While a flag is merely a piece of cloth used to distinguish and identity regions, nations, organizations, etc., the choice of colors, designs and symbols often make it a work of art embedded with layers of deeper meaning.
The Israeli flag depicts a blue hexagram (Star of David) on a white background, between two blue horizontal stripes. Originally designed for the Zionist movement by David Wolfsohn (1856-1914), a Zionist leader from Lithuania, by the time it was adopted by the first Zionist Congress in Basle in 1897, it had already become accepted by Jewish communities throughout the world as the symbol of Zionism. After the United Nations partition resolution on November 29, 1947, the Jews of Israel celebrated with this flag held high as their unifying symbol, becoming the official state flag the following year. As we get ready to celebrate Israel’s 66th Independence Day, it’s a good time to take a look at exactly what does the Israeli flag mean?
White: Peace, purity and innocence
Blue: Vigilance, perseverance, justice, prosperity and freedom
The Star of David
While the origins of the Star of David in Judaism are unclear, its elegant form and powerful symbolism have made it a constant presence in a variety of Jewish contexts since antiquity. It seems its choice as the symbol of the Zionist movement stem from the late 18th century, when it began to emerge as a widespread symbol of Jewish identity. In addition, however, to what may have been the intention of the early Zionists, other interpretations of two interlocked triangles made it a fitting symbol for the modern State of Israel, including that of natural re-birth, harmonization of the spiritual and physical and the symbiotic relationship between G-d and man, while its 12 sides represent the 12 tribes of Israel, whose current ingathering to their ancestral homeland makes all the rest possible.
The Blue Stripes
The blue stripes on the Zionist flag were inspired by the stripes on the tallit (prayer shawl) which are meant to recall the techelet of the ritual fringes (tzitzit). According to the Torah, one strand in the tzitzit should be dyed with techelet, the sky-blue dye extracted from a sea animal called the chilazon, and placing techelet on the tzitzit was considered to have great spiritual power. Rabbi Meir said: “Whoever observes the mitzvah of tzitzit is considered as if he greeted the Divine Presence, for techelet resembles the sea, and the sea resembles the sky, and the sky resembles God’s holy throne.”
At some point following the destruction of the Holy Temple by the Romans in 70 CE and the exile of the Jews from the Land of Israel, the actual identity of the source of the dye was lost. Since that time, a period spanning over 1,300 years, most Jews have only worn plain white tzitzit, as is written, “Now we have only white, for the original techelet has been hidden.” (Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah, 17:5)
The blue stripes, which symbolize Jewish independence in the Land of Israel, under the precepts of the Torah, and the Star of David, which symbolizes rebirth and new life for the Jewish people, tie the State of Israel, through its flag, to the past, present and future.