Shortly after declaring independence, the Israeli government ran not one but two contests in its search for an official seal. The winning design, submitted by the Shamir brothers, featured a menorah with an olive branch on either side and the Hebrew word “Israel” beneath. The committee tasked with choosing an emblem asked the Shamirs to make one change: replace the stylized, modern-looking menorah with one modeled on the menorah depicted on the Arch of Titus in Rome. Saul Singer writes:
Many, including particularly then-Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog, vociferously objected to the use of this design because the menorah, which the Romans had proudly paraded as the ultimate symbol of Jewish defeat and degradation, represented the expulsion of the Jews from the land of Israel and the destruction of the Second Temple.
But the members of the committee and Israel’s provisional government, both of which unanimously adopted the design, believed the use of the Titus menorah would serve as an important metaphor for the rebirth of Israel: that after itself joining the Jews in exile, the menorah would now stand as testimony to the ultimate victory and eternal survival of the Jewish people. . . .
Because the ultimate design does not seem to reflect religious practice or belief—no verses from the Torah, no reference to the God of Israel—many argue that secularists prevailed [in choosing the seal]. In fact, however, the national emblem reflects one of the great . . . visions of the prophet Zechariah, [in which an angel shows him a menorah flanked by two olive trees].
Sign Up For Our E-Mail List Get the latest from Mosaic right in your inbox
Sign up now for unlimited access