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Colours of the Flag (Israel)

Last modified: 2005-02-19 by santiago dotor
Keywords: specification: colour | colour |
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Shade of Blue

In Smith 1975 you will find that Israel and Greece both use a fairly dark blue, though they are slightly different from each other. The Israeli blue is as dark as any of the Blue Ensigns shown in the book, and the Greek flag is of a very slightly lighter shade. They both stand in sharp contrast to the light blue of Argentina, Botswana, Fiji etc.

Nick Artimovich, 27 February 1996

The blue colour in Israel's flag is definitely dark. Some time ago I got a folder on national symbols from the Embassy of Israel in Washington. In the flag drawing the blue is dark, the text defines it as Yale Blue.

Jan Oskar Engene, 27 February 1996

The flag of Israel was a dark (navy) blue until the late 50's or early 60's at which time it was changed to a lighter blue.

Ronnie Kay, 27 February 1996

The flag of Israel is decidedly not any single shade of blue. It is based on a tallit, a religious article of clothing. The color of blue meant to be used on the tallit is not known and in fact everything from black to reddish purple is used to denote it with different religious and political connotations. The most common color (the light blue) comes from the fact that the tallit most people wear (including mine) is a light blue with the deliberate statement of "this is most probably not the right color". Many people, including me, would find black as acceptable as the current shade of blue. The reddish tones of purple could get you into an argument. For the State of Israel to make any definite proclamation beyond "blue" could incite violence (!) and questions as to what exactly what shade of the color it is are probably viewed with suspicion of "looking for a fight". There are enough people opposed to using blue at all, to begin with.

Jacob Faturechi, 21 October 1996

The 1948 Flag Proclamation describes the colour of two wide stripes as dark sky-blue (Tkhelet Ke'he, the same colour as specified for the civil ensign) but the Magen David as simply sky-blue (Tkhelet). However both are the same shade of blue.

Dov Gutterman, 23 August 2001

I have carried out a research on the origin of Israeli flags. The main conclusion is that all Israeli flags use the same shade of blue which is prescribed by law as 'dark azure' or 'dark sky-blue' (Tkhelet Ke'he — plain blue in Hebrew is Kahol). This includes all components —stripes, Magen David and background— of the national flag, the civil ensign, customs flag and the war ensign. Moreover, the rank flags use the same shade of blue for the Magen David and stripes in the canton as for the background.

Dov Gutterman, 8 September 2001

Even though the legislation uses the same blue for all flags (national, civil ensign, naval ensign and customs flags), in actual practice a darker shade is used for naval flags [civil and war ensigns] and police flags. If you see a naval ensign next to the national flag —as I see daily passing by the maritime and naval museum in Haifa— the difference is quite clear.

Dov Gutterman, 6 February 2002 and 6 February 2003

The shade of blue of the Israeli flag is not determined in the legislation. Album des Pavillons 2000 uses Pantone 280c which seems to me quite appropiate.

Dov Gutterman, 7 March 2002

Origins of the Colours

The color blue in the flag of Israel derives from the ancient dye tekhelet, mentioned many times in the bible (Numbers 15:37-39). This color was used to dye a thread of the ritual fringes, or tzitzit that all Jewish males are commanded to wear, and which are tied to the corners of the ritual garment, the tallit. This is a specific color, derived from the dye produced by the snail Murex trunculus, known in Hebrew as the hilazon. This is the same dye known historically as Tyrian purple. The confusion of shades comes from the fact (rediscovered recently) that when wool dyed with the dye from Murex was exposed to sunlight, the dye became a bright blue, but when the dyed wool was hidden from light, the color produced was that of royal purple. This change is due to the exposure of the compound dibromoindigo (purple) to ultraviolet light, producing the compound indigo (blue, chemically identical to the vegetable dye). This can be an explanation why some Israeli flags (in the past) were almost colored purple, while others are sky blue — these two colors were seen as deriving from the same natural source (the Hebrew word argaman was used for the purple shade). This color is of immense symbolic importance in Judaism and was used in many articles in the Temple in Jerusalem as well, including the outer robe of the high priest. An excellent discussion about the symbolism and ritual importance of this specific blue dye in Judaism can be found at this website [including]:

"And the Rabbis said: Why does the Torah enjoin us regarding tekhelet? Because tekhelet resembles sapphire, and the Tablets were of sapphire, to tell you that so long as the people of Yisrael gaze upon this tekhelet they are reminded of that which is inscribed on the Tablets and they fulfill it, and so it is written, 'And you shall see it and remember.'"
(Mishnat Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 14).

