This week in history: The flag of Israel

With its blue Star of David between two horizontal blue stripes, the flag first appeared some 50 years before becoming a national symbol.

Israeli Flags 311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Israeli Flags 311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
On October 28th 1948, the flag of Israel was adopted by the government, five months after the country’s establishment. However, the flag, which depicts a blue Star of David on a white background between two horizontal blue stripes, first appeared some 50 years before becoming a national symbol.
At the core of the flag is the Star of David, which can be traced back to the medieval era where it was used for decorations, ornaments and protective amulets. Not until the 17th century did the hexagram begin to represent the Jewish community as a whole. In fact, the Jewish quarter of Vienna was formally distinguished from the rest of the city by a boundary stone having the Star of David on one side and the Christian cross on the other.
In the 18th century, the Star of David represented the Jewish people in both religious and political contexts. It was only a century later that it became an international symbol when in 1891, the Zionist Movement used the Star of David to create a flag almost identical to the one we are familiar with today.
During the first Zionist congress in 1897, which discussed the establishment a homeland for Jews in Palestine, several flags were considered to represent the Jewish people internationally. One of them was Theodor Herzl’s design which had seven gold stars and represented the 7-hour work quota. Another design was put forward by Morris Harris, a member of the Zionist group Hovevei Zion, who used his awning shop to design a suitable banner and decorations for the reception. His mother Lena Harris sewed the flag. It was made with two blue stripes and a large blue Star of David in the center. Ultimately, Herzl’s design failed to garner support and the latter was adopted instead as the official Zionist flag during the second international Zionist congress in 1898.
Regarding the design of the flag, at the time, the Star of David seemed to be the obvious choice. However, the blue stripes were inspired by those of the Talit, the Jewish prayer shawl. Some controversy has surrounded the meaning of these stripes with certain people arguing that they secretly represent the Nile and the Euphrates rivers, the borders of the Promised Land as described in the Bible. However, all relevant sources indicate that the Talit was the sole inspiration behind the “stripes.”
In a turn of events, the flag with the symbol that was once used to identify Jews during the Nazi era at its core, has recently become the largest national symbol in the world.  In 2007, a flag measuring 660 by 100 meters and weighing 5.2 tons, was unfurled near the ancient Jewish fortress of Masada, breaking the world record for the largest flag.