Ritual Objects

Question:  Where can I find rules for wearing a Tallis and a Yarmulcah, also where can I find where the four levels of charity are described?

Answer: A Kippah is traditionally worn during prayer and study.  There are no special rules for how to wear one.

A Tallit is worn at every morning service.  To put on a Tallit:

1.  Hold the Tallit in front of you, with the Atarah (collar-decoration) facing you.
2.  Say the Beracha (blessing), “Barukh ata Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzeevanu le’heet’atef batzeetzeet.”
3.  Kiss the ends of the Atarah.
4.  Drape the Tallit around your shoulders.

If you are referring to Maimonides’ levels of Tzedakah, he outlined eight levels of giving (in descending order):

1.  One who helps a poor person to sustain him/herself by giving a loan or a job.
2.  One who gives to the poor without knowing the recipent so the recipient is also ignorant of the giver.
3.  One who secretly knowing the recipent so the recipient is ignorant of the giver.
4.  One who gives without knowing the recipent but the recipient knows the giver.
5.  One who before being asked.
6.  One who gives after having been asked.
7.  One who gives willingly, but less than what is needed.
8.  One who gives unwillingly.

Question:  Actually what I was trying to find out was where it says that a tallis and a kippah should be worn. Surely there is a place somewhere that says they should be worn and perhaps even some rules about them.            As for the levels of tzedakah , the ones I had in mind were 4. I know that I read somewhere the 4 levels, but I can’t remember where.

Answer: The Biblical source for the tallit is Numbers15:37-41, the third paragraph of the Shema.

There is no Biblical mandate to wear a kippah.  Head coverings are mentioned in the Talmud, but it was not a requirement.  Over time, the strong custom of wearing a head covering took on the force of law.

I am not aware of a source dividing tzedakah into four categories.  That is not to say that such a source does not exist — but the famous “ladder of tzedakah” comes from Maimonides’ eight levels of tzedakah.

Question:  Please tell me about the parts of a tallit.  I will become Bat Mitzvah soon, and I am having a tallit made for me.  I don’t know what it should say on it.

Answer: The most important part of a tallit are the tzitzit.  They are the tassels found on each corner of the tallit.  Tzitzit are mentioned in the third paragraph of the Shema.  You can learn how to tie your own tzitzit from “The First Jewish Calendar.”  You can probably buy the strings to tie tzitzit at your local Jewish bookstore.

The decorative collar piece of a tallit is called an Atarah.  Often, it has the beracha for putting on a tallit embroidered on it; though it can have other kinds of designs instead or in addition to the beracha.  You can find the words to the beracha at the beginning of a Siddur – if you use Sim Shalom, it is on the top of page 4.

A tallit can be made of any material and can be of any size.  The only restriction is that a tallit must have four square corners.

Question:  I was wondering,  when and why we wear the Talis or Talit. As a kid my reform rabbi always wore one at services and my conservative one now doesn’t.  Is it personal choice or does the torah or talmud say anything about this?  Also, I have my dads because he handed his down to me at my bar mitzvah, is that okay?

Answer: The mitzvah of wearing a tallit comes from the Torah, Numbers 15:37-41.  Actually, the important part of the tallit are the tzitzit, fringes or tassels, which are mentioned three times in the passage from Numbers.  Their purpose is to remind us of all of God’s mitzvot.

In a traditional synagogue, a tallit is worn by all men (and in many Conservative congregations, by women as well) above the age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah at every morning service.  At afternoon services and Shabbat evening services, it is worn only by the person leading services.

I suspect that the reason that your Conservative rabbi seems not to wear a tallit is that you see him at Friday evening services, when only the person leading services wears one.  If you went to synagogue on a Shabbat morning, he (or she) would be wearing a tallit.

You certainly may wear the tallit that your father gave you.  It is a beautiful tradition to pass down religious articles from generation to generation, and as long as they are still in reasonably good condition, to continue to use them.

Question:  What is the custom regarding when one begins to wear a tallis?  Is it strictly a Conservative custom that one begins after Bar Mitzvah or strictly an Orthodox custom that one begins after marriage?  Is it only custom?

Answer: In Conservative synagogues, one begins to wear a tallit after the age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  In some Orthodox communities, men wear a tallit only after they are married.  In other Orthodox communities, however, boys do wear tallitot after Bar Mitzvah.  In the Sephardic community, young boys often wear a tallit before Bar Mitzvah age.

Since the answer is somewhat ruled by minhag, custom, my final answer to you is to follow the custom of your own synagogue.