In ancient times purple and blue dyes derived from snails were so rare and sought after that they were literally worth their weight in gold. These precious dyes colored the robes of the kings and princes of Media, Babylon, Egypt, Greece and Rome. To wear them was to be identified with royalty.

Ted Kandell, 6 December 2001

It is frequently said that the Israeli flag is designed to resemble a Jewish prayer shawl (tallit), which is white with stripes (no Shield of David — that is a flag-only feature). However, the tallit (and, occasionally, the smaller tallit katan) usually has black, not blue, stripes, and therein lies a tale.

The fringes, as worn in antiquity (on many garments, not just prayer shawls — any four-cornered garment must have them, and garments of that kind [e.g. togas] were more widely worn back then; now, without such garments, the prayer shawls are specially made) and again by many today, are both white and blue, with the white, in some opinions, outnumbering the blue. It is said that when the source and process of dying was lost about 1500 years ago, and Jews were left with only white threads (a practice anticipated and approved of by the Talmud, the corpus of Jewish law, about three hundred years earlier), they began to incorporate colored stripes into their garments to commemorate the lost blue threads (with white still predominating, as it may have on the threads themselves, leaving colored stripes on a white garment). The color here was not important, as it was only custom — there are all-white shawls, white-on-white stripes, rainbow stripes, and many others. Black came to predominate, at least in Europe. This may be because black dye was cheapest, or because of a misreading of Maimonides' law code — he uses a word which could mean either "dark" or "black" to describe the original, fringe-dye. He obviously means "dark," as in "dark blue," as the fact that it was blue was well known (see below), and he was limiting it (other opinions range from reddish or purplish blue all the way to greenish blue or green). However, some read this as "black" and dyed their stripes accordingly.

Others, however, especially in Africa and Asia, had their stripes the original blue. I have even heard an opinion that this was an ancient practice, dating to when dyed fringes were worn — the shawl was dyed to match the threads, white with some blue (stripes). With the blue fringes lost, some changed the stripes to black, so it would only be a commemeration. The Rev. Ezra Stiles of Yale University in the 18th Century reports that Rabbi Isaac Carigal, an emmissary from Turkey and Israel, wore blue stripes on his tallit, by the way.

I imagine the founding Zionists prefered blue to black, for both historical as well as aesthetic reasons, and, although the story runs that a European proposed the pattern pointing to his prayer shawl, they probably chose the African/Asian colors immediately.

A page on the Israeli Foreign Ministry's site claims that the Shield of David, historically a secular symbol, was added to offset the religious imagery of the Tallit, with something similar happening to the State arms (olive branches [secular, perhaps] added to a menorah [religious]). An interesting theory.

And why blue? The Talmud explains that it is meant to evoke the sea, both in color as well as in source (a sea snail). The sea's color reminds us of the heavens' color (blue), and, of course, heaven reminds us of God.

One last story. During World War II, playwright Ben Hecht wrote A Flag is Born, a play alerting the world to the Holocaust. In it, an old Jewish couple, escaping from Europe, gives a tallit to a young Jew right before they die. The young man turns the tallit into a flag and goes off to fight for a Jewish state — which happens to fictionalize an actual event, described above.

Nathan Lamm, 7 December 2001

Just for the record, A Flag is Born was actually conceived and written after World War Two, according to the American Jewish Historical Society.

Santiago Dotor, 7 December 2001

I had been told as a youth that many shawls used black instead of blue in memory of the destruction of the Temple in the year 70. Is this legend or is there anything to it?

Al Kirsch, 7 December 2001

I have heard of this as well, but cannot find it in any reference works I have checked. The presence of the stripes, and their dark color, are definitely because of the blue dye of the threads, but black is a bit unclear — it may be because of the reason you wrote. A problem is that Judaism never really used black for mourning. When white is used for purity (it is also used for shrouds), its opposite is given as scarlet. A similar claim, that Hasidic and other ultra-Orthodox Jews wear black as a sign of mourning for the Temple, fails for the same reasons — it may be somber, but not really mourning. Of course, black may have been used for mourning because surrounding peoples, especially European, used it. This would explain why European Jews use black, but not Sephardic Jews.

Nathan Lamm, 7 December 2001

Much about colours in Judaism, specifically with vexillologic orientation, may be found in Ruder 1999.

Željko Heimer, 7 December 2001

I have more recently read that one possibility may be the common classical-era (Greek, Roman etc.) practice of putting designs on the edges of garments — this carried over to Jewish religious garments as stripes.

Nathan Lamm, 17 May 2004