Monday, May 4, 2015

Showing the Table to the Masses

The Gemara on Menachos 96b states that on the three Festivals the Kohanim would raise the Golden Table of the Showbread for the people [gathered in the Courtyard] to see that the bread was as fresh as the day it was baked. This Gemara assumes that the bread could not be seen without the Table being raised and I was curious what the sight line would have looked like from the Israelites' Courtyard where the public would be gathered.


Sight line from the Israelites' Courtyard to the Golden Table.
Altar outline is shown in light gray.
The above diagram also makes a number of assumptions:
• The figure representing a person is shown as being four amos tall (some sources maintain that a person is only three amos tall)
• The Kohanim's Courtyard was elevated by 2.5 amos above the Israelites' Courtyard, as per the opinion of R' Eliezer ben Yaakov in Middos (according to the Sages, there may have been no change in elevation at all beyond the duchan).
• There were a total of eleven Tables located in the Holy (not shown in the diagram here), and the one that was used to hold the Showbread was located at the western end of the Holy (according to those opinions that only one Table was present, that one Table would have stood further to the east).
• The person looking at the Table is standing either to the north or south of the Altar, which is too tall to see over.

After taking all of the above into account, it appears that someone standing in the Israelites' Courtyard would not, in fact, be able to see the bread (or any part of the Table) from where it resided in the Holy. The Kohanim would therefore have had to raise it up — nearly over their heads, it would seem — for the bread to be visible to the people standing outside, just as the Gemara indicates.

A complication arises when looking at a top view of the Courtyard. The limiting factor becomes the relatively narrow opening of the Holy (ten amos wide) through which one must peer in order to see the Table. In the diagram below one would have to be standing within the blue shaded area to have a direct line of sight to the Table.

Top view of the Courtyard.
The problem now is that anyone standing within the little area where the Table is visible would have their view blocked by the height of the Altar and Ramp. It would appear that in order for the people to see the bread not only did the Kohanim raise the Table, but they must have moved it from its place and brought it closer to the Holy's entrance.

7 comments:

  1. Great blog.
    My understanding of the Gemoro in menochos is that the shulchan was moved.

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  2. This reminds me of a problem I encountered when I was working on my own CAD model/book on the Midkash more than a quarter century ago! Any solutions?
    --------------------
    We learned previously that the tiles of gold from the inside walls of the Heichal were put on show every festival.
    The Talmud in Yoma (54a) tells us how - also on the festivals, when so many Jews were in the Temple - the curtains of the heichal were pulled back to allow everyone to see the cherubim in the Holy of Holies.
    Isn't it interesting that at just the time when everyone would be looking in, the golden walls were resting at another end of the Temple and the poor, bare walls of the Heichal were exposed for all to see!
    And isn't it interesting that common Jews would be allowed to see into the Holy of Holies in the first place? Even workmen were lowered into this holy room in special elevators so they couldn't see any more than necessary for their work (Middos 4:5).
    Another point: Which cherubim did the people see? It couldn't have been the those on the Ark because in the Second Temple there was no ark - it had been hidden to protect it from those who destroyed the first Temple. Therefore the Temple in Yoma (54a) tells us that it was the cherubim that were carved or drawn onto the walls of the Holy of Holies that we were all allowed to see.
    This source also relates that when the Roman leader entered the Holy of Holies upon his victory over the Jews, he saw these cherubim facing each other, and ripped them off the wall to take them outside.

