Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

IF you want to be part of our Chavarah email group let me know at

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Hamsa & The Eye
More Magic and Superstition

Often you will see the "eye" in the Hamsa design.

So I started to do research on the "eye" and found all types of information and customs about warding off the "evil" with the eye.

One interesting link is: Mashallah: Sephardic Custom on Evil Eye

An Eye in the Hand is a religious icon of Jews, Muslims, Native American and Asian cultures as well.

Jewish culture shows the Hamsa is a Kabbalistic symbolism of protection from Ayin HaRa (the Evil Eye)

The Hamsa The hamsa hand (Arabic) or chamesh hand (Hebrew) is an old and still popular amulet for magical protection from the evil eye. This ancient symbol is used as a protective amulet by both Jews and Muslims. The Jewish name, Hamsa, is derived from the Semitic root meaning "five." It is called the Hand of Fatima by Muslims, named for the daughter of Mohammed. (from

The Color Red is also symbolic to ward off evil. Many mothers and grandmothers tie red ribbons and strings to children's underwear and bedding to prevent the evil peer. The color red is significant within Jewish history because it was one of the items necessary for the building of the original Temple. Red thread and dye were used to make fabric; the red thread came from a type of worm. Rabbi S. R. Hirsch points out that the worm was the lowest form of life, and yet it was intrinsic to the building of the Sanctuary. The red thread, reminiscent of the lowly worm, can be seen as protection against this. Each time a person looks at the string he is reminded that a person is really as lowly as a worm. This humility is the ultimate weapon against the "evil eye". (from

Fish: The Talmud states that fishes are immune from the evil eye because they are under water, and this makes fish an effective amulet as well and is also seen in hamsa designs.

Eye: The evil eye belief is that a person -- otherwise not malific in any way -- can harm you, your children, your livestock, or your fruit trees, by *looking at them* with envy and praising them. (from
link is: Evil Eye History

Mentions of the evil eye (ayin ha'ra) in the Bible clearly refer to the role that envy and covetousness play in its development. We can read in Proverbs 23:6 "Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meat" and likewise in Provers 28:22, "He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him."

There is a great deal of attention paid to protecting babies from ayin ha'ra among Jews, and red threads are commonly employed for this purpose. Furthermore, in keeping with Professor Dundes' theory that the evil eye is related to dryness or a loss of fluids, it is interesting to note that Jewish folk belief holds that fishes are immune to ayin ha'ra "because they are covered with water," and that the descendents of a certain man named Yosef Tzaddik (literally Joseph the Righteous, but also a pun with Tzaddi or Fish-Hook) are immune to the effects of the evil eye because he was not jealous -- and coincidentally, his name relates to fishes.

Jewish belief in the evil eye has resulted in certain community safeguards to prevent it occurring. For instance, rather than taking a census and thus opening some people to jealousy because they have large families, it was long the custom for each person to simply pay a sheckel (a small coin) to the census taker and let the coins be counted rather than peoples' names written down, to avoid damage from ayin ha'ra. The best month for taking such a coin-census was said to be the month of Adar, which is associated with fishes and the Zodiacal sign of Pisces (The Fishes) -- because "fishes are immune to ayin ha'ra."

Preventing jealousy over the size of a family is also at the root of another Jewish custom, that of not allowing a father and son to be called successively to the reading of the Torah in Synagogue. A reason commonly used to explain this custom is that "an orphan in the congregation who has lost his father, or a father who has lost his son, may be reminded of his loss and feel jealousy and give ayin ha'ra." One exception to this custom is made during the month of Adar (Pisces or the Fishes) when, during the Feast of Purim, the Scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther in Hebrew) is read in its lengthy entirety (the whole megillah!) -- and not once, but twice, which is such a superfluity of Torah reading that everyone gets a turn and no jealousy will be engendered, and even if someone did get jealous, the event would occur in the month of Adar and "fishes are immune to ayin ha'ra."

