|VII. The Belt
The belt of white linen was only "3 fingerbreadths" (2 1/4 inches) wide, records both the Talmud and Maimonides. But it was made from an exceedingly long piece of fabric-its Biblical measurement, writes Maimonides, is 32 cubits... app. 48 feet!
The "Measurement" of the Heart
Earlier we learned that the belt "atoned for sins of the heart" and was worn over the heart. This is seen even in the detail of its measurement, 32 cubits: For 32 is the gammatria (the numerical equivalent; from the Greek gamma, the third letter of the Greek alphabet, equals tria, number 3) of the Hebrew word lev, meaning heart. The length of the belt itself serves as a reminder to the priest, as he officiates in the hallowed courts of the L-rd, of the purity which his office requires, and of the unsullied intentions he must have as he goes about his duties.
A "Double" Embroidered Design
Josephus describes the belt as being hollow like the skin shed by a snake (Antiquities 3:7:2). It was a work of "embroidery;" when used in this context of Temple furnishings, the Bible uses this term to indicate that the same design was featured on both sides of the material. Although the belt itself was made of linen, the embroidery-a floral design-was done of colored wool threads (the three colors which we have mentioned), and attached to the white linen background. This combination of wool and linen together in garments is normally forbidden (see Lev. 19:19), but it was permitted for the priestly garments.
The High Priest and the Ordinary Priests: Was the Belt the Same?
The above certainly applies to the belt of the High Priest. But there is a controversy between the scholars as to the appearance of the ordinary priests' belts. Some authorities, such as Josephus (ibid.) hold that were the same as the High Priest's; other opinions (such as the Talmud - BT Yoma 12:B) maintain that the ordinary priests' belts were plain white linen.
One reason for this variance of opinions: The Talmud points out that since other items (e.g., the ephod and the breastplate) of the High Priest's outfit also contained this mixture of wool and linen, then it follows that the belt may also contain it. But since the ordinary priest's garments are all made of plain linen, his belt was also of unembroidered linen. This controversy has an immediate and important consequence: it teaches us that on the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest wore only the "white garments" of plain linen, so too his belt was of plain linen. In any event, there are also other opinions which hold that the ordinary priests' belts were also embroidered with the colored woolen threads.
The belt was wrapped many times around the body at the hips, but close to the heart. Its purpose was to separate between the upper and lower portions of the body; Jewish religious law obligates this separation during prayer or the mentioning of anything holy. Josephus states (Antiquities 3:7:2) that when worn, the two ends of the belt hung in front, down to the priest's ankles. However during the actual service the priest would cast these two ends over his left shoulder, to prevent them from interfering with his work.