Question:   I see more and more women wearing tallisem in Conservative congregations.  I am sure that this was once a hotly debated topic.  What was the halakic thinking and justification behind women wearing tallisem?

Answer: First, let me briefly explain the reason that women were not counted in a minyan.  Traditionally, women were exempt from certain time-bound mitzvot such as tallit and daily prayer.  A person, such as a woman or a child who do not have an obligation, cannot help a man fulfill his obligation.  Since certain prayers require a minyan, counting a woman in a minyan would be helping a man to fulfill his obligation to say those prayers.

When synagogues began counting women in a minyan, they made an assumption that the women in those synagogues took upon themselves the same mitzvot and obligations as men.  The purpose of the mitzvah of tallit is to remind us of our obligation to observe all the mitzvot.  Therefore, it makes sense that when women assume the privileges of full synagogue involvement, they also take upon themselves the obligation of the full symbolic dress of tallit of those who are obligated by all the mitzvot.

Question:   Explain for me the aprons worn by men in wedding ceremonies of some forms of Judaism (like in Fiddler on the Roof).  Who wears these?  Only married men? Over a certain age?  Should they be black and white or blue and white?

Answer: I think the garment to which you are refering is called a Tallit Katan, a small Talit, worn underneath one’s shirt.  All Jewish men (and women) may wear them, though in the Orthodox tradition only men wear them.  They may be of any color or pattern; the only important part of the four cornered garment are the fringes on each corner, as commanded by Numbers 15:37-41.

Question:  Can you please tell me if I can wear my Tallit in the evening for prayer, for the Yahrzeit of my Mother and Father.

Answer: The tallit is only worn during the morning shaharit service, not in the evening ma’ariv service.  Even the person leading services does not wear a tallit in the evening, with the exception of Friday evenings.

Question:  With certain exceptions (Tisha B’Av, when tallit is worn for afternoon but not morning service; and Kol Nidre) the tallit is worn for morning services to fulfill the commandment of tsitsit (“looking upon them….”).

There is a custom in some reform congregations that a tallit is put on when one is called to the Torah. In Orthodox and Conservative observance, the tallit would normally be worn for morning service, so one called to the Torah would wear one as a matter of course.

What is the practice for wearing the Tallit while carrying the Torah for Hakafot? Is this local minhag, general custom, or Rabbinically ordained?

In our synagogue, the Torah is read on Simhat Torah at the evening service. Is this local minhag, general custom, or Rabbinically ordained? Should a tallit be worn when called for an Aliyah at the evening service?

Answer: Wearing a tallit during the hakafot of Simchat Torah, while holding a Torah, is not strictly a matter of halakha.  There are communities in which people dance with the Torah without a Tallit.  However, I think that everyone should wear a tallit when carrying a Torah at Simchat Torah, and at my synagogue, even those women who do not normally wear a tallit don one when dancing with the Torah.  It seems to me that it is a matter of “k’vod haTorah,” respect for the Torah, to wear a tallit, representing one’s commitment to Torah and mitzvot, while carrying the Torah.  Thus, wearing a tallit for hakafot is a widespread rabbinically ordained minhag but there are communities which choose a different minhag.

The Torah reading on Simchat Torah evening is also a minhag, and also a very prevalent minhag, practiced at most synagogues throughout the world, to read three aliyot from the beginning of the final parasha of D’varim, Deuteronomy.

On Simhat Torah eve, the question of whether to wear a tallit for an aliyah is an interesting one.  There are two possible models to follow.  Of course, when we read Torah on Shabbat, Festival, and weekday mornings, those taking aliyot wear a tallit.  However, the other model is that of the Shabbat mincha Torah reading, when those taking aliyot do not wear tallitot.  So the question is, do we follow the model of Shabbat mincha, or the model of the other times we read Torah.  Logically, we should follow the model of Shabbat mincha, since both reading are at times when the congregation normally does not wear a tallit.  But since I have stressed wearing a tallit earlier in the evening, while holding and dancing with the Torah during the hakafot, the custom I have adopted is to ask people to wear a tallit for the aliyot as well.  But this is a decision that each individual rabbi/community makes.  There is no necessarily wrong answer.

Question:  I am making a tallit.  Do the tzit-tzit have to be strung through the cloth to be Kosher? Or, can they be attached to a loop hanging of the corner?

Answer: The mitzvah is to attach the tzitzit to all of the corners of any four cornered garment.  They must be attached to the corner of the garment itself, rather than to loops hanging from the garment.  The reason for this is that if they were hanging from loops, they would not actually be attached to the portion of fabric defined as the “corner of the garment.”  The loop might be attached to the corner, but the mitzvah is for the tzitzit itself to be attached to the corner.

