The name “hamsa” comes from the Hebrew word for the number five, “hamesh.” In Judaism five also refers to the five books of the Torah, the Hebrew bible. In Jewish culture, sometimes the hamsa it is called the Hand of Miriam, after Moses’ sister.
A hamsa hand is an symbol shaped like a hand, usually with three extended fingers in the middle and a curved thumb or pinky finger on either side. A hamsa hand is thought to protect against the “evil eye,” the eye of jealousy, and is a popular motif in Jewish and Middle Eastern cultures. Along with jewelry and wall art, hamsas can be found on t-shirts and other apparel and accessories.
In Islam, the hamsa is called the Hand of Fatima, in honor of one of the daughters of the Prophet Mohammed. Some say that in Islamic tradition the five fingers represent the Five Pillars of Islam.
Hamsa hands usually have three extended middle fingers, but there is some variation to how the thumb and pinky fingers appear. Sometimes the thumb and pinky fingers are curved outwards, other times they are just significantly shorter than the middle fingers. Hamsa hands are depicted upside-down and right-side up.
In Jewish culture, hamsa hands will often have an eye displayed in the palm, representing and also warding off the "evil eye". The evil eye is a certain “look” that is thought to cause bad luck for the person at whom it is directed. An eye defends against the "evil eye".
Other symbols that can appear on the hamsa include fish and Hebrew words. Fish are thought to be immune to the evil eye and are also symbols of good luck. Going along with the luck theme, “mazel” – meaning “luck” in Hebrew is a word that is sometimes inscribed on the hand.
Hamsa necklaces are popular as are hamsa charms on key chains. Hamas plaques or hamsas depicted in art are sometimes displayed in homes as a decorative element to bring good luck and happiness.