Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Jewish Origin of the Star of David

Extract of a research by Uri Ofir,

who let me translate it from Hebrew

To communicate please call 972-3- 6774757
Excerpts from this research were published also in:

1. Hadegel book, Sefer Lakol, Uri Ofir, 2001
2. The Emblem Book, Sefer Lakol, Uri Ofir, 2002

3. The Hatzofe Newspaper, 9.5.2000

4. VIATA NOASTRA Newspaper, 8/9/2000

5. Makor Rishon Newspaper, 23/4/2004

6. Zman Umakom Monthly, 2003

7. Additional media, radio and television

The Magen David is, without any doubt, the emblem that expresses Judaism and Israeli characteristics in the best way.

In spite of its being a national and a religious emblem its sources aren't clear enough.

In this extract of my research I try to solve the riddle of the Magen David and to show that this emblem's origin is in the Tabernacle that was built about a year after the exodus of the sons of Israel from Egypt.
(The photographs of the models which appear in this article are taken from the models that I built which are presented in my permanent exhibition - "Mikraor").
The Origin of the Magen David

1. Introduction:

A. background:

In 1999, in one of my lectures about the topic "the significance of an emblem" in front of high school students I was asked by one of them about the origin of our Star of David.
I answered that this pair of words, Magen David, was mentioned for the first time in the Talmud (Passover tractate 107 second page) in the context of the blessings that are said in the Haphtarah.

Star of David is one of the names of the Lord as well as Magen Abraham.

As regards the form, in the book Eshkol Hacoffer (Yehuda Agassi, 12th century) the author calls the hexagram (star with 6 points) by the name Magen David.

Since then it appeared in different Jewish contexts.

In the 20th century the connection between the Magen David and the Jews was strengthened as a result of the Nazi law which forced Jews to wear a Star of David on their garments (the yellow patch).

"If that's the case", said the student, "then the origin of the Magen David is relatively new, and it is not as deep as the origin of the azure and the white and the stripes (in the flag) as you explained. Theoretically instead of the Star of David there could have been any other form".

The student added that next year he should enlist, and then he'll have to stand in front of the flag and to salute it; "and the feeling that the Magen David is not mine genuinely lowers the flag's value". As if the first student's words were not severe enough a second student stood up and said: "last year I was in India and I saw this emblem in ancient Temples".

"If that's the case", said the first student, "let the Indians place the Star of David on their flags".

I tried my best to answer them with every possible claim but they were not convinced.

Right after this conversation I felt that this simple question is right and strong; it could very well be that the Magen David is so obvious to us that we do not delve enough in order to explain for ourselves why we selected it to be in the center of our flag.

I felt that if we don't supply a clear based unequivocal answer to this question we'll continue to stand on an unstable basis.

Since I was asked this question I conducted many investigations in order to try and find the origin of the Star of David.

I was convinced that there is an ancient origin to the Magen David that ties it to the nation of Israel, that it wasn't yet discovered and that I must find it.

I didn't like the scholarly version presented by Gershom Sholem that every nation needs an emblem and that's why we adopted the Star of David. Actually he didn't suggest any solution as regards the origin of the Magen David. Beyond that I was convinced that on the level of values it's impossible to educate on the basis of opinions such as this.
B. Magen David in the Responsa

Before starting this research I also checked how the Responsa (Global Jewish Database) relates to the Star of David and found that rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, O"ch sign 15) relates to the origin of the Magen David and writes explicitly that
"We don't have the origin of the form of the Magen David".
From the words "we don't have" I got the hunch that we don't have YET, but it is possible to find the origin which, at this stage, is hiding.

C. The Direction of the Research

In order not to search for the origin of the Star of David in the infinite sea I decided to follow these research guidelines:

1. Since the Bible is the book that describes the formation of the nation of Israel my research will begin with it.

2. Since the Magen David is a relatively complicated and symmetrical form I will try to find it in nature.

3. After finding the origin in nature I will look for connections between my findings and the Bible.

D. as far as I am concerned this research was like walking inside a maze when every so often I encounter a hindrance. In such cases I obviously had to change direction in order to find the next exit.

This article is a short and succinct depiction of the long time I dedicated to this topic.
2. Nature

A. The inanimate Nature

Initially I examined snow flakes and stars.

