Blue in Judaism

Blue in Judaism

Because blue is the color of the sky and sea, it has often symbolized divinity, as well as height and depth. It can also represent equilibrium, since its hue suggests a shade midway between white and black, day and night. [ [ Mishnah Zeraim 1:2] ]

In the Torah, the Israelites were commanded to put fringes, "tzitzit", on the corners of their garments, and to weave within these fringes a “twisted thread of blue (tekhelet).” [ Numbers 15:38.] In ancient days, this blue thread was made from a dye extracted from a Mediterranean snail (or cuttlefish) called the "hilazon". Maimonides claimed that this blue was the color of “the clear noonday sky”; Rashi, the color of the evening sky. [ "Mishneh Torah", "Tzitzit" 2:1; Commentary on Numbers 15:38.]

According to several rabbinic sages, blue is the color of God’s Glory. [ "Numbers Rabbah" 14:3; "Hullin" 89a.] Staring at this color aids in meditation, bringing us a glimpse of the “pavement of sapphire, like the very sky for purity,” which is a likeness of the Throne of God. [ Exodus 24:10; Ezekiel 1:26; "Hullin" 89a.] . Many items in the "Mishkan", the portable sanctuary in the wilderness, such as the "menorah", many of the vessels, and the Ark of the Covenant, were covered with blue cloth when transported from place to place. [ Numbers 4:6-12.]

The Flag of Israel has two blue stripes and a blue Star of David against a white background. An early Zionist poem explains that the color white symbolizes great faith; blue the appearance of the firmament. ["Zivei Eretz Yehudah" (1860), Ludwig August von Frankl.] (The original dark blue stripes were later lightened to heighten visibility at sea.) Because of its association with the State of Israel, blue has become very popular in contemporary Jewish design. Modern tallitot, especially those used by Religious Zionist Jews, often have blue stripes on a white background instead of black stripes common in Haredi communities.

In modern Hebrew “blue-white” ( _he. כחול־לבן "kokhol-lavan") is used a synonym for “Israeli” as an adjective, especially for local produce (as opposed to imported).


Further reading

* Zvi Ruder (1999): "The National Colors of the People of Israel: Tradition, Religion, Philosophy, and Politics Intertwined" ISBN 965-293-059-8

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