Urim and Tummim

This method of Jewish divination is traced back to the priestly garments.

By


Reprinted with permission from the Encyclopedia of
Magic, Myth, and Mysticism (Llewellyn
Worldwide
)
.

The Urim
and Tummim ("Light and Perfection" or "Perfect
Lights") was a method of divination that was worn as part of the priestly
garments (Exodus 28; Numbers 27; I Samuel 28). Little is truly known about Urim
and Tummim; even the name has been subjected to wildly different translations.

A Conduit for Messages

The
Rabbis understood the Urim and Tummim to be part of the breastplate of the High
Priest and that its oracular function came from light shining through the 12
gemstones mounted on the breastplate (Pirkei
de-Rabbi Eliezer
38).

This
was achieved by having a plate inscribed with the Tetragrammaton inserted
behind the gemstone mounts. Supernal light radiating from the divine name would
illuminate different stones. Since each stone was inscribed with the names of
the 12 tribes, the Talmud teaches that it functioned as a kind of Ouija board, with
messages being spelled on the Urim and Tummim for the High Priest.

In
Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, it is taught that the stone representing a tribe would
glow if the tribe was involved in a transgression, but then the diviner would have
to discern the specifics himself (38). Some believe the Urim were the lights,
while the Tummim was a device or code that helped in interpreting the message.

Other
interpreters suggest that the Urim and Tummim were separate objects that were
both kept in a pouch of the breastplate. In the Bible, one individual who made a
counterfeit breastplate for his personal cult substituted terafim (small figurines representing gods or ancestors) for the
Urim and Tummim (Judges 17-18; Hosea 3:4). This is a tantalizing but
frustrating bit of data. Because we also know so little about the terafim, the
association of the two objects does not shed much light either, no pun
intended.

The
best evidence is that the two may have both been made of light-reflecting stone:
Mesopotamian sources also mention an elmeshu stone used by the gods for

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Geoffrey Dennis is rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in Flower Mound, TX. He is also lecturer in Kabbalah and rabbinic literature at the University of North Texas.

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