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.

The height of the Temple walls is not stated explicitly, rather the Mishnah (Middos 2:4) states that “all the walls there [in the Temple] were very tall.” From the fact that the Mishnah does not differentiate between the height of the walls of the Temple Mount, the Women's Courtyard, or the main Courtyard but describes them collectively as “very tall,” it would appear that all of these walls were identical in height (Ezras Kohanim to 2:4 s.v. כל הכתלים [p.327]). An actual height measurement is only assigned to the walls by the later commentators and the two main opinions are as follows:

40 amos (Tosafos Yeshanim to Yoma 16a; Josephus, Wars V 5:2). This view may be based on the fact that it was common practice to build a wall twice as tall as its gates, as seen explicitly in the example of the Sanctuary whose entryway was 20 amos tall (Middos 4:1) and its interior walls measured 40 amos tall (Middos 4:6). Alternatively, the walls of the Temple were kept to a height of 40 amos so as not to exceed the height of the walls of the Sanctuary (Ezras Kohanim to 2:4 s.v. היו גבוהים [p.327]). According to this view, the walls of the main Courtyard would have measured 40 amos on the interior (i.e., from the threshold of its gates to the top of the wall) but when viewed from the Temple Mount the wall would appear to be 56 amos tall on account of the 16-amah increase in elevation between the floor of the Temple Mount and the main Courtyard. Similarly, the walls of the Women's Courtyard measured 40 amos on the interior but 46 amos when viewed from the Temple Mount on account of the 6-amah difference in elevation between the two areas. The walls of the Temple Mount itself also measured 40 amos on the interior but were much taller on the outside on account of the great difference in elevation between the street outside the Temple Mount and the floor of the Temple Mount (as will be discussed further below).

70 amos (Tiferes Yisrael, Diagram §1, citing The Letter of Aristeas; Seder Hadoros 26c; Tavnis Heichal §4 35b. Ezras Kohanim to 2:4 s.v. היו גבוהים [p.327] maintains that the latter two proponents of a 70-amah wall height also base themselves upon The Letter of Aristeas). In The Letter of Aristeas the author describes three sets of walls in the Temple (e.g., the walls of the Temple Mount, the Women's Courtyard, and the main Courtyard) and gives their height as 70 amos (Ezras Kohanim loc. cit.).
 

One point in favor of a 40-amah wall height is the Mishnah (Succah 5:2) which states that the large lamps set up in the Women's Courtyard for the Rejoicing of the Water Drawing (held each year on the holiday of Sukkos) were 50 amos tall and were able to light up the whole city. Had the walls been 70 amos tall it would have been impossible for lamps of 50 amos to cast light over them. Tiferes Yisrael does suggest (Sukkah 5:2 §8) that these lamps may have been mounted upon the women’s balcony which was built halfway up the walls (see Tiferes Yisrael to Middos 2:5 §49) in which case their light would have been visible above the tops of the walls.

A further proof for a 40-amah wall height can be adduced from the laws of the daily Tamid offerings. All kodshei kodashim [higher sanctity] offerings were generally slaughtered in one of the 24 rings located to the north of the Altar and the same was true of the Tamid offerings. Based upon Numbers 28:3 the Gemara (Tamid 31b) states that the two daily Tamid offerings – morning and afternoon – must be slaughtered כנגד היום, facing the sun, that is, in a place on the Courtyard floor which will be lit by the rays of the sun and not remain in shadow. To accommodate this Biblical requirement the morning Tamid was slaughtered in one of the westernmost rings, since those would be the first rings to see direct sunlight in the morning once the shadow of the eastern Courtyard wall receded past them (Tiferes Yisrael to Tamid 4:1 §6). Ideally, the Tamid offering should be slaughtered as close to the Altar as possible so that its blood applications could be performed without delay. However, it could not be slaughtered in the very first ring closest to the Altar because during the shortest days of winter the sun rises in the southeast and the shadow cast by the Altar itself completely covers these rings (Mefareish and Rosh to Tamid 30b, bottom). For this reason the Mishnah (Tamid 4:1) teaches that the morning Tamid was always slaughtered in the westernmost ring of the second row of rings from the Altar, for the rings of this second row always remained in sunlight. Similarly, the afternoon Tamid was slaughtered in one of the easternmost rings which were the last rings to fall under the shadow of the Sanctuary building in the afternoon (Tiferes Yisrael to Tamid 4:1 §6; S'mag, Asei 190). The afternoon Tamid was also slaughtered in the second ring from the Altar since, as above, the ring closest to the Altar remained in the shadow of the Altar during the winter.


Location of the 24 rings. Arrows indicate where the morning and afternoon
Tamid offerings were slaughtered
This phenomenon can be shown clearly in a sun study of the interior of the Courtyard on the shortest day of the year. The two illustrations below show how the shadows fall on the inside of the Courtyard at different times of the day. In the morning, as the sun rises higher in the sky and the shadow of the eastern wall recedes to the east, the closest ring to the Altar to first see sunlight is, in fact, the westernmost ring of the second row of rings. As the sun moves into the western part of the sky later in the day, the shadow of the Sanctuary building creeps eastward and begins to cover the rings. The very last ring to be left in sunlight is the easternmost ring in the second row where the afternoon Tamid would be slaughtered.



Morning: The shadow of the eastern wall has moved beyond the westernmost column of rings while the shadow of the Altar covers the row of rings closest to the Altar.


Afternoon: The shadow of the Sanctuary building has moved across most of the rings while the shadow of the Altar still covers the row of rings closest to the Altar. 
Now, in the above discussion the commentators assume that the shadow cast by the southern wall of the Courtyard never falls across the rings and is therefore of no consequence. The sun study illustrated above demonstrates this, for the shadow of the southern wall falls across the Courtyard floor in the vicinity of the Altar without ever reaching the rings. However, this is only true when the the Courtyard walls are set at a height of 40 amos. When the walls are set at a height of 70 amos, though, the shadow of the southern wall extends well into the Courtyard and passes beyond the second row of rings, indicating that the walls could not have been that tall. See illustration.

Walls at 70 amos: The shadow of the southern wall covers the first four rows of rings closest to the Altar. 
The following video shows the points presented above:


After considerable discussion, Ezras Kohanim writes that it is difficult to reach a definitive conclusion from the sources. All else being equal, he places more stock in Tosafos Yeshanim than the testimony of a non-Jewish visitor (i.e., the author of The Letter of Aristeas) and therefore maintains that the walls stood at a height of 40 amos (Ezras Kohanim to 2:4 היו גבוהים [p.332]). Even so, it is possible that the two views on the height of the walls are, in fact, in agreement. If the evidence presented thus far for an interior height of 40 amos is assumed to be true then the author of The Letter of Aristeas may have simply been describing the Temple Mount walls as seen from the outside. We know that in the Herodian Temple these walls rose to a height of 105 feet above the street level, and with one amah representing 1½ feet this is equivalent to a height of 70 amos.

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