In modern Western culture, the dove is commonly used to symbolize peace. The positive associations attached to the dove, however, are not new. This particular bird has been set apart from other animals even as far back as the days of Noah.
According to Jewish tradition, today (17 Elul) is the anniversary of the date on which Noah sent the dove from the ark to see if te flood waters had yet receded. The dove was the second bird released by Noah to perform this errand – the first bird, a raven, never returned, but “went to and fro until the waters were dried from the land” (Genesis 8:7).
The dove is also often used as a metaphor for the Jewish people. For instance, the Talmud states: “The community of Israel is compared to a dove…just as the dove is saved only by her wings, so Israel is saved only by the mitzvot” (Talmud Brachot 35b).
The dove, which is considered a gentle and graceful animal, is also compared to the People of Israel because of its supposed faithfulness: “Just as the dove, from the time that she recognized her mate, never changes him for another, so Israel, once they learn to know the Holy One, Blessed be He, have never exchanged Him for another” (Midrash Song of Songs Rabbah 1:64).