Monday, June 25, 2012

Tour of the Temple: Class 11

The Butchering Area

The Butchering Area north of the Altar
At a distance of 8 cubits (12 feet) from the northern edge of the Altar were twenty-four iron rings set into the floor of the Courtyard where animals would be held during slaughter. The rings took up an area of 24 cubits (36 feet) square, arranged in six rows north to south of four rings each (the four rings ran east-to-west). Each ring was a half-circle, hinged on one side so that the other side could be lifted for the animal’s head to be inserted and then locked down. The rings were oriented so that the animal would be facing south when put into the ring. Each watch of Kohanim was assigned their own ring which they would use during their shift. The exception to the above was the Tamid offering [the continual offering brought twice daily] which was always slaughtered in a specific ring in the morning and a specific ring in the afternoon, regardless of which watch was on duty.

The eight short stone columns north of the rings were much shorter than a man’s height and topped by a heavy piece of square cedar. This block of wood was not fastened to the columns but remained in place under its own weight. Along each of the three sides of the cedar block, save for the west, were affixed a row of iron hooks from which the animals were hung for skinning. These hooks protruded one handbreadth (3 inches) from the blocks of wood. There were similar hooks in the walls of the Courtyard which were used for skinning the Pesach sacrifice. It is not clear how many of these additional hooks there were, but presumably there were enough to cater to the multitudinous crowds that filled the Courtyard before Pesach.

There were eight stone tables near the columns used to support large animals during the skinning, to rest knives upon, and to wash the innards upon. More analogous to small footstools, the tables measured just 1 cubit tall and 1 cubit square (1½ feet per side).

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tour of the Temple:Class 10

The Altar

The Outer Altar of the Temple
The Outer Altar served as the focal point of the sacrificial service. [The smaller, Inner Altar — located within the Sanctuary Building — was used for offering incense.] After an animal offering was slaughtered, its blood was applied to the walls of the Altar and certain parts of the animal were then burned on the fires located on the Altar's top.

The Altar was a three-tiered structure made of stones held together with cement and coated with plaster. The first tier was called the Yesod, or base, and measured 32 cubits (48 feet) square and 1 cubit (1½ feet) high. It only protruded from the body of the Altar on the west and north. Above the Yesod was the Sovev, or ledge [since it formed a ledge upon which the Kohanim would walk], measuring 30 cubits (45 feet) square and 5 cubits (7½ feet) high. Above the Sovev was the top level, called the Altar, measuring 28 cubits (42 feet) square and 3 cubits (4½ feet) high. On the four corners of the Altar were extensions called Keranos (sing., Keren), meaning horns [since they protruded upward like the horn from the head of an animal] which were hollow and open on top, 1 cubit square and 1 cubit high (1½ feet per side).

On the top of the Altar, starting near the outer edge, the first 2 cubits (3 feet) were depressed into the top, leaving a small lip around the edge of the Altar to prevent the Kohanim from falling off (there was a similar feature around the edge of the Sovev). The Kohanim would walk within this channel as they performed their various tasks on the top of the Altar.

Three different fires were kept burning on the Altar every day. The largest one was located on the eastern side and everything brought to the top of the Altar to be burned was placed on this fire. Each morning this fire would be rebuilt by laying down two logs, parallel to each other, and then stacking two more logs on top, perpendicular to the first two, to form a square. A few more layers were added to make it very large.

The second fire provided the coals used in offering the incense. The size of the incense fire was large enough to produce 5 se’ah (1.5 cubic feet) of coals per day and 8 se’ah (2.3 cubic feet) of coals on the Sabbath.

The third fire was a maintenance fire, the pilot light of the Altar whose purpose was to fulfill the requirement of maintaining a “constant flame” (Leviticus 6:6) on the Altar. If the main fire would go out they would relight it from this small fire.

Near the southwest Keren on the top of the Altar were two silver bowls. These bowls were receptacles for the libations which were offered on the Altar: water libations were poured into the western bowl and wine libations into the eastern one. Water libations, offered only on Succos, were brought together with the wine libations and both were poured into their respective bowls simultaneously. In order for them to empty at the same rate, the drain in the wine bowl was made slightly wider than the drain in the water bowl to account for the difference in viscosity. The drains of both bowls led down through the Altar to a deep subterranean hollow under the southwest Keren of the Altar.