Similarly, the hole in the corner should be within two inches of each edge on the corner.  If the hole is farther in towards the middle of the fabric, then the tzitzit would be attached to the body of the fabric rather than its corner.

Question:  I recently purchased a tallit (the B’nai Or – Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors). It is a beautiful garment, but the tzitzit that came with it were all-white. I would like to replace these with tzitzit that I received separately, that has the blue cord. These are tied with a loop at the top. What is the proper way to attach them to the tallit? The white ones are tied on through the hole in the corner and would have to be unraveled or cut to remove them. Is it OK to do that? I don’t have the know-how or time to unravel & re-tie the new tzitzit on like the all-white ones were. Can the new ones be passed through the hole in the corner & stitched on? Currently, I have the blue-cord tzitzit tied on to the white ones until I find out how to proceed.

Answer: If you want to use the new tzitzit, you will need to cut off or untie the old ones and tie on the new ones.  Tying the  blue thread onto the existing tzitzit is not a halakhically correct way to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzit.  You can learn to do it yourself, or you can find someone to help you.  I find the diagrams in the Jewish Catalog (by Michael Strassfield) to be helpful.

Question:  How many knots are there on tzitzits?

Answer: There are four tzitzit on a tallit; one on each corner.  Each tzitzit has four threads (doubled over making eight) and five double knots.  In between the knots, one thread is twisted.  The number of twists are (from the inside out) 7, 8, 11, 13.  Using gematria, these numbers stand for the Hebrew words, “Adonai is one.”  The gematria of the word tzitzit is 600.  Adding to this the 8 threads and five knots on each tzitzit, the total number is 613, the number of mitzvot in the Torah.

The (First) Jewish Catalog has instruction for tying your own tzitzit.

Question:  In the parsha for this week we find the pesukim, “you shall not wear a garment of two kinds…you shall make tassels upon the four courners…”

In the Rashi I find a note that says “you shall not wear a garment of two kinds of woollen and linen together, but gedilim of this character you may make for yourself.  In the regular Rashi commentar it says “you shall make tassels..be they even from a mixture of wool and linen.  Are we to take from this that the fringers on the corner of a garment may be comprised of a mixture of wool and linen, or any two fibers?  Also what is the difference between the mitzvah in parshat Shelakh to put fringers on the corners of your garments and the pasuk here to put tassels on the corners of your garment [which covers you’?  What is the difference between gedilim and tzitzit and what is the difference between the garment mentioned here in Ki Teitze and the beged mentioned in Shelakh?

Answer: You are clearly a very careful and perceptive reader of Torah.  First of all, g’dillin and tzitzit are one and the same.  Deuteronomy 22:12, “you shall make yourself [g’dillim] upon the four corners of your tunic-covering,” is a repetition of the mitzvah stated earlier in Numbers 15:38, “[The Israelites] are to make themselves [tzitzit] on the corner of their garments.”

In addition, there is no substantial difference in the meaning of k’sut, translated by Everett Fox in The Five Books of Moses as “tunic-covering,” and beged, a garment.

Why is the mitzvah repeated, asks an anonymous rabbi in the midrash collection, Sifre Devarim (section 234)?  Because otherwise, one might think that only one thread is required to tie tzitzit.  The word g’dillim (a plural) implies that their must be no less than three threads according to Beit Hillel, and four white and four purple threads according to Beit Shammai.

Today, of course the Halacha approximately follows Beit Shammai, without the purple threads.

Finally, as Rashi comments, the proximity of the restatement of the mitzvah of tzitzit to the verse prohibiting sha’atnez, mixtures of linen and wool in clothing, is interpreted by Halacha to mean that tzitzit are exempt from sha’atnez.  In other words, tzitzit may be made from mixtures of linen and wool.

Question:  My husband is the new President of our Synagogue and was recently asked a question about laying Tefillin.  He answered the question to the best of his ability but he didn’t know if his answer was right and if it was, why it was right.  Here is the question:  A member asked if her son could lay Tefillin on his Bar Mitzvah which is to take place this coming week-end (Fri. and Sat.).  Ken, my husband, told her that if her son were having a weekday Bar Mitzvah, he would see no problem with it but that he had never seen anyone lay Tefillin on Shabbat.  Therefore, he thought that there must be some prohibition about doing this on Shabbat.  Ken suggested that since her son is already slightly over the age of 13, he, Ken would help the son lay Tefillin on Shavuot so that he could learn how.  The questions:  Do you lay Tefillin on Shabbat?  If no, why not?  Is it okay to lay Tefillin on Shavuot?  If not, why not?

