BACKGROUND TO THE BAR-MITZVAH MEDAL
by Albert J. Schmeidler

In 1961, on the occasion of the Thirteenth Anniversary of the State of Israel, the Bar-Mitzvah Year of the State, a series of State Medals known as the Bar-Mitzvah Medals, was issued by the Israel Government Coins and Medals Corporation in bronze, silver and gold. These medals were struck in various sizes:

Bronze: 59 mm.* Diameter
Silver: 59mm., 35mm, 19mm**
Gold: 27mm., 22mm, 19mm

* The reverse of the 59mm bronze medal exists in two varieties: Large tribes (the same as all other 1961 medals); and small tribes (see photograph below). The large tribes on the 59mm bronze metal is the rarer variety.

** The 19mm silver medal exists in three varieties:
(a) without mintmark on obverse.
(b) with mintmark letter 'kaf on obverse, at base of lectern.
(c) mounted on a keychain.

Since the original issues of these medals were sold out due to their popularity and suitability as Bar-Mitzvah gifts, the I.G.C.M.C. re-issued the medal with large tribes in 1971 in 45mm bronze and silver with unlimited mintage.

Description of the Medal

Obverse

Shows a youth reading from the Torah (Scroll of the Law) on the occasion of his Bar-Mitzvah, wearing a yarmulka (skullcap), tallit (prayer shawl) and tfillin (phylacteries). On the edge of the tallit appears the year 1961 in Hebrew and in English; in the center is the Hebrew inscription, 'BEN SHALOSH ESRAY LAMITZVOT (Ethics of the Fathers 5:24); around the rim is the English translation, 'At 13 for the Fulfillment of the Mitzvoh P'a5 24'

Reverse

Shows the Shield of the State in the center, surrounded by emblems of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Around the top half of the rim is the Hebrew inscription, 'Y U D GIMEL SHANNAH LEMEDI- NAT YISRAEL' with the English translation on the bottom half of the rim 'Bar Mitzvah of the State of Israel'.

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 presentation piece.

The 12-Tribes Emblem
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.'

The Tribe of Simeon.
At 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 son.

The Tribe of Levi
At 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.

The Tribe of Judah
At 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.

 

The Tribe of Zebulunt
At 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.

 

The Tribe' of Issachar
At 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

At 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.

The Tribe of Gad
At 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 son.

The Tribe of Naphtali
At 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
At 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 son

 



The Tribe of Asher
At 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

At 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.

The Tribe of Reuben
At 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.

 

 

Bibliography:

(1) 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, 1971.
(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 Ltd. 1974.


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