- Question: [Tuesday, 14th Adar 1, 5782]
On Shabbos, someone told me that the size of the Choshen was actually really small, as small as the palm of one’s hand, and that the pictures which depict it as being very large are all inaccurate. Is this true?
This is true according to one opinion, which holds that the Choshen was a dimension of one by one Tefach, which is approximately the same size of the palm of one’s hand. However, according to other opinions, it was indeed larger than the size of the palm of one’s hand, and had a dimension of 3 x 3 Tefachim. Hence the pictures which depict it as large are following this approach. Nonetheless, seemingly most pictures which make it very large, having it cover the entire chest, are following the opinion of the Chazon Ish in the size of a Tefach, as according to the measurements of Rabbi Avraham Chaim Na’ah, it is a size of 24 x 24 cm which does not take up the entire chest.
Explanation: There are various opinions regarding the size of the Choshen. In Scripture, it states that it was the size of one Zeres by one Zeres. The question is as to what the dimension of a Zeres is. The Zeres is not a very commonly used form of measurement in Jewish and Talmudic literature, hence lending its many opinions. The following are the various opinions:
- Rambam-24 x 24 cm.: The opinion of the Rambam is that a Zeres is half of an Ama. He writes that the Choshen was one Zeres wide and one Ama long, and when folded in half, as required, it was exactly one by one Zeres, an exact square. Accordingly, a Zeres is half of an Ama. Now, an Ama is six Tefachim, and hence a half of an Ama is three Tefachim. According to the measurements of Rabbi Avraham Chaim Na’ah who holds that a Tefach is 8 cm it ends up that the Choshen was 24 x 24 centimeters. [This approach fits in well with the approach that the minimum measurement of Tzitzis is a Zeres, and as we know the minimum measurement is indeed 24 cm. Likewise, the Zohar states that one should lift a Kos Shel Bracha a Zeres, and indeed the Chabad custom is to lift it three Tefachim, 24 cm.]
- Pinky to thumb measurement-21 x 21 cm.: The Zeres is the Hebrew name for the pinky. Accordingly, some write that the measurement of the Choshen, which is one by one Zeres, is the distance from the pinky until the thumb when the fingers are spread wide open, which measures approximately 21 cm.
- Rashba-20 cm: The Rashba is of the opinion that a Zeres is 2.5 Tefachim, which ends up being a total of 20 x 20 cm [according to the measurements of Rabbi Avraham Chaim Na’ah].
- 16 x 16 cm.: Some are of the opinion that a Zeres is 2 Tefachim, which ends up being a total of 16 x 16 cm [according to the measurements of Rabbi Avraham Chaim Na’ah].
- 8 x 8 cm: Some are of the opinion that a Zeres is 1 Tefach, which ends up being a total of 8 x 8 cm [according to the measurements of Rabbi Avraham Chaim Na’ah]. According to this opinion, it is approximately the size of the palm of one’s hand.
Sources: See Shemos 28:16; Yechezkal 43:12; Tosefta Keilim 6:4 and Rambam Kleli Hamikdash 9:6 that is half an Ama; Sefer Aruch Erech Etzba that we measure from pinky to thumb; Shut Harashba 5:147; Tosafus Eiruvin 21a [two Tefachim];Maggid Mishneh Shabbos 9:7; Targum Yerushalmi Shemos 16:28 and Meam Loeiz Ki Sisa [One Tefach, palm of hand]; Encyclopedia Talmudit Erech “Zeres” Vol. 12 p. 442, Erech “Choshen” Vol. 13 p. 403