Monday, July 30, 2012

Height of the Temple Walls


SUMMARY There are two main views regarding the height of the Courtyard walls: 40 amos or 70 amos. Two proofs, including a sun study of the Temple walls, show that the height was most likely 40 amos.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tour of the Temple: Class 15

The Tauim and Upper Level of the Sanctuary

Exterior of the Sanctuary Building
as viewed from the southwest
Outside the walls of the Sanctuary were three levels of small storage chambers called tau'im (sing., tau) which held the treasures of the Temple. In the north and south each level was divided into five rooms while in the west there were three rooms on each of the first two levels and two rooms on the top level, for a total of 38 tau'im.

While most of the 38 tau'im had just three openings, the northeastern tau on the middle level had five: one opening east to the Antechamber, one opening west to the adjoining tau, one to the Holy in the south, one to the winding ramp in the north (see below), and one to the tau above. This tau was entered each morning in order to open the Sanctuary doors. First, the Levi unlocked the small eastern door by kneeling down and putting his arm through a hole in the wall near the door and inserting the key into the lock from the inside. Once this door was unlocked, he entered the tau and then unlocked the southern door to the Holy whose lock was directly before him. Now in the Holy, he would remove the bolts and open the keyed locks of the Sanctuary’s inner set of doors and swing them open and then repeat the procedure for the outer doors. Outside this tau’s northern door was a 6-cubit ladder leading down to the foot of the winding ramp at the floor of the Courtyard.


North of the 5-cubit (7½-foot) thick wall around the tau'im was a gap, 3 cubits (4½ feet) wide, which housed the winding ramp. A ramp began here at the floor of the Courtyard in front of the bottom, northeast tau and rose due west to the roof of the top, northwest tau. To the north of the ramp was another 5-cubit wall, equal in height to the top of the tau'im, which acted as a protective fence for those walking on the ramp.


Upon reaching the top of the winding ramp one would find himself on the roof of the top, northwest tau. Like all accessible roofs, those of the tau'im had a fence around their perimeter for safety. From here one would walk south along the roofs of the western tau'im to the southwest corner of the Sanctuary Building. In the south, corresponding to the winding ramp in the north, was a 3-cubit space called the Place of Drainage Water. Rainwater which drained off the roofs of the Sanctuary and tau'im was directed to a pool of water here. To the south of the Place of Drainage Water was a 5-cubit wall like that of the winding ramp, added both for symmetry and support.



Starting at the southwest corner of the Sanctuary Building was a ramp which rose due east from the roof of the top, southwest tau up to the door of the  second story of the Sanctuary. All the dimensions of the second story — height, width, and length — matched those of the first level. The interior was similarly decorated with gold plating and carvings. Opinions vary as to what may have been stored there, from vessels of the Tabernacle to sacred writings. 

Above the Holy of Holies were openings in the floor of the second story spaced an arm’s reach apart. When repair work had to be done in the Holy of Holies, workers would be lowered down through these openings in three-sided boxes so that they would not be able to see any more of the Holy of Holies than absolutely necessary for their work.

Immediately inside the door to the second story were two very thick vertical beams, 40 cubits (60 feet) tall, which were connected by rungs to form a sturdy ladder up to the roof of the Sanctuary Building. This roof was covered with iron tiles, 1 cubit (1½ feet) square, and protruding from these tiles were sharp iron spikes, 1 cubit tall, designed to keep birds from landing on the Sanctuary Building and soiling it.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Tour of the Temple: Class 14

The Holy of Holies

Beyond the Holy was 1 cubit (1½ feet) of space called the Traksin which divided the Holy from the Holy of Holies. This word is derived from the Greek, connoting a place which is both inside and outside, since it divided between the inside—the Holy of Holies—and the outer Holy. In the First Temple there was a wall built in this space with a doorway opening to the Holy of Holies. However, in the Second Temple the ceiling of the Sanctuary was 40 cubits (60 feet) high, 10 cubits (15 feet) higher than in the First Temple, and it was not possible at that time to construct a structurally sound wall which was 40 cubits tall and only 1 cubit thick. They could not make the wall any thicker since that would take away space from either the Holy or the Holy of Holies, the dimensions of which were not subject to modification. Therefore, they hung two curtains across the Holy in place of the original wall to act as the divider. One curtain would have sufficed but for their uncertainty as to whether that wall was considered part of the Holy or the Holy of Holies, thus they hung two curtains on either side of the Traksin and left that 1 cubit as undefined.

