Hebrew In Israel | Shield Of David – Learn Torah

Hebrew In Israel | Shield Of David – Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi No Comments

On a regular basis I get asked the question “Where does the star of David come from?”.

Due to the fact that many people want to use this star as a symbol of being Jewish, or affiliating themselves with Judaism, it is important to know some of the history.

What I have been able to find is that the star was a common symbol in the ancient world, and for Jews we find it during the Roman era (though some have pointed to similar symbols as early as the 7th century BCE). It was not specific to Jews, and was used by different cultures (Scholem G. “The Star of David: A History of a Symbol, in Lûach Ha’aretz 1948).

In overall one can find this hexagram together with the pentagram and the swastika (Hecht Museum collection). These symbols can be found on wall art from ancient synagogues side by side. One can also find a star on the coins from the Bar Kokhba revolt which fits the Midrash on Numbers 24:17 which Rabbi Akiva said about Bar Kokhba. Also, the name “Kokhba” is derived from the Hebrew כוכב kôḵaḇ-star.  

During the 12th century the Karaite Yehuda Ḥadasi (Eškôl HāKôfer 242, circa.1148) describes an inscription, and not a star, with the names of six angelic beings, which he names “māgēn Dāvid” (Shield of David), being used by Jews as part of worship and as part of mystic practices which were common with eastern Jews. 

“…and seven angles in the front of the Mezuzah are written “Mîchāēl and Gâvrîêl, Akatriêl Yah YHWH Ṣḇaôt, ‘azrîêl, Ṣadqîêl YHWH, Šarfîêl YHWH protect you, and this symbol (which is called “māgēn Dāvid” written with each angel…”.

(1836 edition, p.92)

This inscription was placed at the bottom of the Mezuzah placed on the door. (For more details on Jewish Magic see: Harari Y., Early Jewish Magic, Jerusalem 2010, pp.159-200).

Interestingly, Maimonides mentions the same practice without the details in his momentous work Mišneh Tôrāh:

“It is a common custom to write [God’s name,] Shaddai, on the outside of a mezuzah opposite the empty space left between the two passages. There is no difficulty in this, since [the addition is made] outside.

Those, however, who write the names of angels, other sacred names, verses, or forms, on the inside [of a mezuzah] are among those who do not have a portion in the world to come. Not only do these fools nullify the mitzvah, but furthermore, they make from a great mitzvah [which reflects] the unity of the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, the love of Him, and the service of Him, a talisman for their own benefit. They, in their foolish conception, think that this will help them regarding the vanities of the world.”

(Teffilin, Mezuzah and Sefer Torah 5:4)

Scholem points out that another Rabbi R. Yitzchak ‘Aramah describes a legend about King Solomon who used a Shield of David, however this shield was in the shape of the Menorah and not a star. 

One of the greater surprises is the fact that none of the prominent early Kabbalists, and even the later Kabbalists such as R. Yitzchak Luria (The Ari) and his students, don’t mention the star as a symbol with mystic meaning. However, the much later Kabbalists after the Ari did find interest in the symbol and invented meanings and incorporated it into their teachings.  

It is only in later times where we find the “Star of David” specifically recognized as a Jewish symbol. During the 14th century the Jews of Prague were given permission by Emperor Karl the 4th to have a banner of their own. This group chose the star as their symbol and called it “The Shield of David”.  It is understood that this was the point where the star became the symbol of Judaism. 

It has to be pointed out that during the late 19th century people started to place the star on synagogues, however there were Jews who objected to the act. The ones who objected to the act stated that it is a star and contradicts the Torah law which forbids making symbols of heavenly objects (Ex 20:3, Duet 4:19).

In overall it does not seem that the star was specific to Jews until very late, and it was used during earlier stages of Judaism. It was a way to represent a star and a geometric shape for decoration, and probably had no actually religious meaning until the 14th century. The symbol was and still is common in the east, and is part of Hindu and Chinese geometric shapes and symbols. 

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