The High Priest's Breastplate SI

The High Priest's Breastplate

The Book of Exodus chapter 28 describes how to prepare the High Priest’s holy garments, including the most magnificent of all, the Breastplate, Choshen.

“And thou shalt make a breastplate of judgment, the work of the skilful workman; like the work of the ephod thou shalt make it: of gold, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, shalt thou make it. Four-square it shall be and double: a span shall be the length thereof, and a span the breadth thereof. And thou shalt set in it settings of stones, four rows of stones: a row of carnelian, topaz, and smaragd shall be the first row; and the second row a carbuncle, a sapphire, and an emerald; and the third row a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper; they shall be enclosed in gold in their settings. And the stones shall be according to the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names; like the engravings of a signet, every one according to his name, they shall be for the twelve tribes” (Exodus 28, 15-21).

The Choshen was a small garment embellished with gemstones and one of the eight garments worn by the High Priest as he served G-D. Each jewel was inscribed with one of the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. The High Priest’s breastplate symbolized the unity of the people of Israel before G-D as well as the importance of the position of the High Priest and the sanctity of the function, as he stood before G-D.

“And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart when he goeth in unto the holy place for a memorial before the LORD continually. And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before the LORD; and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the LORD continually“ (Exodus 28, 29-30).

The biblical description states that the breastplate was to be made up of four rows of three engraved gems, each jewel set in gold.

According to tradition the Choshen and the Urim and Thummim (literally “the Lights and the Perfections”) were used to ascertain the Divine Will regarding questions of national importance.

Throughout the generations numerous attempts have been made to identify the gemstones. Researchers have mainly relied upon the color of the minerals mentioned in Talmudic literature. According to the Midrash Rabba (Numbers 24, 14), the colors of each mineral were the same as those of the flags of each of the twelve tribes of Israel.

The translations from the original Hebrew are very varied and were influenced by the culture and gems known at the time. Modern Hebrew interpretations for some of the stones are inaccurate, for example, yahalom - diamond, describes  a mineral not known in biblical times. Therefore, further sources of evidence were required to aid in the identification of the minerals. The discovery of precious stones in the royal tombs of Tutanakhamen in Egypt, and those in Ur, Mesopotamia, shed light on the known gems from this period. Additional information was gained in ancient mines in the Middle East and North Africa and from the study of the trade routes of the time.

The stones were simply cut and polished, many “en cabochon” ellipsoid, as they could not be cut with parallel lines due to their crystal structure. They were set in gold on the breastplate.

Reuven

Odem - Carnelian (Red)

Carnelian is a variety of the chalcedony, colored by impurities of iron oxide.The possible location of mineral deposit was Iran.

Shimon

Pitdah - Topaz (Green-Yellow)

Topaz is a silicate mineral of aluminium and fluorine with trace element impurities giving its color. The possible location of mineral deposits was Gebel Savrah, Upper Egypt, or Cleopatra Mine, Red Sea.

Levi

Bareqet - Emerald (Light Green)

Emerald is a variety of the mineral beryl, a beryllium aluminium silicate, colored green by trace amounts of chromium and sometimes vanadium. The possible location of mineral deposit was Gebel Savrah, Upper Egypt Kusir Mine, Red Sea.

Yehuda

Nofekh - Turquoise (Green-blue)

Turquoise is an opaque green-blue mineral that is a hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminium. The possible location of mineral deposit was near Um Bogma, Sinai. 

Josef Charrach

Scientific advisor to this series of stamps Geologist and Philatelist Member of the Royal Philatelic Society of London

Technical Details

Issue Date: 07.02.2012
Designer: David Ben-Hador
Printer: Cartor Security Printing, France
Process: Offset
Size: 30 mm x 40 mm
Values: $0.68 x 4