David’s star and Jewish history

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | May 11, 2018

Six-pointed star has several meanings

This year,  on May 14, the world marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. (The actual anniversary marked in the Jewish faith was on April 18 — the fifth of the month of Iyyar — because the Jewish lunar calendar runs differently than our Gregorian calendar.)

I happened to visit the Moses Montefiore Synagogue in Appleton for the Sabbath service on April 20, so there was some discussion about the founding of Israel and the United Nations’ vote that formed the then-unnamed state, that later became Israel, on Nov. 29, 1947.

As I looked around the synagogue, I noticed the Star of David on two stained glass windows. The windows had come from the first synagogue in Appleton: Temple Zion, built in 1884. (The building still stands.)

Zionism

The late 19th century was a time when use of the Star of David was growing in popularity among those who hoped for a resettlement of Jews to their homeland. The movement became known as Zionism. In 1897, the Zionist movement adopted the Star of David as its emblem. In 1948, the Star of David was incorporated into the design of the flag of the new State of Israel.

Catholics, and other Christians, view the Star of David as a symbol of Christ and of his role as the Son of David. Sometimes we also hear this double-triangle star (a hexagram) called “the creator’s star” because its six points serve to remind us that God created the heavens and the earth in six days.

While there are historical records of the use of the hexagram by various cultures throughout history, its connection to the Jewish faith is fairly recent. The star does have ties to kabbalah — ancient Jewish mysticism, which views the star as a symbol to remind people that God ruled the six directions: north, south, east, west, up and down.

However, actual Jewish links of the star to David date only to the 14th century. In 1354, King Charles IV of Bohemia allowed the Jews of Prague to display a flag with a red Star of David and Seal of Solomon, which is similar to the Star of David but usually surrounded by a circle. Jews also call the Star of David Magen David (Shield of David).

Martyrs of the Nazis

It was in the 20th century, under Nazi rule, that the Star of David became most piercingly tied to Judaism. The Nazis forced Jews to wear a yellow Star of David emblazoned with the word Jude (“Jew” in German) on their clothing. Millions of Jews died under the Nazis and the Star of David is now both a national symbol and a symbol of martyrdom for Jews.

Prayer shawl colors

When it came time to choose a flag for Israel, the blue Star of David of the Zionist movement was linked with the white and blue prayer shawl (tallit) used by Jewish men. The blue of the star can actually be various shades of blue, meant to remind one of the sky.

In the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), the prayer shawl is to have fringes (tzitzit), made with the blue-colored yarn attached to the corners (Nm 15:37-38). (In the Catholic translations of these books, this color is often called “violet.” In the Talmud — teaching of the rabbis — it tends more toward blue-green.

The color is meant to remind the Jewish people of their nobility, given to them by God. The blue and purples dyes used in the ancient world were expensive and made from rare forms of shellfish.

Royal line of David

For Christians, we know the royal line of David is tied to Jesus, through his mother, Mary. This is why the Star of David is often shown with Mary, since it was through her that Jesus came into the world. For example, several Stars of David can be seen on the great dome of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, specifically to represent “the royal Judaic lineage of Mary — the House of David.”

So for those of us remembering Israel’s anniversary and the Jewish roots of our faith — or visiting a local synagogue — the Star of David reminds us of the span of the history of our faith: from the first books of the Bible through to Jesus, born of Mary.

 

Sources: Nationalshrine.com; jewishvirtuallibrary.org; aish.com; gotquestions.com; myjewishlearning.com; and the Israeli ministry of Foreign Affairs at mfa.gov.il

 

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