Answer: Tefillin are not worn on Shabbat or Festivals, including Shavuot, Pesah, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur.  The reason is that we wear tefillin as a sign (in Hebrew, “ot”) of God’s holiness.  Shabbat (and by association, Festivals) is also called a sign (“ot”) by the Torah.  Therefore, the sanctity of Shabbat and Festivals obviates the need to wear an additional sign of God’s sanctity.

Question:  Can you please explain to me what the little black box worn on the forehead is used for. I heard that it is wrapped around the arm x number of times to signify something, but I’m not sure. This question is very perplexing to me. I thank you for your help.

Answer: The black boxes to which you refer are called ‘Tefillin,’ and they are bound on the arm and on the head.  They are made of leather boxes and straps, and contain within them pieces of parchment on which are written the four sections of the Torah which mention Tefillin:  Exodus 13:1-10 (verse 9); 13:11-16 (verse 16); Deut. 6:4-9 (verse 8); 11:13-21 (verse 18)

One of the Tefillin is tied around the upper arm, and wound seven times around the forearm, corresponding to seven days of creation; and the other Tefillah (singular) is placed on the forehead, above the eyes, at the hairline.

Binding them to the arm represents our responsibility to do mitzvot with our bodies, actively.  Binding them to the head represents our intellectual approach to Judaism, and our belief in God.

Question:  Is there a law stating that women may not wear tefillin? Also can you please send  me information about how to put on tefillin. Thank you for taking the time to read my questions.

Answer: There is no reason that a woman may not wear tefillin.  In fact, I would go a step further.  Women who are counted in a minyan, take aliyot, read Torah, lead services, etc., are obligated to wear tefillin just as men are.

It is very difficult to explain how to lay tefillin via email.  If you send me an address, I can mail you instructions along with diagrams.  However, the best way to learn would be to approach the nearest Conservative rabbi in your area.  If you send me an address, I can try to find the closest Conservative synagogue to your location.

Question:  The Mezuzah to be “kosher” has to be on parchment.  Why is this important as long as the true meaning is spelled out.  Also I have searched the archives in the various books on Judaism and nowhere do I find the full text of the Mezuzah, I wish to have it painted on the wall of my business in its entirety, entitled the meaning of the Mezuzah can you tell me the entire text that has to do with reward and punishment.  I appreciate it very much.  In other words the whole magila.

Answer: The full text of a mezuzah parchment consists of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21.  It is the same as the first two paragraphs of the Shema.

A mezuzah is written on and with the same material as a Torah scroll.  When we observe the mitzvah of affixing a mezuzah to the doorposts inside and outside our homes, we are essentially placing mini-Torah scrolls around our home.  When we write a Sefer Torah, a Torah scroll, we follow the millenia-old traditions of the proper way to write it with great reverence because the words of Torah are our most direct link to the word of God.  A very similar halacha applies to writing a mezuzah parchment.  It is of course not forbidden to transmit words of God on media other than parchment, but parchment and the special ink/quill with which Torahs are written constitute the highest and holiest reverence for Torah.

The most problematic aspect of writing the entire text on a wall (aside from the fact that is does not constitute a proper mezuzah) is that the names of God, when written in Hebrew characters, may never be destroyed or painted over.  The halachic method of disposal of a worn-out holy text (which your entire wall may become!) is burial in a Jewish cemetery. 

Question:  Thanks for your imput, however, no one has supplied me with the total scripture that is in the Mezuzah.  People including Rabbi’s only tell me the first verse.  I need the whole  saying that is put in the Mezuzah.  I Find it difficult to understand why a Rabbi would not be in a position to read it and put it on the e-mail.  I presume it is too much for someone to do.

Thank you for your input,  however,  it did not help my cause, I wanted this to be on the front of my office in BRONZE.

Answer: I in fact did supply you with the entire contents of the mezuzah – I gave you the exact location of the Biblical verses from Deuteronomy so you could look them up in your own Tanakh or Bible.  I do not think it is reasonable to ask me to type both passages in their entirety for you.  I believe I also answered your question about why a mezuzah created out of non-parchment materials is not kosher.

I added the coda on the end of my response to you since some AskaRabbi questions are placed in a public archive, and I wanted to address all halachic concerns for anyone who might be interested.

