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FINGER (Hebr. , pl. ; Aramaic, or ):

One of the digits. In the Bible the term is sometimes used in a figurative sense, denoting power, direction, or immediate agency. "Thy heavens, the works of thy fingers [of thy power]," says the Psalmist (Ps. viii. 3). "Tables of stone written with the finger [by the direction] of God" (Ex. xxxi. 18). On beholding the fourth plague, which they were unable to imitate, the magicians said: "This is the finger [power] of God" (ib. viii. 19). The finger is mentioned in the Bible as a measure of length (Jer. lii. 21). Putting forth the finger was an insulting gesture (Isa. lviii. 9)—probably the thumb between the first and middle fingers.

Names.

Although each finger must have had a special designation, the names of only three are found in the Bible: (1) , which, besides being a common name, means especially the index-finger; (2) the thumb (in the Mishnah, , ); and (3) , the ear-finger. In the Talmud the names of the five fingers are: , the thumb; , the index-finger; , the middle finger; , the ring-finger; and , the ear-finger. Normal fingers and toes consist, according to the Mishnah, of six joints (Oh. i. 8). The fingers form the subject of certain Talmudical laws relating to the priestly benediction (). Only those priests whose fingers were without blemish were allowed to deliver the blessing (Meg. iv. 8). During its recital the priests stretched out the fingers (Soṭah 39b); in post-Talmudical times, however, the custom was to separate the fingers into pairs. A figurative image representing this division is generally carved on the tombstones of priests ("kohanim"). In rabbinical literature expressions in which the finger occurs are frequent.

To inquire into the mysteries of God is to put the finger in one's eye; so long as the finger remains therein the eye waters ("Batte Midrashim," i. 13). To put the finger in one's teeth is to give opportunity (Tosef., Nazir, iii. 287, §§ 2-6). "The finger of the heathen is therein," or "he has a share in it." Similar to the English expression "He has more wit in his little finger than you have in your whole body," is the following, found in Ab. R. Natan (ed. Schechter, p. 59). "The finger of Eleazar ben 'Arak out-weighs all the scholars together."

Haggadic Teachings.

The Haggadah sets forth the great value of the fingers by inferring from the words of Lamech pronounced on the birth of Noah, "This son shall comfort us . . . for the toil of our hands" (Gen. vi. 29), that Noah was the first who was provided with fingers (cited from the Midrash Abkir by Isaac Judah ha-Levi in "Pa'aneaḥ Raza," ad loc.). Each finger of the right hand of God, says a haggadah, had a special mission to fulfil: the ear-finger instructed Noah in the building of the ark; the ring-finger smote the Egyptians; the middle finger wrote the tablets of the Law; the index-finger showed the form of the shekel to be employed; the thumb and the whole hand shall inflict punishment on Esau (Pirḳe R. El. xlviii.; Yalḳ., Gen. 153, 56d).

According to a legend, Abraham was fed by the angel Gabriel, in the cavern where he was born, by being made to suck milk from his finger (Beer, "Leben Abrahams," pp. 3, 102). The same legend with some variations is current among the modern Arabs in the following form: In order to feed Abraham, God made water flow from one of his fingers; from another, milk; from a third, honey; from a fourth, juice of dates; and from the fifth, butter (Beer, l.c.).

Cabalistic Views.

A parallel is drawn by the cabalists between the ten fingers and the ten Sefirot. Because of this connection, says the "Baḥir," the priests deliver the benediction with outstretched fingers (§ 48). Man should not stretch out his fingers, except in prayer or in the priestly benediction, because of the mysterious connection existing between the ten fingers and the ten Sefirot (Zohar iii. 145a). The victory gained by Moses over Amalek through stretching out his hands is explained by the cabalists in this sense (Baḥya, "Wayeḥi," 71d). In the midrashic literature the ten fingers correspond to the Ten Commandments. Gershon ben Solomon and many other writers of the Middle Ages drew a parallel between the five fingers on each hand and the five senses. Each finger, according to them, stands in a natural connection with one of the senses.

Superstitions.

Among the Jews of Germany and Austria it is customary to bend the thumb of the dead toward the palm of the hand in the form of a ד, and to draw over it the three middle fingers in the form of a ש, and to bend the little finger in half as a ג, in order that the whole may represent the name of God (). In Russia and Palestine, among the Ashkenazim as well as among the Sephardim, it is customary to stretch out the fingers of the dead. But if the deceased was a prominent man, and there is a drought, the fingers are bent in order that he may be able to carry a paper containing a prayer for rain.

The squeezing of the thumb was believed to be a remedy against the evil eye. "He who fears an evil eye," says the Talmud, "let him put the thumb of the right hand into the left hand, and that of the left into the right" (Ber. 55b). The belief that the fingers have the power to cure maladies caused by the evil eye is still prevalent among the Sephardim in Palestine. Hands with outstretched fingers are painted on the outer walls of the houses to protect their inhabitants.

Bibliography:
  • Löw, Die Finger, in the Kaufmann, Gedenkbuch;
  • Krauss, in Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, xv. 89:
  • Grunwald, in Mitthcilungen des Vereins für die Jüdische Volkskunde, v. 66;
  • Sefer Ḥasidim, p. 327.
S. S. I. Br.
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