Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ashes of the Parah Adumah

In Temple times the concept of tumah and taharah [ritual purity] was a daily concern, affecting people, utensils, and food. It was given special attention at this time of year as people began preparing to ascend to the Temple for the Festival of Succos and needed to be tahor [ritually pure] in order to do so. Tumah [contamination] comes in many forms and its severity depends upon the source of the contamination. The most severe form of tumah is that which derives from contact with, or being under the same roof as, a human corpse. According to Jewish law the only way to become purified from corpse tumah is to be sprinkled with spring water which has been mixed with the ashes of a parah adumah [red cow].

Mount of Olives (Wikimedia Commons)
The preparation of the parah adumah took place on the Mount of Olives east of the Temple. After the cow was slaughtered and burned, its ashes were divided into three parts. One third of the ashes was kept in a secure location on the Mount of Olives itself, another third was kept in the Temple (see below), and the remaining ashes were distributed among the twenty-four watches of Kohanim. The leaders of these watches would take the ashes to their hometowns in order to provide purification to people in their region of the country, thereby sparing them the need to travel all the way to Jerusalem.

The ashes of the parah adumah were stored in a stone jug
just outside the gate leading into the Women's Courtyard.
The stone jug holding the ashes stored in the Temple was kept in a niche in the wall just outside the gate of the Women's Courtyard (Tiferes Yisrael to Parah 3:3 #23).

Monday, September 24, 2012

Which Temple is Tractate Middos Describing?

Tractate Middos describes the Second Temple, but it is not immediately obvious which Second Temple is being described, for this building underwent a major renovation during which some modifications were introduced to the overall design. At the conclusion of the Babylonian exile, the Jews returned to Jerusalem in 353 BCE and built the Second Temple. This structure stood until 19 BCE when it was taken down and built anew by the Roman governor Herod (See Bava Basra 3b-4a for the story of why Herod took it upon himself to rebuild the Temple.) His purpose was simply to refurbish the Temple which had fallen into disrepair and in this he was successful, as the Gemara states, “Whoever has not seen the Temple [as rebuilt by Herod] has not seen a majestic building” (Sukkah 51b). Even so, there is evidence that he engineered more than just aesthetic improvements. A comparison of the two first-hand accounts of the Second Temple — Tractate Middos written by the Tanna R' Eliezer ben Yaakov and the works of Flavius Josephus — reveals a number of significant differences. These differences collectively suggest that Tractate Middos and Josephus are describing two separate structures. Consider the following:

1. Middos 2:1 states that the the Temple Mount measured 500 amos by 500 amos, while Josephus writes that Herod undertook to rebuild the Temple “larger in compass” and so expanded the original dimensions of the Temple Mount (Antiquities, XV 11:1). The current shape of the Temple Mount (as rebuilt by Herod) is trapezoidal and measures 1601 feet on the west, 922 feet on the south, 1530 feet on the east, and 1042 feet on the north (Resnick, Holy Temple). Contemporary opinions on the size of an amah are in the range of 18-24 inches; 500 amos would therefore be equivilant to between 750 and 1000 feet. Thus, not only is the Herodian Temple Mount not square, but its eastern and western sides are clearly longer than 500 amos.

2. Middos 1:3 states that there was one gate in the western wall of the the Temple Mount, while Josephus says that there were four (Antiquities, XV 11:5).
Israel Museum model of the Herodian Second Temple. To the left of center is the western Temple Mount wall and the elevated walkways provide access to two of the four gates leading into the Herodian Temple Mount from this side.

3. Middos 2:6 states that there were two gates in the western wall of the Courtyard, while Josephus does not mention any gates in this wall.

4. Middos 1:3 states that the eastern gate of the the Temple Mount featured above it a design of Shushan, the Persian capital. According to most commentators (Rav, Tosafos Yom Tov, Rambam, Meleches Shlomo) the purpose of this design was to instill in the people an awe of the Persian Empire which controlled the region at the time. It would be a strange thing indeed for Herod, a Roman governor, to reconstruct this monument paying tribute to a defeated foreign power.

     Aside from the examples above which come from the Mishnah itself, Tiferes Yisrael's commentary (whose view I follow in my computer model) also deviates from the account of Josephus and the archeological record:

5. In Middos 2:5 §37 he concludes that there was but one gate, located in the east, which provided access to the Women's Courtyard from the Temple Mount, while Josephus writes that there were additional gates in the north and south (Wars, V 5:2).
Israel Museum model showing the Women's Courtyard from the northeast. Aside from the entrance into the Women's Courtyard from the east there were additional entrances in its northern and southern walls.

6. In Middos Diagram §8 he writes that the entire expanse of the the Temple Mount up to the walls of the Temple was covered by a roof, while Josephus makes no mention of what was certainly a  remarkable architectural achievement.

7. In Middos 2:3 §26 he writes that all the gateways of the Temple had frames with diagonal cornerpieces, copying the design used by King Solomon in the First Temple, while archaeological evidence shows that typical Herodian gateways lacked such a feature.
Israel Museum model, southern wall of the Temple Mount, showing typical Herodian-style gateways.

8. In Middos 1:6 §(5) he writes that the walls of the Temple were comprised of a repeating pattern of three courses of stone followed by one course of wood, while Josephus and the archaeological evidence show the walls to be of solid stone.

SUMMARY A comparison of the text of Tractate Middos and the works of Josephus indicates that the the two sources are describing different buildings.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Columns of the Temple

Just inside the walls of the Temple Mount ran a cedar-covered portico supported by marble columns.
View of the Israel Museum Temple model. Columns of the Temple Mount
are visible on the left side of this photo.
Josephus writes that the columns of the Herodian Temple were hewn from single blocks of white marble whose natural beauty rendered additional carvings or painting unnecessary. In Herod's palace at Masada there are similar columns, each of which was comprised of drum-shaped sections which were fitted together and plastered. This outer surface was then carved and painted to appear as a single piece of stone. The same technique may have been used in the Temple, fooling the eye of Josephus and testifying to the Herodian artisans' mastery of their craft.

The design of the columns which I use in my computer model is based on archeological evidence found in Persepolis (in modern Iran), the capital of the Persian Empire. The Jewish artisans who returned from the Persian-held lands to Jerusalem may have borrowed elements of the royal architecture they saw in Persepolis and incorporated this style into the columns of the Second Temple.
Column of the Second Temple
The columns stood 25 amos tall and each measured "as wide as three men can reach." A man’s reach is about 4 amos, thus the columns had a circumference of 12 amos and a diameter of 3.8 amos. The columns were spaced approximately 15 amos apart (on centers) and arranged in three rows along the walls of the Temple Mount, with the first row of columns engaged with (partially set into) those walls.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Sefer Ezras Kohanim — ספר עזרת כהנים

The work Ezras Kohanim by R' Yehoshua Yosef HaKohen (originally printed in Warsaw, 1873) is an indispensable tool and resource for any serious student of Tractate Middos. The author cites an impressive variety of sources related to the Mishnah, many of them hard to find and/or out of print, and spends much time analyzing the various opinions, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of each. There are also numerous diagrams throughout the text.

This work was recently reprinted in a two-volume set by Mifal Torah Hamikdash, under the guidance of Rabbi Avrohom Yeshayah Neuwirth. The difference between the printings available up till now and this new one is like night and day and much credit is due Rabbi Neuwirth for all of his efforts in making this remarkable sefer more accessible to the public.