Jew holding Israeli flag in land of Israel
Jew holding Israeli flag in land of IsraelFlash 90

The Israeli flag has become a national symbol for the Jewish people, an emblem of Zionism and hope. 

One new book probes deeper into the flag's significance - including its historical roots and a wealth of rabbinic opinions on its status.

Rabbi Ari Shvat's upcoming book, To Raise the Flag, will reveal several little-known facts about the ultimate symbol of Israeli pride. The Rabbi, a professor at Orot Israel College, gave Arutz Sheva a preview in a special interview Monday night. 

Rabbi Shvat noted that his interest in the flag began while in high school, when he read a responsum from US rabbinic leader Rabbi Moshe Feinstein forbidding its use in synagogues. According to Rabbi Feinstein, the flag was not a religious symbol, but "nonsense." 

"I wanted to see if someone held a different opinion," Rabbi Shvat noted.

A full research project into the history and religious status of the flag ensued, becoming something of a personal journey. Along the way, Rabbi Shvat uncovered a previously little-known article by major Religious Zionist leader Rabbi Abraham Kook on the subject.

Rabbi Kook's seven-page article discusses the flag-raising ceremony for Jewish mandates of the British army in mandate Palestine, which had their own special flags and symbols. Other responsa indicate that such flags have a measure of status, and the Rabbi was strongly against desecrating a flag with Jewish symbols. 

Rabbi Shvat compared the Israeli flag to the US placing its flag on the moon in 1969; as a gesture of ownership. Similarly, he said, the Israeli flag is a symbol of the Jews returning to their ancient homeland - and settling there in ownership of that land. 

Rabbi Shvat also brought the opinion of Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, who deemed the Israeli flag as a symbol of the kiddush Hashem, sanctifying G-d's name, the IDF does on a daily basis. 

Historically, Rabbi Shvat noted, the first predecessor to the Israeli flag was given as a gift to the Prague Jewish community over 650 years ago, as a gift from the King in recognition of the Jews who fought off a Dutch invasion. All of the leading religious leaders of the day prayed in that synagogue, he noted, including the Maharal and the Noda B'Yehuda. The flag was not blue and white, nor was it the same design as today's Israeli flag. However, he noted, it did feature a Jewish star - which then became emblematic of the Jewish people. 

Overall, Rabbi Shvat noted, the modern approach to Jewish Law does give some status to the Israeli flag, despite Rabbi Feinstein's ruling. Rabbi Feinstein's rulings gravitated more and more toward Zionism as the years went on, he noted - eventually including positive rulings on female IDF soldiers using guns in times of need, using both US and Israeli flags in a yeshiva high school setting, whether or not the Six-Day War invalidated mourning rituals over the loss of Jerusalem, and whether or not to say Hallel on Independence Day. One of Feinstein's grandchildren also stated that the Rabbi had expressed, privately, regret over his previous attitude toward the Israeli flag.