Chai (symbol)

Chai (symbol)
"Chai" is a symbol of Judaism.

Chai (Hebrew ḥai חַי "living") is a symbol and word that figures prominently in Jewish culture. It consists of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet Chet (ח) and Yod (י).

The Hebrew word ḥai חַי "living" is related to the term for "life", chaim; ḥayyim. It appears in the slogan "`am yisrael chai!" (עַם יִשְרָאֵל חַי, "The people of Israel live!").


Spelling and pronunciation

The most common spelling is "Chai", but the word is occasionally also spelled "Hai". The usual modern pronunciation of this word is [xai], while a transcription of the Biblical and Mishnaic pronunciation would have likely been [ħai] (with a pharyngeal consonant).

Numerological associations

There have been various mystical numerological speculations about the fact that, according to the system of gematria, the letters of chai add up to 18 (see "Lamedvavniks" etc.). For this reason, 18 is a spiritual number in Judaism, and many Jews give gifts of money in multiples of 18 as a result.

In Jewish culture

The Chai symbol is often worn by Jews as a medallion around the neck (along with the Star of David (Magen David), and the Hamsa).

In Hebrew, the related word chaya means "living thing" or "animal", and is derived from the Hebrew word chai (חי), meaning "life".

Jews often give gifts and donations in multiples of 18, which is called "giving chai". Mailings from Jewish charities usually suggest the amounts to give in multiples of chai (18, 36, 54, dollars, etc.) rather than the usual multiples of 25 or 100.

Chai is a popular root word in Hebrew names. Chaya, derived from chai is a popular female name in Hebrew, and Chaim is the very popular male version. The biblical Eve's name is חַוָּה ("Chava") in Hebrew, also derived from the same root as chai.

Among all Jews, both religious and secular, the toast לחיים ("l´chaim"), which means "to life", is frequently used when celebrating something, such as one of the high holidays, birthdays, weddings etc. See also the article about "Etz Chaim", meaning "tree of life" for more related information.

Popular culture references

Character Andy Botwin from hit Showtime program, Weeds, has been known to sport a "Chai" achiever t-shirt.

Jewish poker pro Mike Matusow can usually be seen wearing a gold Chai necklace.[1] Some non-Jews have also adopted the symbol. Former Baseball star Wade Boggs drew a Chai in the dirt before each at-bat.[citation needed] Elvis Presley wore a Chai necklace while performing toward the end of his life.[2]

In the music video for his single Throw it in the Bag, Fabolous can be seen wearing a gold Chai necklace.

In American Dad, Season 5, episode 7, one side character (Norman) appears wearing a t-shirt which says "Get חַי".

West coast electronic bass music producer GoldRush ( wears a gold Chai necklace at all times, on and off stage.

External links

  • Aish: Am Yisrael Chai -- The Eternal Nation: (MP3 file) - A vocal recording by Jewish singer, Sam Glaser of the traditional Jewish song.
  • BBC recording from April 20, 1945 of Jewish survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp five days after their liberation. This was the first Sabbath ceremony openly conducted on German soil since the beginning of the war, with people still dying around them, singing what would become the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah. At the end of Hatikvah, a man shouts out, "Am Yisrael Chai, The children of Israel still living!." [3]


  1. ^ Kaplan, Michael (August 2006). "Me and My Big Mouth". Retrieved 2007-06-01. 
  2. ^ "Elvis' Jewish Heritage", Elvis Presley News, 2007. Retrieved February 10, 2008. Note photograph of Elvis performing with Chai necklace toward the bottom of the page.
  3. ^, Original Site with Newspaper Article (Hebrew)

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