Some Jews abjure the notion of ayin ha'ra as "superstition" yet explain it in theological terms, saying, "When someone is jealous, he makes a complaint that is heard by God, and if the person who is being complained against is proud or ungenerous, then God judges him and lowers him."

Monday, January 24, 2005

TuB'shvat: Birthday of the Trees 1/25/05

The celebration at this festival has come to be referred to as the Tu B'Shevat Seder. In the Babylonian tradition, the dining room table is formally set like any other Jewish holiday. It is then laden with many plates/bowls, each containing different nuts or fruits (usually dried fruit, since it is really still winter). Ideally, there should be at least thirty selections, but that can be difficult ... simply the more the better!

Prayers are said over the nuts and fruits. The woman of the house places a big tablecloth in the center of the table and the containers are emptied onto the top tablecloth. The dried fruits and nuts are mixed together by bringing the four corners of the cloth together. Each person gets a "goody bag" of the mixture. Since it is too much to eat in one evening, the children usually take the "goody bag" to school the next day. Often they exchange favorites!

It is a time to think of the SEVEN SPECIES... This comes directly from the Torah: grapes, figs, pomegranates, dates, olives , wheat and barley... There is a recipe for a bread that uses all of these in the ingredients.

Tu B' Shevat Jewish New Year of the Trees

A wonderful tradition for our celebration of Trees and things that grow is to plant parsley, Plant for Tu B'Shevat and have your green parsley to dip in salt water for your Passover Sedar on the end of April this year...

Also called Rosh HaShanah La'ilanot, the New Year of the Trees, the festival of Tu B Sh'vat illustrates the significance of trees and nature to Jews throughout history

Link: About TuBishvat

The Souls of Trees - a nice story in Jewish tradition

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Superstitions - a view

There are thousands of Jewish superstitions. We have been a very superstitious people over time and those little things done to ward off evil may or may not have helped over the years.

Amulets, both physical and verbal, ar part of the culture. Our parents and grandparents did things like spit three times, wave a chicken over the head of a child at the New Year, wearing of the color red, a hamsa in the house or just an attitude that you are not to speak of bad outcomes. Some seem silly and others somehow have a way of making us feel better.

Even if it is a little thing that grandma used to do "just because", these superstitions work their way into our daily life. Maybe in a small way they do work to keep the evil away.

Whether it is something strongly believed or considered to be folklore or superstition magic, it is interesting how so many have believed in these small things. AND it is also interesting to find out if they are good or not so good for our faith and community.

If you read this, I would love to hear what ideas you might have on the subject and to tell me about those little things that your family did in the past. As I find more of these I will add them to this blog and to the web page.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Red Ribbon on the Baby's Crib

Just found out about this one...

Garlic and red ribbons were placed on the baby's crib to protect it from the evil eye, or demons. Lilith, one such demon, is specifically suspected of stealing small children for herself, since, as legend has it, she is forever bitter about her own inability to bear children.

Jewish amulets contain verse from Psalms to ward off evil spirits, especially the verse, "The sun shall not smite thee by day, neither the moon by night." (Psalm 121:6).

This picture is from Sefer Raziel, Amsterdam 1701

It was a popular Medieval amulet to protect mothers and children against an attack by Lilith.
The 3 angels Sanvai, Sansanvai and Semanglof were sent to bring Lilith back after she fled from Adam. Folklore has that she lived by the Red See and associated with demons. She refused to go with the angels who had been sent by Elijah. However, wherever the names of the 3 angels were inscribed, Lility would stay away!

sources: Hebrew Magic Amulets by T. Schrire and Jewish Magic and Superstition, A Study in Fold Religion by Joshua Trachtenberg.

Many mothers and grandmothers tie red ribbons and strings to children's underwear and bedding to prevent the evil peer. The color red is significant within Jewish history because it was one of the items necessary for the building of the original Temple. Red thread and dye were used to make fabric; the red thread came from a type of worm. Rabbi S. R. Hirsch points out that the worm was the lowest form of life, and yet it was intrinsic to the building of the Sanctuary. The red thread, reminiscent of the lowly worm, can be seen as protection against this. Each time a person looks at the string he is reminded that a person is really as lowly as a worm. This humility is the ultimate weapon against the "evil eye." Mashallah! (the verbal amulet to ward off evil)

Link to site where found:

Still researching this... but found a baby card that supports the idea:

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Latkes All Year Long

Why keep it only for Hanukkah time?

