June 2, 2024
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The Original Logo of the Israel Postal System and Genesis 49:21

I previously wrote a column about Yaakov’s blessing to Naftali. At Genesis 49:21, we read: “Naftali ayalah sheluchah, ha-noten imrei shefer”= Naftali is a hind that is sent out, and delivers beautiful sayings. A “hind” is a female deer. “Ayal” would be the word for a male deer.

(“Noten” suggests that the subject of the second part of the sentence is Naftali. But the meaning could be: Naftali, as a female deer, delivers…)

After I wrote the column, I received emails from Abby Leichman and Myron Chaitovsky advising me that the original logo of the Israel Postal Company, which featured a deer, was based on this verse. The original Israel Postal Company logo first appeared in 1950 and continued in use for decades. It was designed by the Shamir brothers who had already won the design contest for Israel’s menorah emblem (see below). Abby also sent me an article by Sharona Margolin Halickman from December 2014 that explained that the postal logo was based on our verse.

But Molly Fisch reminded me that it is only male deer that have antlers. The logo of the Israel Postal Company was a deer with long antlers! I looked online and learned that it is very rare for female deer to have antlers. (This occurs only if they have excess testosterone!)

I emailed Sharona and she was kind enough to send me some material put out by the Israel Postal Company. Indeed, the official explanation stated there does state that the logo was based on our verse. (Somewhere else on that same site one can find a statement that the logo symbolizes a “tzvi,” which is a gazelle, an entirely different animal. But that statement was just made as a side statement, and not as an official explanation.)

My wife Sharon found a site, Shamir-brothers.com, which enables one to contact the deceased Shamir brothers and ask questions. Well, not exactly. Both Shamir brothers died in the 1990s. But Yoram Shamir, a son of one of them, runs the site. He responded: “I don’t think that the Shamir brothers were inspired by the Bible in designing the emblem of the Israeli Post.”

Several solutions present themselves:

One choice is to take the approach of Yoram Shamir and move on with my life. But children do not really know the intentions of their parents on all matters. In English we have a saying “as swift as a deer.” But is a deer the only animal that symbolizes swiftness? I don’t think so. Why precisely was a deer chosen? The end of our Genesis verse is: “delivers beautiful sayings.” Surely this ending, together with the swiftness image, is what motivated the Shamir brothers to use the deer design! (OK, bills are not beautiful, but hopefully most mail is not bills.)

We have to allow for the possibility that the designers were unaware that it is only female deer that have antlers. After all, they did not have the internet and Wikipedia as we do today, which makes us all experts on any topic.

But I think that the most likely solution is that they were aware that it is rare for female deer to have antlers, but took some “artistic license” by depicting a male deer instead. After all, without antlers, how will anyone know that the logo represented a deer?

(A friend who understandably wishes to remain anonymous suggested to me a fourth choice: It was too immodest to have a female deer as a logo!)

In recent years, the logo has been modified, and unless you knew, you cannot tell that a deer, or any animal, was even intended originally.

As I mentioned earlier, the Shamir brothers are the same individuals who won the design contest for the State of Israel’s menorah emblem. There is a fascinating article online by Yoram Shamir and Daniella Gardosh-Santo on this topic, written in 2017. (With those names, one can easily find it! The latter is the daughter of the Israeli cartoonist “Dosh.”)

Here is a summary: In 1948, shortly after Israel’s establishment, the government invited the citizens of Israel to propose a design for the national flag and emblem. The guidelines specified the colors “sky-blue and white” “and any other color as per the artist’s taste.” Also, the emblem had to feature a seven-lamp candelabra and seven stars. Hundreds of proposals were submitted. The Shamir brothers proposal won the contest. The menorah and the stars appeared as required. But the Shamir brothers added the olive branches and the shield image. After the design was approved, they were asked to make some changes. They were asked by the committee in charge to add the name “Israel” and to replace their modern menorah with the one carved into the Arch of Titus. (I wish someone would explain that to me!) The committee also decided to drop the stars. The final proposal was submitted and approved in 1949. The lengthy delay in the process was criticized, but Ben-Gurion replied: “Choosing a flag and emblem for the state is not done every day.”


Here is some more information on the Shamir brothers, which I found at www.Shamir-brothers.com:

Gabriel (1909-1992) and Maxim (1910-1990) were born in Latvia. Their original last name was “Scheftelowitsch.” They came to Tel Aviv in 1934/5 and chose a location on Rothschild Boulevard. This location served as their graphics studio and as residence of the two brothers’ families.

They were among the founders of the “Graphic Designers Association of Israel.” They focused mainly on designing posters, newspaper ads and labels for consumer products in modern language and styles. They often included in their works images of Israeli landscapes, pioneering stereotypes and images of soldiers. Aside from the 1949 menorah competition win, they also won a competition a few years later to design several of the banknotes issued by the Bank of Israel. The brothers were also commissioned to distribute institutional messages expressing the needs of the time such as fundraising for the National Bond, war on the black market, the law of compulsory education, and the like.

In 1974 the brothers began to work separately. Maxim focused on designing stamps mainly for African, Central American and Asian countries while Gabriel worked in graphic design as a volunteer for institutions such as the University of Tel Aviv, hospitals and other non-profit organizations.

Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. He has no artistic talent whatsoever. But both his sister and daughter do, as well as his chavruta Josh Teplow. He can be reached at [email protected]. For more of his articles, please visit his website at www.rootsandrituals.org.

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