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Israel

ישראל, State of Israel, Medinat Yisra'el, Daulat Isra'il

Last modified: 2013-12-09 by andrew weeks
Keywords: israel | yisra'el | isra'il | medinat yisra'el | daulat isra'il | star: 6 points (blue outlined) | star of david | magen david | shield of david | stripes: 2 (blue) | candelabrum | menorah |
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[Israel] 8:11 | stripes 3+5+16+5+3
image by Željko Heimer
Flag adopted 28th October 1948 (25 Tishrei 5709), published 12th November 1948



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National Flag

Israel became independent on 14th May 1948 according to the United Nations resolution of 29th November 1947. [Previously] the area which is nowadays Israel was part of the British Mandate on Palestine-Eretz Israel and therefore [Israel] couldn't have an [internationally recognized] official flag. The current Israeli flag is based on the Zionist movement flag - now about 100 years old - which represented the Jewish population in the Mandate era but had no official standing.
Dov Gutterman
, 7 March 2001

The Israeli national flag is used by sport fans as a basis to fan flags, as is the case with Maccabi Tel-Aviv Basketball Club and Hapoel Tel-Aviv Football Club.
Dov Gutterman
, 5 December 2001


Shield of David

Magen David

The Magen David (Shield of David), the six-pointed star made of two triangles, appeared according to Jewish tradition on the shield of King David. According to the same tradition the same symbols appeared also on King Solomon's ring and therefore it is also called the Seal of Solomon. This symbol was considered to have magical powers and as a defence from the evil spirits. Such symbol without any connection to Judaism was found in India. The symbol was also considered as magical by the Moslems (as Solomon Seal) and appeared as the symbol of Nigeria. It was also used by the Ethiopian monarchs who, according to their tradition, were the descendants of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheva, and was also known there as Solomon Seal.
The Magen David was used by Jews for decoration and appeared as an official Jewish symbol for the first time in 1354 when the Jewish community in Prague received the right to have a flag of its own and chose the Magen David as the symbol on the flag. In the 15th Century the Magen David was used as a trademark for Jewish printers in Prague, Amsterdam and Italy, and in 1655 it was used on Vienna Jewish community seal and soon afterwards also by the Jewish community in Amsterdam. In the 19th century the Magen David was used almost by all Jews as their symbol and it was used for synagogue decoration, seals and letters.
When the first Zionist groups (Bilu, Hovevei Zion etc.) started their activities in 1881, they adopted the Magen David for their symbols. The Magen David also appeared at the first edition of Herzl's newspaper Die Welt in 1896.
Even though the Magen David is known as the Jewish symbol, the Jews had another symbol which is the Menorah which is also the emblem of the State of Israel and its origin is already in the Bible. The emblem is based on the engraving of the Menorah of the Temple in Jerusalem as it appears [engraved] on Titus Gate in Rome. The destiny of the original Menorah is unknown.
Sources: Hebrew Encyclopedia
; Encyclopaedia Britannica (Hebrew version); From the Foundation, 1986.
Dov Gutterman
, 4 March 1999

The Magen David is not an ancient Jewish symbol nor a religious one like the cross. It originated in Bohemia around 500 years ago.
Nahum Shereshevsky
, 22 April 2000

There is absolutely no archaeological evidence of David's existence. I am not suggesting that he did not exist, just that there is as yet nothing extra-biblical. Therefore it would be impossible to pin the Magen David on him.
T.F. Mills
, 22 April 2000

From most accounts, the Magen David was originally chosen (on the flag of the Jewish community of Prague, in the middle ages) for decorative purposes — in other words, as a star, with no other meaning, in an age when heraldic stars had six points (easier to make). Explanations about 'shields' and 'seals' came much later.