Latkes can be fun any time and here is a secret way to make them EASY.

Use the grated frozen potatoes - they have them for hashbrowns in the freezer section at the grocery store.

Add a little onion (if you like it) and a mixture of matzo meal and egg and a bit of liquid (water or even a bit of apple juice)
I just mix in until the texture seems right.

Fry that up in a pan with a bit of oil and serve with applesauce and sour cream and YUM!

It is the matzo meal that makes these "Jewish" Potato Pancakes... and they are oh so good that it is a shame to save them for only once a year!

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Make a Bowl of Mitzvot

This is a fun family project.

Get a pretty bowl that you want to be your "Shabbat Mitzvah Bowl".

Get 52 pieces of paper to write Mitzvot (good deeds) on that you and/or your family members can do as weekly projects.

The "mitzvot" can be things like:

  • Clean out a closet and donate unwanted items to charity.
  • Go visit some people in an elderly care facility.
  • Write a letter to an old friend you have not contacted in a long time.
  • Serve at a local kitchen that offers meals for the homeless.

    It isn't too hard to find ideas with little thinking about what you CAN do to make a difference and help towards "Tikkun O'Lam" (Repairing the world).

    Once you have all 52 of these, put them in the bowl. (or fewer if you just want to try it out)

    Each week at Shabbat you can pick out one of the Mitzvahs to accomplish during the following week.

    This is a great way to help the community as a family.

    Try it with just a few first to see if you can make it a new tradition.
  • Wednesday, January 12, 2005

    Crochet a Kippah

    This is a pattern I found on the web.

    Kipah or Yarmulka: is a cap worn by some Jews during prayer and religious study and for some, all the time.

    DMC cotton #8 (one ball for base, one half ball for each contrasting pattern color)
    Size 10 or 11 crochet hook

    Chain 2.
    First Round: In second chain from hook crochet 6 sc in chain.
    Second Round: 2 sc in each sc. 12 sc
    Third Round: 2 sc in first sc, and 1 sc in next sc, continue around to start 18 sc
    Fourth Round: 2sc in first sc, 1 sc in next two sc, continue around, 24 sc.
    Fifth Round: 2sc in first sc, 1 sc in next 3 sc, continue 30 sc's.

    Continue in this pattern until the base resembles a small flat disk and measures the width of three fingers on your hand when the yarmulka base is folded into quarters.. At this point, sc in each sc until it reaches the desired size. You can add a pattern or not...

    found at:

    Sunday, January 09, 2005


    They say it all the time: "OH MY GOD" They use it in e-language all the time "OMG"

    Are the talking about the God that is the only God of monotheistic religions?

    I am not sure... it is confusing sometimes.

    In fact the OMG blog is X rated and mostly about sex. I know that God did us a favor when all those interesting and terrific qualities were added to our make up that cause sex to be enjoyable. However, in my opinion, God didn't really intend for us to exploit sex the way some do... and certainly not name a blog "Oh My God".

    Watching a favorite shows about home remodel ... what is the most common reaction when people see their new places? "OH MY GOD". Well why are they exclaiming to God? Maybe they really do think that God helped with this wonderful makeover (or not so wonderful if that is the case). Since I really don't believe in a micro-managing God, I really think it was those who did the work who make all the difference. But you never know.

    So here is my idea... each time I say this common phrase, I hope I will think better if it is appropriate... also, I will listen for alternate things to say that are more appropriate.

    Ideas welcome...

    Saturday, January 08, 2005

    Jacob's Stew - It is magic

    Ok so we know about the story of Jacob's stew. His brother gave him the birthright of being the eldest for a bowl of his famous stew. What stew could be SO good that one would give up their fortune?

