What Does the Chai Symbol Signify for Jews?

The Hebrew "Chai" symbol of Judaism (i.e. the letters Chet-Yud or Het-Yod). This word Chai (חי) means "living" in Hebrew, and is related to the word for "life", Chaim.
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Chai (חי) is a Hebrew word and symbol that means “life,” "alive"  or "living." It is spelled with the Hebrew letters Het (ח) and Yud (י). Jews will often wear a Chai on a necklace in the form of a medallion or amulet, sometimes along with with a Star of David or Hamsa.

Chai is usually pronounced like the English word "hi" or "high." 

History of the Symbol

Use of Chai as a symbol appears to date back to medieval Spain, and its use as a wearable amulet was seen 18th century Eastern Europe. In medieval Kabbalah, Chai was the lowest emanation of God, lying closest to the physical plane.

The Symbolic Meaning of Chai

Judaism is a religion that emphasizes the importance of life. Jews are encouraged to be good, ethical people (mensches) and enjoy the time they are given on Earth. A common Jewish toast is “l’chaim!,” which means, “to life!.” It is said at celebrations in anticipation of all the good things to come.

Because it means “life,” the Chai is consequently a symbol that captures an important aspect of Judaism. For Jews, Chaim  symbolizes the value of life and the hope that supports it. It also represents the will to live and serves as a reminder to the Jews to live and protect life.

According to the gematria, which is a mystical tradition that assigns a numerological value to Hebrew letters, the letters Het (ח) and Yud (י) add up to the number 18. The Het has a value of 8 and the yud has a value of 10. As a result, 18 is a popular number that represents good luck. At weddings, bar mitzvahs and other events Jews often give gifts of money in multiples of 18, symbolically giving the recipient the gift of “life” or luck.

A number of famous persons have been known to wear Chai necklaces publicly. Elvis Presley was seen to wear one while performing near the end of his life. Similarly, baseball star Rod Carew wore one while playing, and Canadian rapper Drake has appeared wearing a Chai necklace.