This post is for the ladies.

“Let’s face it, gentlemen. Women in all cultures all over the world have at all times loved wearing jewellery. I haven’t managed to change that about my wife and you won’t change that about your wives or girlfriends either.”

Truer words have never been spoken in an exegesis class. Whenever a former professor of mine expressed that sentiment, the male part of the audience groaned, smirked in resignation or nodded knowingly. The female part of the audience though would flash a beaming smile and reach for or look at whatever piece of jewellery they were wearing that day. If this sounds like you, take a look at My Watches for some stunning additions to your collection. It’s not just watches that women love to get, but jewellery of all kinds. There are loads of shop that you could go to if you are interested in getting a new piece, for example, you could go to Haruni if you wanted to.

The female fascination with jewellery was already acknowledged – and to no little extent – complained about in biblical scripture. (This gives us a good idea that while god as such is believed to transcend all boundaries of sex, the authors of the respective passages were undoubtedly male. 😉 ) Let’s look at a few examples (quoted from the New International Version):

Then the servant brought out gold and silver jewellery and articles of clothing and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave costly gifts to her brother and to her mother. (Gen 24:53)

Sounds good. The more, the better.

So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” (Ex 32:24)

So they kept the silver jewellery, eh?

All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought gold jewelry of all kinds: brooches, earrings, rings and ornaments. They all presented their gold as a wave offering to the LORD. (Ex 35:22)

Please note that not everybody was willing to sacrifice their jewellery, hence the defining relative clause.

Does a maiden forget her jewelry, a bride her wedding ornaments? Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number.

See who compares themself to jewellery here, acknowledging the importance of jewellery to women?

Now, the fine art of gold- and silversmithing has had a long tradition among Jewish craftsmen, and again, biblical scripture acknowledges this:

Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts – to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them master craftsmen and designers. (Ex 35:30-35)

The history of Jews working in gold- and silversmithing shows that there was no Ashkenazi / Sefardi divide; all over the areas where Jews had settled, they earned high reputations as skilled gold- and silversmiths. Even where the guild-system theoretically banned them from pursuing their trade, Jewish gold- and silversmiths often were in high enough demand that exceptions were made.

Now, I assume I need not go into detail here about what you certainly already know about Jewish jewellers, jewellery designers and the history of diamond cutting and trade (I do recommend a visit to the Diamond Museum in Antwerp though should you be in the vicinity; the exhibition is well-organised, partly interactive, and combines historical elements with the “science” of diamonds, moral implications of diamond mining and trade and, of course, jewellery design), so let’s cut this short.

As for me, of course, I love jewellery. I mean I love love, love jewellery. Blame that on early childhood imprinting; one of my aunts, who then wasn’t married and didn’t have a family of her own yet, was a jeweller, so it might come as no surprise that even though I was barely a few hours old and didn’t even call any decent outfits my own yet (I know you’re only a newborn for so long, but man, does this stuff look dull), I was already the owner of a gold necklace, and that one was to be the first piece in a collection that has been growing steadily over the years. I always keep a few Jewelry tools in my bag, wary that I would need to make some alterations at any time! It was a must-have in my case!

My interest in antique jewellery only developed some 16 years later when my grandfather gave me an old ring that had been made by an uncle of his. That uncle used to be the finest jeweller in Düsseldorf during the Art Nouveau and pre-WW2 era, when jewellery design experienced unprecedented creativity and freedom of expression, involving new techniques and inspirations from all over the world.

One of those inspirations was the chandelier earring, which bases its design on the hamsa. Thus real chandeliers have always got five dangling ornaments arranged like the fingers on a hand / a symmetric hamsa (as opposed to plain dangling earrings or earrings wth three dangling ornaments, which are called gypsy earrings). Chandelier earrings flatter most facial shapes. Now that the party season is full ahead of us, chandeliers are a great choice of jewellery to complement your outfit with. Their lustre makes your eyes sparkle even if you aren’t feeling your best. Another positive side-effect is that with earrings three to five inches long, you automatically stand tall as you don’t want the earrings to brush against your shoulders. So, if you’re not certain whether to go for chandeliers or a necklace, chandeliers are a safe pick.

Of course, the hamsa is not exclusively Israeli and its use as an amulet likely pre-dates Islam and Judaism even, but anybody who’s ever been to Israel knows that there’s hardly any souvenir booth that doesn’t sell hamsa-shaped items.

Years back, I got my notoriously clumsy sister a hamsa pendant when I was in Eilat.
She lost it the following week.

About the author



  • Note:

    The women did not give their gold to make the Egel HaZahav.

  • The Jewish connection with goldsmithing and jewelery has to do with Jews’ need to keep their money in easily transported/fungible form. Even where they were allowed to own property, the value of such an investment would easily be lost during subsequent purges/exiles.

    As many wealthy Spanish Jews found out in the Inquisition, and as many European Jews found out in the 1930s.

    • The number of Jews that were actually gainfully working as goldsmiths was pretty low (compared to the Jewish community as a whole), but those that were quickly earned a reputation for their outstanding skills. Often they didn’t need to join guilds or could found their own, which they could not do in other trades and therefore the opportunities for Jews in skilled crafts were limited. Also, the trade requires tools and facilities that could not be wrapped up and transported easily.

      I agree though that transporting funds was a consideration for many back in the Middle Ages, not only just Jews (sailors would well into the twentieth century wear gold earrings to take their funds with them; the need for safe funds in travel became so pressing that the system of stocks was invented by travelling salesmen staying at the Belgian pub “De Beurze”). The majority of European Jews were comparatively poor as they were not permitted to own land for agriculture; the Yiddish influences on Rotwelsch, the vagrant language, give evidence of the poverty and the walks of society many Jews found themselves in.

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