Actually, the earliest known use of the six-pointed star by Jews was in the decoration of Classical (Greek/Roman) Era synagogues. The six-pointed stars are used alongside five-pointed stars and, of all things, swastikas. All are clearly meant only for ornamentation (just perhaps with a shared mystical background), with no further purpose. The six-pointed star doesn't arise again in Jewish iconography - again as a secular symbol - for another thousand years, on a flag. Use in other areas proliferated after that.
Nathan Lamm
, 6 February 2004

For those interested in the history of the Magen David, there is a book by W. Gunther Plaut, "The Magen David: How the six-pointed star became an emblem for the Jewish people", published by B'nai B'rith Books (1991).
Albert Kirsch, 8 February 2004

You can read about the origin of the two "Solomon Seals" at <www.jewishencyclopedia.com/artid=38> and <www.jewishencyclopedia.com/artid=895>.
Dov Gutterman and António Martins-Tuválkin, 13 February 2005

About the history of the Magen David see also Star of David blog.
Ron Lahav, 30 December 2007

Gershom Scholem, a German-born scholar who taught Jewish mysticism at the Hebrew University, wrote what's pretty much the final word on the subject of Magen David as an article in Commentary Magazine back in 1947. The material was later reprinted (somewhat edited, I suppose) in the Encyclopaedia Judaica and in collection(s) of Scholem's work.
In short: It was used as a purely decorative symbol by Jews in the classical era, was used as a mystical symbol (but not as a symbol of Judaism as such) starting in medieval times, and began life as a specifically Jewish symbol when it appeared on the flag of the Jewish community of Prague in the Middle Ages, eventually spreading throughout the Jewish world.
Of course, it was used for similar purposes- mystical and decorative- by many world cultures, and it probably arose in Prague simply as a star, and stars, as used by everyone and in usage that survived for many centuries and even to this day, tended to have six points back then.
Nathan Lamm, 3 January 2008


Flag and Coat-of-Arms Adoption Dates

Under the national flag (top of this page) we have "Flag adopted 12th November 1948, coat-of-arms adopted 11th November 1949". However, the (excellent) Ministry of Foreign Affairs' webpage about the flag and arms claims that the adoption dates are 28 October 1948 (25 Tishrei 5709) and 10th February 1949 (11 Shevat 5709). Why that difference?
Santiago Dotor
, 10 October 2001

This is easy to understand looking at the proclamation. The proclamation was signed on 28 October 1948 but was published in the official gazette on 12 November 1948. According to law, the publishing date is the crucial one, but I guess that in this subject, they chose the signing date. The 1949 Flag and Emblem Law also uses 28th October 1948. Concerning the emblem, it was signed on 10th Febuary 1949 but published also later.
Dov Gutterman
, 10 October 2001


Flag Useage

On Wednesday April 21st 1999, we shall celebrate our 51st Independence Day. All the streets are already decorated with flags which are usually the national flags and the municipality flags. Also most of the houses and cars are also decorated with the national flags. As usual, most national flags do not keep to the official proportions of 8:11 but are 2:3 instead. Some public buildings are also decorated with the vertical variant (Magen David rotated 90 degrees) and those range from 2:3 up to 1:5 or even longer. The day before Independence Day is our national IDF [Israel Defence Force] Memorial Day, and all the national flags on public buildings will be lowered to half mast. According to Jewish tradition the day lasts from sunset to sunset and therefore at 8 pm on April 19th all Israeli flags are lowered to half mast as the IDF Memorial Day begins and 24 hours later, the flags are raised back as Independence Day begins.
Dov Gutterman
, 15 April 1999

Fifteen years ago, you could hardly see any flag while traveling in Israel. Not even government buildings hoisted the national flag on a regular basis. The 1986 amendment of the law which obligated hoisting the flag on government buildings etc. was the beginning of the change which brought to the current situation where you see flags all over the land. Most of them are commercial flags but also government organizations which adopted unofficial flags, municipalities and such. Naturally, there are plenty more around in the Independence Day period.
Dov Gutterman
, 23 May 2000

I have carried out a research on the origin of Israeli flags. One conclusion is that Israel has only three official flags which are included in the primary and secondary legislation. The war ensign is an exception. There is the possibility to make more flags official, but this option has not been used up to now.
Dov Gutterman
, 8 September 2001

