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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Hand

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Traces of the custom of tattooing are found in the expression "to inscribe the hands for some one (Isaiah 44:5, 49:16; comp. Galatians 6:17; see Grunwald, "Cultur- und Kunstgesch. Entwicklung der Schriftzeichen," p. 1). The phrases "the hand of Absalom" (2 Samuel 18:18), for Absalom's tomb, and "will I give in mine house and within my walls a memorial and a name" (Isaiah 56:5, R. V.), recall the custom of tattooing the hands with the token of the sun-god Baal, which at that time was a symbol of strength (Judges 9:24; Isaiah 35:8; Psalms 36:12, 71:4, 97:10). To lay the hand on the mouth (Proverbs 30:32) indicates silence; to "take one's soul in one's hand" (Hebr.) is the English to "take one's life in one's hand" (comp. Job 13:14; Judges 12:3; 1 Samuel 19:5; Psalms 119:109). To open the hand is a sign of generosity (Deuteronomy 15:11). In Derek Ereẓ Zuṭa. 4:7 it is said: "The reward for thy hands which thou hast restrained from unlawful goods shall be that the mean shall have no hold upon thee; the reward for thy hands which thou hast not closed against the needy shall be that the lords of silver and gold can do thee no harm."

Hand of God.

God lifts His hand and swears by it (Deuteronomy 32:40). It is an expression of His power (Exodus 3:20, 13:3, et al.). It comes upon the Prophets and fills them with His spirit (Ezekiel 1:3). An ancient midrash in the Pesaḥ Haggadah concludes, from the fact that Israel saw the "hand" of God at the Red Sea, that there must have been many more than ten plagues in Egypt, since one finger alone had caused ten (Mek. 33b). Each of the five fingers of God's right hand has a special function (Löw, "Die Finger," et seq.). A hand protruding from the clouds is a Christian symbol for God (Löw, c. ). The hand of an angel at Abraham's sacrifice is found on tombstones in Altona and Ouderkerk (Grunwald, in "Mittheilungen der Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volkskunde," 10:126). According to the Haggadah, man was originally created with undivided hands, and Noah was the first to have fingers (see see FINGER).

It was a custom to place the left hand on a tomb and quote Isaiah 58:11 (Löw, c. ). On the use of the hand and fingers in sorcery see Grunwald, c. 5:16,35,40,66. For the spirits of the thumb see Steinschneider, "Hebr. Bibl." 6:120, 10:84. On gesticulation see Löw, c.

The wedding-ring is placed on the index-finger of the right hand (ib. ). There is a trace of finger-counting in the "Hekalot" (Jellinek, "B. H." 3:22, No. 94). The five fingers are considered as the appointed ministers of the five senses (Gershom b. Solomon and others; D. Kaufmann, "Die Sinne," p. 76). The tip of the index-finger has the most acute sense of touch (ib. p. 179).

To clap the hands together was a sign of joy (2 Kings 2:2, et al.). To "strike hands" ("teḳi'atkaf") was to go surety for some one (Proverbs 6:1, 11:15, 17:18, 22:26; Job 17:3); in rabbinical law it was a token of giving and taking at the conclusion of a sale (Maimonides, "Yad," Mekirah,; Caro, Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 198, 11). The acquisition of movable goods was established by seizing the object with the hands. The hand of the priest is filled when he is installed in office (Exodus 29:24; Leviticus 8:27).

Laying on of Hands.

The laying of hands ("samak") on the head as a sign of dedication is found in the Bible, where one gives up one's own right to something and transfers it to God (comp. Exodus 29:5,19; 2 Chronicles 29:23). Here the hands are placed on the head of the animal whose blood is to be used for the consecration of priests or for the atonement of the sins of the people. The same ceremony was used in transferring the sins of the people to the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:20-22), and with all burnt offerings except the sin-offerings (Leviticus 1:4; 3:2,13; 4:4, et al.). The laying of hands on the head of a blasphemer (Leviticus 24:14) should also be noted here. Jacob on his death-bed placed his right hand on the head of Ephraim (Genesis 48:14). The Levites were consecrated through the laying on of hands by the heads of the tribes (Numbers 8:10). The time-honored prototype of ORDINATION through laying on of hands is the consecration of Joshua as successor to Moses (Numbers 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9). This rite is found in the New Testament (Acts 6:3, 13:3) and in the Talmud ("semikah"), and was observed at the appointment of members of the Sanhedrin (Sanh. ). It was gradually discontinued in practise, however, although it was preserved nominally. The semikah, moreover, could take place only in Palestine (Sanh. 14a; see Hamburger, "R. B. T." s. "Ordinirung"). The laying of hands on the heads of children to bless them (Genesis 48:14; Mark 10:16; Matthew 19:13 et seq.) has been continued to this day. According to Job 9:33, the judge placed his hands on the headsof the disputing parties. To place one's hand on one's own head was a token of grief (2 Samuel 13:19).

Hand in Taking Oath.

