Question of the Day: What is the Origin of the Yellow “Star of David” That the Nazis Required Jews to Wear at the Time of the Holocaust?

Answer: The yellow patch, or yellow “star of David”, set upon the clothing as a marker of Jewish identity, has its origins, not in 20th century anti-Semitism, but in 13th century Christian anti-Semitism.

In 1215 Pope Innocent III decreed that Jews living among Catholics must wear a yellow badge to distinguish themselves from the Christians.

Source: PBS Documentary from the Frontline series, titled The Longest Hatred: A Revealing History of Anti- Semitism (DVD release 2004). The whole DVD, by the way, is excellently produced and highly worth owning.

NOTE: The PBS documentary does not mention this, but Pope Innocent may have taken his decree cue from Muslim regions, where the designation of groups by distinguishing markers was widely practiced. Paul Johnson, in his 1987 book, A History of the Jews, claims that Jews were marked off, in twelfth century Baghdad, by a yellow patch (p. 204).

Below is an image of medieval Jews, with patches on their garments in the shape of Moses’s tablets of the Law, being beaten by a Christian:


About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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12 Responses to Question of the Day: What is the Origin of the Yellow “Star of David” That the Nazis Required Jews to Wear at the Time of the Holocaust?

  1. jack says:

    I would like to learn what the significance of the color yellow is.

    I suspect the sun appears that color through the media of the atmosphere of the earth through nitrogen blue.

    The Prophecy of the sun may be in play, there. The Armageddon.

  2. santitafarella says:


    The color may have no tracable symbolic significance at all. Perhaps the Pope saw the color yellow in a basket of fruit when he got the idea. Or perhaps a yellow patch was simply a more obviously visual marker than, say, a darker color (like brown).

    It may also be that Muslims and Christians had a particular “color” associated with the clothing of their merchants, and yellow wasn’t one of them.

    Or it may be that yellow, being akin to the color of gold, may have been a way for the Pope to designate an anti-Semitic stereotype (that Jews control the secular world’s wealth).

    Or it may be nothing more than a dye-color readily available at the time.


  3. JR says:

    Maybe the Magen David was yellow because a messianic star like the one that led the wise men to Jesus Christ is depicted as yellow with its shining light; but I’ve always thought the yellow Magen David the Nazis put on Jews was intended to mark them off as cowardly people who have refused to face up to their sins before God and have characteristically Judas-like back-stabbed Gentiles rather than front them fairly face to face in fight.

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  5. concerned christian says:

    Santi, you are right about the fact that dress code to distinguish different religious groups was first introduced by Muslim rulers, and it was more detailed than just wearing a yellow badge. Bat Ye’or in her book “The Dhimmi” page 65 said
    “Although many regulations concerning the dhimmis were derived from the provisions of the Code of Justinian (534) … a differentiation of costume appears to have been an innovation of the Arabs …
    Thus there were many laws regulating the clothes worn by dhimmis (color, shape, and dimensions), the shapes of the turbans, footwear, and saddles, as well as the attire of wives, children and servants of dhimmis.”

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      One of the things that I find troubling about Islamic modes of thought is its collectivism and the setting off of individuals as, in essence, something “owned” by their communities (or ummahs). It’s Herderianism before Herder ever wrote about it. It runs contrary to all notions of individual liberty. Egypt is about to undergo a depressing shift into this sort of thinking, setting the country back for (perhaps) generations. You know the details much better than I, but my guess is that you’ll see an Islamic Brotherhood period (bad enough) followed by an outright Salafist period. It will get worse before it gets better.


      • concerned christian says:

        Santi, the election results in Egypt show that Muslim Brothers’ party is leading with Salafi’s party coming second. Between them they will have more than 60% of the seats. The youth who started the January revolution are still protesting, but the Military is viciously crushing them, killing tens and injuring hundreds, with most of the victims this time are from the progressive Muslims rank. This is really sad because many of the dead were true patriots who could have helped bring real progress to Egypt.
        The Islamist parties are not protesting the military brutality because they expect to take over any way. The situation is quite intriguing and it is not clear who will come on top at the end, either the Islamist or the Military, but either way a good number of educated Muslims started to see the Islamist for what they really are; just power hungry and opportunists.
        I still find the American Administration position towards the events in Egypt confused and puzzling, because we are giving full recognition to the Islamist and not doing much to help progressive parties, and if the Islamist took over the whole Middle East will be in shambles.

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        My guess is the Obama administration is looking at the Muslim world in the same way that the Brits and French looked at the end of colonialism. Once you leave and stop trying to control the situation, there will invariably be alternative models tried, most of them futile and unpleasant and not to our liking, but not really stoppable. The Muslim world will try conservative Islamism, and, over time—perhaps 50 years—it will corrode as a political, religious, cultural, and economic model. If I were a Christian in Egypt, I’d get out.


  6. eartha says:

    Actually, I read in books re. the history of colors, the origins of color dyes and usages in history, that it was the jew rabbis that chose that color for id. In the Middle Ages, colors could not be set like today, and dyes were expensive. The poor wore natural colors, like grey, beige, etc. There was one color the poor had readily available in the common woad plant, which gave a pale blue color. Also some dark greens. But bright colors were not available widely: reds, purples, bright blue, greens, red-oranges, and above all,yellow. A clear shade of yellow was rare and very expensive. THAT is the color the rabbis chose.

  7. aaheart says:

    Jewish author, Joseph L. Burg, testified in court in Canada that German Zionists in 1933 requested that Nazi authorities allow the use of yellow Magen David patches to be required of all Jews. He testified in 1938 the leading rabbi in the Third Reich demanded the mandatory use of the yellow Magen David patch by all German Jews.

