In Israel, during the weeks before Independence Day flags come out of boxes, draped from their balconies and stuck on cars. Large office buildings display banners 30 floors high and light displays even larger. When you’re in Israel, it’s hard to escape the excitement of Independence Day!
So why blue and white?
The blue of the flag originates in biblical times. During these times, tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl, had blue dye in it. In fact, God spoke to Moses and advised him:
‘Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them throughout their generation fringes in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of blue.
And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye go not about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye used to go astray; that ye may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your God.’ (NUM 15:38-40).
Over time as the Israelites spread throughout the world, this commandment was difficult, if not impossible to keep because no dye was available. Some people wove blue or purple into their tallit in an attempt to remember this request. Even today, many tallits on the market still have blue and purple stripes.
The blue stripes in the flag of Israel are a modern interpretation of the tallit, to remind this generation and the generations to come to keep the commandments. The blue and white is fitting for a flag, fitting for Judaica, fitting for tallit, but it doesn’t quite stand alone as a symbol. Enter the Star of David…
What is the origin of the Jewish Star?
The Star of David (or Jewish Star) has evolved into a symbol of Judaism, chosen by the Jewish people to represent themselves. There is no real historical basis for this choice and no mention in any books or scholarly theories that are proven to show any deep meaning in ancient times. In fact, biblically it was the burning bush that represented the people of Israel.
‘And the angel of the LORD appeared until him in a flame of fiber out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.’ (Exodus 3:2).
Like the bush that would not burn, the people of Israel could not be consumed by those who seek to destroy them. But a burning bush doesn’t make a compelling symbol any more than a color. Starting in the 17th century, the Jewish Star became the prominent symbol of Judaism.
A symbol is only as relevant as the meaning we ascribe to it – so as Jews and gentiles began to identify with the Star of David as a symbol of Judaism, it truly became to represent the Jewish people. And so it remains until today.
Same Star, Different Meaning
For those who want to destroy Israel, the star is a symbol of apartheid, oppression and war crimes. It’s used in cartoons under the guise of criticizing Israel, when in fact what it is doing is promoting anti-Semitism. So-called humanitarians burn the Israeli flag and carry signs where the Jewish Star is equated with the Nazi symbol. We’ll never forget the yellow stars of the Holocaust – the true symbol of genocide.
For the Jewish people and those who support them, this star is a source of pride, not hate.
So what does it really mean?
The true meaning of the Star of David is personal. Rabbi Shraga Simmons says that the six points of the stars represents God’s rule of all directions. He supports this claim with the fact that the star is called “Magen David” which means Shield of David. And since it was not the physical Shield of David that won his fights, but his help from God, the star represents God’s help. Simmons supports this again with the third blessing after the Haftorah, which states, “Blessed are you God, Shield of David.” However, he admits that there are other ideas:
- The Kabbalah version of the Yin-Yang, representing the dichotomies of man, e.g. good vs. evil.
- The 12 tribes of Israel.
- The relationship between the Jewish people and God; we pray up as God projects down.
- Technology developed in the 1st century Bar Kochba rebellion whereby shields were fashioned into a hexagon, formed by two triangles.
- The conflicts among the Jewish people.
Why wear a Jewish Star?
Some people show their feelings about Israel by flying the Israeli flag high. Others might share news stories & images on Facebook. For those who choose to wear the Jewish Star, it’s just another way to connect personally to whatever feelings they have.
People have individualistic interpretations of the Jewish Star. As a result, there are as many manifestations of the wearable Star of David as there are feelings about the symbol itself. The Star of David is a common charm on red Kabbalah bracelets. It adorns jewelry together with traditional blessings and prayers; it’s also not unusual to find modern art versions. One version consists of a dove and a triangle, called the “David Dove.” You can even find the Star of David entwined in a dream catcher or woven in gold around a crystal.
The importance of symbols
Symbols are an important part of how people express themselves. It’s one way we can show ourselves to others, but also remind ourselves of our own beliefs. Whether you choose to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day by flying a flag, sharing an inspirational e-mail with friends & family, joining activities in the Jewish community or just praying, the important thing is that you stay true to yourself.