Prague, Czech Republic – Obviously, the Star of David wasn’t “invented” nor “created” in the Czech Republic. It is, however, in 14th-century Prague that it became one of the main symbols of Judaism.
The Star of David, or “Magen David” (“Shield of David”) in Hebrew, is composed of two overlaid equilateral triangles forming a six-pointed star. Its origin cannot be traced back to the Bible or the Talmud, but is said to derive from the (presumed) resemblance with the shape of King David’s shield.
Although it originated in Antiquity, it wasn’t used as a symbol of Jewish identity, nor was it even limited to Judaism. The most common symbol of Judaism at that time was the seven-branched candelabrum – still one of Israel’s emblems today. The Star of David, on the other hand, was initially used as an architectural motif and ornamental decoration for synagogues and other religious buildings (cathedrals as well). Jewish mystics, especially Kabbalists, progressively gave increasing currency to the shield of king David and attached magical powers to it. But how did it become one of the most significant and defining symbols of Judaism and Jewish communities across Europe?
That’s where Prague comes in: in 1354, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Bohemia Charles IV authorized the Jewish community of the Czech lands to bear a red flag featuring the Star of David. The Jewish community of Prague therefore became the first in Europe to use that symbol as their official and legal emblem.
The use slowly spread throughout Europe: in the 15th century, for instance, Budapest’s Jewish community used an almost similar flag to meet with King Mathias Corvin. From the 17th to the 19th century, the Star of David was almost universally adopted by Jewish communities (including the Zionist movement).
A token of the Jewish communities’ presence and own identity within European societies, the Star of David is also associated with the darkest hours of Jewish history: under Nazi-occupied Europe, Jews were forced to wear the yellow badge with Jude inscribed in the middle of the six-pointed star. Since the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948, the Star of David is also incorporated on the country’s national flag and remains, as of today, one of the most defining and widespread symbols of Judaism.
And it all started in Prague…