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
"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
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.
Sapir - Lazurite (Dark Blue)
Lazurite is a feldspathoid mineral and a member of
the sodalite group, with sulphate, sulphur and chlorine.
Sapphires were not known in the Middle East at the time.
The possible location of mineral deposit was Sar-e-Sang
deposits, Badkhshan, Afghanistan.
Yahalom - Quartz (White)
Quartz is the second most abundant mineral in
the Earth's continental crust and is composed of silicon
and oxygen. Diamond was not known in ancient times. The
possible location of mineral deposits was Upper Egypt or
Leshem - Zircon (Red-yellow)
Zircon is a zirconium silicate mineral and its color comes
from trace element impurities. The possible location of
mineral deposit was Upper Egypt.
Ahlamah - Amethyst (Red Wine)
Amethyst is a violet variety of quartz, silicon dioxide,
containing iron impurities, which give it its color. The possible
location of mineral deposit was the Nubian Desert.
Scientific advisor to this series of stamps
Geologist and Philatelist
Member of the Royal Philatelic Society of London
* This stamp issue is the second of a three part series.
Issue: April 2012
Stamps Designer: David Ben-Hador
Stamp Size: 30 mm x 40 mm
Plate nos: 863, 864, 865, 866
(no phosphor bars)
Sheet of 10 stamps, Tabs: 5
Printers: Joh. Enschede, The Netherlands
Method of printing: Offset
The Israel Philatelic Service - Tel: 972-76-8873933
12 Sderot Yerushalayim, Tel-Aviv-Yafo 68021
www.israelpost.co.il * e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to: Juan Franco Crespo, Spain