Does the Halacha allow the use of a hamsa as a good luck charm, considering that it originated as a Muslim symbol?

  • 3
    One can ask the question even without considering the hamsa's origin. Lo s'nachashu and all that.... One of my high-school teachers, Rabbi David Feinstein (Rabbi R'uven Feinstein's son) was asked by a classmate of mine whether he (the classmate) may wear a red string around his wrist on Shabas outside an eruv. Rabbi Feinstein responded with a smile that the student should first ask whether he can wear it during the week. (The student forbore, IIRC; or, at least, got no answer if he asked.)
    – msh210
    May 29 '11 at 4:19
  • 2
    Wearing a red string for protection has a long history. See the discussion in Tosefta kifshuta (Shabbos 6th perek, note 2-3) where it describes how common it was in Europe as a prevention against scarlet fever, and he notes that none of the rabbis protested. It is also cited as having curative properties in the gemara in Gittin 69b. So one should be careful about criticizing such a practice.
    – Curiouser
    Sep 1 '11 at 19:53
  • @Curiouser Rav Mutzafi says it is not allowed. Jan 9 '12 at 18:20
  • 3
    I didn't see the Tosefta kipshuta, but this is what the Tosefta has to say: אלו דברים מדרכי האמורי... והקושר [מטולטלת על יריכו וחוט אדום על אצבעו והמונה ומשליך צרורות לים או לנהר הרי זה מדרכי] האמורי
    – Ariel K
    Jan 9 '12 at 20:19
  • see post on the topic here: hirhurim.blogspot.com/2007/08/red-string.html
    – Ariel K
    Jan 9 '12 at 20:22

Ben Ish Hai (Shana Bet Parashat Pinehas sim. 13) actually endorses the Hamsa.

A few months ago, I asked HaGaon HaRav Meir Elyiahu Shelit"a this question (question 108 on RabiMeir.com):

שמעתי שקדן גדול בהיסטוריה, כי חמסה היא מן התרבות המוסלמית, ולכן החלטתי לתפוס לדעת כי היא, שאסור להשתמש בהם. האם זה נכון

He answered:

צורת החמסה אכן לקוחה מאגדה ערבית ישנה אולם מצינו הרבה מחכמי המערב שהיו משתתפים בצורה זו ואין פוצה פה ומצפצף ופשוט שאין פה משום חוקת הגוים.‏

He admits that it is taken from the Muslims, but since a lot of big rabbis didn't protest but actually promoted it, it is simple to him that there is no Hukot HaGoyim involved.

  • 4
    I don't think once can just wave "minhag mevatel halacha" at any prohibition, definitely not idolatrous ones. Many Jews drive on shabbos nowadays, and there were times when many Jews worshipped avodah zara, but the issur does not just disappear.
    – Ariel K
    Jan 9 '12 at 18:44
  • Yeah...but there aren't any poskim who allow doing that. Here we have an actual Posek who allows it. Jan 9 '12 at 19:10
  • 1
    Q: If a posek or navi tells you to do avodah zara and they say "this is the minhag, kach yafeh lanu", what should you do?
    – Ariel K
    Jan 9 '12 at 20:11
  • While this case isn't actual avodah zara, so there's no mesis or anything here, it is in the realm of that issur and must be treated stringently.
    – Ariel K
    Jan 9 '12 at 20:12
  • 1
    The updated answer does not address the pagan issue. If something is a religious symbol of pagans, that is quite distinct from monotheistic Muslims. Mar 30 '12 at 22:34

The Wikipedia page discusses how it pre-dates Islam and seems to have pagan origins, which would be a worse problem. Good luck charms are problematic on their own, but pagan ones are definitely assur.

  • 2
    And yet they are extremely common among Jews. In Israel various souvenirs depicting a hamsa often overlayed with Jewish prayers or blessings are sold practically on every corner. If owning a hamsa is forbidden, one would expect some form of protest from the haredi community.
    – Dima
    May 30 '11 at 0:19
  • 5
    @Dima, my impression is that problematic superstitious practices are not on the list of things the Chareidi world is best at ostracizing.
    – Isaac Moses
    May 31 '11 at 2:47
  • The pagan origins are "theories" according to wikipedia, while the true origin is unknown. If the origin truly is Islam and Middle Eastern (non-Jewish) culture, is it still forbidden? Sep 1 '11 at 20:34
  • If this is true then I need to ask a historian rabbi about this, no? Dec 27 '11 at 3:59

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