The act of placing the hands or fingers on some one to heal him, and that of touching some one to obtain healing, are often referred to in the New Testament (Mark 5:23, 7:32, et al.; also Ordination). The act of placing the hand under the hip to emphasize an oath is spoken of in Genesis 24:2, 47:29, where, according to the reckoning of the cabalists, the letters in the words have the numerical value , and are interpreted as referring to placing the hands on the genitals, which interpretation is corroborated by other expositors (see Winer, "B. R." s. "Eid"). Later the hand was placed on a roll of the Torah in taking an oath, or on the tefillin, or else the Torah was taken in the hand or arm ("neḳiṭat ḥefeẓ"). In certain localities the one taking the oath put his right hand on the page containing the Decalogue in a printed copy of the Pentateuch. The hands were lifted in taking an oath (Genesis 14:22); the hands were also lifted at the announcement of the "end" in Revelation 10:5-7; in praying (Psalms 28:2: later in Christian communities; comp. Clement's "Epistle," Corinth, cap. 2); in praising God (Psalms 44:21 [A. V. 20], 134:2); in benediction (Leviticus 9:22; comp. Numbers 6:22 et seq.). Jesus took leave of his disciples with lifted hands (Luke 24:50). According to the Zohar (2:67a, 3:145a), the ten fingers should be raised only in praying and for the priestly benediction. For washing of hands see ABLUTION.

Kissing the Hand.

Kissing the hand is unknown to the Old Testament. Job 31:27 does not refer to kissing the hand, but to holding it before the mouth in token of respect. In Ecclus. (Sirach) 29:5 reference is made to kissing the hand on receiving a present; but the Talmud knows it only as a foreign custom. Akiba thinks it strange that the Medes kiss the hand (Ber. 8b). Simon ben Gamaliel speaks of it as a universal Oriental custom (Gen. R. , beginning). Simeon ben Laḳish (3d cent.) relates that when two athletes have wrestled, the conquered one kisses the hand of the victor (Tan., Wayiggash, beginning). The Zohar, in like manner, has Eleazar and Abba kiss the hand of their master, Simeon ben Yoḥai (1:83b; in 1:250b all who hear him do the same; comp. 2:21b, 62a, 68a, 87a; 3:31a, 65b, 73b). In Idra Zuṭa 3:2906 Eleazar kisses his master's hands at the latter's death. Gavison, also, in "'Omer ha-Shikḥah" on Proverbs 17:6, relates that when Isaac Alfasi was about to die, Maimonides (read instead "Joseph ibn Migash") kissed his hand, whereupon the teacher's spirit fell on him (Bacher, in "R. E. J." and : "Le Baisement des Mains dans le Zohar"; comp. Dunash ben Labraṭ's introductory poem to his "teshubot" against Menahem ben Saruḳ; Judah ha-Levi, "Diwan," ed. Brody, p. 149, Nos. 98 et seq.; Azulai, "Shem ha-Gedolim," s. "Eliyahu ha-Kohen" ["we-nashaḳ yadaw"]; see Kiss).

In pronouncing a benediction the priest raises his hands with his little and ring fingers and middle and index fingers pressed together. This custom is not found in the Talmud. According to Pesiḳ. 49a, Song of Solomon 2:9 is thus illustrated, the "windows" being represented by the priest's shoulders, and the "lattice" by his fingers.

Miscellaneous Uses.

A priest's hands represented as in benediction on a tombstone indicate that the deceased was descended from the family of Aaron; on the title-page of a book they indicate that the printer was descended from the family of Aaron (Löw, c. ). The hand is also represented on the walls of synagogues and on mirrors (see Grunwald, c. 10:127). A hand is generally used as a pointer for the Torah (see YAD). A hand with two ears of grain and two poppy-heads is seen on coins (Levy, "Jüd. Münzen," p. 82). Two hands joined together are often represented on ketubah blanks, and on the so-called "siflones-tefillah" there is a hand hewing a tree or mowing down flowers. On physicians' tombstones in Altona and Ouderkerk is represented a hand with a bundle of herbs, and other stones have a hand with a pen (ib.; Grunwald, "Portugiesen-gräber"; idem, in "Mittheilungen," ).

There are special rules for the use of the right and left hands respectively in putting on the "tefillin," in taking the "etrog," and in some details of the toilet (Ber. 62a; see RIGHT AND LEFT).

The Nails.

According to the Haggadah, Adam's hands—indeed, his whole body—were covered with a horny skin up to the time of his fall (Löw, c. ). Cutting the nails is governed by superstitious regulations. At the Habdalah one looks at one's hand in front of a lighted candle, possibly because one must make some use of the light over which the blessing is to be spoken, and also perhaps to distinguish the nails from the flesh (Löw, c.; see HABDALAH; Nails). Palmistry ("ḥokmat ha-yad"), which has been traced back to the time of Job, still forms a theme for the writing of books (e.g., one edited by Natan Schriftgiesser, Warsaw, 1882; comp. Rubin, "Gesch. des Aberglaubens," p. 75). A hand, either inscribed or cast in metal, was often used as an amulet.

Staining the Hand.

The custom of staining the hands with henna was perhaps known and practised among the ancient Jews (Hartmann, "Hebräerin am Putztisch," 2:356 et seq.). Jewish sources of later times speak of it (see Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 198, 17). Dyed hands, except where such dyeing was the universal custom, or where the owner was a dyer by trade, prevented the priest from giving his blessing, as the sight of them disturbed his devotions (Meg. 24b, et al.).

On the night of Hosha'na Rabbah any one who tries to read his future from his shadow (Moses Isserles on Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 664, 1) and does not see the right hand, will lose a son during the year; if he fails to see the left hand, he will lose a daughter; if a finger, he will lose a friend (Buxtorf, "Synagoga Judaica," p. 464).

J.
M. Gr.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Hand'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/h/hand.html. 1901.

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