Ben-Tzion Spitz
Former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay

Tetzaveh: Etymology of the Ruby

 I would rather be adorned by beauty of character than jewels. Jewels are the gift of fortune, while character comes from within. –Plautus

Without a doubt the most impressive of the High Priest’s vestments was the Breastplate (the Choshen) containing twelve different stones, one for each Tribe of Israel, with their names engraved on each stone.

Rabbeinu Bechaye on Exodus 28:10 (Tetzaveh) goes into a quite long and detailed description of each stone and how each stone has a deep and direct connection to the history and inner characteristics of each Tribe.

We independently know that the Tribe of Ruben may have been associated with the ruby. What was perhaps most surprising was to discover Rabbeinu Bechaye’s claim that the source of the name “ruby” is none other than “Ruben.” He implies that the connection between the tribes and their stones are profound.

Following is a list of the tribes, the original name of the stone, an opinion as to a possible modern equivalent (there is much dispute as to what the ancient stone names represent in modern times) as well as Rabbeinu Bechaye’s opinion as to the benefits associated with the stone:

  1. Ruben: Rubin (Ruby). Helps childbirth.
  2. Simon: Pitda (Chrysolite). Cools body.
  3. Levi: Bareket (Onyx). Enlightenment.
  4. Judah: Nofech (Malachite). Overpower enemies.
  5. Yissachar: Sapir (Lapis-Lazuli). Helps eyesight, healing.
  6. Zevulun: Yahalom (Zircon). Helps sleep.
  7. Dan: Leshem (Jacinth).
  8. Naftali: Shvo (Agate). Helps riding.
  9. Gad: Achlamah (Amethyst). Bravery.
  10. Asher: Tarshish (Topaz). Helps digestion.
  11. Joseph: Shoham (Beryl). Perceived well by all.
  12. Benjamin: Yashpeh (Jasper). Helps blood-clotting.

While attributing different properties and powers to a variety of stones is common to many ancient cultures (and some New Age groups), what is interesting is Rabbeinu’s Bechaye’s claim that in order for the power of these stones to be effective, the user must be ritually pure. He warns that if a person is not ritually clean, the stones will be either ineffective, or even harmful. The topic of ritual purity is quite involved with a long list of laws and details, but at the simplest level today it involves immersion in a ritual bath (Mikveh) within the guidelines of Jewish law. He explains that the stones interact based on a person’s spiritual level, where purity or impurity plays an important role.

So while there may be some truth and validity to the idea of the power of particular stones, ones character and spiritual life are of greater significance. Artifacts and even religious items are always secondary to the person and the spirit. Such is always the case.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the victims and mourners of the Parkland shooting tragedy.

About the Author
Ben-Tzion Spitz is the former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay. He is the author of six books of Biblical Fiction and hundreds of articles and stories dealing with biblical themes. He is the publisher of Torah.Works, a website dedicated to the exploration of classic Jewish texts, as well as TweetYomi, which publishes daily Torah tweets on Parsha, Mishna, Daf, Rambam, Halacha, Tanya and Emuna. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.
Related Topics
Related Posts