In Tanach the Urim v'Tummim (hereafter UT) are often used by kings or other leaders to discern the will of God, to, for example go to war (or not). However the process of getting an answer from the UT worked (see Yoma 73a-b) it seems clear that the information imparted was no better than information received by a true prophet of God. Furthermore, the historical timing wherein the UT functioned completely overlaps the epoch of prophecy.

I would like to understand why the UT would ever have been consulted over a prophet, and if there is no qualitative reason to prefer consulting the UT over a prophet, for what reason did God establish two different systems for obtaining insight into God's will?

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    Could prophets prophesy at will?
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 30 at 21:26
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    The same Gemara you mention contrasts the certainty of what is elicited via the UT to that elicited via the prophet. If the UT indicated a course of action, it was definitive, absolute, irretractable. If the prophet was consulted his statement was not as that of a final judgement but rather was contingent and therefore subject to change. Commented Jan 30 at 22:47
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    @DoubleAA could the urim vetumim?
    – Lo ani
    Commented Jan 30 at 23:17
  • @Loani that is seemingly the point of it. can't promise it always worked.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 31 at 2:40
  • Prophecy varies according to the individual standing of the Prophet. Even if the Prophet is worthy, they may not receive a response. Prophecy is not restricted by subject matter (the UT is only over issues relevant to the Jewish nation as a whole). Because use of the UT involves a level of Torah study, it can access higher levels of revelation than prophecy. This relates to the principle that חכם עדיף לנביא . Commented Mar 1 at 4:50

2 Answers 2


You can get a response from the urim vtumim without nevuah. Ruach hakodesh is sufficient. As @DoubleAA mentioned you can get a response whenever necessary vs nevuah if you're not Moshe rabeinu. That was part of it's purpose so that Israel wouldn't be left hanging when it needed timely divine instruction. Also, as @Deuteronomy mentioned, it's plan of action is immutable vs nevuah that can change. As it is necessary to act upon the info in the moment, if it is subject to change it wouldn't be all that valuable. All from Abarbanel.


The Urim and Tummim were also used by the prophets themselves. For example, Samuel used them to select Saul as first king of Israel. [Rashi on 1 Samuel 10:22] They were just a different form of prophecy. In normal prophecy, God speaks first. In UT prophecy, people speak first.

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