Sunday, May 03, 2009

Much Ado About Nothing: Scholem on the Star of David

The latest sacred cow to be slaughtered, ostensibly, is the Six Pointed 'Star of David.' A book wriiten by Gershom Scholerm over sixty years ago has recently been published, though his basic findings were reveraled around that time. The findings? To quote YNET:

In his article Prof. Scholem stated that, "The Magen David is not a Jewish symbol, and therefore not the 'symbol of Judaism'." ....The official usage of the Star of David as a Jewish symbol began in Prague. Prof. Scholem writes that it was either chosen by the local Jewish community or by the Christian rule as a means of branding the Jews, who later adopted and embraced it. In 1354 Emperor Charles IV granted the Jews the privilege of raising a flag of their own, and this flag contained the Magen David. One of these flags can still be found in Prague's Old-New Synagogue. From Prague, where the Magen David was printed on book covers and engraved on cemetery headstones, the symbol spread to the rest of Europe and gradually became known as the symbol of Judaism.

During the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897 the Zionist flag, which bears a blue Star of David, was chosen. But Prof. Scholem claims that the symbol only became truly meaningful during the Holocaust, after the Nazis used it to mark the Jews, and thus sanctified it. According to Scholem, this gave the graphic symbol a spiritual sense of sacredness it never had before.

So we're supposed to get bent out of shape that a powerful Jewish symbol isn't Jewish. The flag is illegitimate and who knows what else. (Yawn)

I seem to recall Professor Scholem mentioning this insight when he taught at BU in the Spring of 1976. At the time I was a bit distraught, but over the years I've come to realize that this kind of reductionist argument (x is documented outside of Judaism, entered from the outside and is therefore illegitimate) is both excruciatingly superficial, as well a silly.

Everyone is influenced by the outside world. It's inevitable.The questions that one should ask when discussing thigs like this are: What was absorbed and what was rejected? (That will be determined by the essential fabric of Judaism.) If something was accepted, what previously developed, inner need did it (or does it) fill? Finally, how was it interpreted, modified and adjusted to the Jewish value system? (For if it wasn't, it would not have lasted.)

So, who really cares when the Star of David became a Jewish symbol? If it was adopted as a powerful vehicle of Jewish memory and indentity, if it moves Jews to tears, and if it passes muster with Jewish Law and values; then ahlan ve-sahlan, (and spare me, PLEASE, the silly cow shechting).


Nachum said...

This is really weird. Scholem's view on the subject has been printed in any number of places over the years- in an article he wrote for Commentary back in 1947, in the entry on the Magen David he wrote for the Encyclopedia Judaica, in a chapter in his book "Kabbalah," etc. etc. All of them have the same exact view as this. (Also, each begins with a whole section on the long history of the six pointed star in kabbalah *before* the Prague flag; although it obviously wasn't a Jewish symbol per se, it makes the story a bit more complex.)

Long story short, this was all well known, and, like you said, doesn't really change anything anyway.

YMedad said...

Psst, want to see a Magen David from the 5th century in a church at Shiloh. Go here: Stars at Shiloh

Y. Ben-David said...

I'm with you on this one. I wasn't aware of Scholem's article, but I have seen it on the wall of the Old City of Jerusalem near the Sha'ar HaPrachim ("Herod's Gate") near the northeastern corner of the Old City. This told me that the Ottoman Turks liked the symbol which means it wasn't viewed as Jewish by them. So what? I happen to view it also as a powerful symbol, and I also find the design of the Israeli flag to be quite impressive. The only problem is that since Gush Katif, I have stopped flying the flag, NOT for the reason that the anti-Zionists use for opposing it as some "smartut", but rather because Sharon and his gang in the IDF put it on the uniforms of the soldiers who expelled the Jews there, showing in an Orwellian way, that it was "patriotic" to destroy Jewihs communities and expel Jews from their homes. This defiled the flag in my eyes. I will be glad to fly it again in the future when there is a true Jewish/Zionist government in power and it will be unthinkable to carry out a crime like that again.