Question:  My apologies, I will go to our Temple on Shabbat and look for the verses, it, if you read it again, still does not tell me to look there, it mentions that is in the book.

Answer: I accept your apology, although I don’t understand why you are still insisting that telling you exactly where the mezuzah text can be found in Deuteronomy is insufficient without also telling you to look there!

Question:  What is the small rectangular “box” called that is placed on the door frame of entry to home? I was given one by a friend.  I believe as a blessing.  Would Jews be upset to see one on the door of a Christian?

Answer: The box is known as a mezuzah.  It comes from a command found in the Torah, in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21, where Jews are instructed that certain words are to be affixed to the doorposts (in Hebrew, mezuzah) of ones home.  The words remind us that God dwells in the home, and of our responsibility to do God’s commandments.

I do not believe that Christians (or other non-Jews) should affix a mezuzah on the door.  It is a Biblical commandment that Christianity rejected.  Placing one on one’s home indicates a commitment to a set of commandments that one does not observe (or even believe are commandments) if one is not Jewish.

The mezuzah has become a symbol of a Jewish home.  Placing it on a non-Jewish home would be more than a bit incongruous to many Jews.

Question:  I would like information about the Mezzuzah. What does the Mezzuah simbolize, why do we put the mezzuah on the doorpost in the manner that we do.  Beside the doorpost where else should a Mezuzzah be put.  What is the meaning  of the word mezzuzah, how often should a Mezzuzah be checked.Is it ever mentioned in the Torah other than the Shmah where the mezzuzah is mentioned. Was posting a Mezzuah on doorposts ever forbidden by governments where Jews lived?

Answer: The word Mezuzah literally means doorpost.  The mitzvah of affixing words of Torah on the doorposts of our homes comes from the first two paragraphs of the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21.  These two sections of Deuteronomy are written on and with the same materials as a Torah scroll; and this small piece of parchment is placed in a container and affixed to the doorpost.  Over time, the box in which the parchment is placed became known as the mezuzah.

A Mezuzah should be affixed to every doorway in your home, with the exception of closets and bathrooms, on the right side of the door as you enter, in the upper third of the doorpost, and no less than a handbreadth (the width of your hand) from the top.

When we observe the mitzvah of affixing a mezuzah to the doorposts inside and outside our homes, we are essentially placing mini-Torah scrolls around our home.  It is a reminder to us that God is present in our homes, and that we have an obligation to live by God’s words at all times.

I am sure that governments such as Nazi Germany forbade the affixing of Mezuzot.

Question: My condominium association’s bylaws stated that “nothing can be painted, decorated, placed, installed, displayed or hung on any portion of the Limited or Common Elements or to Association Property.” They seem to think that this should include Mezuzahs and have taken mine down. Under Jewish law it is necessary to have them on the doorposts of your home right? How can I change the bylaws? No one should have to be religiously persecuted, do you know of anyone that can help me on this matter?

Answer: It is true that halakhically, a mezuzah must be hung on the doorpost of every doorway in the home.  Have you formally approached the association with a request for an exemption?  Are their other Jewish owners in the complex?  I would start by gathering the Jewish owners, and together petition the association board.  It is possible that their might be some legal issue here related to freedom of religion, but I don’t know for sure.  If my first suggestions do not work, you might contact an attorney.

Response:  I have already tried all of your suggestions, as of  now we almost have the amount of signatures needed for our petition. Letters have been sent to the Board – but they now have 30 days to get back to me, which is 30 days that I cannot hang a mezuzah on my doorpost. We are trying every avenue possible, but I wanted to be prepared in case this matter goes to court, I would want a Rabbi to be able to attest to the religious importance of a mezuzah. Thank you for responding.Question:  This is a very basic question, but very important to us that we do this correctly.  We have just purchased our first home.  We have been given several Mezzuzahs as gifts.  Could you give me the procedures on how, when, where and with whom (Rabbi?, family, friends, etc.) these should be put up.

Answer: A Mezuzah should be affixed to every doorway in your home, with the exception of closets and bathrooms, on the right side of the door as you enter, in the upper third of the doorpost, and no less than a handbreadth (the width of your hand) from the top.

The klaf – parchment – is rolled from the end to the beginning, so that the word Shema is on top.

Before you put up the first Mezuzah, you say the following berachot (blessings):

Barukh ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam, asher keedshanu b’mitzvotav vitzeevanu leekboah mezuzah.

The source of blessing are you, Adonai our God, eternal Sovereign, who sanctified us with commandments, and commanded us to affix a mezuzah.

