We all recognize the iconic symbol of the Star of David, do we know where it came from and where it got its name?

I always learned that the symbol appeared on King David's shield. True? How do we know?

(We gave seen in a previous question about Rabbinic Judaism in relationship to the Magen David, but I was not satisfied with the answer, so I thought I would restate it in a more historical fashion.)

EDIT: Please give sources from History.


3 Answers 3


According to Wikipedia:

The hexagram has been in use as a symbol of Judaism since the 17th century, with precedents in the 14th to 16th centuries in Central Europe, where the Shield of David was partly used in conjunction with the Seal of Solomon (the hexagram) on Jewish flags. Its use probably derives from medieval (11th to 13th century) Jewish protective amulets (segulot).


My understanding of the Star of David is that it became iconic around the same time that Kabbalah and the Zohar began to gain acceptance as a input into Halacha. It is in the Merkavah literature and the Zohar that the 6 pointed star is given significance. The Star of David is seen as the star that connects the sephirah of Malchut to the 6 sefirot above it. Malchut is a sefira that is associated with King David.

An interesting note regarding the Star of David is that in Lurianic Kabbalah the seder plate is placed in such a way as to create two overlapping triangles. As per Gershom article where he tries to claim that it does not say such a thing. It seems that this practice, and the subsequent creation of Seder plates with this symbol is what spearheaded the Star of David into it's Iconic status.

It would make sense that a symbol used on Pesach would be able to overcome the traditional Jewish Symbol of the 7 branched Menorah.

There are many other numerlogical and structural signifcances of the symbol which give it a meaning of protection and a uniqueness to the Jewish people. (even though it's used by other cultures as well.)

The "shield of David" then grew to be understood as a literal symbol which King David bore upon his Shield (and the Maccabees) and became iconic as we know of it today.


Gershom Scholem wrote a good article about this, available here. The origin of the star is as a magical symbol, and it can be seen in amulets such as those written by R. Yonatan Eybeschuetz, for example, but long before as well, and not specifically in Jewish sources. According to Scholem, "The prime motive behind the wide diffusion of the sign in the 19th century was the desire to imitate Christianity. The Jews looked for a striking and simple sign which would 'symbolize' Judaism in the same way as the cross symbolizes Christianity" (Scholem, Kabbalah, 367-68).

Rav Moshe Feinstein, in a teshuva about a whether there is a problem in having a parochet with a Magen David, says that there is no problem, even though the Magen David has no source, because it has been used by Jews for hundreds of years (before its adoption by the Zionist movement):

שו"ת אגרות משה אורח חיים חלק ג סימן טו: בדבר הפרוכת שיש עליו צורת מגן דוד אם יש בזה איזה חשש, הנה כפי שידוע זה מאות בשנים שעשו ציור מגן דוד על פרכות ועל מעילים ומטפחות ולא היה מי שיערער על זה, ואף שאין לנו מקור צורת המגן דוד אין בזה שום קפידא, וגם יש בזה ענין להזכיר שהשי"ת מלך למעלה ולמטה ולכל ד' רוחות השמים, ושייכות שם דוד לא ידוע, ואולי הוא סימן לדוד שבטח במלחמותיו על השי"ת שהוא מלך למעלה ולמטה ובכל רוחות השמים שלכן לא היה ירא ממלכי בשר ודם ומחיילותיהם כציוי התורה. אבל בכל אופן אף אם הוא בלא טעם איני רואה בדבר שעשו כן זה מאות בשנים קודם שהיו כת הציונים בעולם כלל ולא היו מינים וכופרים בבתי כנסיות כלל שיהיה בזה חשש איסור ואף לא משום מעשה לא טוב. ורשאין להניחן על כלי הקדש ואין צורך לקורען משם. ומה שכתבו גם תיבת ציון לא מתייחד זה להכת ציונים ולא מחלוקת טוב להסיר אותיות אלו כי צורת המגן דוד שעשו מכבר על כלי הקדש היה בלא תיבת ציון, אבל ענין איסור ליכא בזה כלל. ומש"כ בספר אוצר דינים ומנהגים שאסור לעשות ציור וכל דמות לאות אמונה אין לזה שום מקור ולא שום טעם לחלוק בזה על דורות שלפנינו שהניחו לעשות זה. והנני ידידו מוקירו, משה פיינשטיין.

  • 2
    While an interesting article, it makes some statements that sound very false to me. (For example in his repetition of the Seder plate description, it sure sounds like a Magen David to me, even if it's exact name is not used...) However the main point of my comment is that you should give a brief summary of the article and it's main points and not just provide a link.
    – avi
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 10:13
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    Please translate the bit from R' Moshe.
    – Seth J
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 0:52
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    @Avi I wouldn't dismiss any Scholem article out of hand without an alternative (strong) source.
    – Seth J
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 1:01
  • @SethJ The source is his own quote. He quotes the Luranic text, (which describes creating two triangles overlapping eachother on the seder plate without using those words) and then says that this clearly has no connection to the Star of David. The biggest problem with Scholem is that he projects what other people were thinking, and he clearly has no clue what the Religious Jew does when encountering texts. (I.e. believes them, and believes they have more to say than what is written) It's a known problem with his writings.
    – avi
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 7:10
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    He might very well be wrong. And pompous. And disrespctful to the religious source. But if you're going to reject a renowned expert in the study of Jewish history and Kabbalah for his conjecture, you should demonstrate your own expertise in the subject, or at the very least bolster your point with at least one source, rather than your own conjecture about how he came up with his conjecture. Saying his statements "sound very false to [you]" doesn't do that. And since the subject is the historical development of the widespread use of a symbol, it might be good to know what an expert thinks.
    – Seth J
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 13:57

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