yiddish folk expressions that has managed to hold on through modern times is "kayna hura," which means "without the evil eye," and is basically the Jewish equivalent of "knock on wood" (which, btw, comes from Christian roots-- when you knock on wood, you're knocking on the cross). 

I'm not pissed because you didn't know all this; I'm pissed because you're talking about a mystical Jewish symbol like an expert when you're not. Jewish symbology, Jewish stories, even the Hebrew language itself carries many different meanings and interpretations, which is one of the reasons why disagreement about meaning is at the heart of Judiasm (I mean, the whole Talmud is basically a 35-volume set of recorded arguments among the 1st century rabbis about who's interpreting the Torah right). So...you can have your own personal interpretations of course, I'm not trying to take that away from you; but when you talk about Jewish objects, symbols, ritual, etc., in a public forum like this, I'd feel a lot better if you qualified your factual statements about the historical & cultural meanings, which you really don't know much about yet, with "from my research," "from what I've learned so far," or something to that effect. 

Sorry if all this came out sounding snarky; I'm not trying to be a jerk or dispute your right to have a relationship with Judaism. I'm not even trying to discourage you-- just be mindful of where you are on your journey, that this stuff isn't really yours yet, and there is (and always will be) a lot more to learn. Cool?

We're all born naked. The rest is drag.
--RuPaul (appropriating Judith Butler for the masses...)

Erika Davis's picture

Well...

I will admit to not being a Jew yet but it is my job, as a person in the conversion process, to read and try to figure out the hows and the whys around things both symbolically and culturally.  I am, in no way, an expert.  I don't want to be an expert and I don't claim to be.  The thing that I absolutely love about Judaism is that is everyone has an opinion.  Everyone "does Jewish" differently.  From what I've read Sephardic Jews have embraced the symbolism and significance of the Hamsa whole-heartedly.  I, personally, relate to more Sephardic Jewish symbolism and food (definitely food) because it more closely mirrors my own heritage.  

I was in my store the other day and a man, who I'm assuming was Jewish, commented on my Hamsa and gave me a lecture about its meaning and was quick to tell me, "It's not Jewish!"  The man I purchased it from told me the same thing, and he's not Jewish, and at Temple there were women wearing them.  I have seen many a Hamsa in the many Judaica stores I've visited online and in the city.  All I can say, is that I stand by my statement, based on the research that I've done.  I'm not Jewish, yet, and I don't think that anyone has all of the answers.  I could list a handful of my favorite go-to websites that say that Hamsa is not Jewish and a handful of my favorites go-to websites that claim that it is.  I'm wearing it because I think that it is, if I felt it wasn't I wouldn't be wearing it as a symbol of my journey.

I suppose all I can do is to thank you for giving me your opinion and I'm definitely eager to do more research on more symbols the help identify my Jewish journey.  I truly appreciate your passion and your frustration and apparent anger because it helps me to work it all out.   As I said, the debating, arguing, and reading and rereading is what is so attractive to me.  I love it!  I'm starting my Tanakh from page one so I'm not to the Talmud yet but I'm sure to have some opinions there, too!

Erika has spoken.
Now, go read my blog Smile
www.blackgayjewish.com

geek4grammar's picture

cheers

thanks for your thoughtful response erika, and I am 100% in agreement w/ you about the importance of disagreement and open debate in Judaism-- I would've walked away a long time ago if not for that. we should all have our own interpretations about the symbols, rituals, and prayers we engage with, and no one person has the right to tell you that you're doing it wrong. I just had this strong, gut need to defend the basic Jewishness of this symbol, because however you relate to the hamsa (and you're totally right that it is also a Muslim symbol, and the Jewish version did originate in sephardic culture), it is very much a common, mainstream symbol in the Jewish world today, and I felt like a non-Jewish person reading your post would think it wasn't, and that upset me in some basic, primal way. I wasn't trying to take it away from you (or anyone else who relates to it as a Sufi, pagan, or other cultural symbol). Glad we're still cool Wink

--jenny

We're all born naked. The rest is drag.
--RuPaul (appropriating Judith Butler for the masses...)

SMBrown's picture

I read the blog before your

I read the blog before your comment and I have to say I read the phrase "The Hamsa isn't particularly Jewish" very differently.  To me she wasn't assessing its importance to Jews, but acknowledging that it is a symbol with import to those not of that faith.  I felt she made no claim to 'expertise' about the hamsa AT ALL--and I'm a bit troubled by your need to invoke superior knowledge when that's not what she was on about here.

geek4grammar's picture

she said, "it (the hamsa)

she said, "it (the hamsa) really has very little to do with Judiasm." I take issue with this statement. I'm sorry you are troubled by my disagreement with this, but the fact is, it does trouble me when someone who is just beginning a conversion process makes such a broad statement about what is and is not Jewish. Talk about your relationship with it, talk about the different influences that interest you, that's awesome; but don't tell the world that this thing that interests you isn't really Jewish, because you don't yet have enough Jewish knowledge to know that. 

We're all born naked. The rest is drag.
--RuPaul (appropriating Judith Butler for the masses...)

SMBrown's picture

OK, again, I read it with

OK, again, I read it with different emphasis.  It's not your disagreement I was troubled by, but the way you chose to express it.  I think there's a way to say 'well, actually it... blah blah blah...' without it being about a deficiency in her relative knowledge/expertise.  

I mean what's more important here?  That we learn about the Jewish traditions surrounding this symbol, or that we call the writer out on not knowing her stuff?  Your posture just seemed unnecessarily confrontational.

Grace Moon's picture

um no you

don't sound snarky, a bit angry maybe. Lets take a moment here before we escalate anything.

I think everyone on their spiritual journey learns new stuff as they go along. And anyone who has practiced any one thing for a while, feels a level of protection of their path and doesn't want it to be taken lightly -- so I totally get why you jumped on this.

I've adopted yogic practices from Hinduism - I've been practicing for about 26 years - I grew up in a household of yoga people, and spent years living in an ashram.

I don't go to yoga classes in the city because there are a ga-zillion yoga teachers out there that I think are teaching a bunch of C R A P! I cringe when I hear people say they do Om's in their classes. Or people say "Namaste" without a deep inner connection to the gesture.The OM symbol is an incredibly sacred symbol and sound -- yet every hipster yoga person has it as a casual decal on their bags, clothes, tie-die head band.

Who am I to judge anyone elses process - or use of the symbol?

I'm not saying we can't discuss or correct what we do or don't know, but I don't think Erika was trying to be disrespectful, or dismissive?

--- that said ---

I believe the "evil eye" symbol comes from cultures in the Mediterranean. It was first written about in the Torah but doesn't necessarily belong to the Jewish religion. The same it seems for the Hamsa symbol itself. Scholars say the downward pointing hand symbol pre-dates the monotheistic religions.

Claiming ownership of religious symbols to me is tricky. It takes reading a little Joseph Campbell to realize religious symbols are not the property of one religion, but are adopted by many cultures and their meanings continue to evolve over time as human society does.

tweet tweet @gracemoon

geek4grammar's picture

oops, wrong comment field

d'oh! I fell prey to the accidental-new-comment-instead-of-reply-to-comment again! see my reply to your reply above.

We're all born naked. The rest is drag.
--RuPaul (appropriating Judith Butler for the masses...)

SMBrown's picture

Love me some Joseph Campbell!

Love me some Joseph Campbell!