One of my most intriguing possessions is the amulet shown above, dumped anonymously in the shul along with old out-of-date books out of Booba’s loft, that no one will ever read again.
Of an unknown age and in a black frame, it obviously hung once on someone’s wall to keep away the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. What is it all about? Well how’s your Hebrew?
Let’s start with the cast of characters.
Angels – Gavriel, Michael, Uriel, Shmuriel, Raphael and Azriel. Then two Rivers – Pishon and Gihon, or Tigris and Euphrates.
Various sentences lie within the Magen David and around the edge. Most of it has been translated for me by my own rabbi, Paul Freedman of Radlett Reform Synagogue and my favourite United Synagogue rabbi, Meir Salasnik, recently retired as rabbi of Bushey Synagogue. The long sentence around the border, starting top right with Vayomer Moshe, reads "And Moses told Aaron, "Ttake the pan, and pot of fire on it. from the altar and place on it incense; go quickly to the community and make atonement for them; and take the incense and make atonement for the people. And stand between the dead and the living and halt the plague." And Aaron returned to Moses at the tent of meeting and the plague was lifted. God allowed himself to be entreated and the plague ceased from among the Children of Israel.”
Other sections talk of “protecting the Master of the House and his household.” The tiny writing along the bottom inside the border reads "Adar 5665 [ie1905] Prohibition of encroachment on border for five years.” The words Hasanat g’vul is a biblical term for unfair competition. Competition by and against whom? Why? where? Here or in der heim? An enduring mystery.
The biggest remaining puzzle though is the set of Hebrew letters in little boxes in the centre of the Magen David. I have yet to have them fully explained. An acrostic? A code? Arcane gematria? Biblical references?
How I’d love to know both that and where this unique old item originated. Meanwhile it hangs on the wall opposite the PC, to protect my backup from the yetzer hara!
Barry Hyman is president of Radlett Reform Synagogue