Blue and White and the Israeli Flag

In Theodor Herzl's Der Judenstaat (in English: The Jewish State), published in 1896, he suggests a flag for the envisioned Jewish state, and proposes that it have seven golden stars on a white field. In an entry from his diary a year earlier, we have his explanation: "...The white background stands for our new and pure life; the seven stars are the seven golden hours of our working day. We shall enter the Promised Land in the sign of work." Under the influence of the Zionist societies, he accepted the Shield of David as the emblem of the movement, (The Shield of David was already in use as a Jewish symbol in the mid-17th century in Europe. The early Zionist Hibbat Zion societies in Russia in the late 19th century used it as its national emblem, on its official seals, incorporating the word Ziyyon inside.)  Herzl insisted, however, that the six stars should be placed on the six angles of the Shield of David, with the seventh above it. The Lion of Judah was inscribed in the middle and the Shield plus stars became the first emblem of the Zionist organization.

TalitFrom where, then, the famous blue and white? The blue and white colors were first mentioned by the poet L.A. Frankl[1] in his poem Zivei Erez Yehuda (the colors of the Land of Judah), written about 1860:

All that is sacred will appear in these colors:
White – as the radiance of great faith
Blue – like the appearance of the firmament."

The Zionist flag in its present form - two blue stripes on white background with a Shield of David in the center - was designed by David Wolffsohn, second president of the World Zionist Organization and close friend of Theodor Herzl.[2]s At the height of the preparations for the First Zionist Congress in 1897, Wolffsohn gave the Zionist Movements its first two symbols: the colors blue and white for the movement's flag, and the ancient term shekel for the Zionist members' dues.

Israeli FlagWolffsohn modeled the flag of Zion on the traditional Jewish prayer shawl (tallit), which, he pointed out, was the traditional flag of the Jewish people; he used blue stripes, as those which are woven into the white material of many tallitot in remembrance of the blue thread of the zizit fringes (see article on tekhelet). Wolffsohn added the Shield of David in the center, between the stripes.

On special occasions, such as at the Sixth and Seventh Zionist Congresses (following Herzl's death) a flag with the Zionist emblem placed between these blue stripes was used.[3] It was at the 18th Zionist Congress in 1933 that it was officially resolved that "according to a tradition of many years the azure-white is the flag of the Zionist Federation and the Hebrew People." According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, "the Zionist flag in its present form - two blue stripes on white background with a shield of David in the center - was first displayed in Rishon le-Zion in 1885". Rishon le-Zion, the first Zionist settlement in what is now Israel, was established in 1882. The Encyclopaedia suggests that Wolffsohn was unaware of the flag used earlier used in Rishon le-Zion and (presumably) by the "Love of Zion" groups, when he proposed his design.

Daughter of Zion 1910
Click to view enlarged


"The Daughter of Zion" greeting card for the new year, Germany, c. 1910. The long flag/streamer which the woman holds is white and has two blue stripes (like in the Israeli flag) but also two narrower stripes, in a lighter shade of blue, close to the wider ones. Between the inner stripes and in the same shade of blue are small Shields of David running along the flag, with the Hebrew word "Zion" inside.

Shortly after the State of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948, a committee was establishing to consider the question of an emblem and flag; on June 10 a public competition was announced.People were encouraged to include the menorah and the seven golden stars in their designs, though this was not a strict requirement. This is the full text of the call for proposals:

The Provisional Government
Proposals are requested
for a flag and an emblem for the State

Given that:

The flag: the colours - azure and white.
In the flag: Magen-David, or seven stars (gold or other colour).

The emblem: the colours — azure and white and any additional colour, to the designer's liking.
In the emblem: a seven-branch Menorah and seven stars (six-pointed).

Any other proposal or idea would be accepted for consideration as well. The Government is not committed to accept any of the submitted proposals.

The proposals should be delivered in a sealed envelope marked: Secretariat of the Provisional Government, Emblems Committee. The envelope will bear an identification mark and not a name or anything that can testify to the identity of the proposer. The name of the owner of the mark and his terms would be revealed in a second envelope.

The deadline for submitting proposals is Monday, 7th of Sivan 5708 (June 14 1948) at noon, Israel time.

The committee deliberated and in November 1948 decided to ask the public again for proposals, but this time without any guidelines. Though the time to submit designs was short, 164 people participated in the competition, and a total of 450 designs were submitted. In the end, the flag chosen for the new state was the same as that of the Zionist movement, except that the shade of blue was darkened in the state flag.[4]


[1] August Ludwig Frankl (1810-1894), Austrian poet, secretary of the Vienna Jewish community,and founder of the Laemel School in Jerusalem.[back]
[2] According to Ms. Rebecca Rabinowitz, it was her grandfather, Mr. Morris Harris, and not Wolffsohn, who created the flag in 1897. This is discussed in a website created in honor of Mr. Harris. [back]
[3] Ha-Degel (The Flag), 1948 [back]
[4] Handelman and Lea Shamgar-Handelman: "Shaping Time: The Choice of the National Emblem of Israel," in Emiko Ohnuki-Tierny (ed): Culture Through Time: Anthropological Approaches, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990, pp. 193-226.[back]

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