Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Quick Temple Animation

This is a test animation which runs quickly through the main parts of the Temple. Many of the models in this animation are unfinished. The Antechamber is in a very early stage and I have since removed the windows in its eastern face.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tour of the Temple: Class 7

Gates of the Courtyard

The Nikanor Gate, as viewed from the Women's Courtyard
The Main Courtyard was surrounded by walls 40 cubits (60 feet) tall and seven large gateways opened into the Courtyard from the outside. All of these gateways had the same dimensions as the Temple Mount gates – 10 cubits wide and 20 cubits tall (15 feet by 30 feet), and they all had double doors. When the Jews returned from exile to build the Second Temple they were poor and could not afford to spend lavishly on the structure. At some later point when their financial situation had improved they were able to plate all of the doors of the Temple gates with gold.

In the center of the eastern wall of the Courtyard stood the Nikanor Gate. This gate, which served as the main public entrance into the Courtyard, was named for the pious and wealthy individual who donated its two doors. Nikanor had these doors crafted of Corinthian bronze by the artisans of Alexandria in Egypt and then personally accompanied them on their journey by ship to the Israeli port of Acco. Along the way the seas turned stormy and threatened to sink the ship and its precious cargo. The captain, fearing for the lives of those on board, ordered one of the immense bronze doors to be cast into the sea to lighten the ship’s load. The sailors did so, but to no avail, and the captain then ordered the second door to follow the first one into the depths. At this point Nikanor threw himself on top of the remaining door and declared, “If you throw this door into the sea you’ll have to throw me in with it!” As soon as the words left his mouth the storm miraculously abated and the ship was able to continue on its way. Upon arriving in Acco they discovered that another miraculous event had occurred — the first door was found floating in the water right next to the ship! Thus, both of Nikanor's doors were brought to the Temple where they were installed conspicuously in the main entrance of the Courtyard.

Two smaller gateways flanked the Nikanor Gate to its north and south which would be used by people exiting the Courtyard. Since the Nikanor Gate was directly opposite the entrance of the Sanctuary, anyone exiting through this gate would be required to walk out backwards so as not to turn their back on the Holy and Holy of Holies. To avoid this, people exiting the Courtyard would use one of these two smaller gates off to either side and could do so without having to walk out backwards. This arrangement served the additional purpose of relieving congestion at the Nikanor Gate and thus optimized the flow of pedestrian traffic.

In the southern wall of the Courtyard were three large gates, distributed evenly along the length of the wall. The westernmost of these was the Kindling Gate through which they would bring firewood to fuel the fires of the Altar. In the center of the wall was the Firstborns Gate where firstborn animals would be brought into the Courtyard and given to the Kohanim. The third gate in the south was the Water Gate which took its name from the fact that on Succos the water libations (see Class #5) were brought into the Courtyard through this gate. This gate was selected for this purpose since it was located across from the Altar, allowing the libations to be poured onto the Altar without delay.

The northern wall also contained three large gates which were located across from those in the south. Nearest to the west was the Spark Gate, so named because the Kohanim maintained a fire there which was kept burning constantly. To the east of the Spark Gate was the Sacrifice Gate through which all animals used for sacrifices of the highest sanctity were brought into the Courtyard. [All sacrifices fall into one of two general categories: those of lesser sanctity and those of the highest sanctity. The latter category has certain stringencies associated with it, including the requirement that the animals be slaughtered in the northern half of the Courtyard. It is for this reason that the Sacrifice Gate was located in the northern wall.] The third gate in the north opened into a large chamber called the Hall of the Fire which, in turn, opened to the Courtyard. This chamber served as the sleeping quarters for the Kohanim working in the Temple and contained a large warming fire for their benefit.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tour of the Temple: Class 6

