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Jewish High Priest 8 Golden Garments, Exodus 28 by Dr. Terry Harman

Updated: Mar 20

Jewish High Priest Garments

Clothes Influence Attitude

During my undergraduate studies, I attended a private university with a strict dress code. I commenced my journey in the fall of 1981 when the weather quickly transitioned from cool to cold. Having recently been discharged from the Army, my wardrobe was quite limited, comprising of Levis blue jeans, pocket T-shirts, flannel shirts, boots, a solitary pair of raggedy tennis shoes, and my Army field jacket.

The university's dress code mandated all students to adhere to dress clothes or what we might call "business casual" attire for every class. This same standard applied to entering the library before 5:00 PM. Naturally, I found myself challenging this norm by wearing my Army field jacket on cold days. However, my defiance came at a price when I had to pay a fine for breaking the dress code.

Curiosity piqued, and I wondered about the rationale behind such strict regulations. The university firmly believed that the way we dressed had a significant impact on how we participated in class, shaping us into professionals rather than appearing like individuals who just crawled out of bed and ran to class.

Before we go too far, we must admit that clothes can disguise who you really are. Some do believe in the motto "Dress for success." Looks are not everything. But our attire has the ability to influence our behavior and the perception of others.

Clothes Define Identity and Role

Clothes speak volumes about our identities, from military generals to the boots on the ground soldier, skilled cooks to servers, mechanics to parts department workers, airline pilots to baggage handlers, priests to rabbis, and various other clergy with their ecclesiastical garments. Each garment tells a unique story about the person donning it.

The focus of the Blog - multipart series

Have you ever wondered if clothes honestly have the power to define a person? Unravel this intriguing question as we delve into the extraordinary "golden garments" of the Jewish High Priest, as described in Exodus 28. The multi-part series promises to present a blend of introductory-level insights from a Jewish perspective, accompanied by stunning visual representations of the eight awe-inspiring garments.

Part one will be limited to general information about the garments. Part two will explore each garment in further depth. Prepare to be captivated by the profound significance behind these divine vestments. Join me as we unlock the secrets of the past and explore the sacred artistry of the golden garments.

Exodus 28:1-3 JPS 1917

And bring thou near unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that they may minister unto Me in the priest’s office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons. And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for splendour and for beauty. And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise-hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron’s garments to sanctify him, that he may minister unto Me in the priest’s office.

Jewish High Priest standing before the Brazen Altar

Notice that the garments for the priests and the high priest were intended to be worn while engaging in the holy duties of the Tabernacle - the Mishkan, the place where the Lord promised to dwell among the people (Exodus 25:8). In Exodus 28:1-2, it explains why the priests wore special garments. They wore these clothes to serve the Lord in their priestly duties High Priest Preparing for the Sacrifice, by Aaron Harman, 2017

and to bring glory and beauty to their role.

These were not the ordinary clothes of the common Israelite; instead, they were reserved for performing sacred duties in the service of the Lord on behalf of the people.

Basic Garments and Colors - Exodus 28:4-5 JPS 1917

And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a tunic of chequer work, a mitre, and a girdle; and they shall make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, and his sons, that he may minister unto Me in the priest’s office. And they shall take the gold and the blue, and the purple, and the scarlet, and the fine linen.

Exodus 28:4-5 JPS 1917

8 golden garments of the Jewish High Priest

Holy Dirt - Garments Not Washed

No matter how hard you try, some clothes are just hard to keep clean. When our clothes are soiled, we put them in the washer with detergent and let the machine do its work. Not so with the garments of the priesthood. They were never washed.

Furthermore, although the kohanim were extremely neat, just as they were diligent and careful - still, they were working with the sacrifices. Any garment which became soiled to the extent that its stains could not be removed, those garments were not washed. When they became disqualified from use in this manner, they were shredded and used to fulfill another of the Creator's commandments! The tunics were used to make wicks for the menorah, and the belts and pants, wicks for the oil lamps of the Festival of the Water Libation which took place in the Women's Court during the Festival of Sukkot. This applies only to the garments of the ordinary kohanim, of which there were a great many. When the High Priest's (Kohen Gadol) uniform became unusable through wear and tear, it was not destroyed, but hidden away so that no other man could ever wear it. (Priestly Garments - Temple

Garments Worn for Specific Duties

While reading the book of Ezekiel, we learn that specific sets of garments may have only been worn while serving in the holy place. These garments were then exchanged for other attire when returning to the outer court, where the laver for washing and the altar of burnt sacrifice was located. From the Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 69a-b, we can deduce that the High Priest was not permitted to wear the golden garments as street clothes when he left the Temple to return home.

