What is the Ashkenazi (Litvish) stance on having a “Hamsa?” I have two, one with Y-K-V-K and Shivis and one with the blessing for business. I took them down and put them in a drawer last year because I felt uncomfortable having them as they seem to “avak” avodah zara. I know the Ben Ish Chai wrote about them and Iknow they are used in the Arabic world. What is the straight Litvish hlacha concerning them: Okay to use? Get rid of them? Shaimos? Thanks in advance.
The Hamsa is of Islamic origin, as a charm against the “evil eye,” and it should preferably not be used. It is much like the horseshoe (of Greek origin) or the red string (apparently of Christian origin).
However, because the Hamsa has become something of a custom among Sephardi Jewry, and it is even mentioned by some Sepharic poskim (see Ben Ish Chai, Year 2, Pinchas 13), one should certainly not mention the matter to others. For an Ashkenazi, who has no custom in the matter, it is better to avoid its use.
There is no problem in keeping it at home.
The Tosefta (Shabbos 7) mentions wearing a red string on one’s finger as a prohibited Pagan practice, and the idea is found in Christian texts (see Mathew 27:28). The Radak (Yeshayahu 40:21) warns of such forbidden practices, and the Rambam is particularly stringent about this and other superstitious ideas (see Moreh Nevuchim III:37).
However, there are some who find legitimacy for the practice of wearing a red string (see Minhag Yisrael Torah Y.D. 179; Be’er Moshe 8:36), and since it is no longer in use as a Pagan or idolotrous practice, the original ruling of the Tosefta might not apply. Moreover, the Tosefta refers to a string around the finger, and not around the wrist.
Moreover, the actual prohibition of Darchei Ha-Emori refers to matters that have no reason, or are related to peritzus (immorality), and these practices do not fall under this category, as ruled by the Maharik and the Ran, and cited by the Rema (Yoreh De’ah 178:1).
The Maharik further writes that the prohibition applies only where the issue is obersved as a law (religiously), and not where the matter is optional. See, in this vein the Bach (348), Taz (Orach Chaim 311:4), and Shevet Yehudah (581:1).
Therefore, the practice cannot be said to be prohibited. Yet, based on the Torah instruction of Tamim Yihiyeh, these matters should preferably be avoided.