1. Chai, which means “life,” “living,” or “alive” in Hebrew, is one of the most recognizable and popular symbols in Judaism and Jewish culture. Comprised of the letters Chet and Yud, Chai is a Hebrew word which has been transformed into a virtual sign, one reflecting Judaism’s most cherished value, the preciousness of life itself.
2. Chai as a religious symbol goes back to at least medieval Spain, making it one of the oldest Jewish symbols still used today.
3. The Chai is commonly used on Jewish jewelry, a practice that likely originated in 18th century Eastern Europe.
4. It has been used as a Kabbalistic symbol since medieval times to represent one of the attributes of God.
5. The word Chai appears several times in the Torah, pressing upon the Jewish people the importance of life, and what’s more, a good and just life devoted to God and to Judaism and the Jewish commandments.
One of the most famous Biblical lines associated with Chai says v’chai bahem, “that you will live through them” (the commandments), and not die through them – an idea cited throughout Jewish history and writings to explain Judaism’s focus on life as taking precedence over all else.
6. The Chai symbol also represents faith in the eternal power of the Jewish nation, as part of the slogan Am Israel Chai – “The People of Israel Lives.”
It has become a rallying cry of Zionism and Jewish strength and pride, showing that the Jewish people have not only defiantly continued to exist after over 2000 years of exile and persecution, but are thriving as well – including now returning to our homeland, Israel, to fulfill our ultimate destiny.
7. Today, the Chai is used by Jews around the world as a symbol of Jewish identity, pride, peoplehood, and faith. It often adorns Jewish jewelry for both men and women, whether by itself or with other Jewish symbols like the Star of David or Hamsa, and can also occasionally be found on other modern, personal expressions of Jewish identity such as t-shirts or keychains.
Get your own beautiful piece of Chai jewelry to show off your Jewish pride, and don’t forget to check out our guide to the most stunning Chai jewelry from Israel here!