I think we may take it for granted that almost everyone knows
what a Bar-Mitzvah is and, at one time or another, has surely
attended a Bar-Mitzvah ceremony as a participant or guest. The
fact is that the Medal being discussed in this article is a
most appropriate gift. There exist beautiful velvet-lined, olive-wood
boxes in which the Medal may be housed, thus creating a lovely
On the other hand, few people know the meaning or origin of
the Emblems of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and to find the
origins of these interesting and lovely Emblems one must literally
begin at the beginning, BERESHITH (Genesis), the first book
of the Torah. (In order to simplify the identification of the
Emblems, imagine the reverse of the Medal as the face of a clock
with each Emblem representing a number from one to twelve clock-wise.)
In the Book of Genesis, Chapter 49, Jacob (Israel) blessed his
twelve sons, before his death. From this blessing which was
prophetic in nature, as to what was to befall his sons (Future
Tribes), the Emblems of Tribes evolved. Genesis 49 V. 1-2 "And
Jacob called unto his sons and said: 'Gather yourselves together,
that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the end of
days. Assemble yourselves and hear, ye sons of Jacob and hearken
unto Israel your Father.'
Tribe of Simeon.
one o'clock is the Tower (wall), the Emblem of the Tribe of
Simeon. Genesis 49 V. 6 'for in their anger they slew men,,
and in their self-will they houghed oxen . . .' Authorities
interpret to 'hough' as to sever certain sinews and so render
animal helpless. Since mutilation of animals is not mentioned
in recounting Simeon destructiveness, many versions therefore
interpret 'They digged down a wall' referring to the destruction
of Shechem; known today as Nablus. The Hebrew words for 'ox'
and 'wall' differ only in the placement of one dot (ox -pronounced
shore) and dot, moved (wall - pronounced sure). Therefore, the
Emblem of the Tribe of Simeon is a wall or tower representing
their strength and destructiveness.. Simeon was Jacob's second
Tribe of Levi
two o'clock is the Breastplate, the Emblem of the Tribe of Levi.
Genesis 49 V. 7 'Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce and
their wrath, for it is cruel. I will divide them in Jacob and
scatter them in Israel.' As a result, later on the Levites were
given no single territory after the conquest of Canaan under
Joshua. Levi's descendants through his son Kohath were Moses
and Aaron who became the founders of the priestly line. His
descendants through his sons Gershon and Merari became the temple
servants and were called Levites. Thus the Emblem of the Tribe
of Levi was the Breastplate representing the one worn by the
high priests in the temple. Note that the Breastplate is divided
into twelve sections, each one representing one of the twelve
tribes. Levi was Jacob's third son.
Tribe of Judah
three o'clock is the lion, the Emblem of the Tribe of Judah.
Genesis 49, V. 9 'Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my
son, thou art gone up. He stooped down, he couched as a lion,
and as a lioness: who shall rouse him up? The Emblem of the
Tribe of Judah was a lion. The metaphor suggests the vigor and
nobility of Judah and his offspring; and the habitual swiftness
and force of their military movement. 'Thou art gone up' - to
the security of the Judah hills, after the victorious conflict
in the plains below. Judah was Jacob's fourth son.
Tribe of Zebulunt
four o'clock is the ship, the Emblem of the Tribe of Zebulun.
Genesis 49, V. 13 'Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea.
He shall be a shore for ships, and his flank shall be upon Zidon.'
The favorable geographic position of Zebulun's territory is
described. A shore for ships, to which they may come for safety.
Zidon, the territory of Zebulun stretched from the Sea of Galilee
to Mount Carmel (on the Mediterranean) close under Tyre and
Zidon. Zebulun was Jacob's tenth son.
Tribe' of Issachar
five o'clock is an ass, the Emblem of the Tribe of Issachar.
Genesis 49, V. 14-15 'Issachar is a large-boned ass couching
down between the sheepfolds. For he saw a resting place that
was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and he bowed his
shoulder to bear, and became a servant under taskwork.' Large
boned-ass, indicating great physical power. A resting place,
as opposed to the wandering life of nomads. Therefore, the Emblem
of the Tribe of Issachar was an ass, symbolic of power and servitude
to the land. Issachar was Jacob's ninth son.