    Well this one comes close and this year I am going to try to make it with the Black Lentils I found at Trader Joe's.

    This great picture was found at: Images from Genesis
    (I like this artist - they sell this print at their site)

    Here is the recipe

    Jacob's Vegetarian Lentil Stew

    1 Tablespoon margarine or butter
    1 onion, chopped
    3 carrots, diced
    3 stalks celery, diced
    2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
    1 cup brown (or red) lentils (picked over and rinsed) (I am going to try black ones this year)
    6 cups of water
    pinch of cinnamon (I think this is the key ingredient to it's magic)
    1/4 teaspoon ginger (you can grate fresh ginger and squeeze out the juice - works great)
    1/4 teaspoon cloves
    1 teaspoon cumin - optional
    Melt margarine/butter in large soup pot, saute' onion and garlic. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1-1/2 - 2 hours. Enjoy! (Great when be done in the crock pot just put it all in and leave it for all day!)

    Make a new tradition to cook this stew each year when they read the parasha about Jacob and Esau.

    Thursday, January 06, 2005

    Finding Different Ideas for Judaica

    I have been thinking about what might be needed or what might enhance Jewish Traditions that I can make into meaningful Judaica products.

    In the past I made Miriam and Elijah cups for passover;

    I made Shema pillows:

    I made Remeberance Stones with prayers on them:

    We are already starting to produce HATIKVAH bracelets (no photo yet)

    But I want to find more and better items to give meaning to "things Jewish"

    Here are some of my ideas:

  • Healing Pillows (You always can use a comfort item to give to someone who is ill)
  • Mitzvah Candles (I did them for Hanukkah but should do them for Shabbat too)
  • Traveler Prayer Magnets for the car (Did some but didn't like the design - that prayer is too long!)
  • An Activity Item for Pesach - I loved the bowl of plagues (toys) my sister found and I would love to create something like that.
  • Jewish games for events and classrooms.
  • Something to do with heirlooms and maybe something to do with the broken glass from a wedding.

    Am I giving away the "store" by listing the ideas? No, I really hope someone will give me feedback and work with me to develop these things further.

    Is there something you thought of that maybe I can help you develop into a meaningful product.
  • Tuesday, January 04, 2005

    She is a Tree of Life: Etz Chayim Hee

    "HEE" is "SHE"
    So the familiar part that is most often translated as "IT is a tree of life" said in almost every service really says:

    "She is a tree of life to those who hold fast to her, and all who cling to her are happy. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace"

    Reference to the Torah in feminine gender is an interesting perspective on this Tree of Life.

    The song of Etz Chayim Hee is one of my favorites.

    Monday, January 03, 2005


    Challah, the twisted bread for Shabbat and special holidays and occasions, is very special. Try making it yourself.

    Now with breadmakers as a household appliance it is so easy to make the dough. There are lots of recipes available for egg bread... experiment to find your favorite.

    "Taking Challah" Once you braid the challah, pinch off a small piece and bake it in the oven with the bread. This symbolized the bread given to the High Priests in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem. Today it should symbolize giving part of what we have to those who are hungry.

    For special happy occasions put candies on top of the challah or add chocolate chips inside to add sweetness to the event.

    A great book to get is: Chocolate Chip Challah by Lisa Rauchwerger - good recipies and information about Jewish traditions too.

    more info at:

    Cover the challah before it is blessed. Some say this is so the challah won't be embarrassed by being the last to be blessed.
    What do you think is the bigger meaning of this?

    Hope others will add comments about Challah.

    Interesting link about challah<About Challah:

    Sunday, January 02, 2005

    New Shabbat Traditions


    Find a new activity that you and your family can do to make Shabbat special and make it your own special tradition....

    Make a Shabbat flag to fly outside every week.

    Make Challa with surprise fruit or candy inside!

    Find or write a poem to read special for Shabbat!

    Share the best thing that happened that week at a Shabbat meal.