    But getting back to the point. How exactly did anyone in the crowd see anything of the Heichal? Let's examine the logistics:
    Except when necessary for his own offering, a non-priest was not allowed further west than midway between the eastern wall of the main courtyard and the altar, so the odds are that onlookers were restricted to that place. This was an area measuring eleven amos by about eighty amos (that's 135 minus the space taken up by the Chamber of Hewn Stone on the north and various buildings to the south). Not a whole lot of people are going to be able to squeeze into that area, at best a couple thousand.
    The floor of the Jew's Courtyard was eight and one-half amos lower than the floor at the entrance to the Ulam. That's more than the height of two tall men. Doesn't do much for the average guy on the floor, does it?
    The ten amah high altar blocked the view of anyone standing in the southern half of the courtyard. That would cut the viewing crowd by half.
    Ok. So even if you're carrying a periscope or are sitting on someone's shoulders and are lucky enough to be one of the few in direct line of sight of the action...you'll need pretty good eyesight.
    Think about it: Between the front row of spectators and the Holy of Holies lay the Priests' Courtyard (11 amos), the east-west length of the altar (32 amos), the 22 amos between the altar and the Antechamber, the 16 amos of Antechamber (with its wall) and a good 46 amos further before you even get into the Holy of Holies. That's at least 127 amos all told.
    127 amos. Let's call that 200 feet. And what are you trying to see? Three-foot-high carvings on the wall.
    The Talmud here might be hinting at still another Temple miracle!

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  3. We learned previously that the tiles of gold from the inside walls of the Heichal were put on show every festival … Isn't it interesting that at just the time when everyone would be looking in … the poor, bare walls of the Heichal were exposed for all to see!

    I discuss this point in another post:
    http://beishamikdashtopics.blogspot.com/2014/07/plating-sanctuary-building-with-gold.html

    And isn't it interesting that common Jews would be allowed to see into the Holy of Holies in the first place?

    See that same post for one answer to this.

    Another point: Which cherubim did the people see?

    See that same post for one answer to this.

    Except when necessary for his own offering, a non-priest was not allowed further west than midway … Not a whole lot of people are going to be able to squeeze into that area, at best a couple thousand.

    I would even put it closer to one thousand, if that.

    The floor of the Jew's Courtyard was eight and one-half amos lower than the floor at the entrance to the Ulam. That's more than the height of two tall men. Doesn't do much for the average guy on the floor, does it?

    The good news is that the cherub designs went all the way up the walls, so if you look at the first picture in the post you can see that there is still plenty of wall space to view above the dotted line.

    So even if you're carrying a periscope … you'll need pretty good eyesight … That's at least 127 amos all told … And what are you trying to see? Three-foot-high carvings on the wall

    I’d guess the designs were much larger and thus more easily visible from afar.

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  4. ...The good news is that the cherub designs went all the way up the walls, so if you look at the first picture in the post you can see that there is still plenty of wall space to view above the dotted line.

    Good points. Although, as we've both observed, all this ignores the fact that the mizbayach should have blocked just about everything. I've long wondered if there might have been some visibility from the balconies along the inside of the Azarah wall.

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  5. The logistical problem that actually started me off on my mikdash project concerned Pesachim 26a:
    "They said about Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai that he would sit in the shadow of the heichal and darshan all day long."
    Rashi says that the great crowds of talmidim were sitting in the street "lifnei Har Habayis".
    My problems with that included:
    *The walls of har habayis themselves were 70 amos tall, and would have blocked most of the heichal's shadow.
    *The closest the heichal came to a har habayis wall was to the west, but in that direction, it would have cast its narrowest shadows...and even then, it couldn't have reached far beyond the har habayis wall (and even then, only in the early morning).
    *The sun (or the earth - take your pick) moves during the day, so even if there was a shadow, it would have been constantly moving and would have forced Rabban Yochanan and his talmidim to keep moving with it.
    Any thoughts?

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    Replies
    1. Not as of right now. Sounds like it could use a good sun study to see how the shadows fell.

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  6. When the question first hit me I was in kollel, so I asked the younger bochurim in the mesivta how to calculate the length of the shadow. None of them knew, but one of the bais midrash bochurim reminded me of angle-side-angle. We've got the angle at the bottom of the heichal (90 degrees) and we can provide test angles of the sun's rays over the top. We also know the side between the two angles - i.e., the height of the heichal wall above ground level at the Har Habayis wall (122 amos).
    y/sinY = x/sin X should give us the length of the shadow. The problem is that most or all of the shadow that extends beyond the Har Habayis wall will be swallowed by the shadow thrown by the Har Habayis wall itself.
    One other variable, of course, is that we don't know exactly how far the Heichal was from the western Har Habayis wall.
    I've never heard a satisfactory answer to this one...

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