Monday, July 12, 2010

Why "Star of Davida"?

There are many symbols representing the Jewish community. Things like menorahs and Torah scrolls immediately come to mind. However, foremost is the Star of David. Unlike menorahs and Torah scrolls, which have been around since biblical times, the Magen David is not mentioned in early Jewish literature. The Shield of David is mentioned as a concept of protection, but the physical star is absent. The earliest finding of the star’s usage is on a tombstone from the third century in Italy and on a synagogue in the Kinneret. The carpet page of the Leningrad Codex (dated 1008), the oldest complete manuscript of the Tanakh, is decorated with a Magen David. Jews used the symbol sparsely throughout the rest of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. By the 1700s, it was widely recognized as a symbol for the Jewish community. In 1897, when the Zionist flag was created, it was made with a blue Jewish Star in the middle.

While the Star of David was used by Jews to represent the Jewish community, it was also used negatively by anti-Semites. Jews were often forced to wear identifying badges throughout the Middle Ages, and the badge was often in the shape of a Jewish Star. The most known usage of the star as an identifying Jewish marker was by the Nazis in the 1940s: Jews were forced to wear yellow stars while they lived in Nazi-controlled countries and concentration camps. After the Jews were liberated and the State of Israel was born, Israel adopted the Zionist flag and the Star of David on it, turning the symbol that had come to be one of anti-Semitism to a positive character.

The Star of David is named after King David, the ancient king that extended Israel and Judah’s borders. There are dozens of explanations for what the star has to do with him, ranging from interlocking the letters of his name to the design on his shield. If the symbol of the Jewish community at large is attributed to King David, why can’t the women of the Jewish community claim the Star of Davida?

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