Each curtain was 20 cubits wide, 40 cubits tall, and 1 handbreadth thick. They were woven of wool dyed with many colors at an incredible cost of 820,000 golden dinars (according to one opinion). It was described as “the most praiseworthy item in the world.” Spanning the top was a band of gold, 2 handbreadths tall and 2 fingerbreadths thick, which kept it taut so that the entire width of the Holy was covered (the curtain of the Antechamber also had such a feature).

The outer curtain was folded back at the southern end and held by a golden band and the inner curtain was similarly folded back at the northern end. This allowed the Kohen Gadol to walk between them without having to open them manually as he entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur while at the same time they completely blocked off the interior of the Holy of Holies from the view of anyone standing in the Holy.

The innermost chamber of the Sanctuary was the Holy of Holies. It measured 20 cubits (30 feet) square and, like the Holy, was plated with gold and set with precious stones. Protruding 3 fingerbreadths (2¼ inches) above the floor was the Foundation Stone and on this stone they placed the Ark during the First Temple era. In the Second Temple the Holy of Holies was empty since the Ark had been concealed in a labyrinth of underground tunnels before the First Temple was destroyed. The Holy of Holies also had windows which, according to Josephus, were angled so that no one could see in from the outside.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Tour of the Temple: Class 13

The Sanctuary

Looking west within the Holy.
Inner Altar is in the center.
Separating the Sanctuary from the Antechamber was a 6-cubit (9-foot) thick wall and centered in this wall was the single doorway to the Sanctuary. It had two doorposts and a mantel and measured 10 cubits wide and 20 cubits tall (15 feet by 30 feet). Two sets of double doors were hung in this doorway, one set at the eastern edge of the doorway closer to the Antechamber, and one set at the western edge closer to the Sanctuary. Just in front of the outer doors hung a curtain which was raised and lowered very much like a stage curtain by means of ropes. Normally the curtain was left open so as not to hinder the Kohanim as they came and went from the Sanctuary during the sacrificial service. However, when the Kohen Gadol wished to enter the Sanctuary alone, his assistant would stand outside the doorway and lower the curtain to give him privacy. Upon hearing the bells of the Kohen Gadol’s tunic as he retreated towards the entrance the assistant would raise the curtain once again.

Inside the Sanctuary was the Holy, 20 cubits wide, 40 cubits long, and 40 cubits high (30 feet by 60 feet by 60 feet). As in the Antechamber, the interior was plated with gold and magnificently decorated. Covering the floor were wooden panels plated with gold. The only part not covered with gold was the area hidden behind the inner Sanctuary doors when they were open. Since this area was not visible while the doors were open, plating it with gold would have served no purpose and the Torah does not needlessly waste the money of the Jews.

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The Holy housed the Menorah [candelabra], the Table [which held the loaves of Showbread], and the Inner Altar [for the offering of incense], with the Menorah in the south, the Table in the north, and the Inner Altar centered between them and slightly off towards the east.

Each of these vessels was an exact replica of those built by Moses for the Tabernacle. Unlike the Laver which may actually have been Moses’ original, the Menorah and Table were only duplicates since the originals were hidden before the destruction of the First Temple. All three of these vessels were placed in the middle third of the Sanctuary’s length with the Menorah in the south, the Table in the north, and the Inner Altar centered between them and slightly off towards the east. King Solomon fashioned ten copies of both the Menorah and the Table which were arranged in rows of five on either side of the originals, and the same practice was followed in the Second Temple.

