Magen David

“Jewish Symbolism”

When thinking of Jewish symbols, one of the first to come to mind is the
Magen David. However, the Magen David was not always a Jewish symbol. The
Magen David or the hexagram [six-sided figure] was found in early remains
of the Nabateans from the first century. It appeared in Israel in the second
century CE at Kfar Nahum alongside pentagrams [five-sided figure] and other
designs but seemingly without any symbolic overtones.

Magen David means “Shield” of “David”
and the term “shield” or “magen” is used often in Jewish prayers. However
why David’s shield? Legend has it that Solomon had a magic ring which bore
a pentagram, the Druids believed the sign contained magical powers and in
fact it was the Kabbalist Joseph Gikatilla who mentions the hexagram for the
first time in the 13th century. Many stories abound but the one I find most
appealing is that God protected David from six sides – hence the origin of
the Magen David, a six-pointed star.

Gershom Scholem believes that Prague
is the starting point of the Magen David’s rise into the Jewish world and
traces this to the flag displayed by the community, a yellow Magen David on
a red background. In the 1650s Vienna chose the hexagram as its seal and
the ghetto’s boundary marker from 1656 shows a cross in a circle and a Magen
David containing a circle. When

the Jews were expelled from Prague in 1630, it is believed that the Magen
David was introduced into the different communities where they moved. In
1512, once again in Prague, the Magen David became a printer’s mark and
by the mid 16th century Tobias Foa incorporated the Magen David as part of
his printing logo in Venice. The Foa family continued to use it in the 18th
and 19th century in Amsterdam.

Jews were forced to wear the yellow
star during the Holocaust and it became a symbol of mockery. Gershom Shalom
sums up this duality: “The sign which in our own days has been sanctified
by suffering and dread has become worthy of illuminating the path of life
and reconstruction. Before ascending, the path led down into the abyss; there
the symbol received its ultimate humiliation and there it won its greatness.”


thanks to Maxine Blendis, lecturer
and writer, Israeli, Jewish and Biblical art.

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