The following description was prepared by William Gross:
From earliest times, man has tried to protect himself from misfortune by the use of objects which he considered holy or otherwise (e.g., magically) potent. Amulets and talismans are items generally worn around the neck or wrist, carried in a pocket or purse or hung on a wall. They are meant to protect or aid those who carried or wore them. The Hebrew word for amulet, kame‘a, has the root meaning "to bind". Jewish amulets are usually comprised of texts (either letters or graphic symbols) that are inscribed on some sort of material; some may also contain plant matter or precious stones. The texts of amulets usually include holy names that are believed to have the ability to affect reality, along with incantations summoning angels or other magical powers. For the most part, an amulet has a specific purpose: to ease childbirth, facilitate recovery from illness, improve one’s livelihood, and so on, but in the modern world many are also made for general protection.
Plaques were often made for wooden Tikim for the Sefer Torah to record the donor and the date. The ornament consists of two plates which separate and meet when the case is opened and closed. Two horseshoe gates with inscriptions are engraved on the plates. On the upper part a Hamsa with three fingers pointing upwards while the thumb and the pinkie are pointing outwards. Two fish, facing each other, on the lower part. Verses are inscribed on the plates.
In this case, as in one other from Libya in the Gross Family Collection, an amuletic element was added for the protection of the Kehillah to whom the Torah belonged. In this case the amulet elements were the hamsa and the fish, the one a protection against the "evil eye" and the second a blessing for plenty and fertility.
The hamsa is arguably the most popular form of amulet against the Evil Eye and is used in a large number of countries in the Islamic world. Probably originating in Moslem Spain of the 12th or 13th century, it crossed the sea to Morocco with the expulsion of 1492 and spread across North Africa to the Middle and Far East.
Donated by Eliyahu Nimani.
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