Article - The High Priest's Breastplate Souvenir Sheet
The High Priest’s Breastplate
For more than one thousand years, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem served as the spiritual center of the Jewish people. Israelites in Eretz Israel and neighboring lands strove to take part in pilgrimages, to offer up sacrifices and witness the various ritual ceremonies conducted there. Ordinary people required the services of Priests, who held the most important position in Jewish society, in order to conduct the ritual acts.
While serving in the Holy Temple, Priests wore special garments, as described in the Book of Exodus, Chapter 28. These included pants, a tunic, a sash and a turban. The High Priest, whose special position and roles were above those of the other Priests, wore four additional pieces of clothing – a robe, the ephod (a garment worn over the robe), the breastplate (Choshen) and a miter (ceremonial headdress).
The High Priest looked regal and elegant in these garments. The gold miter sat atop his head, the long blue robe fringed with golden bells enveloped his body and the ephod was attached at the shoulders with two onyx stones. The breastplate, the most magnificent garment of all, adorned his chest.
The Choshen was a small colorful garment embellished with 12 different gemstones, each of which was inscribed with the name of one of the Tribes of Israel. One of the high Priest’s special functions was to ascertain the Divine Will regarding various questions by consulting the Urim and Thummim, which were contained within the breastplate (or, according to a different interpretation, the gemstones of the Choshen themselves constituted the Urim and Thummim). The Torah does not specify exactly how this ritual was performed, but it is mentioned repeatedly in the Bible, both during the period in which the Jews wandered through the desert and during the time of the First Temple.
When the First Temple was destroyed, the High Priest’s garments, including the breastplate, were lost. When the Second Temple was erected at the end of the Babylonian Exile, in the days of Ezra and Nehemia, a new breastplate was created in order to complete the High Priest’s set of eight garments. But the new breastplate did not possess the qualities of the original and according to Maimonides (Mishneh Torah Hilchot Beit Habechirah 4:1) “The Urim and Thummim in the Second Holy Temple, the Holy Spirit of God did not exist within them”.
The mini souvenir leaf, which follows the three sequential issues comprising the High Priest’s Breastplate 12-stamp series, features the High Priest against the background of the magnificent Holy Temple built by King Herod and the city of Jerusalem in the latter part of the Second Temple period. The image of Jerusalem is based on the model designed by the late Prof. Michael Avi-Yonah in the 1960’s which is now permanently displayed at the Israel Museum. To the right is the large area housing the Temple Mount and the Holy Temple and to the left, behind the image of the High Priest, is the lower city. The red roofs of the luxurious upper city houses can be seen clearly, located in the area where the Jewish Quarter of the Old City now stands.