The Star of David is a six-pointed star or hexagram made up of two overlapping triangles. It is also known as the Shield of David or Magen David. Although the Star of David appears on the Israeli flag and is recognized around the world as a symbol of the Jewish people, it has no specific religious significance in Judaism.
An Ancient Symbol
Although the Star of David is an ancient symbol, it hasn't always been associated with the Jewish people specifically. In ancient times, the hexagram was used in Middle Eastern and North African countries as a good luck charm. In the Middle Ages, star symbols were used frequently in Jewish mysticism, but the star could be either five-pointed or six-pointed and had no specific meaning other than a general association with themes of salvation and redemption according to "The Mystery of the Menorah and the Star" by Richard A. Freund at the University of Hartford.
Use on Synagogues
The Star of David became a symbol of Jewish identity during the Middle Ages, when it was used to indicate the presence of a synagogue. However, most people would have been more likely to use the menorah as a symbol of their Jewish faith rather than a hexagram. Despite the use of the Star of David by synagogues and Jewish charitable societies, it was still seen as being primarily a reference to Jewish mysticism rather than the Jewish community as a whole according to Freund.
Adoption By Zionism
In the 19th century, the Star of David was adopted by the Zionist movement as a unifying symbol for the Jewish people. The Magen David was an appealing choice for the Zionists because it didn't have any well-defined religious meaning that might have alienated secular Jews. Jewish people from different sects and traditions could all identify with the symbol without having to assume a shared set of beliefs on specific issues they may actually have disagreed on. During the Holocaust, the Nazis forced all Jewish people to wear the Star of David symbol, often in yellow. Jews caught without the symbol could be fined or even shot. When Israel became a state in 1948, Israeli leaders chose a blue Star of David on a white background for the nation's new flag.
The Star of David is also known as the Shield of David because some people interpret the symbol as the device from King David's shield. However, there is no evidence that King David actually used this symbol. Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig used the Star of David as a symbol of his own philosophy. According to Rosenzweig, the three points on one triangle stand for God, the universe and humankind. The three points on the other triangle stand for creation, redemption and revelation. The two triangles combined into a hexagram become the "Star of Redemption," a symbol of hope for the Jewish people. Rosenzweig's philosophy expands on the star's traditional association with redemption but transforms it into a comprehensive philosophy of religion.
- The Encyclopedia of the Arab-Israeli Conflict; Spencer C. Tucker, Priscilla Roberts
- Nationalism, Zionism and Ethnic Mobilization of the Jews in 1900 and Beyond; Michael Berkowitz
- Art and Judaism in the Greco-Roman World - Toward a New Jewish Archaeology; Steven Fine
- Historical Dictionary of the Holocaust; Jack R. Fischel
- Photo Credit Ekaterina Lin/iStock/Getty Images
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