"When the priests enter in, then shall they not go out of the holy place into the outer court, but there they shall lay their garments wherein they minister, for they are holy; and they shall put on other garments, and shall approach to that which pertaineth to the people.’"

Ezekiel 42:14 JPS 1917

Garments not Worn Inside the Holy of Holies

Despite the common error taught by many clergy, the High Priest did not wear the blue robe with the pomegranates and bells into the Holy of Holies. While reading Leviticus 16, we learn that certain garments were not permitted in the holy of holies. The restriction to wear only white linen into the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement is an incredibly serious matter.

The priestly garments worn daily by the high priest were adorned with bells and pomegranates, creating a pleasant sound as he ministered in the holy place. This practice served as a way to hear the priest's movements and know he was carrying out his duties.

However, on the Day of Atonement, everything changed. The high priest would leave behind his beautiful attire and enter the holy of holies wearing only plain linen garments, without the bells and pomegranates. These linen garments represented a deep sense of reverence and humility in the presence of God.

Jewish high priest sprinkling blood on mercy seat

High Priest Sprinkling Blood Seven Times on the Mercy Seat, by Aaron Harman, 2017

The absence of the bells and pomegranates was a profound reminder that the high priest was now stepping into the most sacred and solemn part of the Tabernacle. The quiet and hushed atmosphere emphasized the gravity of the occasion as he approached the divine presence to seek forgiveness and atonement for the people's sins.

This unique practice highlighted the distinctiveness of the Day of Atonement and served as a vivid reminder of the solemnity of the priest's role as the mediator between the people and God. It was a moment when the high priest approached God with utmost humility, understanding the weight of his responsibility and the significance of the day for the entire nation.

Complete Attire Required

Additionally, if the priest did not wear the proper attire or decided not to wear undergarments (colloquially referred to as "going commando" in today's vernacular), his life would be forfeited due to the sacredness of his assignment as the mediator representing the people of God.

White linen garments of the Jewish High Priest

"Make linen shorts for them that reach from the waist down to the thigh, so they won't expose themselves. Whenever they enter the sacred tent or serve at the altar or enter the holy place, they must wear these shorts, or else they will be guilty and die. This same rule applies to any of their descendants who serve as priests." Exodus 28:42-43 JPS 1917

Clothes may influence the man but the mere wearing of the garments does not make the man. The conduct and purity of the High Priest was of utmost importance. Specific qualifications had to be maintained in order to wear the golden garments and serve the people (Gniwisch, Leibel. The High Priest in Jewish Tradition,

I am reminded of the story of the prophet Samuel when he went to select the new King to replace King Saul. Jesse paraded in all of his sons, but one, David. When Samuel reviewed each of the sons, he thought surely the Lord's anointed stood before him. However, the Lord spoke to his heart and warned him against looking at the external as a qualifier.

"But the LORD said unto Samuel: 'Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have rejected him; for it is not as man seeth: for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.'" 1 Samuel 16:7 JPS 1917

Then the shepherd boy David was called in from the flocks to stand before the prophet and was anointed as the new King. Looks can be deceiving. The condition of the heart reveals the true character of the person regardless of clothing.

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service

Every restaurant in America posts restrictions for entry. Today, we think nothing about it. "No shirt, no shoes, no service." The Tabernacle and the Temple had a different set of restrictions. Specifically, you must wear certain clothes or no entry.

These sacred clothes of the Tabernacle and Temple were directly linked to the sanctity of their service, setting the wearer apart for holy work. The garments not only influenced how the wearer thought about their work, but they also influenced how others felt about their work, as the clothes distinguished the role and identity of the priest.

The specific garments were created for a specific purpose and were considered essential for performing sacred duties. If the priest did not wear the proper attire the service was invalid because the priest was considered unfit to serve in the Tabernacle or Temple services.

