The oracle was consulted in the following manner: The high priest donned his eight garments, and the person for whom he sought an answer stood facing him, while he himself turned toward God (i.e., the Shekinah). It was necessary that the question should be brief and that it should be pronounced, but not aloud; while the answer was a repetition of the query, either in the affirmative or in the negative. Only one question might be asked at a time; if more than one were put, the first alone received a reply. The answer was given by the letters of the names of the tribes which were engraved upon the high priest's breastplate (Yoma 73a, b; Yer. Yoma 44c; Sifre, Num. 141). If the question was not distinctly worded, the reply might be misunderstood, as in Judges xx. 18 et seq. (Sheb. 35b; Yoma 73b). A decision by the oracle might be demanded only by the king, or by the chief of the highest court, or by a prominent man within the community, such as a general of the army, and it might be sought only for the common weal (Yoma 7, end, 73a: "one anointed for war"; Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Ex. xxviii. 30: "in case of need"). According to Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Ex. xxviii., the breastplate was used to proclaim victory in battle. It was necessary that the high priest who questioned the oracle should be a man upon whom the Shekinah rested (Yoma 73b).
The characteristic feature of the Shekinah was radiance; and Josephus, who believed that God was present at every sacrifice, even when offered by Gentiles, states that the oracles were revealed through rays of light:
Further information on the Urim-Thummim
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