The Star of David (Magen David or Mogen David in Hebrew, Shield of David, Solomon’s Seal, or Seal of Solomon) is a generally recognized symbol of Judaism and Jewish identity. It is also known as the Jewish Star. With the establishment of the State of Israel the Jewish Star on the Flag of Israel has also become a symbol of Israel.
In magic papyri of antiquity, pentagrams, together with stars and other signs, are frequently found on amulets bearing the Jewish names of God, and used to guard against fever and other diseases. Curiously enough, only the pentacle appears, not the hexagram. In the great magic papyrus at Paris and London there are twenty-two signs side by side, and a circle with twelve signs, but neither a pentacle nor a hexagram. The syncretism of Hellenistic, Jewish, and Coptic influences probably did not, therefore, originate the symbol. It is possible that it was the Kabbalah that derived the symbol from the Templars. Kabbalah makes use of this sign, arranging the Ten Sephiroth, or spheres, in it, and placing it on amulets.
A manuscript Tanakh dated 1307 and belonging to Rabbi Yosef bar Yehuda ben Marvas from Toledo, Spain, was decorated with a Shield of David. In the synagogues, perhaps, it took the place of the mezuzah, and the name “shield of David” may have been given it in virtue of its presumed protective powers. The hexagram may have been employed originally also as an architectural ornament on synagogues, as it is, for example, on the cathedrals of Brandenburg and Stendal, and on the Marktkirche at Hanover. A pentacle in this form is found on the ancient synagogue at Tell Hum.
In 1354, King of Bohemia Charles IV prescribed for the Jews of Prague a red flag with both David’s shield and Solomon’s seal, while the red flag with which the Jews met King Matthias of Hungary in the 15th century showed two pentacles with two golden stars (Schwandtner, Scriptores Rerum Hungaricarum, ii. 148). The pentacle, therefore, may also have been used among the Jews. It occurs in a manuscript as early as the year 1073 (facsimile in M. Friedmann, Seder Eliyahu Rabbah ve-Seder Eliyahu Ztka, Vienna, 1901).
In 1460, the Jews of Ofen (Budapest, Hungary) received King Mathios Kuruvenus with a red flag on which were two Shields of David and two stars. In the first Hebrew prayer book, printed in Prague in 1512, a large Shield of David appears on the cover. In the colophon is written: “Each man beneath his flag according to the house of their fathers… and he will merit to bestow a bountiful gift on anyone who grasps the Shield of David.” In 1592, Mordechai Maizel was allowed to affix “a flag of King David, similar to that located on the Main Synagogue” to his synagogue in Prague. In 1648, the Jews of Prague were again allowed a flag, in acknowledgment of their part in defending the city against the Swedes. On a red background was a yellow Shield of David, in the centre of which was a Swedish star.