Monday, February 25, 2013

Understanding the Term Nechoshes

The word nechoshes appears over 40 times in the Torah, from the development of metal tools (Genesis 4:22) to the vessels of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:3 ff), to the curses of the tochachah (Leviticus 26:19 and Deuteronomy 28:23). Most translators understand this to mean copper while some prefer brass (Jerusalem Bible). To others, nechoshes denotes copper or bronze (Jastrow) or even all three—copper, bronze, or brass (Alkalai). The variant nechushah (Leviticus 26:19) is sometimes distinguished from the more standard nechoshes (copper) to mean brass (Aryeh Kaplan, Alkalai). As well, in the form nechushtan it is taken to mean bronze (Jastrow). Understanding the nature of copper, bronze, and brass will help explain the close relationship between these varying translations.

Copper is a naturally occurring metal whose ore has been mined and smelted since the beginnings of metallurgy. In fact, until about 3000 BCE, copper was the sole metal used in crafting tools and vessels with only occasional pieces of lead, silver, or gold being found. Beginning in the Early Bronze Age (3000 BCE-2600 BCE), which dates closely to the period of Tuval Kayin (Genesis 4:22), many metallurgical concepts were developed, among them the formation of bronzes. Bronze began as an alloy (a blend) of copper and arsenic, with arsenic eventually being replaced by tin. Brass is a rarer alloy of copper and zinc (zinc being less common than tin). By adding varying amounts of these other metals to the copper as it was smelted, the alloy’s properties could be adjusted to optimize workability, hardness, color, and finish. Arsenic and zinc deposits may have occurred together with some copper ores and when such ores were smelted they would form a natural alloy of either bronze or brass.

Thus nechoshes, in a general context, most likely refers to the pure copper. When describing vessels or tools (such as those used in the Tabernacle and Temple, both of which post-date the development of the copper alloys) it would tend to mean bronze or, less commonly, brass, as these were the alloys of choice for their advantages over pure copper.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Build your own LEGO® Altar

For those interested in creating their very own Lego® model of the Second Temple here is something to get you started. This is a (very) small model of the Outer Altar which you can build using only 25 bricks (a bit more manageable than my larger model which uses over 2000 bricks). The model was designed using Bricksmith. One of the very nice things about this program is that it puts together a parts list for your model and I have included that below the video.

Qty.     Part     Description     Color
1          3003       Brick  2 x  2       White
1          3002       Brick  2 x  3       White
2          3001       Brick  2 x  4       White
2          3024       Plate  1 x  1        White
3          3023       Plate  1 x  2        White
1          3623       Plate  1 x  3        White
1          3710       Plate  1 x  4        White
1          3795       Plate  2 x  6        White
1          3031       Plate  4 x  4        White
1          3031       Plate  4 x  4        Red
2          30363     Slope 18  4x2      White
1          30039     Tile  1 x  1          White
4          63864     Tile  1 x  3          White
1          2431       Tile  1 x  4          White
1          6636       Tile  1 x  6          White
2          3068b     Tile  2 x  2          White

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Collecting the Half-Shekel Donation in the Temple

The Mishnah (see Shekalim 2:1, 4:3, 6:5, and 6:6 with Tiferes Yisrael ad loc.) records that there were 13 collection boxes, called shofaros on account of their long, curved necks which resembled a shofar, which were placed within the Courtyard. They were used to collect funds for the following purposes:

1. Half-shekel donation collected from the public each year.
2. Half-shekel donations owed from the previous year (which would be appropriated for different uses than the current year’s shekalim).

Both of these shofaros for the half-shekel donations were kept inside a chamber. As the donations came in, the treasurers would deposit them into these shofaros and issue a receipt to the donor. At the end of each day the coins would be transferred to a (larger) storage container also located inside this chamber.

3. Mature bird offerings (turtledoves). One who is obligated to bring a pair of birds – one for a chatas and one for an olah offering – such as a zav, a zavah, a woman who has given birth, or a metzora, may discharge their obligation by placing enough money to cover the cost of the birds into this box. The Kohanim check this box daily and make sure to bring the offerings on behalf of the owner by the end of each day.
4. Young bird offerings (common doves). One who has pledged a voluntary bird olah may place the cost of the offering in this box and the Kohanim will bring the offering on his behalf.
5. Wood for the Altar.
6. Levonah (frankincense) which accompanied most offerings.
7. Gold for vessels of the Temple.
8-13: General donations for the purchase of additional olah offerings. Each of these six shofaros was designated for a specific beis av (of which there were six) who would receive the hides of the animals offered from these funds.

Two possibilities for the design of the collection boxes: was the "shofar" 
facing up or down?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Mount Sinai and the Temple

In describing the episode of the Revelation at Mount Sinai in last week's parshah, the Torah identifies a number of different areas of the mountain:

  • "The foot of the mountain" (Exodus 19:17) where the people gathered.
  • "The top of the mountain" (v.20) where God descended.
  • "The cloud" (v.18) where Moses entered.
  • "The thickness of the cloud" (v.19) where God came and spoke to Moses.

Rabbeinu Bechayai (to Exodus 19:17) notes that these four areas comprised four distinct levels of sanctity, each one successively higher than the previous one. The people at large were barred from entering beyond the foot of the mountain while Moses was permitted to ascend to the highest level, within the thickness of the cloud. Rabbeinu Bechayai then matches these four areas to sections of the Temple which also demonstrated increasing holiness, as follows:

  • "The foot of the mountain" is the gate of the Courtyard (i.e., the area just outside the main Courtyard, on the Temple Mount).
  • "The top of the mountain" is the Courtyard.
  • "The cloud" is the Sanctuary Building.
  • "The thickness of the cloud" is the Holy of Holies.

In truth, the Temple is comprised of more than four areas (Keilim 1:8-9 lists the eight distinct levels of sanctity within the Temple). It is therefore instructive that Rabbeinu Bechayai should specify the four which he gives here. Of interest to me is that he should match the "foot of the mountain" (the place beyond which the Jews could not enter at Mount Sinai) with the Temple Mount, because Israelites could enter even further into the Temple – i.e., into the Courtyard itself – when they were tahor (and the Jews at the time of the Revelation took pains to ensure that they were, in fact, tahor). The only people restricted to the Temple Mount were those contaminated with corpse tumah, and non-Jews. It would have been more accurate to match the "foot of the mountain" with the Israelites' Courtyard, say, which was generally the furthest that most people could go in the Temple.

One possible explanation is to suggest that our status changed in a meaningful way through the Revelation at Mount Sinai. Although we were definitely "Jewish" and had been for many hundreds of years, there is a difference between Jews who have received the Torah and Jews who have not. Until we underwent that historic spiritual transformation, we were, to a certain extent, not elevated enough to be permitted into the more hallowed ground of Sinai's "Courtyard."