Signs and Symbols

What signs or symbols distinguish ritual specialists in Judaism?

Since the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70, there has been no formal Jewish priesthood. With the priesthood several other ranks of ritual specialists disappeared. What replaced the priesthood was a more egalitarian system of rabbinical leadership. Nowadays, when Jews worship together, the community leader is not nearly so visually distinctive as in days of old. Since the nature of post-Temple worship is radically different, leaders in worship are visually distinguishable largely by their being in front of the congregation, often on a raised stage. Temple priests once wore easily recognizable garb. In addition to the simpler vesture of the ordinary priests, with a full-length cloak and sash or girdle, the High Priest’s cloak had a hem fringed with gold bells and woolen pomegranates. He also wore a tall miter with a blue band at the top and a gold headband. An elaborately decorated vestment called the ephod was worn over the cloak. Over that the High Priest wore the “breastplate” suspended from the shoulders like a large pendant on a necklace. This breastplate hung down the front from epaulette-like onyx stones, on each of which were written the names of six of the twelve tribes. Attached to the breastplate were twelve semiprecious stones symbolizing the tribes. And inside the breastplate pocket were the urim and thummim, mysterious devices used for divination.


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