Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Chambers of the Knives — בית החליפות

Did you know that the Kohanim used switchblades in the Temple for the slaughter of sacrificial animals?

A slaughtering knife is referred to as a חליף [chalif]. This term comes from the Hebrew root חלף which means switch or change, since the purpose of the knife is to "switch" the animal's state from living to dead. In the Temple, the Kohanim stored their "switchblades" in rooms called the בית החליפות [beis hachalifos], or Chambers of the Knives.

There were two Chambers of the Knives, located at the northern and southern ends of the Antechamber. Each chamber was 10 amos wide (from north to south) and 11 amos long (from east to west) and was accessed by a door in the wall separating the chamber from the interior of the Antechamber. There was also an opening to the Courtyard located in the outer, western corner of each chamber, measuring 4 amos wide and 8 amos tall. For halachic reasons, these openings were necessary to allow offerings to be slaughtered in the areas of the Courtyard north and south of the Sanctuary. These openings may have also been used as auxiliary entrances to the Chambers of the Knives and would have been accessed via ladders since the floor of the Chambers of the Knives was six amos above the Courtyard floor.

Each of the twenty-four watches of Kohanim had a private cabinet for their knives. Twelve of the cabinets were located in the northern chamber and twelve in the southern one, and these were set into the walls of the chambers. The southern chamber was also used as permanent storage of knives which became dull or nicked and thus unfit for use, for even though it was possible to repair them, the Temple would simply purchase new ones.
View of the southern Chamber of the Knives
as seen from the northwest.

In the picture above we are looking at the southern Chamber of the Knives, which is distinguished from the northern chamber by the presence of a box holding nicked knives. The northern and western walls are cut away nearly down to the ground so that the large diagonal opening in the southwest corner is easier to see. The other two walls are also not shown at full height, since they rose up nearly 90 amos to the top of the Sanctuary Building. [For a lengthier discussion of the height of the Chambers of the Knives, see this post.] I presume that the interior of this room was plated with gold just as was done elsewhere in the Sanctuary Building.

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