Altneuschul Synagogue Flag, Prague
This is a photograph of a flag that is displayed in the Altneuschul in Prague. The dark red flag is situated in the nave of the synagogue near the west pillar. The flag features a Magen David and a hat that was typically worn by Jews in the fifteenth century. These features are embroidered in gold alongside the text of “Shema Yisrael.”
The flag on display today (and photographed here) is a reproduction of the flag that was awarded to the Jewish community of Prague in the seventeenth century, in recognition of their services in the defence of Prague during the Thirty Years War (1618–1648). An earlier flag was granted in 1345 by Emperor Karl IV, and this too was red and included the six-pointed star, later called the Star of David or Magen David. These Prague flags are considered the predecessors of the Zionist and Israeli flags, since they are the first to include a Magen David.
Connection to Parashat Bamidbar
In Parashat Bamidbar, the Torah details the Jewish People’s encampment in the desert. Having stayed at Mount Sinai for almost a year, it was now time for the Jewish People to begin their journey towards the Land of Israel. In addition to information about the number of people in each of the tribes, the Torah tells us that each tribe had its own flag, thus suggesting their independent status. Although the Jewish People are required to be one people, each of the tribes had their own role to play within the entirety of the nation. Although the Torah does not detail the colours of the flags, rabbinic literature goes into great detail linking the nature of the tribes to the colours which appeared on their respective flags.
Jewish History teachers can use this photograph to discuss the history of flags being hung in synagogues. It can also be shown when discussing the history of Jews in Europe, in particular, in Prague.
This photograph can be used in Jewish Studies lessons to discuss the role played flags, such as the tribal flags in the desert and the distinct tribal identities they represented.
Social Studies teachers can also use this photograph when talking about flags and social identities.
Art and Design teachers can show this as an example of design of flags.
Describe the flag.
What colour is it?
What is embroidered on the flag?
What shape is the flag?
Describe the space where the flag is hanging.
Reading Between the Lines
This flag is embroidered with a Magen David (Star of David).
What is the origin of this symbol?
Why do you think this symbol was used on the flag?
Can you think of another flag that includes the Magen David?
What was the evolution of this flag?
When was it first introduced?
The Prague flag has an interesting history.
Research the origins of this flag and the reason why it was hung in a synagogue.
Where can you find this flag?
What is special about this synagogue?
Have you ever been to Prague?
If so, what were your impressions of the Jewish sites there?
If not, answer this question after searching for material online.
Are there any flags in your synagogue?
If so, which ones?
Are flags a positive addition to a synagogue?
Do you own anything that has a Magen David on it?
What is it?
What is the purpose of the Magen David design?
Design a flag for your synagogue that incorporates all the unique aspects of the community.