Chambers of the Women's Courtyard

Chamber of the Wood
In each of the four corners of the Women's Courtyard were chambers measuring 40 cubits (60 feet) to a side and each chamber served a different purpose. The southeast chamber was called the Chamber of the Nazirites. A nazirite is a man or woman who, for a set period of time, accept upon themselves not to 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 to be cooked, and the nazirite would also receive a haircut in this chamber 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, either to prevent overcrowding in the Women's Courtyard or because it was preferable to eat inside a room with a roof and not under the open sky

In the northeast corner of the Women's Courtyard was the Chamber of the Wood. Here the Kohanim would inspect firewood for use upon the Altar. They had to determine if the wood was infested with worms since any piece of wood containing worms was not fit to be burned upon the Altar. This wormy wood was not discarded but rather was used for other purposes in the Temple, such as fueling the various warming fires or the stoves used for cooking sacrificial meat.

In the northwest corner stood the Chamber of the Metzoraim. Metzoraim (sing., metzora) are individuals who have contracted tzaraas, an affliction brought on by the commission of certain transgressions and whose physical symptoms must be recognized and diagnosed by a trained Kohen. When the Kohen has determined that the tzaraas affliction has passed, the metzora was required to undergo a purification process which involved the offering of sacrifices in the Temple. At one point during the course of this purification process the metzora was required to immerse in a mikveh [ritual bath] and would do so within the northwestern chamber in a mikveh built for this purpose. Although this chamber and the mikveh it contained was designated primarily for metzoraim, as its name indicates, it was also open to the general public who could immerse here prior to entering the Courtyard.
Chamber of the Oils
The chamber in the southwest corner was called the Chamber of the Oils and served as the storage area for the Temple's supply of oil, wine, and flour, all of which were used daily in large amounts. It was named for the oils stored here since oil was present in greater quantities than wine or flour. All of the supplies contained in this chamber were used in the Temple on a daily basis: oil was needed for the Menorah and, in combination with flour, for meal-offerings, while wine was poured onto the Altar as libations. For this reason the Chamber of the Oils had its own doorway leading directly into the Courtyard to its west.

On the western side of the Women's Courtyard was a large flight of steps leading up to the Nikanor Gate, the main entry point into the Courtyard. There were fifteen steps, each half a cubit in height, to account for the 7½-cubit difference in elevation between these two courtyards. Although these steps were used on a daily basis by the myriad people entering the Courtyard, they are more famously known for their role during the Rejoicing of the Water Drawing when they served as a stage for the Leviim who sang and played their musical instruments to accompany the celebrations. In order to accommodate the greatest number of Leviim, and to make these Leviim more visible to the crowds below, the fifteen steps were not built straight (like standard steps) but rather were round, forming a semicircular terrace which extended out into the Women's Courtyard. To add further to the capacity of these steps they ran across the entire western side of the Women's Courtyard and were not limited to the area directly in front of the gate.

At the foot of these steps to the north and south were doors which opened to the two music chambers of the Leviim which were located directly beneath the Israelites' Courtyard. In these rooms the Leviim would store their instruments on hooks all around the walls and cover them with protective cloths. Underground chambers were ideal for instrument storage since many of the instruments were made of wood (such as harps and lyres) and they would be best protected from the heat and fluctuations in humidity underground. These chambers were also used for rehearsal and training the next generation of musicians, thus highlighting another benefit of having the rooms underground — the Leviim would not disrupt the sacrificial service as they practiced. Tools needed to fix and tune the instruments, as well as a library of songbooks, were also kept here.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tour of the Temple: Class 5

The Women's Courtyard

Interior of the Women's Courtyard
To the east of the Main Courtyard stood a large enclosed area called the Women’s Courtyard. Entry into this area was not restricted to women, as its name might imply, but in fact was used as a staging area for the multitudes of people arriving daily bearing sacrifices and gifts who would assemble here before proceeding into the Courtyard. It was called the Women's Courtyard because the women would specifically gather here to watch the Rejoicing of the Water-drawing which took place each year on the holiday of Succos (see below).

