Project Genesis

The Urim ve-Tumim

What were the Urim ve-Tumim?

According to most commentators, the Urim ve-Tumim were the stones in the Kohen Gadol’s breastplate (and possibly ephod; see Ex.Ch.28). These stones were engraved with the names of the tribes, and they conveyed messages by lighting up letters. The fact that the stones in the high priest’s breastplate were consulted for answers to questions is mentioned in the Bible (e.g., Num.27:21). The Bible doesn’t say how it was done; one of the earliest descriptions of the process is in the Aramaic (expanded) translation (Targum Yonasan) of Ex.28:30. Another opinion, attributed to Ibn Ezra, is that the Urim ve-Tumim were made of gold and silver and were stored inside the breastplate; this suggests that they may have been like dice.

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