    Fundraising for Jewish Causes

    For Fun & Fundraising ...
    Organizations are always looking for good items to sell to raise funds... here are a few ideas.

    NEW - Available soon - HATIKVAH Awareness Bracelets. Blue bracelets with HOPE HATIKVAH and Hebrew of Hatikvah embossed in them.

    We will make these available individually for $3 ( our profits to go to KAVOD) and in quantity wholesale for those who want to raise funds individually.

    Other items and ideas -
    Hanukkah Pencils, Judaic Charms and Israel Flag Lapel Pins are available for fund raising events. We also have special Elijah and Miriam cups that can be part of a fundraising program.

    Contact me for program information and pricing!

    Other ideas to raise funds...

    Sponsor a Recipe Contest for Pesach.
    Create a special Pesach cookbook featuring the best Harosets, Matzo Ball Soup and more.
    Cookbook fundraising programs can raise funds for your programs.
    Get started soon so you can have them to sell ahead of time.

    Israel Stamp Bookmarks are also available for fundraising programs. contact me and I can get the information to you. These are beautiful and feature REAL stamps from Israel.

    Bar - Bat Mitzvah - More Meaning

    How to make the celebration more meaningful?

    These are some of the ideas that were suggested to make a Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration meaningful:

    Make the "theme" of the party related to the parasha that is read by the bar or bat mitzvah. (sometimes this can be easy and a fun way to add to the meaning)

    Make the decorations something that can be donated ... fruit for the food bank, books for a library, toys for an orphanage.

    Give a meaningful gift to the synagogue to honor the event: umbrellas for them to keep for rainy days, a wheelchair for the elderly or disabled, books for the library, Chumash for the services. Find what is needed by the synagogue and donate in honor of the event.

    Give guests meaningful gifts that relate to the subject. A book that relates to the tradition or the parasha or something else meaningful. A "mitzvah gift" that offers a suggested mitzvah that is easy to fulfill (such as call a friend or relative you haven't seen in a long time).

    Please give me more ideas for this...

    Weddings: Making the Chuppah More Meaningful

    The Chuppah at a wedding is significant.

    Often a couple will use a special family tallit or an heirloom bedspread or table cloth as the fabric to make the chuppah. Or have a special Chuppah made with symbols that are significant to you.

    Pictured here is one that was especially made for my nephew. It is an applique of the star of david with grape leaves and grapes in the center. This was a significant part of their wedding theme as wine is an important part of their lives and their traditions.

    I recall that I used a crochet tablecloth that my grandmother made. We wove ribbons around the edge for decoration and attached silk flowers around the poles. Later the flowers were made into an arrangement for our home.

    Here is another idea that would be special:Collect significant family photos to the couple and print them as a collage on fabric to be made into the chuppah at the wedding. With photo transfers being in the "do it yourself" realm today, this might be a fun project for a before wedding party.

    Starting the Chavarah - Interfaith Traditions

    This will be the Chavarah section of once I get it set up.

    An on line community to talk about Jewish traditions, interfaith issues, products for Jewish traditions, fundraising for Jewish and humanitarian causes, and any other related issues.

    I hope to have much feedback and contributions for this blog throughout the year and moving forward.

    Really liked the comments on Chrismukkah:

    Interfaith issues are one of the subjects I would like to explore. When does it work and when does it not work.

    I have found the most issues really relate more to life cycle events more than "Chrismukkah". When a family member dies, understanding the differences in customs.

    For example, when my parents died and we sat shiva and followed the traditions from Jewish traditions, I grew to understand why those traditions are part of the process of mourning. I look forward to lighting yhartzeit candles and visiting the grave and it brings comfort. When my husband's mother died I felt very uncomfortable with their lack of traditions for mourning. There is really no "follow up" tradition to remember, I find this sad.

    At the bar mitzvah of my sons my husband could participate which was nice, but there was a slight empty feeling as he could not share the aliyah with me to bless the Torah.

    I feel lucky that the interfaith conflict in my family is not a major issue. I try to understand and help others with their struggle to find solutions to the issues that arise.