Barukh ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam, she’hecheeyanu, v’keeyemanu, v’heegi’anu lazman hazeh.

The source of blessing are you, Adonai our God, eternal Sovereign, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and caused us to reach this day

After reciting the berakhot, affix all of the mezuzot.  You need only say the berakhot once.  If you affix more mezuzot on another day, however, you should repeat the berachot.

You do not need to have a rabbi present, but you may choose to ask him/her to help.  It is certainly appropriate – though not mandatory – to use the occasion as a hanukat habayit, dedication of your home or housewarming, and invite family and friends, to celebrate with you.

If you would like, I could send you some information with the procedure and the blessings in Hebrew.

Question:  I recently moved into a new office and I would like to put a mezuzah on the door.  the door has metal frames and so I cannot use the nails.  Can I use two sided tape?  Is velcro appropriate?

Answer: A Mezuzah may be affixed to the door by any means.  I don’t recommend glue, since the parchment should be checked periodically and thus the mezuzah should be relatively easily removable, but double sided tape or velcro is fine.

Question:  I am moving into an apartment with a non-Jewish girl, can I affix a mezuzah on her bedroom door?

Answer: The mitzvah of affixing a mezuzah applies to you, but not to your roommate.  You are obligated to place the mezuzah on all of the doorways of your home.  Since the room in which your non-Jewish roommate lives is her space, rather than your space or an area common to both of you, you would not need to affix a mezuzah on the doorway to her room.

Question:  Is there a purpose to having a 7 branched menorah?

Answer: The original Menorah in the Temple is described by the Torah as having 7 branches, possibly representing the six days of creation and Shabbat.  This was the Menorah featured in the story of Chanukah, which burned for 8 days on one day’s worth of oil.

There is no practical purpose today of owning or burning a 7 branched Menorah, other than as a place to put Shabbat candles (especially if you light more than two), or a nice piece of Judaica.

Question:  What is the significance of the lulav and etrog?

Answer: The lulov and etrog are symbols of the abundance of greenery and water at the time of harvest.

Question:  Why are the two Finials used to decorate the torah called :“Rimonim”, they do not look like Pomegranates nor God forbid like grenades?

Answer: In Biblical Hebrew, the word rimon means either pomegranate or an ornament shaped like a pomegranate.  In Exodus 28:33, in the instructions for making the clothing of the Kohen Gadol, we read, “on its hem make pomegranates of blue, purple, and crimson yarns ?”

Thus the Torah finials are called rimonim because they are shaped somewhat like a pomegranate.  In addition, the use of the word rimon for a finial is one of the many linguistic connections between items in our synagogue and similar items in the Temple.  For example, we use the name for the curtain in the Temple (parokhet) for the ark curtain.

Question:  I am doing research on the Eternal Light, Ner Tamid.  I wanted to know the origin of the Ner Tamid.  Pactices and customs regarding the lamp and it’s flame.  How it is taken care of, etc.  Any information or directions to specific reference materials would be greatly appreciated.

Answer: The Ner Tamid in a Synagogue represents the Menorah that was lit every evening in the Temple.  The Biblical sources are Exodus 27:20-21 and Leviticus 24:2-3.  See the commentary in the Hertz Humash on page 339 (but beware, it is not entirely accurate); and the commentary in the Plaut Humash on pages 618 and 623.

Also check the Encyclopedia Judaica – look in the index under Ner Tamid or Eternal Light.  It is always a good place to do research.

Question:  I have read the articles on the star of David. None of these could begin to start to answer my questions. I have a star of David with the Hebrew word living in the middle. This is whyI asked about the stars meaning. I have read just a little about the Qabbala and it seemed that sometimes images have meaning. I was just wondering if the star itself was considered a symbol of protection like the small amulet that is shaped like a hand.

Answer: The Magen David (Shield of David), as far as I know, has not been used as a magical symbol of protection like the Hamsa – hand amulet.

Question:  Could you please tell me the origin and significance of the gold hand that I have seen Jewish women wearing around their necks?

Answer: The object you are describing is called a Hamsa.  I have been unable to determine exactly how old it is or from where it originated, though it may have come from Morocco.

The word hamsa means ‘five’ in Arabic.  The Hamsa is based on a old supersition that by stretching out one’s right hand towards a person suspected of having the evil eye, and reciting the words, “five in your eye,” one will be protected from harm.  Those who believe in this superstition often hang such a charm on children.

My guess is that most people today who wear a hamsa do not care about or understand its origin or significance, but simply like it as an unusual piece of jewelry.