The Star of David or Shield of David (Magen David in Hebrew, with nikkud or מגן דוד without, academically transcribed Māḡēn Dāwīḏ by Biblical Hebrew linguists, in Modern Hebrew and Mogein Dovid or Mogen Dovid in Ashkenazi Hebrew and Yiddish) is a generally recognized symbol of Jewish identity and Judaism. It is named after King David of ancient Israel; and its earliest known communal usage began in the Middle Ages, alongside the more ancient symbol of the menorah. Geometrically it is the hexagram.
A similar term, "Shield of Abraham" appears in the first blessing of the "Amidah" prayer, which was written in early Rabbinic times (around year 1, a millennium before the first documentation of the term in reference to a six-point star). That term is probably based on Genesis 15:1, where God promises to shield Abraham.
Without knowing when the Haftara blessings originated, it is difficult to know whether the term "Shield of David" pre-dated the symbol. If so, the term "Shield of David" originally referred to God, and somehow became attributed to a six-point star.
The exact origins of the symbol's relation to Jewish identity are unknown. Though several theories have been put forward. According to one hypothesis, the Star of David comprises two of the three letters in the name David. In its Hebrew spelling (דוד), it contains only three characters, two of which are "D" (or "Dalet", in Hebrew). In the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, the standard alphabet for writing Hebrew before the Babylonian captivity, this letter was written in a form much like a triangle, similar to the Greek letter Delta (Δ), with which it shares a sound and the same (4th) position in their respective alphabets, as it does with Latin. The symbol may have been a simple family crest formed by flipping and juxtaposing the two most prominent letters in the name.
The earliest archaeological magen David national symbol is on a Babylonian bas relief carving, in the 6th century BCE. The Babylonian king historically recorded his conquest of the King and population of Judah. Both kings are shown standing facing each other. The King of Babylon stands on the right. A winged sun disk is above the King of Babylon. The encircled six-legged star pattern magen David is above the King of Judah.
A popular folk tale etymology has it that the Star of David is literally modeled after the shield of the young Israelite warrior David, who would later become King David. In order to save metal, the shield was not made of metal but of leather spanned across the simplest metal frame that would hold the round shield: two interlocking triangles. No reliable historical evidence for this etymology exists.
One belief is that the Star of David is the flattened view of a three dimensional tetratetrahedron, made up of two interlocking four sided triangles.
"Seven names of angels precede the mezuzah: Michael, Gabriel, etc. ... Tetragrammaton protect you! And likewise the sign, called the 'Shield of David', is placed beside the name of each angel.
The number seven has religious significance in Judaism, e.g., the six days of Creation plus the seventh day of rest, the six working days in the week plus Shabbat, the Seven Spirits of God, as well as the Menorah in the ancient Temple, whose seven oil lamps rest on three stems branching from each side of a central pole. Perhaps, the Star of David came to be used as a standard symbol in synagogues because its organization into 3+3+1 corresponds to the Temple's Menorah, which was the more traditional symbol for Judaism in ancient times. There are also six words in the Shema, the most important prayer in Judaism, and it is not uncommon to find the Shema written around a Star of David.
In Kabbalah, the Star of David symbolizes the six directions of space plus the center, under the influence of the description of space found in the Sefer Yetsira: Up, Down, East, West, South, North, and Center. Congruently, under the influence of the Zohar, it represents the Six Sefirot of the Male (Zeir Anpin) united with the Seventh Sefirot of the Female (Nekuva).
Some Kabbalistic amulets use the symbol to arrange the Ten Sefirot. However, reference to the symbol is nowhere in the kabbalistic texts themselves, such as the Zohar and the like. Therefore, its use as a sefirotic diagram in amulets is more likely a reinterpretation of a preexisting symbol.
According to G.S. Oegema -
"Isaac Luria provided the Shield of David with a further mystical meaning. In his book Etz Chayim he teaches that the elements of the plate for the Seder evening have to be placed in the order of the hexagram: above the three sefirot "Crown", "Wisdom", and "Insight", below the other seven".Similarly, M. Costa wrote that M. Gudemann and other researchers in the 1920s claimed that Isaac Luria was influential in turning the Star of David into a national Jewish emblem by teaching that the elements of the plate for the Seder evening have to be placed in the order of the hexagram, but Gershom Scholem proved that Isaac Luria talked about parallel triangles one beneath the other and not about the hexagram.
The Shield of David is not mentioned in ancient rabbinic literature. A supposed Shield of David however has recently been noted on a Jewish tombstone at Taranto, in Southern Italy, which may date as early as the third century CE. Likewise, a stone bearing the Shield from the arch of a 3-4th century synagogue in the Galilee was found.
The earliest Jewish literary source which mentions the "Shield of David" is the Eshkol Ha-Kofer by Judah Hadassi from the middle of the 12th century CE, where seven Shields are used in an amulet for a mezuzah. It appears to have been in use as part of amulets before it was in use in formal Jewish contexts. 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 was associated with the mezuzah. Originally, the hexagram may have been employed 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 pentagram 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 pentagrams with two golden stars. The pentagram, therefore, may also have been used among the Jews as early as the year 1073.
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" on 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 center of which was a Swedish star.
The Star of David can be found on the tombstones of religious Jews going back hundreds of years in Europe, as it became accepted as the universal symbol of the Jewish people. Following Jewish emancipation after the French revolution, Jewish communities chose the Star of David to represent themselves, comparable to the cross used by most Christians.
The vast majority of Spanish and Portuguese Jews do not use the star either. This probably reflects the trends before the forced conversion in Portugal and also its use is Spain. Their symbols are connected with the survival from the Inquisition, like the bird Phoenix.
Many Modern Orthodox synagogues, and many synagogues of other Jewish movements, however, have the Israeli flag with the Star of David prominently displayed at the front of the synagogues near the Ark containing the Torah scrolls.
The star is usually in blue, as on the flag of Israel.
A Star of David, often yellow-colored, was used by the Nazis during the Holocaust as a method of identifying Jews. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939 there were initially different local decrees forcing Jews to wear a distinct sign – in the General Government e.g. a white armband with a blue Star of David on it, in the Warthegau a yellow badge in the form of a Star of David on the left side of the breast and on the back. The requirement to wear the Star of David with the word Jude (German for Jew) inscribed was then extended to all Jews over the age of 6 in the Reich and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (by a decree issued on September 1, 1941 signed by Reinhard Heydrich ) and was gradually introduced in other German-occupied areas, where local words were used (e.g. Juif in French, Jood in Dutch).
Magen David Adom (MDA) (Red Star of David or, translated literally, Red Shield of David) is Israel's only official emergency medical, disaster, ambulance service. It is an official member of the International Committee of the Red Cross.