Dolla’ Dolla’ Bill: One Writer Debunks the Dollar Bill Myth
Jews have been known to wear the Star of David around their necks, emblazon it on their flag, and even tattoo it on their skin. But do all Jews, or even all Americans, carry around this Jewish symbol in their wallets?
Take a look at the back of the dollar bill. Above the eagle’s head are thirteen stars, representing the original colonies, arranged in…that’s right, a Jewish star! Now turn it upside down and look at the eagle’s tail feathers: nine feathers, four on each side of a longer one. Could that be a Hanukkah menorah?
The story says that these symbols were added to the Great Seal of the United States, and by extension the dollar bill, to honor Haym Salomon. Salomon was a Jewish businessman who immigrated to America shortly before the Revolutionary War and played a significant role in selling the bonds that paid for the Continental Army’s operations. The founding fathers of the United States (and George Washington himself) wanted to honor Salomon for helping finance the independence of his adopted land. Salomon said he wanted nothing, but when Washington persisted, he asked for the stars to be arranged in a Star of David to honor the Jewish contribution to the war effort.
Unfortunately for lovers of National Treasure-style conspiracy theories, there is no evidence that this story occurred. While the stars are in fact arranged in a hexagram (the geometric name of the Star of David), the official State Department document describing the history of the seal makes no mention of any Jewish symbolism. Darlene Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which manufactures paper money, says there is no intentional Jewish symbolism on the dollar bill.
So why has this myth captured the imagination of American Jews? Dr. Jonathan Sarna, the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun professor of American Jewish History and Life at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., says it has helped American Jews proudly connect themselves to their country’s formative era.
“Since very few Jews actually have Revolutionary roots in the U.S., the story of Haym Salomon helped to legitimize Jews in this country; it proved that they too had played a ‘major’ role in America’s founding,” he says. “At a time when Jews were reviled as immigrants and latecomers to America, this was very important.” Beth Wenger, Director of the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the forthcoming book History Lessons: The Invention of American Jewish Heritage, agrees. “The Haym Salomon myth has persisted because it provides a way for Jews to demonstrate their patriotism and, in particular, it places a Jew in a pivotal role during the moment the nation was created,” she
explains. “In other words, the Haym Salomon myth establishes Jews as part of the organic fabric of the country, and offers ‘proof’ of their long-standing loyalty.” So what is the Jewish star doing on the dollar bill, if not to honor Haym Salomon?
According to The Secret Symbols of the Dollar Bill, a book by British astrologist David Ovason, the hexagram arrangement of the stars connects to other elements of the bill. The hexagram has six points, corresponding to the number of letters in the word “dollar.” The seven interior spaces of the hexagram correspond to the number of letters in “America.” However, the official explanations of the Great Seal’s symbolism do not answer this question.
So, when you pull out those crumpled dollar bills from your pocket to pay for that nonfat soy latte, take a peek at that Star of David on the back. Just remember, it has nothing to do with Haym Salomon.