Jewish Art

The Meaning of the Star of David

It’s a common fact that the history of humanity was first documented in symbols and pictures. From ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs to prehistoric cave drawings, man’s ability to communicate through imagery has proven to be an invaluable tool throughout the ages, and although our written language is no longer limited to crudely drawn glyphs on walls, using symbols to represent a larger idea is an invaluable technique still used today – particularly among the world’s faiths and cultures.

All over the globe, people use symbols to illustrate their beliefs or affiliation to an organization, and since many of these symbols have fascinating stories behind them, we thought it would be nice to take a closer look at the deeper significance of one of the best-known symbols of Judaism: the Star of David!

What is the Star of David and what does it symbolize?
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The Star of David is a six-pointed, geometric shape known as a hexagram, which is formed when two equal-sided triangles are compounded into a single, star-like design.

The origins of the symbol are unclear; however, it started to become adopted by Jews as a sign of Jewish identity during the Middle Ages, and since then, the Star of David has become one of the most powerful and recognizably Jewish symbols in Jewish culture. This has led the symbol to be incorporated into all aspects of Jewish life, becoming the motif of choice in everything from traditional art, to jewelry, to Judaica and kippot, to architecture and various artifacts, cementing its role as the ultimate Jewish symbol.

Because of this, the Star of David would eventually become the icon elected to go on Israel's National Flag, which represents not just the State of Israel, but also every Jew around the world.

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From where does the Star of David get its name? 
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It is not completely clear where the name “Star of David” originated from, however, it is believed to have derived from the symbol’s Hebrew moniker, ‘Magen David,’ meaning “Shield of David.”

This term first appeared in early Jewish texts, as well as in the siddur (traditional prayer book) where it was used poetically to describe God as the shield that protects the dynasty of King David. While the original liturgy doesn't describe what the "Shield of David" looks like, it eventually became visually associated with the six-pointed star now also known as the "Star of David."

What is interesting to note, however, is that before it was called the Star of David, hexagrams were more commonly referred to in medieval texts as the Seal of Solomon. The name comes from a legend about a mystical ring worn by King Solomon that was supposedly engraved with a multi-pointed star, though it is unclear whether it was supposed to be a hexagram.

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What does the Star of David symbolize according to Kabbalah?

Jewish Kabbalah is a treasure-trove of ancient mystical teachings compiled centuries ago that provide unique insight on the divine inner workings of the Torah, God, and the Universe. These deep and mysterious interpretations are often complex or cryptic, yet their profound nature has consistently shed light on all aspects of Jewish life, and the Kabbalah’s explanations on symbols like the Star of David are particularly enlightening. According to Kabbalistic tradition, a few ways the Star of David motif can be interpreted are as follows:

 

    • Heaven and Earth – Traditionally, the Star of David is drawn by overlapping two triangles facing opposite directions. One Kabbalistic interpretation of this is that triangle pointing upwards represents God and His place in the Heavens as the Creator of the Universe, while the downwards triangle represents the Earth and humanity. Overlapping the two is meant to show that the spiritual and the materialistic go hand in hand.

 

    • God’s Covenant – Much like the previous explanation, this interpretation also focuses on the power of triangles. It is thought that the 3 sides of a triangle represent the 3 fundamental aspects of Judaism - God, the Torah, and the People of Israel - and Kabbalah theorizes that each triangle in the Star of David symbolizes this unity from a different perspective. The upwards triangle demonstrates the emotional side of the relationship while the downward triangle conveys the physical element that comes from action.

 

    • Omnipresence – The idea that God is all-powerful and all-encompassing is not a new concept in Judaism. The Torah describes the power of God many times, so it makes sense that another Kabbalistic interpretation for the Star of David analyses its overall shape and explores the importance of its six points. It is thought that these six points refer to each of the six directions where God’s presence can be felt: North, South, East, West, Up, and Down; while the center of the Star alludes to the center of the Universe, where God exists as the center of everything.

 

    • One Nation – With six points and twelve sides, the Kabbalah explores the idea that the twelve sides of the Star of David refer to the Twelve Tribes of Israel - Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Issachar, Zevulun, Dan, Naftali, Gad, Asher, Yosef, and Benyamin - and how the Twelve Tribes made up the singular Nation of Israel.

 

So there you go! While more can be written about this ancient and magnanimous emblem, we think we’ve covered enough of the subject to conclude that the Star of David is easily one of the most impressive symbols you can find in the Jewish world!

 

 

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If you’re ever on the lookout for something special and unquestionably Jewish, anything bearing the Star of David is a good place to start. Just check out our great Star of David Jewelry Buying Guide or our Top 10 Star of David Gifts to discover some cool gift ideas from Israel, or jump directly to our Star of David Necklaces and Pendants page to browse our finest treasures yourself!

And if you're craving more Star of David history and meaning, check out our Everything You’ve Wanted to Know About the Star of David post for even more Star of David fun facts!

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