Within the constellation of Jewish symbols, the Star of David shines the brightest. It serves as the most well-known symbol of Judaism and Jewish identity.
The Star of David’s wide popularity in Jewish design is a modern development –it replaced the menorah as the leading symbol of Jewish identity only about two hundred years ago. Around that time, various Jewish communities in Europe adopted it for their symbol. Before that time, the presence of a six-pointed star in mainstream Jewish design seems to have served mainly as a standard geometric element, used in many cultures. After its association with the Jewish communities of Europe, the Star of David, known in Hebrew as the Magen David, was adopted by the modern State of Israel as the central feature of its flag.
Judaism’s earliest meaningful associations with the six-pointed star lie in the ancient –although largely hidden—practice of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, and the creation of protective amulets. In Kabbalistic systems, the hexagram is associated with one of the names of God as well as the names of angels. The two interlocking triangles, one pointing up and one pointing down, represent a host of opposing forces in the physical and spiritual worlds. Over time, the hexagram’s mystical overtones led to the symbol’s association with the Shield of David, which medieval Jewish mystics believed protected the Biblical hero and continues to protect the Jewish community.
Today in Jewish design, the Star of David serves as a unifying symbol of Jewish identity.
[Images: Historical flag of the Jewish Community in Prague by Øyvind Holmstad via Wikimedia Commons | Page of segulot in a mediaeval Kabbalistic grimoire (Sefer Raziel HaMalakh, 13th century), Public domain via Wikimedia Commons]