People have used jewelry throughout history. It has been used as a show of wealth as well as a way of identifying what class a person belongs to. In ancient Rome, everyone wore a ring. The material that the ring was made of designated that person’s class in society. The upper class had gold rings, the plebian had silver or bronze rings, and the slaves of the city wore iron rings to remind them of their servitude.
Jewelry was one of the first uses of metallurgy archeologists have found. The first known jewelry predates the earliest metal tools and weapons by thousands of years. With such a storied history, it should be no surprise that jewelry served many important roles in Jewish history.
Jewelry was one of the first things that humans made from metal. Archeologists have found pieces of metal jewelry dating from times when humans were still using stone tools. Why would this have been the case? Why would early civilizations have chosen to use metals for jewelry, rather than tools or weapons?
While it is impossible to say exactly, archeologists believe they have found the answer. During the stone age and early bronze age, metal would have been much more difficult to work as well as to gather. While stone tools may seem primitive today, at the time it was easy to produce stone tools to serve a purpose. Metal, however, was not fully understood. To work the metal, it must first be mined; then it has to be smelted to remove it from the ore and to remove any impurities.
For early civilizations, the process of smelting and working metal into a usable form would have been time-consuming and labor-intensive. This means that it was likely impractical to use metal to make simple tools when stone and wooden options were easier to produce.
The difficulty of working metal did lend itself well as a status symbol, however. This meant that jewelry produced with what we now consider to be common metals would have been a highly sought-after status symbol. Iron and steel were of particular interest because of the high melting point of iron and the unknown origins of steel.
As with most things in Jewish tradition, jewelry is surrounded by symbolism. Most traditional Jewish jewelry focused on geometric patterns or religious iconography. Some of the more famous and well-known symbols are the Star of David as well as the hamsa.
Each of these symbols has its rich history behind it that is completely separate from the jewelry it is on. Jewish jewelry has traditionally been made from precious metals such as gold and silver, but also pewter. Pewter is a very pure and soft metal, so it is easy to work and shape into fine jewelry without sacrificing the appearance.
As with anything in tradition, several pieces stand out among the rest. These are some of the most common as well as symbolic pieces of Jewish jewelry throughout history.
The hoshen is meant to symbolize the rich history of the Jewish people. The linen breastplate inspires that the High Priests of Israel were known to wear. The piece is a square base and has twelve stones set in it. The stones serve as a reminder of the wearer’s faith, history, culture, and heritage.
People often use the hoshen on various types of jewelry. This can include broaches, earrings, pendants, and bracelets. Diamonds are generally gemstone of choice, but this is not a requirement.
The Star of David is likely the most well-known Jewish symbol to non-Jewish people around the world. It is largely associated with Judaism in the same way that the Cross is associated with Christianity and the Crescent with Islam.
With such a strong presence, it should not be a surprise that the Star of David is also a common symbol used in Jewish jewelry. The Star of David is most often used for necklaces, rather than bracelets or earrings like the hoshen.
The Star of David serves several purposes. It is meant to bring good fortune, wealth, and joy, but it is also meant to protect the wearer from misfortune.
When a Jewish girl turns 12, she has her Bat Mitzvah. This is her ascension to womanhood and is meant to prepare her for her household and family duties. It is traditional to give a girl gifts for her Bat Mitzvah. One of the most sought-after gifts is the Bat Mitzvah jewelry. This jewelry holds a special significance to the receiver.
Bat Mitzvah jewelry can come in various forms. One of the most gifted symbols is the hamsa. The hamsa is meant to offer protection as well as blessings. The design of the hamsa is also symbolic of what it is meant to provide. Open fingers pointing down are meant to symbolize protection. Closed fingers pointing up, however, are meant to symbolize good fortune for the wearer.
Another common symbol gifted for a Bat Mitzvah celebration is the Star of David. Like the hamsa, the Star of David is meant to symbolize both protection from misfortune, as well as prosperity and good fortune.
Jewish jewelry has been used throughout the centuries in much the same way it has in other civilizations. It has served as a status symbol as well as a reminder of the wearer’s place in the world.