Sunday, August 09, 2009

Star of David

I've heard R. Hershel Schachter make the following point about Franz Rosenzweig as well, although he usually doesn't mention him or Scholem by name. I don't think it invalidates Rosenzweig's philosophy. It just makes his use of symbolic representation less effective.

Richard A. Cohen, Elevations: The Height of the Good in Rosenzweig and Levinas, p. 247 n. 9:
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For a brief history of the Star of David symbol in Judaism, see Gershom Scholem, "The Star of David: History of a Symbol," The Messianic Idea in Judaism, translated by Miachel A. Meyer (New York: Schocken Books, 1971), 257-81; and Gershon Scholem, "Magen David," Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing Company, 1974), 362-368. Especially interesting and somewhat ironic, regarding Rosenzweig's fascination with the star, is that, as Scholem notes in the conclusion to both articles, the Star of David, or more literally the Shield of David, did not become a symbol of Judaism in the way that the cross was as symbol of Christianity until the nineteenth century. In the latter article, "Magen David," he writes: "The prime motive behind the wide diffusion of the sign in the 19th century was the desire to imitate Christianity. The Jews looked for a striking and simple sign which would 'symbolize' Judaism in the same way as the cross symbolizes Christianity" (367-68). The traditional "symbol" of Judaism for Jews is, of course, the Menorah, the candelabra which stood in the Temple of Jerusalem; it is today the "official" symbol of the State of Israel (which, by the way, has also lent legitimacy to the Star of David by putting it on the state flag.) Prior to the nineteenth century, Scholem points out, the Star of David was most often either an ornament or a magical sign, and not just a Jewish one at that.

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