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Star of David at Capernaum Photo: GPO
Star of David at Capernaum Photo: GPO
 
Israeli flag Photo: Reuters
Israeli flag Photo: Reuters
 
 

Magen David: From mystical talisman to Zionist symbol

In a book by Prof. Gershom Scholem published 27 years after Jewish scholar's death, Scholem maintains that the Star of David was not an ancient Jewish symbol but rather a magical emblem that was only adopted by Jews in the 19th century

Moshe Ronen
Published: 05.03.09, 14:21 / Israel Jewish Scene

Few books are published 60 years after being written. One such book is Prof. Gershom Scholem's "Magen David – History of a Symbol", which is being released only now, 27 years after the author's death.

 

Prof. Scholem, one of the greatest Jewish scholars of our time, a researcher of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism and one of the founders of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, conducted a 50-year study of the history of the Star of David. He published a short summary of the study in 1949, shortly after the symbol was chosen to appear on the new state's national flag.

 

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In his article Prof. Scholem stated that, "The Magen David is not a Jewish symbol, and therefore not the 'symbol of Judaism'."

 

The study has recently been edited into a book by Prof. Avraham Shapira. The new book looks into the religious, mystical, national and political aspects of the Star of David.

 

Magical protection from danger  

According to Scholem, the hexagram symbol was once known as Solomon's Seal and was used both as a decorative pattern and a symbol to which magical powers were attributed. It was first documented on the seal of Yehosua Ben Assiyahu during the period of the late kingdom, 2,700 years ago.

 

It appeared once again as a relief at a synagogue in Capernaum built during the third century AD, alongside another symbol, a swastika. No one asserts that these two graphic symbols have been more than mere decorations.

 

During the Second Temple period, the seven-arm menorah, rather than the Star of David, was considered a Jewish symbol. According to Scholem, the Seal of Solomon first appeared in Jewish mysticism during the sixth century AD on a talisman containing two lions and a Star of David in the middle.

 

Over the generations, the Solomon Seal appeared in two versions: A pentagon (five-sided polygon) and a hexagon (six-sided polygon).

 

Jewish flag in Prague

Until the beginning of the 19th century the symbol was used as a magical means against danger, and appeared mainly on and inside mezuzot. The first book that referred to the symbol as "Magen David" was written by Maimonides' grandson, Rabbi David Ben Yehuda HaHasid, in the 14th century.

 

The official usage of the Star of David as a Jewish symbol began in Prague. Prof. Scholem writes that it was either chosen by the local Jewish community or by the Christian rule as a means of branding the Jews, who later adopted and embraced it. In 1354 Emperor Charles IV granted the Jews the privilege of raising a flag of their own, and this flag contained the Magen David. One of these flags can still be found in Prague's Old-New Synagogue.

 

From Prague, where the Magen David was printed on book covers and engraved on cemetery headstones, the symbol spread to the rest of Europe and gradually became known as the symbol of Judaism.

 

During the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897 the Zionist flag, which bears a blue Star of David, was chosen.

 

But Prof. Scholem claims that the symbol only became truly meaningful during the Holocaust, after the Nazis used it to mark the Jews, and thus sanctified it. According to Scholem, this gave the graphic symbol a spiritual sense of sacredness it never had before.

 

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