Known in Hebrew as Magen David (“Shield of David”), this important Jewish symbol is composed of two superimposed equilateral triangles forming a hexagram. The symbol was common in many ancient civilizations and cultures, where it served variously for decoration and for the practice of magic. The Star was not associated specifically with Judaism during biblical or Talmudic times. It appeared as early as the tenth century as a lucky sign in the mezuzah—a small container of scriptural texts from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 placed on traditional Jewish doorposts. Later—around the seventeenth century—it began appearing on Jewish tombstones and as decoration in synagogues. In the nineteenth century, the appearance of the Star became widespread when it was adopted by central European Jews as a symbol to represent Judaism, much as the cross represents Christianity. The symbol spread quickly and was in use in most synagogues by the early years of the twentieth century. In 1897 the First Zionist Congress adopted the Star; later, it was utilized as the central image of the flag of the State of Israel. During the Nazi period, Jews in Europe were forced to wear a Magen David as an identifying badge.
Hasidic Jewish children in Jerusalem. Note the sidelocks and skullcaps.