In snow flakes I found basic forms that were geometric and symmetrical and had six corners, but I did not find in them the form of Magen David .

Real stars do not have corners similar to the corners of the Magen David even though in the real world stars sometimes are drawn that way.

B. Plants

I examined the pomegranate flower because I knew that it appeared in the margins of the coat of the High Priest.

I stopped this investigation after it became clear to me that the pomegranate flower doesn't ALWAYS have 6 corners, there are some with 7 corners and there are others with 5 corners.

Another plant that I examined was the almond that appears a number of times in the Bible.

The almond appears in the controversy of Korah. The almond appears also in the bowls of the Menorah (candlestick).

I stopped this investigation after I did not find the form of the Magen David in any stage of the growth or the blossoming of this tree.
3. The Nation of Israel and the Tabernacle

The Tabernacle was founded about a year after the Revelation of Sinai. The Tabernacle was in the center of the camp while the tribes dwelled around it.

In the Tabernacle there were 6 vessels:

· The Holy Ark in the "Most Holy"

· The candlestick (Menorah), The Table and the gold altar in the "Holy"

· The brass altar and the laver in the court

4. The Menorah

The Menorah that was made from one-piece work of gold stood in the southern side of the Tabernacle.

The making of the Menorah is described in details (Exodus 25:31). The Menorah had a base. From the base exited a central branch, from the branch exited three branches for each side.
The branches were decorated with bowls knobs and flowers. Each branch ended with three bowls; above each bowl there was a knob; above it there was a flower; above it there was a candle. as the verse says:
"Three bowls made like unto almonds, [with] a knop and a flower in one branch; and three bowls made like almonds in the other branch, [with] a knop and a flower" (Exodus 25:33).

Onklus translates the word "flower" to "lily".
The first question I asked myself was whether the Aramaic translation of the word "flower" to "lily" was in all the instances or only here (in the making of the Menorah)?

I found out that in the controversy of Korah the Almighty commanded to take an almond rod in the name of every tribe and put it in the Tabernacle; the rod that will flourish will show which tribe was chosen to serve the Almighty; eventually the rod of Aaron flowered.

"The rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and bore ripe almonds" (Numbers: 17:23)
In this case Onklus translates the word "flower" to "Blossom" - which shows that when he said "lily" in the making of the Tabernacle he indeed meant the lily.
5. The Definition of the Lily

Now it is required to examine what is the lily. To this end I read in the Song of Songs:
"As the lily among thorns, so [is] my love among the daughters". (2:2)

The translation says that the rose here is the Jewish people, this verse talks about the resistant belief of Israel opposite the belief of the nations of the world.

Iben Ezra's commentary about this verse is that the rose is a white flower that has a good aroma and six leaves (The Hebrew name of the lily, "shoshana" , comes from the Hebrew word for six – "shesh").

Professor Yehuda Felix in his book Nature in the Biblical land (In Hebrew, page 266) says that the rose is the white lily (from the Lilium family).

I found that this family counts 100 different species and the white lily is the single lily that grows naturally in Israel (Hebrew Encyclopedia, value: rose).

I took this picture from above projection; in it the Star of David is seen clearly.

6. The Lily and the Candle

In other words each candle in the Menorah was in the center of a Magen David .

Every morning the High Priest used to prepare the candles to be lit.

Every evening the High Priest lit the 7 candles.

As known there were no windows in the Tabernacle; additionally the Menorah was lit in the night; light did not enter the tent except for the light that was produced by the Menorah.

The candle and the flower from underneath it created a shadow in the form of a Star of David on the floor of the Tabernacle so that 7 such shadows of Stars of David were created and flickered on the floor of the Tabernacle.
7. The Menorah in the Tabernacle and in the Temple

The Tabernacle existed for about 40 year in the desert, and for about 400 year until it was taken to Jerusalem; the first Temple that was built by Solomon also existed for about 400 year; in other words the Menorah of the Tabernacle was lit every evening during about 840 year.

The 70 year that separated between the destruction of the First Temple and the initiation of the building of the Second Temple did not erase the memory of the form of the Menorah of the First Temple, so that it is reasonable to suppose that also the Menorah of the Second Temple was made in the same form, and so we can add about 400 more years for the period of the Second Temple, to the 840 years that I already mentioned.

