5 Important Jewish Icons You Likely Will Find in Jewish Art Pieces
Iconography can be defined as the use of images and symbols to depict a subject, movement or idea. They have been used by artists for centuries to give viewers an immediate understanding. Examples of iconographies include washroom signs that indicate gender, the power button on mobile devices, as well as directional arrows. Understanding and interpreting the meaning of these symbols is nearly instant.
Icons are also considered an essential part of religion. Major religions of the world, including Judaism, use imagery and symbols to communicate religious concepts and ideas or to portray religious events. Here are five important icons used in Jewish art and their meaning.
Chai, which is the Hebrew word for life, is an iconic symbol that frequently appears in Jewish artwork. The symbol numerically adds up to 18, this number in turn having become symbolic for this reason. Chai is one of the most popular Judaica symbols and you will likely see this in many Jewish art pieces. It makes for a great gift in the form of jewelry or paintings. People therefore associate it with long life.
The Hamsa is a palm-shaped good luck charm that is commonly used in jewelry and wall hangings. Depicting an open right hand, it is a sign of protection and is believed to provide a defense against the evil eye. The five fingers on it represent the five books of the Torah and also serve as a reminder that one must use all five senses when complimenting G-d.
Shin is the most familiar letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is also the first letter of some of the most commonly used words in Judaism, such as shalom and shadai. The three prongs at the top symbolize fire; however, the letter also symbolizes water because the word Heaven (shamayim) in Hebrew begins with the letter. According to Rashi (Bereshit 1:8), Shamayim (with a Shin) is a mixture of both fire and water.
Lion of Judah
The official crest of the city of Jerusalem is a lion depicted against a backdrop of the stones of the Western Wall, encircled by olive leaves. The image refers to the tribe of Judah. Before Jacob passed away, he bestowed one final blessing on each of his twelve sons who founded the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel. When Jacob blessed Judah, he compared him to a lion and said that one day his descendants would be among the most prominent Jews. The area of the tribe of Judah encompassed Jerusalem, which was its capital, making the image of the Lion of Judah a particularly fitting emblem for the city of Jerusalem today. This icon has therefore graced numerous Jewish works of art.
Tree of Life
The symbol of Eitz Chaim “Tree of Life” is a common icon in Jewish art. It has many different meanings, both literal and figurative. In the book of proverbs, it is used to reference the Torah. From a kabbalistic point of view, it is viewed as a connection between wisdom and knowledge as well as is used to describe how G-d created the world. In the art world, it is used to illustrate the concept of interconnectedness within our universe. The Tree of Life is very popular in many Jewish art pieces, and can sometimes feature letters in the form of leaves.