The six-pointed star known as the Star of David (magen david) is actually a relatively new Jewish symbol, closely associated with the establishment of the State of Israel.
The magen david is made up of two equilateral triangles entwined together to form a six-cornered star. It is supposed to represent the shape of the shield of King David, the second King of Israel. Although standardly translated as ‘star of David’, the Hebrew phrase magen David is more correctly translated as ‘the shield of David’.
The symbol of the intertwined triangles is not exclusively Jewish. It is a common one in the Middle East and North Africa, and is thought to bring about good luck. It appears in early Jewish artwork, but never exclusively as a Jewish symbol.
Many Jewish scholars have attributed religious significance to the symbol. For instance, some believe that the top triangle strives upwards, towards God, while the lower triangle strives downwards, towards the real world. Others note that the linking of the triangles is symbolic of the Jewish people, interlocked and inseparable.
Many ancient and architectural ruins carry the engraving of this ancient seal. The third or fourth century synagogue dug up in Capernaum, Israel, had the six-pointed Star of David engraved on it. In 1345, the Emperor Charles IV permitted the Jews of Prague to use a flag bearing it upon a red field.
In the 17th century it became common practice to place the magen david on the exterior of synagogues in order to identify them as Jewish houses of worship. Similarly, the crucifix was used by Christians to signify the church, their house of worship.
In 1897 the magen david was adopted as the emblem of the Zionist movement. However, the symbol continued to be a source of controversy for years to come. This continued into the period of the establishment of the State of Israel and was a bone of contention when discussing which icon should be used on the national flag.
During the period of Nazi persecution of the Jews in Europe of 1933-45, the Jewish people were forced to wear a yellow badge of the Star of David. In this way, they were easily identified and targeted as victims at the hands of the German Nazis.
On the 14th of May 1948, Israel’s independence was declared and the search for a national emblem became a priority. A public competition was announced on the 10th of June 1948. Four hundred and fifty designs were submitted and after much deliberation, an emblem was chosen. A blue Star of David, on a white background with two horizontal stripes across the top and bottom became the flag of Israel.
The magen david has become a symbol of Israel’s equivalent to the Red Cross. The Red Star of David (magen david Adom) cooperates with the Red Cross in disaster areas throughout the world.
Today, the magen david is most commonly associated with Judaism. It appears as the symbol on the Israeli flag, adorns the gates at the front of synagogues and is often found as charms on necklaces worn by Jewish people.