The Tribe of Dan
six o'clock are the scales of justice, the Emblem of the Tribe
of Dan. Genesis 49, V. 16 'Dan shall judge his people, as one
of the tribes of Israel.' This is self-explanatory as to the
Emblem of the Scales of Justice for the Tribe of Dan. Sometimes
the Emblem of the Tribe of Dan is depicted as a snake. Genesis
49, V. 17 'Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a horned snake
in the path, that biteth the horse's heels, so that the rider
falleth backward.' A horned snake, is small, but highly venomous;
it coils itself in the sand and, it disturbed, darts out upon
any passing animal. Dan will prove dangerous to his foes by
ambuscades and guerrilla warfare. Dan was Jacob's fifth son.
Tribe of Gad
seven o'clock is a tent, the Emblem of the Tribe of Gad. Genesis
49, V. 19. 'Gad, a troop shall troop upon him; but he shall
troop upon their heel.' Gad -- from Hebrew root Gedad, meaning
army or troop. A troop shall troop there is here a play upon
the name. Perhaps the translation should be, 'A raiding band
raids him, but he will band himself against their heels.' Later
on in the Biblical narrative, the Tribe of Gad succeeded in
repelling the Ammonites, Maolites and Aremaens, who were constantly
raiding his borders. Thus the Emblem of the Tribe of Gad was
a tent representing a military camp. Gad was Jacob's seventh
Tribe of Naphtali
eight o'clock is the hind (deer), the Emblem of the Tribe of
Naphtali. Genesis 49, V. 21 'Naphtali is a hind let loose; he
giveth goodly words. Hind let loose, an image of swiftness and
grace in movement. He giveth goodly words. This refers to the
Tribe's reputation for eloquence and the great victory of Barak,
a Naphtalite, which was followed by the glorious Song of Deborah.
The Emblem of the Tribe of Naphtali is a deer taken straight
from the above quote. Naphtali was Jacob's sixth son.
The Tribe of Benjamin
nine o'clock is the wolf, the Emblem of the Tribe of Benjamin.
Genesis 49, V. 27 'Benjamin is a wolf that raveneth; in the
morning he devoureth the prey, and at the even he divideth the
spoil.' A wolf that raveneth -- refers to the warlike character
of the Tribe. Therefore, Benjamin's Emblem was a wolf as described
in his father's blessing. Benjamin was Jacob's twelfth and youngest
The Tribe of Asher
ten o'clock is the olive tree, the Emblem of the Tribe of Asher.
Genesis 49, V. 20 'As for Asher his bread shall be fat and he
shall yield royal dainties.' Asher -- the name means 'happy'
or 'fortunate'-- and this meaning is reflected in Jacob's blessing
upon him. The land of Asher was prosperous. Royal Dainties--
delicacies fit for the table of kings. The allusion is probably
to an export trade carried on by the men of Asher. The Tribe
Emblem of Asher was an olive tree representing wealth in agricultural
food products. Asher was the eighth son of Jacob.
The Tribe of Joseph
eleven o'clock is a sheaf of wheat, representing the Emblem
of the Tribe of Joseph. Genesis 49, V. 25 'Even by the Good
of thy father, who shall help thee, and by the Almighty, who
shall bless thee, with blessings of heaven above. Blessings
from the deep that coucheth beneath, blessings of the breast
and of the womb . . .' Three blessings are mentioned. Blessings
of heaven, rain and dew, sunshine and wind. The deep, the subterranean
reservoir of waters beneath from which spring fertility to the
soil. The breasts, the fruitfulness of the family. The Emblem
of the Tribe of Joseph was the sheaf of wheat representing fruitfulness
of the universe as described in Jacob's blessing upon him. The
Emblem also represents Joseph's control of the food resources
in Egypt during his years as Minister to Pharaoh, after interpreting
Pharaoh's dreams of seven years of feast to be followed by seven
years of famine. Joseph was Jacob's eleventh son.
Tribe of Reuben
twelve o'clock is a sun, the Emblem of the Tribe of Reuben.
Genesis 49, V. 3-4 'Reuben, thou art my first-born, my might,
and the first fruits of my strength; the excellency of dignity,
and the excellency of power.' The sun symbolized the excellency
of dignify and power of the first-born.
The Pentateuch & Haftorahs: Edited by Dr. J. H, Hertz published
by the Soncino Press.
(2) Who's Who in the Old Testament together with the
Apocryphs; by Joan Comay, publisher--Weidenfeld & Nicolson,
(3) The History of Modern Israel's Money, 1917- 1970;
by Sylvia Haffner; publisher--Philip P.Mathem, 1970. (4)
Israel's Money and Medals 1948/1973; publisher--A. H. Kagin