Skip to main content

Magen David


MAGEN DAVID . The Magen David (Shield of David, Scutum Davidis), a hexagram or six-pointed star, has been at home in many cultures and civilizations, albeit without any readily identifiable meaning until the present century. In the Middle Ages, the Magen David appeared frequently in the decorations of Hebrew manuscripts from Europe and Islamic lands and even in the decorations of some synagogues, but it seems to have had then no distinct Jewish symbolic connotation. The Magen David, also called the Seal of Solomon (Sigillum Salomonis), was employed in the Middle Ages by Jews, Christians, and Muslims as a symbol with magic or amuletic power.

In the seventeenth century, the followers of the messianic pretender Shabbetai Tsevi adopted the Magen David. Amulets of the movement bore the hexagram with the Hebrew letters MBD, standing for Mashia ben David, "Messiah, son of David." Thus the hexagram came to be identified with the shield of the son of David, the hoped-for messiah.

In the late eighteenth century, the Magen David came into popular use in western Europe, perhaps as a meaningful new sign that could express or symbolize Judaism. As late as the nineteenth century, however, the Magen David was not yet accepted as a symbol by Orthodox Jews. Yitsaq Elanan Spektor, an influential Orthodox rabbi in Kovno (modern-day Kaunas), Lithuania, warned the local Reform congregations to remove the Magen David that graced their houses of worship.

The use of the Magen David was reinforced by two major events. First, in 1897, at Basel, Switzerland, the Magen David was officially adopted as the symbol of the newly formed Zionist Movement at the first Zionist Congress. Since 1948, the Magen David has appeared on the official flag of the state of Israel. Second, in the 1930s and 1940s the Nazis forced all Jews in lands under their control to wear a badge of shame: a yellow Magen David bearing the word Jude ("Jew"). Today the Magen David serves to identify most Jewish houses of worship, traditionalist as well as liberal, and it remains a positive symbol of Judaism.

See Also

Amulets and Talismans; Geometry.


The best single source on the Magen David is Gershom Scholem's article "Magen David" in the Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 1971), which includes an extensive bibliography.

New Sources

Oegema, Gerbern S. The History of the Shield of David: The Birth of a Symbol. Frankfurt am Main and New York, 1996.

Joseph Gutmann (1987)

Revised Bibliography

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Magen David." Encyclopedia of Religion. . 18 Aug. 2018 <>.

"Magen David." Encyclopedia of Religion. . (August 18, 2018).

"Magen David." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved August 18, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.