8. The Ten Menorahs

During all the days of the Tabernacle there was one Menorah. In the First Temple King Solomon added ten more Menorahs for decoration.

In the description of the ten Menorahs, even though the Menorah was assembled from a number of parts: knob, bowl etc..., there was a special emphasis on the flower, in my opinion because of the importance of the symbolism of this flower.
"and the candlesticks, five on the right side, and five on the left, before the Sanctuary, of pure gold; and the flowers, and the lamps, and the tongs, of gold (1 Kings 7:49).

The ten Menorahs that King Solomon made were apparently only for decoration and actually only the candles of the Menorah that was made for the Tabernacle were lit. This Menorah was one-piece work of gold.

Its various parts: bowls flowers knobs, symbolized the various parts of the nation, and the one-piece work symbolized the importance of the unity of Israel.

9. The Menorah in Titus Gate

The first Menorah was concealed under the place of the Temple before the conquest of Jerusalem by Babylon; so that about this Menorah we don't have any description except for the description in the Bible.
The clearest fictile description of the Menorah since the Second Temple is found in

Titus-gate. The flowers are seen in a side projection and the question is how do they look from an above projection - does this flower have four petals or six?

For the sake of the examination and assuming that the sculptor created the Menorah in an exact scale - we will take the real photograph of this Menorah and we will draw on the flower the line AA; we will receive four points of intersection with the petals ( A, B, C, D ).

BC is a petal in the real dimension (neglect its circularity).

We will create a circle AD; on the perimeter of this circle we will allocate BC and see the number of times BC enters in the perimeter; after implementation of the above steps it is clear that BC enters six times in the perimeter.

Now it is possible to suppose that the sculptor of the Titus Gate created a lily that had 6 petals out of which we see only 3 in side projection.

10. Yachin and Boaz

The First Temple was, without any doubt, the central building of the Israeli nation in the period of King Solomon. The gate of the Temple was a very important place because there all the Israelis encountered each other during The Three Pilgrim Festivals (Shlosha Regalim). King Solomon chose the gate as the place of two pillars, one to the right of the gate and one to the left of the gate, and the names of these pillars were Yachin and Boaz.

Yachin and Boaz had impressive dimensions: each was in the height of about 9 meter; in the head of each pillar there was a capital of about 2 meters in diameter and of 2.5 meters in height; as described:
"And he made two capitals of molten brass, to set upon the tops of the pillars: the height of the one capital was five cubits, and the height of the other capital was five cubits." (1 Kings 7:16)
These capitals were in the form of a lily:
"And upon the top of the pillars was lily-work;" (1 Kings 7:22)

Without a doubt King Solomon chose especially the lily and put it in this important place because of the importance he endowed to its symbolism.

11. The Rambam's Opinion

The Rambam (in the religious laws of the Temple chapter 3 Law 3) writes explicitly about the absolute identity between the flowers that were on the Menorah and the flowers that were on the pillars Yachin and Boaz. In his language:

"The flowers (in the Menorah) like the flowers of the pillars".

12. The Particularity of the Menorah

In the Tabernacle there were six vessels; without a doubt the foremost vessel was the Ark, in it there were the first stone tablets, the second stone tablets and the Torah; Also its place in the Most Holy testifies thereon; thinking logically leads to the assumption that the Ark should have been the emblem of Israel but actually, contrary to expectation, the Menorah became Israel's emblem.

In my opinion there are a few reasons for this:

A. The people of Israel never saw the Ark while wandering because members of the Kehat family from the tribe of Levy covered it without seeing it; the only one who saw the Ark was the High Priest, once a year - on the day of atonement.

B. In contrast to the Ark the Menorah was seen; it is described that the beauty of the Menorah was exhibited to the pilgrims.

C. The word "pure" was said about the Menorah:

"The pure Menorah"
The Menorah was the single vessel that was made in one-piece of gold.

