iPod or Ephod?

There are lessons to be learned from the details of the High Priest's garments.

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Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple,

 Raymond Apple
Raymond Apple

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iPod is a modern word, but it might be thought to have a connection with “ephod”, which appears in this week’s reading as part of the regalia of the kohen gadol, worn “for glory and splendour” (Ex. 28:2).

No-one is completely certain what the ephod was. One possibility is that it was a kind of vest. Josephus calls it a short coat with sleeves embroidered with coloured cord. Another view is that it was worn lower down the body an apron kept in place by what the Torah calls “a cunningly woven band”. It seems to have been a kind of uniform made of the same material as the curtains and veil of the sanctuary and thus identifying the high priest with his spiritual setting.

Though the Torah ordains it as a vestment for the high priest, later books of the Tanach apply the concept to ordinary priests and even to other persons of eminence such as Samuel and David.

The whole idea raises the much debated question of whether rabbis and other spiritual leaders ought to wear some special species of robe or frock-coat, and though the Jewish world has largely rejected the European clergy robes that used to be worn by rabbis, there is still some validity in the argument that spiritual leaders are supposed to embody a dignified tradition and it gives the tradition more respect if its representatives wear special garb.


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On the high priest’s robe the hem had “golden bells and pomegranates”. They certainly gave the robe a majestic appearance: but the Torah explains them as a means of announcing the priest’s entry into the sanctuary: “The tinkling of the bells shall signal his approach”.

Rabbinic commentary draws a moral lesson from this practice. Just as a high priest must not burst in to the sanctuary without warning, it is correct practice for anyone to hold back and signal their arrival no matter where it is that they want to enter.

A topical Purim example is the entry of Esther into the king’s throne-room – without announcing her arrival and receiving the king’s permission to come in, she had to remain outside, even though she was his wife.

The Talmud says that Rabbi Akiva told his son Rabbi Yehoshua not to enter even his own house without warning, all the more so the house of his mother (Pes. 112a). The sages say that one must knock before entering a room or house, even his own: a person’s own home is God’s throne-room – a mikdash me’at, a minor sanctuary, and every Jew is a member of mamlechet kohanim, a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6). It is no answer to quote the command of Achashverosh, that “every man should be the master in his own house” (Esth. 1:22) or to echo “Les Miserables”, with the song, “Master of the House!”

At all times a person should move with humility as well as dignity, with respect for everyone’s privacy including his/her own.