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Amulets

(1,515 words)

Author(s): Shalom Sabar
The artistic aspects of Jewish amulets from the lands of Islam, as is also true for their Muslim counterparts, can be discussed under two heads: amulets as articles of jewelry; and decorative and other designs appearing on amulets. The first category is closely associated with the origins of jewelry making, because in early times a primary function of personal bodily adornments was to protect the wearer. The Jews in the lands of Islam were not different in this respect from their neighbors, and much of the jewelry they produced or used was intended for symp…

Life Cycle Practices

(4,088 words)

Author(s): Shalom Sabar
The  life cycle of the Jews who resided in the lands of Islam was characterized by a wide range of multifaceted ceremonies, which very often were observed differently from one community to another, and, in the same community, from one generation to the next. Even in the same time and place, people of different social classes did not celebrate certain events in the same ways. Accordingly, the picture depicted here is a generalized one, highlighting the most central rituals in selected communities. As defined by anthropologists, life cycle rituals in a traditional society are a…

Khamsa

(810 words)

Author(s): Shalom Sabar
In several cultures the power attributed to the human hand made it an accepted means of driving away harmful elements and gaining protection against the evil eye. As far back as the Stone Age, paintings of open hands appear on walls in caves in the context of protection. The motif of the protective hand developed especially in Islamic lands, where it is referred to by the popular Arabic term khamsa, meaning five, or by the name “Hand of Fatima,” after Fāṭima Zahra (ca. 606–632), Prophet Muḥammad’s favorite daughter, who is regarded as a holy and exemplary figure in Islam. It is unknown when J…

Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah

(1,628 words)

Author(s): Shalom Sabar
1. Bar Mitzvah The Bar Mitzvah (Heb. son of the commandment) ceremony and its rituals as celebrated by the Jewish communities in the lands of Islam differed significantly from the better-known ceremony developed by European Jewry in the Ashkenazi world. Unlike the other major ceremonies of the Jewish life-cycle, Bar Mitzvah is not mentioned in the Torah, and even in texts from the talmudic era there is no indication that the day a boy reached the age of thirteen was celebrated as a festive event, although this age (plus a day) marked his legal maturity. The Mishna states that “at thirteen …

Ketubba Artistic Traditions

(1,354 words)

Author(s): Shalom Sabar
The art of decorating the marriage contract (Heb. ketubba) flourished in most of the Jewish communities in the lands of Islam. Whereas in Christian Europe large, richly decorated ketubbot were generally commissioned only by wealthy families, in the Islamic East the phenomenon was much more widespread and encompassed larger segments of Jewish society. The practice seems, in fact, to have emerged in the Islamic realm, and the earliest extant decorated ketubbot are from Egypt and Palestine of the tenth to twelfth centuries. Discovered in the Cairo Geniza, these early examples attes…