The Mishna teaches that a priest lacking the requisite priestly vestments disqualifies the rites he performs. The Gemara asks: From where do we derive this? Rabbi Avuh says that Rabbi Yoḥanan says, and some determined it to be stated in the name of Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon: As the verse states: “And you shall gird them with belts, Aaron and his sons, and bind mitres on them; and they shall have the priesthood by a perpetual statute” (Exodus 29:9). The verse indicates that when their vestments are on them, their priesthood is upon them, but if their vestments are not on them, their priesthood is not upon them and their rites are disqualified. (Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 17b 6).

Garments Considered Intrinsically Holy

The Bible places an enormous amount of significance on the High Priest's garments. An entire chapter is devoted to describing in detail the colors and materials required in creating the garments. But why is this so? The high quality of the garments elevated the office of the High Priest and reminded everyone of the sanctity required to approach a holy God in a holy place.

In Jewish thought, the garments themselves were intrinsically holy and made atonement for sin. This will be hard for my Christian readers and even some of my Jewish readers. How can this be? This is wool, linen, and precious metals!

Garments Atone for Sin

The sages and Rabbis of the past taught that the eight golden garments worn by the High Priest during the Temple service, serve to atone for the sins of Israel. It is taught that just as the sacrifices facilitate an atonement for sin, so do the priestly garments (Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 88:B).

Jewish high priest garments atone for sin.


In writing this blog I called a friend of mine. He once held the office of Bishop in one of the continuing Anglican Churches in the United States. We use to joke that he was part of the liturgical tradition of "smells and bells." He is eighty-seven years old now and has long since hung up his robes. But when I spoke to him and asked him to reflect on the days he would exchange his street clothes for the liturgical vestments of the Mass.

"The vestments reminded me that I was moving into a holy time, set apart for the worship of the Lord. The vestments were a reminder to me and those I served that this was not ordinary time but sacred time. All of the vestments, all of the rituals, all of the hymns and anthems, all of the prayers, and especially the reading of the Holy Scripture were for the purpose of entering into a holy place. Every action during the service had a purpose."

Regardless of your preference - to atone or not to atone - the High Priest's garments reveal areas in our lives where we need atonement, even today. Nowadays, different congregations have varying dress codes. Some allow casual wear for both laypeople and clergy, while others expect "Shabbat or Sunday best" attire. Each individual must search their heart and choose clothing that reflects their values, regardless of whether they are at church, synagogue, work, or play.

Clergy members in liturgical churches wear specific vestments during the service, which are then removed and stored in the vestry for the next service. Unlike the garments of the Tabernacle and Temple, these vestments can be washed or dry cleaned.

As representatives of our faith and ministers of the divine, our attire speaks volumes about our reverence, professionalism, and dedication to the service of God and His people. Just like the High Priest's garments symbolized the sanctity of his role in ancient times, our attire today signifies our commitment to upholding the values and traditions of our faith. Dressing appropriately for ministerial duties not only enhances our sense of purpose but also inspires confidence and trust in those we serve.

By understanding the significance of dressing appropriately, we create a harmonious connection between our inner convictions and outward appearance. Our attire becomes a testament to the solemnity of our calling and the honor we feel in serving God and His congregation.

Let us remember that dressing respectfully and modestly is not just a formality; it reflects the love and devotion we have for our faith and the people we minister to. As we wear our ministerial attire, may we be constantly reminded of the great responsibility bestowed upon us, and may it inspire us to serve with humility, integrity, and compassion.

The future blogs will explore the meaning and purpose behind each of the eight golden garments. Be well till next time. Terry

Supporting The Tabernacle Man

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Aug 23, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Excellent article thank you


Aug 23, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Eph 6:11  Put on the complete armour of Elohim, for you to have power to stand against the schemes of the devil.

Eph 6:12  Because we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against authorities, against the world-rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual matters of wickedness in the heavenlies.

Eph 6:13  Because of this, take up the complete armour of Elohim, so that you have power to withstand in the wicked day, and having done all, to stand.

Eph 6:14  Stand, then, having girded your waist with truth, Isa 11:5 and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, Isa 59:17.

Eph 6:15  and having fitted your feet with the preparation of the Good News of peace; Isa 52:7.


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