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The Star of David and the Stars Outside: The Poetics and Semiotics of Jewish Folklore and of Zionism

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“The Star of David and the Stars Outside: The Poetics and Semiotics of Jewish Folklore and of Zionism” written in memory of Dov Noy by his disciple and successor, proposes the perspectives of folklore studies and semiotics as the basis for a critical reading of Gershom Scholem’s essay “Magen David”. The author of the present article reviews the various subsequent versions of Scholem’s essay that was first published in 1947 in Hebrew in an annual literary supplement of the daily Haaretz. The essay stated Scholem’s harsh criticism against the adoption of the Star of David as a Jewish national symbol by Zionist cultural and political institutions. Earlier scholarship has shown how “Magen David” digressed from the usual topics at the focus of Scholem’s magisterial oeuvre, especially the texts of Jewish mysticism interpreted in the light of the phenomenology of religion and historical philology. The present author suggests that the methodological tools that Scholem had honed for reading historical texts on mysticism may not have the same pertinence for analyzing the historical evolvement and transformations of a symbol like the Star of David that has often appeared in contexts of everyday life, magic customs and visual culture. Scholem’s strong rejection of the holistic picture of Jewish folk religion including mystical, magical and poetic expressions, isolating mysticism from all these as a separate, philosophical discourse and phenomenon, did not enable him to see the strong identification of Jews who practiced those more concrete forms of Jewish life sometimes using the symbol of Magen David. Scholem’s choice to publish this essay in Hebrew and in a literary organ, is here interpreted as his attempt to take part in the shaping of Zionist poetical discourse. The relevance of the symbol that he chose for participating in the poetics of the era is demonstrated by an analysis of the focus on stars in the poetry of two dominant poets of Hebrew Zionist culture who were both active in the years before and after the publication of Scholem’s “Magen David” essay, Natan Alterman and Haim Gouri.


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