  8. “…Although it is said that the law requiring Jews to wear a yellow badge upon their clothing originated with Harun, and although the laws of Islam were stringently enforced by him to the detriment of the Jews, the magnificent development which Arabian culture underwent in his time must have benefited the Jews also; so that a scientific tendency began to make itself noticeable among the Babylonian Jews under Harun and his successors, especially under Al-Ma’mun (813-833).

    Like the Arabs, the Jews were zealous promoters of knowledge, and by translating Greek and Latin authors, mainly at the House of Wisdom in Bagdad, contributed essentially to their preservation. They took up religio-philosophical studies (the “kalam”), siding generally with the Mutazilites and maintaining the freedom of the human will (“chadr”). The government meanwhile accomplished all it could toward the complete humiliation of the Jews. All non-believers — Magi, Jews, and Christians — were compelled by Al-Mutawakkil to wear a badge; their places of worship were confiscated and turned into mosques; they were excluded from public offices, and compelled to pay to the caliph a tax of one-tenth of the value of their houses. An utterance of the caliph Al-Mu’tadhel (892-902) ranks the Jews, as state servants, after Christians. Reasons for this change need to be investigated. …” In

  9. And this Islamic Jewphobia and hatred of all kafirs went on and on, of course, into the following centuries: “…Al—Ghazali, a Sufi orthodox Muslim, and follower of the Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence, wrote this about jihad war and the treatment of the vanquished non—Muslim dhimmi peoples, in the Wadjiz: [4]
    [O]ne must go on jihad (i.e., warlike razzias or raids) at least once a year…one may use a catapult against them [non-Muslims] when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children. One may set fire to them and/or drown them…If a person of the Ahl al—Kitab [People of The Book — primarily Jews and Christians] is enslaved, his marriage is [automatically] revoked…One may cut down their trees…One must destroy their useless books. Jihadists may take as booty whatever they decide…they may steal as much food as they need…
    [T]he dhimmi is obliged not to mention Allah or His Apostle…Jews, Christians, and Majians must pay the jizya [poll tax on non—Muslims]…on offering up the jizya, the dhimmi must hang his head while the official takes hold of his beard and hits [the dhimmi] on the protruberant bone beneath his ear [i.e., the mandible]… They are not permitted to ostentatiously display their wine or church bells…their houses may not be higher than the Muslim’s, no matter how low that is. The dhimmi may not ride an elegant horse or mule; he may ride a donkey only if the saddle [—work] is of wood. He may not walk on the good part of the road. They [the dhimmis] have to wear [an identifying] patch [on their clothing], even women, and even in the [public] baths…[dhimmis] must hold their tongue….
    Compare Al—Ghazali’s writings, above, to the statements below by two later, prominent Hanbali jurists, Ibn Qudama (d. 1223), and the much demonized Ibn Taymiyya (d.1328). First Ibn Qudama: [5]
    Legal war (jihad) is an obligatory social duty (fard—kifaya); when one group of Moslems guarantees that it is being carried out in a satisfactory manner, the others are exempted.
    The jihad becomes a strictly binding personal duty (fard—’ain) for all Moslems who are enlisted or whose country has been [invaded] by the enemy. It is obligatory only for free men who have reached puberty, are endowed with reason and capable of fighting. Jihad is the best of the works of supererogation. Abu Huraira relates that ‘The Prophet, when asked what was the best of all works, replied: Belief in God [and in His Prophet].— And then? someone asked him. — War for God’s cause, then a pious pilgrimage.’ Abu Sa’id reports also that the Prophet, when asked who was the best of all men, replied, ‘He who fights for God’s cause, personally and with his goods.’… It is permitted to surprise the infidels under cover of night, to bombard them with mangonels [an engine that hurls missiles] and to attack them without declaring battle (du’a’). The Prophet attacked the Banu Mustaliq unexpectedly, while their animals were still at the watering—place; he killed the men who had fought against him and carried off the children into captivity. It is forbidden to kill children, madmen, women, priests, impotent old men, the infirm, the blind, the weak—minded, unless they have taken part in the combat.
    The chief of State decides on the fate of the men who are taken as prisoners; he can have them put to death, reduce them to slavery, free them in return for a ransom or grant them their freedom as a gift. He must choose the solution most in keeping with the common good of the Moslems.
    The jizya can be demanded only from the Peoples of the Book (Ahl—al—Kitab) and from Zoroastrians (Magus), who pledge to pay it and submit to the laws of the community. The Peoples of the Book are understood to mean the Jews and those who follow the religion of the Torah, as well as the Christians and those who follow the religion of the Gospel. When People of the Book or Zoroastrians ask to pay the jizya and to submit to the laws of the community, one must grant their request, and it is forbidden to fight them. The jizya is collected at the beginning of each year. It is set at 48 dirhems for a rich man, at 24 dirhems for a man of moderate means, and at 12 dirhems for a man of lowly estate. It cannot be demanded from children who have not reached the age of puberty, from women, helpless old men, the sick, the blind, or slaves, nor from poor people who are unable to pay it. An infidel subject to the jizya who converts to Islam is free of this obligation. When an infidel dies, his heirs are responsible for the jizya.
    Ibn Taymiyya: [6]
    Since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is God’s entirely and God’s word is uppermost, therefore according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought. As for those who cannot offer resistance or cannot fight, such as women, children, monks, old people, the blind, handicapped and their likes, they shall not be killed unless they actually fight with words (e.g. by propaganda) and acts (e.g. by spying or otherwise assisting in the warfare).
    As for the People of the Book and the Zoroastrians (Majus), they are to be fought until they become Muslims or pay the tribute (jizya) out of hand and have been humbled. …” In

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