Monday, October 29, 2012

View of the Chamber of the Nazirites

During Temple times, an individual could accept upon themselves the vow of a nazirite. A nazirite is a man or woman who, for a set period of time, does not drink wine, cut their hair, or contract corpse-tumah. When the term of their vow is complete the individual was required to come to the Temple and offer certain sacrifices. The meat of the offering was brought to the Chamber of the Nazirites located in the southeast corner of the Women's Courtyard. In this chamber the meat was cooked and the nazirite would receive a haircut and then the cut hair would be thrown into the fire beneath the pot cooking the offering. Nazirites were not permitted to eat their offerings in this chamber but would take them out of the Temple into the city, either to prevent overcrowding in the Women's Courtyard or because it was more appropriate to eat inside a room with a roof and not under the open sky.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Location of the Nitzotz Chamber

The Chamber of Nitzotz [ניצוץ] was located at the westernmost gate in the northern wall of the Courtyard and consisted of a terrace extending out above the gate. This terrace was left open to the sky while the area beneath it, in front of the gate, was enclosed by three walls. This chamber was one of the locations where guards were posted in the Temple: a Kohen guard stood above on the terrace while a Levi assistant stood below on ground level. On the ground floor of this chamber the Kohanim maintained a fire which was kept burning constantly and would be used to relight the Altar fire should it ever be extinguished.

There is a debate among the commentators whether the Chamber of Nitzotz was located on the outside of the Courtyard (north of the wall) or the inside (south of the wall). This debate may be partially resolved based on the translation of the word nitzotz. Some maintain that it means spark, on account of the fire which was kept burning in this chamber, while others maintain that it means ray of sunlight since the sun would shine through the numerous fenestrations in the back wall of this chamber (opposite the gate) and illuminate its interior (Rosh). I would like to show that according to the latter opinion this chamber must have been located on the interior of the Courtyard.

If the Chamber of Nitzotz was outside the Courtyard then the wall opposite the gate would be the chamber's northern wall. Since, in the northern hemisphere, the sun always travels in the southern portion of the sky, the northern wall of this (or any) chamber would never see any direct sunlight during the large majority of the year. The only exception would be during the longest days of the summer. During the summer the sun rises in the northeast and sets in the northwest, so for a few hours in the mornings and evenings the sun would be in the northern part of the sky and able to shine into the openings of the northern wall.

It would be something of a misnomer to call this the "Chamber of the Ray" if it only receives direct rays of sunlight for such a limited time during the year (unless the intent is literally lashon sagi nahar). When we take into account one further fact it makes it all but impossible that this chamber was located in the north. As noted by Rambam and others, there was a roof covering the entire expanse of the Temple Mount up to the Temple walls. Any chamber just outside the Courtyard walls would have therefore been in shadow the entire day all year round.

Placing the Chamber of Nitzotz within the Courtyard avoids the shadow of the Temple Mount roof and also has the "wall of many fenestrations" in the south and exposed to sunlight. I was curious, though, about the shadow of the Sanctuary Building and the Courtyard walls which might affect the amount of light reaching the Chamber of Nitzotz and so I prepared three sun studies to examine the effect of the shadows within the Courtyard on this chamber. In the first one [Winter] we are looking at the Courtyard from above, with the Chamber of Nitzotz in the upper left corner and the Sanctuary Building to the bottom and right of center. Here the shadow of the Sanctuary Building does, in fact, block sunlight from the chamber during the early hours of the morning, although the chamber remains in direct sunlight for most of the day until the evening when the shadow of the western Courtyard wall falls across it.

In the sun study for Spring (which would also apply to the Fall) the sun is higher in the sky and the shadow of the Sanctuary Building covers the Chamber of Nitzotz for the entire morning (compare with the Winter sun study). Here the chamber is in direct sunlight for only a few hours in the afternoon.

In the sun study for Summer the shadow of the Sanctuary does not encroach upon the chamber at all, leaving it in direct sun all the way until evening when it is finally overtaken by the shadow of the western Courtyard wall. All in all, the Chamber of Nitzotz receives a great deal of sunlight through its southern wall.

SUMMARY According to the view that the word "nitzotz" means "ray of sunlight" the Chamber of Nitzotz must have been located on the interior of the Courtyard.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Choice of Scale in the Lego® Model

When I first started thinking about building a model of the Temple out of Lego® bricks, choosing the appropriate scale was an important consideration. It became obvious very quickly that a tabletop model would lack too many of the finer details since there are no Lego® bricks small enough to model them.

Scale Size of an Amah

Rather than pick an arbitrary scale such as 1:50 or 1:100 I wanted to use a scale where the basic unit of measurement in the Temple - the amah - corresponds to a standard Lego® brick. The smallest Lego® brick for this purpose is the 1x1 tile which measures 8 mm (0.31 inches) to a side. Using the 1x1 tile as the equivalent of a one-amah floor tile, the Main Courtyard (135x187 amos) would be roughly 4x5 feet and the height of the Sanctuary Building (100 amos) would be almost 3 feet. Although already bigger than any Lego® set you can buy, there are some important features which would be difficult (but perhaps not impossible) to model, such as the steps - all of which are half an amah tall and half an amah deep.

The next larger brick is the 2x2 tile which is 16 mm (0.63 inches) to a side. With this as a one-amah tile, the Main Courtyard would be 7x10 feet and the Sanctuary Building would be over 5 feet tall. In this scale it is much easier to build important details into the model, and the model as a whole will have a lot more presence, giving viewers a greater sense of what it might have felt like to stand in the Temple. A model built to this scale is approximately 1:29.


To make sure that my chosen scale would work even for the smaller details, I decided to build a prototype of the Menorah. The Menorah stood 3 amos tall, which in this scale comes to just under 2 inches. Working with my existing Lego® collection, I hit upon the design shown below. I tried a number of models with individual arms, three on each side, to hold the lamps, although none of these really worked for me (but I would gladly take suggestions).

[Lego® enthusiasts will notice that the model is built studs down. This approach allowed for a number of additional and accurate details, such as open receptacles on top for the seven lamps, use of the 1x1 slopes to smoothly connect the arms to the body, and the studs on the 2x2 plate serving as the base give the impression of feet.]

Menorah modeled in Bricksmith

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