Monday, May 7, 2012

Tour of the Temple: Class 4

The Cheil and the Soreg

The Cheil and Soreg outside of the Women's Courtyard
Standing at a distance of 10 cubits from the walls of the Courtyard on all four sides was a low wall, half a cubit high. This wall, as well as the area between it and the Courtyard walls, was referred to as the Cheil. A wooden latticework fence, 10 handbreadths high, was built atop this wall and was called the Soreg.

The purpose of both the wall and the fence was to mark the point beyond which no one contaminated with corpse-tumah, nor any non-Jew, could pass. Archaeologists have discovered one of the marker stones from the Cheil and the inscription (written in Greek) reads, "Any foreigner who passes beyond the wall and fence surrounding the Temple has only himself to blame for the fact that his death will follow." During the period of Hellenistic persecution the Syrian-Greek kings, aided by the corrupt Kohen Gadol Eliakim, contemptuously made thirteen breaches in this wall. When control of the Temple was later regained by the Hasmoneans (the Jewish resistance) they repaired these breaches and the Sages decreed that anyone who passes by one of the repaired breaches must bow down to give thanks to God for destroying the Greek regime and abolishing their evil decrees.
Marker stone from the Cheil

Of the 10 cubits of space occupied by the Cheil the first 4 cubits were flat while the remaining 6 cubits held the steps leading up to the walls of the Courtyard. These steps, twelve in all, were each half a cubit high and half a cubit deep. As a rule, all steps in the Temple ran the entire width of the area they led up to and were not limited to the area directly in front of the gate. In the case of the Cheil this meant that its twelve steps ran completely around all four walls of the Courtyard. The area just outside the Cheil on the Temple Mount proper was left as an open plaza with benches where the people could gather.

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