All Israeli flags with inscriptions are displayed with the hoist to the right (i.e. a sinister hoist ). All of them are printed on one side only and seen mirrored on the obverse side. Only flags that are printed on both sides are the Delek Company and Egged, and of course the national, merchant, naval and military flags.
Dov Gutterman
, 18 September 2001

I recently visited Qishon Port, an subsidiary port of the major Haifa Port and managed by it. All the port authorities buildings hoisted the Haifa Port flag alongside the national flag. Flags used on different types of vessels:

  • Yachts: only the national flag on the main mast, no other flags or yacht burgees.
  • Fishing boats: only the national flag on the main mast in some boats, no flags on others.
  • Cargo ships: civil ensign at the stern.
  • Police boats: only the police flag on the main mast.
  • Navy vessels: naval ensign at the stern.

Dov Gutterman, 30 June 2002


Flag-Flying Days (Independance Day)

Israel's Independence Day which moves around the Gregorian calendar as it is based on the Jewish calendar, also moves if it falls on Friday or Saturday to avoid conflict with the Sabbath. This year, it falls on Monday, but has been moved to Tuesday so that the preceding day, Memorial Day, does not conflict with Saturday night. If the Flag Flying Days section applies year-by-year, it should be changed; in addition, perhaps the following note should be added: "If 4-5 Iyar falls on Thursday-Friday or Friday-Saturday, the days observed are moved to Wednesday-Thursday, 2-3 or 3-4 Iyar; if 4-5 Iyar falls on Sunday-Monday, the days observed may be moved to Monday-Tuesday, 5-6 Iyar."
The only other days 4-5 Iyar can fall on are Tuesday-Wednesday, in which case there's no issue. In addition, all of these days begin with the evening preceding.
Nathan Lamm, 4 April 2004


Vertical variant

[Coat-of-Arms (Israel)]
inage by António Martins-Tuválkin, 7 July 2008   

Here are two examples of Israel vertical flag. One is the standard vertical flag used in many municipalities during the 1999 Independence Day. The other flag decorated Zim HQ in Haifa.
Dov Gutterman
, 23 June 1999

Süddeutsche Zeitung" (19 June 2008, p. 9) reports about the Israeli flags that came with the three major Israeli newspapers as a give-away sponsored by the bank Hapoalim. The photograph clearly shows a flag with turned magen david, so that the point does not point upwards, but sideways.
Marcus Schmöger, 23 June 2008

This mistake made the flag a vertical variant of the national flag. What people should do is just to hang it vertically, as many did.
Dov Gutterman, 7 July 2008


Flagpole

There is a custom used for the Israeli national flag's flagpole of painting the flagpole blue for about one third of the way up from the ground, and then white for the remaining two thirds or so. This can be seen repeated for Jerusalem flag's flagpole. I am not at all sure that it should be, though. Whichever the case, it has been done from time to time.
M. Breier
, 24 June 1999


Coat-of-Arms

[Coat-of-Arms (Israel)]
image by Željko Heimer
Coat-of-arms adopted 10th February 1949 (11 Shevat 5709), published 11th November 1949

From the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Flag and Emblem webpage:

The official emblem was adopted nine months after the State was established; it has since appeared on official documents, on the presidential standard and on public buildings in Israel and abroad. In the process of designing the emblem, many proposals which sought to include the symbols deemed appropriate for representing the Jewish people in their reborn state were reviewed. To avoid imitating the emblems of European countries and to create a unique one, ancient visual symbols from former periods of Jewish sovereignty were sought. (...) The design process was long, as two almost antithetical forces tried to dictate the character of the emblem — religious and ritual values, on the one hand — secular and sovereign norms, on the other. (...) The Provisional Council of State announced a competition to design the emblem of the State.