D. the Menorah was the single vessel that was made by the Lord in person.

Bezalel Ben Uri Ben Chur of the tribe of Judea didn't succeed in the making of the Menorah; at first the Lord showed him a pattern of fire of the Menorah but even then Bezalel couldn't make it; he threw the gold into the fire and the Menorah was done by itself; as the verse says exactly:
"Shall the candlestick be made".

If so this same lily (Magen David) is the deed of the Lord in person and it is appropriate that this creation of the Lord will receive the most important place, the center of our flag.

E. candles were alight in the Menorah and it is interesting to mention the warm emotional connection that exists between man and candles; in the emotional level the candle is warmish.

"The Lord's candle is the soul of man";

The soul of a person is similar to the candle.

The candle escorts the person in each stage of his life: circumcision, bar mitzvah, wedding, funeral and even after death.

Spontaneously when a person is excited he lights a fire (candle). The candle "sacrifices" itself at the time of the accomplishing of its role; the idea of absolute sacrifice is in the candle.

Candles light other candles. A candle gives from its own without lacking; all of this creates emotionally more empathy toward the Menorah than to the other vessels.
13. Copper Sea

One of the biggest engineering projects in the courtyard of the first Temple was the Copper Sea.
The Copper Sea was like a large pool, made from melting of copper, containing about two thousand "bats" (6000-8000 litres of water).

The Copper Sea served as a source of water for the work of the Temple.

King Solomon made the brim of that large pool like the brim of a lily.
"And its brim was like the work of the brim of a cup, with lily-blossoms" (1 Kings 7:26)
I will claim here also that King Solomon made this because of the importance he gave to the symbol of the lily (Star of David).

14. Magen David from the Period of Ahab

In the Megiddo antiquities, on a wall of a room, there was found a Magen David, same as we recognize it today, and it is drawn in lines ("Golden Section" (Hebrew book), professor Michael Costa. This Magen David is from the period of King Ahab son of King Solomon (853 - 874 B.C).

15. The Lily and the Nation of Israel

The lily in the Jewish sources during all the generations was a synonym to the nation of Israel.

A. in the Song of Songs:
"As the lily among thorns, so [is] my love among the daughters" Commentators (Rashi, Metzudat David) compare the lily to the nation of Israel and the thorns to the nations of the world; this actuality describes the durability of the nation of Israel among other nations.

B. "Shoshan Emek Ayuma" is another description of Israel, written by Hakalir (interpretation of Machzor Raba for the Day of Atonement). This excerpt is embedded in the prayer of Mussaf for the Day of Atonement.

C. "The rose of Jacob is rejoicing" (Siddur Rinat Israel 1979)
This excerpt is said in Purim, and here also the rose (the lily) is the nation of Israel.
D. miracle that was done to the lilies ("naasa nes lashoshanim") from the prayer of Maoz Tzur that is said in Hanukkah - the lilies is synonym for the nation of Israel (Sidur Shira Chadasha 1949).

Indeed in the level of the written literature in different prayers the lily symbolizes the nation of Israel.
16. Magen David and the Ten Tribes

Dr. Avigdor Shachan in his book "El ever ha-Sambatyon" brings the story of the ten of tribes that were exiled in 700 B.C by king of Assyria.

These tribes arrived also to Afghanistan China Japan Burma and India.

In his opinion in each one of these given cultures there were found clear signs of Jewish past. In Burma there is a community called "Beit Shalom" which claims to be descendants of tribe Menashe. In their stamp (1987) which is an expression of their ancient origin there appears from the right side a Menorah and from the left side a Magen David.

17. Period of Zerubbabel

A white lily appears in the contemporary coin of the NIS. This form is a copy of a coin that was drowned by Zerubbabel, the Jewish leader who was allowed to come to Jerusalem by king Koresh (In the start of the Second Temple). On one side of the coin appears the lily and on the other side in ancient Hebrew alphabet (Daatz writing) appears the word "Yahad" (Jew).

18. A Byzantine Church

On a marble board that was found in the ruins of Sufa near kibbutz Hatzerim alongside a Byzantine church there's a clear big Magen David and in its center appears a side projection of a white lily (similar to the side projection that appears on the coin from the period of Zerubbabel).

19. The Name Magen David

As I explained earlier Magen David is one of the names of the Lord, just as well like Magen Abraham which is said in the prayer (Shmone- Esre). I claim that before receiving the name Magen David this form was called in another name. There is a theory, which is found in the literature, that King David adopted this form as his emblem because of its special form which fitted his name.