There were twelve windows in the Sanctuary corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. It was common at the time to construct windows with narrow outer openings and wide inner openings, both for security purposes and to allow more light to enter the room. The windows of the Sanctuary were designed with the narrow openings on the inside and the wide openings on the outside to symbolize that the Temple, far from needing light, was the source of light for the world.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tour of the Temple: Class 12

The Antechamber

Looking west towards the face of the Antechamber.
Altar is in the foreground
To the west of the Altar stood the massive entrance hall of the Sanctuary Building called the Antechamber. It measured 100 cubits (150 feet) wide and towered 100 cubits above the floor of the Courtyard. Leading up to the large central doorway was a set of twelve steps which ran the entire width of the building. Like all the steps in the Temple these steps were half a cubit (9 inches) high while the lengths of the steps varied. The first two steps were 1 cubit (1½ feet) long and the third step was 3 cubits (4½ feet) long. This pattern repeated itself four times, save for the very top step which was 4 cubits (6 feet) long. Being that there were 22 cubits (33 feet) between the Antechamber and the Altar and these steps took up 21 of those cubits, only 1 cubit (1½ feet) of walking space was left between the first step and the Yesod of the Altar.

On these steps towards the south stood the Laver where the Kohanim sanctified their hands and feet for the sacrificial service. The Laver was a sanctified vessel and the law dictates that anything suitable for a sanctified vessel which was left inside that vessel overnight becomes unfit for use in the Temple. This would have required the Kohanim to empty the water in the Laver each night and refill it the next day which is both degrading to the sanctified water of the Laver and a time-consuming task. To avoid this, they took advantage of the fact that if the water in the Laver were to be connected to the water table its sanctity would be nullified and thus would not become unfit for use if left out overnight. To this end they dug a pit in the floor of the Courtyard and directed a stream of water through it. The Laver was lowered into this pit where it remained submerged in, hence connected to, the stream overnight and the water inside was thus prevented from becoming unfit and could be used the next day.

The Laver and Muchni


A rope and pulley system called the Muchni was used to raise and lower the Laver. It was a permanent structure, made of wood, and had a ratchet or gear purposely designed to generate a lot of noise as it operated. The Laver could be raised by just one person, quite a feat of engineering considering that the Laver, when full of water, weighed over 2½ tons!


At the top of the steps leading up to the Antechamber was its large gateway. This gateway was the largest in the Temple, measuring 20 cubits wide and 40 cubits high (30 feet by 60 feet). Queen Heleni [the queen of Adiabene, a province in the Middle East, who converted to Judaism in the Second Temple era] donated a golden candelabra which was mounted on the roof of the Antechamber and centered in the eastern wall. Each morning the rays of the rising sun would strike this candelabra, causing it to shine and sparkle, which was the signal for the people of Jerusalem that the time of reciting the morning Shema had arrived. [The Shema prayer must be recited once each morning — at a certain time — and again in the evening.]
Interior of the Antechamber, looking north

Inside the entrance to the Antechamber was its main hall, 11 cubits (16½ feet) long and 60 cubits (90 feet) wide. Every inch of the walls and floor was plated with brilliant gold and decorated with carvings of flowers, palm trees, and cherubs, all connected by a network of chain designs and set with precious stones.

In the north and south of the Antechamber were two chambers called Chambers of the Knives where they kept the knives used for slaughtering sacrifices. Each of the twenty-four watches of Kohanim had private cabinets for their knives (twelve in the north chamber and the other twelve in the south) and these were set into the walls of the chambers. The southern chamber was also used as permanent storage of knives which became unfit for use. They would not be fixed since one operating principle of the Temple was, “there are no displays of poverty in a place of affluence.”

Above the doorway of the Sanctuary, inside the Antechamber, was a large grapevine of solid gold weighing over 25 tons. Donations of gold and other precious materials such as carbuncles, sapphires, and diamonds, were presented in the shape of leaves, individual grapes, or whole clusters (some of which were as tall as a man). These additions were hung upon the vine until they were needed for repairs to the structure or to support poor Kohanim. The vine itself was suspended from strong cedar poles, similar to a real grapevine.