The flag of Israel is based on the design of the tallit, the prayer shawl worn by Jewish men (and by some women in Reform and Conservative congregations) during certain services. The tallit is worn during all morning services. In addition, it is worn on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The tallit is also worn when reading the Torah during Shabbat (Sabbath) afternoon services and by the person leading evening services. (Jews pray three times a day: the morning service is called shacharit; the afternoon service is called minchah; and the evening service is called ma’ariv or aravit.) There are two basic traditions regarding who wears the tallit. According to one tradition, any Jewish adult should wear the tallit (at the appropriate times). A Jewish adult is one who is thirteen years of age and older (a Bar Mitzvah, or “Son of the Commandments.”) According to another tradition, only married Jews wear the tallit. In addition to the exterior tallit, there is also a tallit katan (“small tallit”), which pious Jews wear all day under their clothes.
Because the tallit is one of the most recognizable symbols of the Jewish people, it was chosen to be the basis of the flag. (Indeed, in coming up with a design for the flag, the early Zionists came to the realization that the Jewish People had had a flag all along – the tallit – and there was thus no need to design a flag from scratch.) In the center of the flag is the Magen David, or “Shield of [King] David,” better known in English as the “Star of David” or “Jewish Star,” another recognizable Jewish symbol.