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The Star of David, also called Magen David (Hebrew for Shield of David) is often considered the most recognizable symbol of the Jewish people, culture and faith. However, unlike other Jewish symbols, like the menorah for example, which stretch back thousands of years, the connection of the Star of David with the Jewish faith is much more recent. Here’s a look at the origins of the Star of David and how it became the symbol of an entire nation.
Star of David History
The Star of David is a geometrically simple design, made by overlaying two equilateral triangles on each other to create a six-pointed star or hexagram.
The symbol of the six-pointed star originated in antiquity, and appears to have been used by several cultures, including the Jews. It’s considered that in these early years, the symbol was used as a magical ornament in pagan religions, along with the five-pointed star. Several ancient hexagrams exist, used as decorative motifs in architecture. It was also used in Jewish contexts but as a decorative design and not as a symbol of the faith.
Around the 11th century, the six-pointed star was used more frequently in Jewish contexts and had possibly acquired significance as a meaningful symbol. The hexagram makes appearances in important Jewish texts and manuscripts from this time.
But it was only around the 17th century onwards that the Star of David became more prominently used to identify Jewish synagogues and parts of the city, becoming a symbol of Jewish identity. Several Jewish communities around the world adopted it as their official symbol, starting with Poland where a hexagram denoted the Jewish area. In 1897, the Zionist movement chose the Star of David as its official emblem. By the 19th century, the Star of David had become the most recognizable Jewish symbol, much like the cross for Christians.
During the time of Nazi occupation in Europe, Jews were forced to wear a yellow six-pointed star as a sign of their Jewish identity. This made it a symbol of heroism, martyrdom and bravery. Today, it’s depicted on the flag of Israel and on Israeli ambulances.
Star of David Meaning
There is no consensus on the exact symbolism and meaning of the Star of David, as several interpretations exist. As mentioned above, the earliest uses of the hexagram appear to be related to pagan religions and used as a magical or simply decorative ornament.
However, in the Jewish faith, the Star of David can be said to have the following interpretations:
- One interpretation states that the two interlocking triangles represent the totality of the Jewish experience – the three points of one star representing creation, revelation and redemption while the corners of the other star represent Man, the World and God.
- The symbol is also called the Shield of David, referring to the divine protection of King David. As such, it signifies God as the protector and deliverer of David and by extension, his people.
- According to the Kabbalah (the Jewish tradition of mystical interpretation of the Bible), the six points and the center of the Star of David represent the 7 emotional attributes – kindness, severity, harmony, perseverance, splendor, royalty and foundation. The foundation is at the center and all other attributes come from this.
- In Hindu contexts, the hexagram is believed to represent the merging of male and female components. It was also believed to represent the elements of fire and water.
- Mormon architecture uses the hexagram as a representation of the union of heaven and earth. Accordingly, the symbol represents humans reaching upwards towards God, while God reaches down towards humans.
Pentagram vs. Star of David
Pentacle featuring pentagram
There are significant differences between the pentagram and the Star of David, in terms of meaning and design. The main design difference is that the Star of David has six points, whereas the pentagram is a five-pointed star drawn in one continuous line. When the pentagram is set within a circle, it becomes a pentacle.
The upright pentagram, with a single point facing upward, is an ancient symbol used by many cultures and religions in history, including Christians, pagans and Wiccans. To ancient Greeks, it symbolized perfection and the five elements – earth, air, fire, spirit and water. To ancient Hebrews, the pentagram represented the Pentateuch, or the five books of the Torah. Pentagrams are used to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem. Pentagrams are also used on several flags, including the American and Australian flags.
However, today there’s controversy related to the pentagram. The inverted pentagram, and more specifically the pentacle, are associated with Satanism and the occult. As such, both the inverted pentagram and pentacle have become symbols of darkness, evil and devil worshipping. However, the upright pentacle is used by the Wiccans as a symbol of protection and have no relation to devil worship.
So, while the pentagram has had some negative associations, it’s not to be confused with the Star of David.
Star of David in Jewelry and Fashion
Because the Star of David is a symbol of Jewish identity, it’s often worn in jewelry or used in decorative items, as a reminder and reinforcement of one’s Jewish identity. You can find Star of David pendants, bracelets, earrings and charms as well as other items such as on wall hangings, key tags and clothes. It’s also a popular design for tattoos. Below is a list of the editor’s top picks featuring the star of David symbol.
Wearing the Star of David can be seen as cultural appropriation if you aren’t Jewish. It can also give off the impression that you are Jewish, which can be misleading if you aren’t. As such, it’s important to consider this before you purchase an item featuring a Star of David.
Star of David FAQs
In antiquity, the 6-pointed star was used by many groups and as a decorative motif. Since 1948, it has become a symbol of Jewish identity as well as of the state of Israel.
In the Bible, the Star of David is mentioned as the Shield of David, more as an epithet for God rather than a symbol per se.
The Jewish community of Prague were the first to use the six-pointed star as their official symbol in the mid-14th century. This would later be adopted by many other communities.
The six-pointed star represents peace and harmony in Buddhism, nature in Alchemy, and the goddess Lakshmi in Hinduism.
The Star of David has become the symbol of the Jewish people. It is to the Jews what the cross is to Christians. This geometrically simple design is imbued with meaning and continues to be regarded as a highly significant symbol among the Jewish community.