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.

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