Whether you have been to Israel before or not, you are sure to be familiar Israel’s flag, a blue Star of David in between two horizontal blue stripes. It has been the country’s flag since October 28, 1948, five months after the establishment of the state but the flag was actually designed for the Zionist movement back in 1891.
The design of the flag is very straightforward. The blue stripes symbolise a tallit (a prayer shawl) while the Star of David has long been used as a symbol of Judaism. Blue and white have always been important in Judaism, since the bible commands the Jews to use a blue dye called tekhelet to dye one of the threads of their tzitzit, while the rest of the threads remain white.
Non-Jews have associated the combination of blue and white with Judaism for a long time. There is poetry dating from the nineteenth century describing Jews praying in clothes coloured blue and white suggesting that the tradition had been around for some time before the poetry was written.
Blue and white flags began to appear in Israel towards the end of the nineteenth century. A blue and white flag was flown in Rishon LeZion in 1885 and then in 1891 a blue and white flag with a blue star was flown in Nachalat Reuven.
The flag evolved over the following years and a similar design began to be used for all Zionist occasions, such as the dedication of the Zion Hall at the B’nai Zion Educational Society in Boston in 1891.
A few years later Theodor Herzl proposed a white flag with seven golden stars but the idea failed to gain traction. In 1897 David Wolffsohn (a prominent early Zionist and the second president of the Zionist Organization), who had been invited by Herzl to the Zionist Congress, wrote:
At the behest of our leader Herzl, I came to Basle to make preparations for the Zionist Congress. Among many other problems that occupied me then was one that contained something of the essence of the Jewish problem. What flag would we hang in the Congress Hall? Then an idea struck me. We have a flag—and it is blue and white. The talith (prayer shawl) with which we wrap ourselves when we pray: that is our symbol. Let us take this Talith from its bag and unroll it before the eyes of Israel and the eyes of all nations. So I ordered a blue and white flag with the Shield of David painted upon it. That is how the national flag, that flew over Congress Hall, came into being.
There is also an interesting history to the Star of David symbol. It is a long and complex history but in brief, the symbol can be found dating back hundreds of years. You can find the Star of David in synagogue decorations in Israel dating from the third and fourth century. However, its use as an exclusively Jewish symbol seems to date from late medieval Prague. In those days it was known as a Seal of Solomon and the symbol became known as the Star of David in the seventeenth century.
This is a very brief overview of the ideas and symbols behind the Israeli flag. But now, when you arrive on your gap year program in Israel, you can appreciate the flag from the moment you step off the plane.