On the southwest corner of the Yesod were two round depressions with small holes at the bottom which served as drains. Both drains were located towards the southern edge of that corner with the eastern drain being further south than the western drain. Blood poured on the western Yesod flowed along the top of the Yesod via a channel which directed it to the western drain. Blood poured on the southern Yesod (i.e. directly on the southwest corner) flowed into the eastern drain. This eastern drain also had a channel leading to it since the drains themselves were very small and it would be impossible to pour the blood directly into such a small hole.

In the Courtyard was a channel of flowing water called the Amah [“cubit”] — 1 cubit wide and 1 cubit deep, hence the name. This channel started near the southwest corner of the Altar and ran due south to the Water Gate. When the Kohanim wished to clean the floor of the Courtyard they would block the pipe of the Amah at the Water Gate, causing the water to back up and flood the Courtyard. The pipe was then reopened and all the refuse would be carried away with the water. Directly under the southwest corner of the Yesod was a small hollow, called the Shis, which was connected underground to the nearby Amah. All the blood poured on the Altar would run down the two drainage holes into the Shis and from there into the Amah. This blood-enriched water would be carried out to the Kidron Valley where it was sold to farmers as fertilizer with the proceeds going to the Temple.

The Torah requires that the Kohanim ascend the Altar via a ramp, as opposed to steps. The main access ramp of the Altar was centered on its southern side and measured 32 cubits (48 feet) long, 16 cubits (24 feet) wide, and 9 cubits (13½ feet) tall. The main ramp was flanked by two smaller ramps. On the eastern side was a ramp to the Sovev and on the western side a ramp to the Yesod.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Tour of the Temple: Class 9

Chambers of the Courtyard

Chamber of Hewn Stone
The Courtyard contained a large number of chambers which served a multitude of different purposes. Along the eastern wall on either side of the Nikanor Gate were two chambers. To the north was the Chamber of Pinchas the Clothier where the Priestly Vestments were stored and distributed. The chamber was named after the very first Temple clothier called Pinchas.

To the south of the Nikanor Gate was the Chamber of the Makers of the Chavitin. In this chamber the Kohanim would prepare the chavitin [named for the machavas, the type of pan in which it is fried], a meal-offering offered daily – and paid for – by the Kohen Gadol. Twelve loaves of chavitin were prepared each day, half of which were offered in the morning and half in the afternoon.

On the southern side of the Courtyard there were two elevated chambers located directly above the Water Gate. The first of these, the Chamber of Avtinas, was where the Avtinas family would carry out the compounding of the incense offered daily in the Temple. Adjacent to the Chamber of Avtinas on the east was a mikveh [ritual bath] where the Kohen Gadol would immerse on the morning of Yom Kippur as he began the sacrificial service.

In the southeast corner of the Courtyard were three chambers. The Chamber of Salt contained salt used to apply to the sacrifices. [All sacrifices were salted before being placed upon the Altar.] The Chamber of Parvah, located to the west of the Chamber of Salt, was where they would tan the hides of the sacrifices. On its roof was a mikveh used by the Kohen Gadol for the other immersions required as part of the sacrificial service of Yom Kippur. The Chamber of the Washers was to the west of the Chamber of Parvah and was used to wash out the stomachs of sacrificial animals.

In the northeast corner were also three chambers. The Chamber of Hewn Stone, so called for the special square stones used in its construction, was the largest of the three northern chambers and served as the seat of the 71-member Sanhedrin court. Adjacent to the Chamber of Hewn Stone was the Chamber of Wood used by the Kohen Gadol to store his priestly vestments and also served as his residence for the week before Yom Kippur. The Chamber of the Basin contained a well which provided water for the Courtyard. This chamber was named for the large basin attached to the wall where the water brought up from the well would be stored.

Tucked into the northeast corner of the Courtyard was a chamber used in the preparation of the ashes of the red heifer. To ensure that this ritual was carried out in the utmost sanctity, all of the utensils in this chamber were made of stone, which is impervious to tumah, and it is for this reason that the room was called the Chamber of Stone.

On either side of the Spark Gate two walls protruded into the Courtyard forming an area called the Chamber of the Spark which housed a fire that was kept burning constantly. On top of these walls was a balcony which was open to the sky and was not accessible directly from the Courtyard. A door in the back wall of the balcony opened to a flight of steps which led down to the Cheil.

Built around the first of the large Courtyard gates on the north side was a chamber with a domed ceiling called the Hall of the Fire. Its main purpose was to serve as sleeping quarters for the watch of Kohanim currently on duty and it also provided them a place to warm themselves during the day, a necessary amenity since they had to walk around barefoot on cold marble floors as they performed the sacrificial service. [The Kohanim in the Temple could not wear any article of clothing in addition to their priestly vestments, which consisted of a robe, pants, belt, and a hat.] The large warming fire in the main hall of this chamber gave it its name.