The proposal submitted by graphic artists Oteh Walisch and W. Struski was chosen out of 450 designs submitted by 164 participants. The seven-branched candelabrum of the Temple —the menorah— occupies the center of the Walisch and Struski seal. The candelabrum is undoubtedly the oldest Jewish symbol. It has no parallel in heraldry and produces an immediate association with the subject it represents — the Temple in Jerusalem. The artists took as their model the depiction of the menorah in relief on the Arch of Titus in Rome. They simplified the shape into a sort of schematic negative in white, displayed against a light-blue background. The upper portion of the emblem showed a white band, on which the seven golden stars are emblazoned, which Theodor Herzl had intended for the flag of the Jewish state. He had meant these stars to stand for the seven-hour work-day he envisioned for the future citizens of the Jewish state. (...) But the proposal was not accepted. A special "Emblem and Flag Committee" was set up to deal with new proposals; it was headed by Beba Idelson and its members included cabinet ministers and members of the Knesset. The committee decided that the seven-branched menorah should be one of the elements of the emblem (...).

The emblem of the new state, adopted by unanimous vote of the Provisional Council of State, includes several ideas from the earlier designs (but omits one of them): the olive branches express the state's peaceful intentions; the menorah attests to the link of the Jewish people with its glorious past in the homeland and the return of the state to its former luster (through the metaphor of the restoration of the menorah from the Arch of Titus to its place in Israel), and indirectly, the beginning of the end of the Diaspora. "Israel" is the new name of the State, but the inscription is also a remnant of the phrase "Peace over Israel," which had been part of an earlier proposal. The element that was dropped was Herzl's seven stars.

Santiago Dotor, 10 October 2002


Other Flags

It seems that the last Israeli flag that showed some imagination was the Zionist flag, which was modified to the national flag, now more than 100 years old. Almost all of the flags you can see in Israel are logo-on-bedsheets or a logo replacing the magen David on the national flag. Only rarely can you find some imagination and mostly in commercial flags.Only two commercial flags are worth noting. The first is the flag of Delek, an oil company. The second one was the former flag of Egged.
Dov Gutterman
, 23 May 2000


The Light-FlagA blogger I know posts pictures of an Israeli flag made of lights (for Tuesday' Memorial Day and Wednesday's Independence Day celebrations) in Tel Aviv at <ajhistory.blogspot.com>.
Nathan Lamm, 2 May 2006

For those who are not familiar with it, we celebrate it according to the Hebrew calendar, so even thou it was on 14 May 1948, we celebrate it on He BeIyar (5th day of the eigth month).
The building in the photo is the city hall of Tel-Aviv and I can assure you that in reality the lights are blue and white....Better photo at <maxvps019.maximumasp.com>.
Few words about the flag. This flag is claimed to be the biggest light-flag in the world. It is situated on the southern wall of Tel Aviv city hall facing Rabin Square and is made of 580,000 bulbs. It is called Lights of Hope' Flag, and the bulbs was lightened gradually in the past month. Each bulb represent a donation of 18 NIS (~4 US$) for ELEM (organization for youth in danger). The number 18 (in Hebrew Hai, mwans Live) is symbolic.
Dov Gutterman, 3 May 2006


60th Anniversary Logo

[Coat-of-Arms (Israel)]
the winner

In may 2008, Israel will celebrate its 60th anniversary. The government decided to adopt a special logo which will appear on all its publications and on public transportation busses, trains, planes etc...  
It is also planned to have this logo on flags which will be hoisted next to national flags.  
Six proposals reached the final cut, that will be held today. Some are following the major motif of the celebrations which is : "Children of Israel - Citizens of Tomorrow".
The daily Yedi'oth Akharonot of today published the final six proposals. Later today or tomorrow we will know who is the winner.
Dov Gutterman, 3 September 2007

Following my previous post, above is the winning design of the 60th anniversary logo, which will be used also on flags. The designer is Ramo Sintas and its explanation is as follows: "We choose a design that combines flow  and innovation.  This is an Israeli logo that express optimism which is derived from of hope and great faith." The inscription is: "Israel - today and the tomorrow".
Dov Gutterman, 4 September 2007

Flag of Israel's 60th independence anniversary was sold in eBay.
Bill Garrison, 14 April 2008