In ancient Hebrew (Daatz writing) the letter "d" (dalet) was written in the form of a triangle and in the name David there are two triangles (two characters of d).

The lily was created by combining two equilateral triangles (six lines) and thus the lily fits to its name (Shoshan comes from Shesh, six in Hebrew). This emblem was also fit from a practical viewpoint since it has a rotary symmetry; in other words in each given situation this symbol can be identified from the opposite side of the Shield carrier.
20. Star and David

The first time in the Bible that reveals any connection between the word "star", the word "David" and the words "nation of Israel" is in Bilam's speech. When Bilam sees the nation of Israel he says:
"There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel" (Numbers 24:17).

Rashi and Iben Ezra comment that Bilam's prediction is about King David. This is only a speculative connection that does not point on the shape of the Magen David.

21. A Hint to the Magen David in the Making of the Menorah

In Parashat Behaalotcha in which the commandment to light the Menorah is found it is said:
"The seven lamps will give light in the front of the lampstand". (Numbers 8:2)
In numerology the sum of the letters in the words "el mul" in Hebrew is 107 just like the sum of the letters in the words "Magen David" – 107, and the interpretation is that the Magen David is the front of the lampstand (Menorah).
22. The Special Thing about the Shape of the Magen David

There are many interpretations for the form of the Magen David and among them the following:

A. the Magen David symbolizes the universe in its entirety, 6 of its corners symbolize the 4 winds of heaven, above and below; the seventh point is the supernatural point.

B. the Magen David is a combination of the celestial world, the macro cosmos, which is represented by the triangle with the arrow upwards, with the earthy world, micro cosmos, which is represented by the triangle with the arrow downwards.

C. the ancients thought that the world was made of 4 elements: fire, air, water and earth; The triangle with the arrow upwards symbolizes two of the elements: fire and air; the triangle with the arrow downwards symbolizes the two other elements: water and earth.

D. the Magen David symbolizes the combination of the genders on which the world is based, the masculine side is expressed by the upper triangle with its wide shoulders and the feminine side is expressed by the lower triangle.

23. Magen David in Other Cultures

There's a usual question often asked: if the Magen David is the Jewish emblem how can it appear in other cultures such as India etc...

There are a few possible answers to this question:

A. Plants and flowers were always used as an aesthetic source for different emblems. For example: The cedar is the emblem of Lebanon, iris is the emblem of scouting worldwide.

Because the lily is aesthetic and symmetrical and because it enables the creation of forms by composing basic engineering elements (two equilateral triangles) it is reasonable to suppose that it will also serve as an emblem for other nations.

B. one of the Ketoret spices, spikenard, is growing in the Himalayas.

Commerce in spices between countries was prevalent since ancient times as we learned also from the company of Ishmeelites that Joseph had been sold to.

It is reasonable to assume that commercial relationships were accompanied by an exchange of other things and that's how the Magen David arrived to India.

C. the ten tribes which were exiled by the Assyrian king arrived also to India in 700 B.C; these tribes brought their emblem with them and that's how it became prevalent.

24. The Connection between the Israeli Emblem and the Israeli Flag

During the discussions prior to the acceptance of the of the flag with the Magen David emblem as the flag of the state of Israel different proposals were raised; one of them was that the Magen David was a Jewish immemorial emblem (all along my article I tried to elucidate this point).

Israeli Prime Minister Ben Guryon was told that Hertzel wanted a flag with seven stars, versus seven hours of daily labor. When he heard this Ben Guryon responded that he prefers one (big) Magen David rather than seven stars.

In my opinion Hertzel, the Jewish state prophet, had a good proposal and a bad argument because the origin of the seven stars is in the Menorah.

In my opinion if Ben Gurion would have heard this argument in time it is reasonable to assume that he would have agreed to have seven stars on the flag.

Anyhow the state emblem is the Menorah and on the flag there is a Magen David which was taken from the Menorah. The Magen David that Bezalel failed to make and eventually was made by the Lord. This connection happened even though the heads of the state of Israel did not mean it, and it is better this way.