The Evolution of a Symbol

by Community Writers

A Swastika at the Tower of David? What is the connection between the Swastika and the Holy Temple?

The Swastika, the symbol of the Nazi Party, obviously evokes intense feelings not only on Holocaust Day and not only among Israelis and Jews. In the Western world, the swastika has been banned as a symbol of Nazism, racism and human evil.

The emblem, adopted by Adolf Hitler in 1920 as the symbol of the Nazi movement, was a symbol that Hitler knew from the church of his youth. Hitler viewed this symbol as a connection between Germany’s roots in the past and the new party that he established.

For documentary purposes the German Federal Archive often retained the original image captions, which may be erroneous, biased, obsolete or politically extreme. Nürnberg, Horst Wessel mit SA-Sturm Horst Wessel an der Spitze seines Sturmes in Nürnberg, 1929 Abgebildete Personen: Wessel, Horst: SA-Sturmführer, 1930 erschossen, Deutschland (GND 118631721)

Horst Wessel an der Spitze seines Sturmes in Nürnberg, 1929

However, this geometric symbol, in Hindu Sanskrit known as a svastika, is actually a very ancient symbol used by many cultures of the world as early as 2500 BCE and its significance is quite the opposite of racist ideology.

The original svastika symbolized good luck, success and the miracle of creation. In Eastern cultures it symbolizes the four basic elements – air, water, fire and earth and it frequently appears on buildings, temples and everyday objects.

Visitors and tourists to Israel’s historic and archaeological sites often encounter the swastika symbol on the mosaic floors of ancient synagogues such as Ein Gedi and Capernaum, and here too – in the courtyard of the Tower of David, the swastika appears on a large and impressive stone dating from the Second Temple period.

Obviously, the sight of a swastika can be distressing and, at times, visitors have asked why we don’t cover the stone and hide the symbol. But it actually turns out that Judaism adopted this symbol as a decorative emblem as early as the days of the Babylonian exile.  When the Jews returned to Jerusalem they brought the symbol with them and used it to decorate mosaics and buildings as a sign of good luck and plenty.

האבן המוצגת במוזיאון מגדל דוד

Photo: The stone on display at the Tower of David Museum

In Jerusalem, during the excavations of the Temple Mount in the 1970’s, fragments of cornices with the swastika decoration were uncovered. Dr. Yuval Baruch, Jerusalem District Archaeologist, who excavated south of the Temple Mount says that the decoration belongs to the Royal Stoa – the colonnade that surrounded the Temple.

Here too, in the courtyard of the Tower of David, an impressive stone was discovered during excavations, decorated with swastikas and flowers. This stone was probably part of the Hulda Gates, through which pilgrims entered the Temple during the Second Temple period. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, the stone probably rolled down into a ravine and was brought to the Jerusalem Citadel which in time became the Tower of David Museum, the museum of the city and the symbol of the power and renewal of Jerusalem.

האבן המוצגת במוזיאון מגדל דוד

Photo: Sign detailing the placement of the stone during the Second Temple Period


Featured image: Amir Yerhi