The Women's Courtyard was enclosed by walls, 135 cubits to a side, which were identical in height and thickness to the walls of the Temple Mount. Centered in the eastern wall was a single gate providing access from the Temple Mount. Cut stones, one cubit square and set with mortar, were used to tile the floors, and the entire expanse of the Women's Courtyard was left open to the sky. Along the walls of the Women's Courtyard were many niches for storage purposes and numerous windows which were low enough that people standing in the Cheil could glimpse what was going on inside.

On the holiday of Succos the Rejoicing of the Water-drawing would take place inside the Women's Courtyard. The celebration began on the second night of the holiday when the great sages and pious men of the generation would assemble in this courtyard to dance, juggle, and sing God's praises while scores of Leviim stood upon the fifteen round steps in front of the Nikanor Gate (in the western wall of this Courtyard) providing musical accompaniment. This rejoicing continued all night until dawn when, with great ceremony, a delegation was dispatched to a nearby spring to draw water for that day's water libations which would be poured onto the Altar. Numerous spectators, both men and women, stood along the sides of the courtyard to watch these festivities. During the Second Temple era the mingling of men and women at this event led to a certain amount of frivolity (this had not been the case in the First Temple) and steps were taken to correct this. The Sages came up with an innovative solution in which the women would gather upon balconies constructed within the courtyard while the men would stand below on ground level. 

These balconies for the women ran along the southern, eastern, and northern sides of the courtyard, but not the western side. Halfway up the walls were protruding stone ledges that supported the wooden planks which formed the floorboards of the balcony. A row of marble columns, similar to those used on the Temple Mount, encircled the interior of the Women's Courtyard, and these, too, may have been used to support the balcony. Above the floorboards they built row upon row of ascending steps to afford all of the women a good view of the festivities below. As a safety measure, the entire balcony was surrounded by a protective fence. Only the stone columns and protruding balcony supports were permanent fixtures whereas the floorboards and steps were put up each year during Succos and then taken down after the holiday.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tour of the Temple: Class 4

The Cheil and the Soreg

The Cheil and Soreg outside of the Women's Courtyard
Standing at a distance of 10 cubits from the walls of the Courtyard on all four sides was a low wall, half a cubit high. This wall, as well as the area between it and the Courtyard walls, was referred to as the Cheil. A wooden latticework fence, 10 handbreadths high, was built atop this wall and was called the Soreg.

The purpose of both the wall and the fence was to mark the point beyond which no one contaminated with corpse-tumah, nor any non-Jew, could pass. Archaeologists have discovered one of the marker stones from the Cheil and the inscription (written in Greek) reads, "Any foreigner who passes beyond the wall and fence surrounding the Temple has only himself to blame for the fact that his death will follow." During the period of Hellenistic persecution the Syrian-Greek kings, aided by the corrupt Kohen Gadol Eliakim, contemptuously made thirteen breaches in this wall. When control of the Temple was later regained by the Hasmoneans (the Jewish resistance) they repaired these breaches and the Sages decreed that anyone who passes by one of the repaired breaches must bow down to give thanks to God for destroying the Greek regime and abolishing their evil decrees.
Marker stone from the Cheil

Of the 10 cubits of space occupied by the Cheil the first 4 cubits were flat while the remaining 6 cubits held the steps leading up to the walls of the Courtyard. These steps, twelve in all, were each half a cubit high and half a cubit deep. As a rule, all steps in the Temple ran the entire width of the area they led up to and were not limited to the area directly in front of the gate. In the case of the Cheil this meant that its twelve steps ran completely around all four walls of the Courtyard. The area just outside the Cheil on the Temple Mount proper was left as an open plaza with benches where the people could gather.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Slideshow on the Schottenstein Temple Floorplan

On Monday, May 14, I will be giving a slideshow highlighting the Schottenstein Talmud Temple Floorplan. It is designed to give those learning Daf Yomi a quick tour of the entire Beis Hamikdash as well as a behind-the-scenes look at how this Artscroll diagram was created.

Time: 8:20 pm
Place: Kehillas Kol Torah, 2929 Fallstaff Road  Baltimore, MD 21209