Chamber of Receipts

In the four corners of Hall of the Fire were small chambers which opened into the main hall. Each served a different purpose. In the southwest was the Chamber of the Sheep. Here they always maintained a supply of six sheep, free of blemishes, which would be used for the two daily Tamid sacrifices. In the southeast was the Chamber of the Show bread. All the preparations of the Show bread — the kneading, setting into the forms, and the baking — were done in this chamber every Friday. In the northeast was the Chamber of Receipts where the Kohanim would issue receipts to individuals purchasing wine, oil, and flour from the Temple supply. In the northwest was the Chamber of Hall of the Fire which housed the entrance to the private bathhouse of the Kohanim.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Tour of the Temple: Class 8

The Courtyard

The Courtyard of the Temple is called Azarah, from the Hebrew word ezrah, meaning aid, a reference to the fact that all Divine assistance comes to the Jews via the Temple. Within its walls the Courtyard measured 135 cubits (202½ feet) from north to south and 187 cubits (280½ feet) from east to west, and this space was divided into different sections. Beginning in the east, the first 11 cubits (16½ feet) of the Courtyard's length (from east to west) were known as the Israelites' Courtyard where the public would stand while their sacrifices were being slaughtered and brought to the Altar. Entry into this area was restricted to individuals who were completely tahor.

Adjoining the Israelites' Courtyard was the Kohanim's Courtyard, also 11 cubits long, which was used primarily by the Kohanim as they shuttled back and forth between the public in the east and the Altar to the west. Israelites were not permitted to enter here except to perform certain actions related to their offering, such as resting their hands upon the head of the animal [prior to the slaughter], slaughtering the animal [the slaughter was not an official part of the sacrificial service and thus could even be performed by non-Kohanim], or waving the meat [a procedure required of certain offerings].

The Kohanim's Courtyard was elevated 2½ cubits (3¾ feet) above the Israelites' Courtyard and these two areas were separated by four steps running the entire width of the Courtyard. The first of these was a large step, 1 cubit (1½ feet) high and 1 cubit deep, and marked the point beyond which all non-Kohanim should not enter (the step itself was located within the Kohanim's Courtyard). To further mark this boundary there were blocks of wood as wide as the length of a man's hand (from the wrist to the tip of the middle finger) protruding from the northern and southern walls of the Israelite's Courtyard along their full height. These blocks of wood were needed in addition to the large step since many people may not have realized that the purpose of the step was to mark the boundary, or they may not have known whether the step was part of the Israelites' Courtyard or Kohanim's Courtyard.

Above the large, 1-cubit step was a flight of three standard steps — each half a cubit (9 inches) high and half a cubit deep — which together formed a platform called the Duchan. The Duchan was used on a daily basis by the Levi'im who would stand upon it as they provided musical accompaniment for the sacrificial service. In addition, when the Kohanim would deliver the Priestly Blessing (which they did each day in the Temple), those Kohanim who could not find a place to stand upon the steps of the Antechamber would stand upon the Duchan.

To the west of the Kohanim's Courtyard was a section 32 cubits (48 feet) long which was occupied by the Outer Altar and all of the associated structures needed to slaughter and skin the offerings and prepare the different cuts of meat for burning upon the Altar. Beyond that was a section consisting of the 22 cubits (33 feet) between the western face of the Altar and the eastern face of the Antechamber and was aptly termed the Area Between the Altar and the Antechamber. This area contained the steps leading up to the Antechamber as well as the Laver from which the Kohanim would wash their hands and feet prior to beginning the sacrificial service. The largest section of the Courtyard was occupied by the Sanctuary Building (which includes the Antechamber) and measured 100 cubits (150 feet) from east to west. The last section of the Courtyard consisted of the 11 cubits (16½ feet) between the western wall of the Sanctuary Building and the western wall of the Courtyard.

Although the Courtyard was open to the sky there was a roofed area along the inside of the walls around all four sides which jutted out of the walls halfway up their height. The walls were 40 cubits (60 feet) high, which would put the roof at a height of 20 cubits (30 feet), or just even with the tops of the gateways. The roof was not continuous but was built in sections which ran between the gates of the Courtyard, and each section was supported by a single row of marble columns similar in design to those of the Temple Mount. The area beneath the roof was used for overnight storage of some Temple vessels and hanging from, or displayed upon, the roof itself were spoils of war.