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.


  1. Thank you for clarifying the columns. How did the women gain access to the Balconies? I cant find any source anywhere! Was it from steps inside the Ezras Nosshim, in the 5 Ama wall or from the Cheil? If so who's shitas is it?

  2. That is a good question. I, too, could not find a source to answer this. My theory is that there were steps within the thickness of the wall, accessed from within the Ezras Nashim, that allowed the women to reach the balconies. There were other places in the Beis Hamikdash where this was used, so perhaps they did the same in the Ezras Nashim.

    1. I have seen a diagram in the Oz VeHadar Mesivta edition where in both Yoma and Middos it shows steps coming from the cheil to a gateway on the North and South to the height of the balconies inside. They do not however state whos shitas the diagrams and based on. I have contacted them to indicate as to whos views the diagram is representing but alas have not heard back as yet.

    2. The only thing I can think of is that Josephus writes that Herod had gateways into the Ezras Nashim in the north and south. Perhaps these existed in the original Second Mikdash as well?

    3. Hi Rav Elan, please see sefer Tavnis Heichal (which is a sefer on the 1st BHM"K and Ezras Cohanim often quotes it) ספר ב׳ פרק ו׳ סימנים לו׳ ולז׳

  3. In Antiquities 15:5 where Josephus states "Now this inner enclosure had on its southern and northern quarters three gates [equally] distant one from another; but on the east quarter , towards the sun-rising, there was one large gate.." I believe Josephus Is referring to the gates to the Azara as Mishna Middos teaches us and not stating that they were at the Ezras Noshim. It is puzzling how we cannot find any source for this. I thank you for your help and if I do manage to find it, I will bli nedre let you know. :)

  4. The source I was thinking of is Wars V 5:2 where it says: There was also on the other sides one southern and one northern gate, through which was a passage into the court of the women.

  5. Thanks. I have looked into that and it says that like you stated the text, "..passage into the court of the women". If access to the balconies on Sukkos for Simchas Beis Hashoeva (only time required) was through these two gates to the North and South of the Ezras Noshim, then it would have to be entered by the women on the Cheil side and once in the gate, to ascend via a staircase built into the wall as you stated your guess initially. I don't believe access would be via inside the Ezras Noshin given how bustling and busy it would have been and would have defied the reason for the balconies by having women and men in 135 x 135 amos space risking intermingling. That is why I am under the impression that it is either access from the north and south from the cheil side and climbing up the 60 odd stairs to get to the openings for the balconies OR a set of stairs outside along the face of the wall south and north of Ezras Noshim till they reached the gates at approximately 35 amos high.


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