The Jewish religion is full of symbols and religious items that hold within them deeply meaningful messages, values and ideas. Some of the symbols are centuries old whereas others have become popular only in recent decades. Each and every one of them represent part of the Jewish journey; part of the incredible history of this tiny people that have always been small in number yet have always been highly influential as far as world history is concerned. We’ll present a number of these Jewish symbols and their meanings in an attempt to give the reader a glimpse of the richness of the Jewish tradition.
One of the oldest Jewish symbols is the Mezuzah. The Mezuzah is a piece of parchment that is inscribed with specific Jewish passages that is placed in a little oblong box and attached to the doorposts of Jewish homes. The Mezuzah is a commandment that has this source in the written Torah- in the Bible- and the details are found in the Oral Torah- the Oral tradition that is an inseparable part of Judaism. The Mezuzah is meant to act as a constant reminder of G-d’s presence and of his guarding over the members of the household.
Another very old symbol is that of Tzitzit- ritual fringes that Jewish males wear due to a Biblical commandment to do so. In the Bible, the Jewish people are commanded to affix fringes to garments that have four corners -this was a common piece of clothing in certain times but today is not common so Jewish males have a special garment called a Tallit that they don in morning prayers and make a blessing over especially so as to fulfill this commandment. There is also a miniature version of the Tallit called Tzitzit that is worn by Jewish males from the age of three under their garments so that they can wear the ritual fringes on a daily basis at all hours of the day. The fringes are meant to remind the wearer of G-d’s Presence.
The Menorah is a seven-branched candelabrum that was used in the Temple. The priests would light the Menorah every evening. Although the seven-branched candelabrum is not in use today (until the Third Temple will be built there is no use for it) and in fact it is forbidden according to Jewish tradition to create a likeness of it too. Having said that, Jewish people in the Diaspora refer to the nine-branched candelabrum that is lit on the festival of Hanukkah (that is known in Israel as the Hannukiyah) as a Menorah too.
The Magen David is undoubtedly the symbol that is most commonly associated with Judaism today but not many know that it has only been associated with Judaism for the past few centuries. It is a symbol that has been associated with a variety of religions over the years but it became associated with Judaism most strongly after it was adopted by the Zionist Movement as its emblem in 1897. The Star of David is boldly featured today on the official flag of Israel which is the homeland of the Jewish people and has thus become an exclusively Jewish and Zionist symbol, representing Jewish pride, tradition and love of their homeland.
The Hai symbol is actually a Hebrew word, made up of the two Hebrew letters, Het and Yud. The word Hai (pronounced “Hi”) means “life” in Hebrew and is the perfect representation of the Jewish love for life. it is common for Jewish people to donate to charity in multiples of eighteen, reflecting the Jewish belief that charity (along with prayer and repentance) are the way to ensure safety of one’s being.