Monday, July 16, 2012

Tour of the Temple: Class 14

The Holy of Holies

Beyond the Holy was 1 cubit (1½ feet) of space called the Traksin which divided the Holy from the Holy of Holies. This word is derived from the Greek, connoting a place which is both inside and outside, since it divided between the inside—the Holy of Holies—and the outer Holy. In the First Temple there was a wall built in this space with a doorway opening to the Holy of Holies. However, in the Second Temple the ceiling of the Sanctuary was 40 cubits (60 feet) high, 10 cubits (15 feet) higher than in the First Temple, and it was not possible at that time to construct a structurally sound wall which was 40 cubits tall and only 1 cubit thick. They could not make the wall any thicker since that would take away space from either the Holy or the Holy of Holies, the dimensions of which were not subject to modification. Therefore, they hung two curtains across the Holy in place of the original wall to act as the divider. One curtain would have sufficed but for their uncertainty as to whether that wall was considered part of the Holy or the Holy of Holies, thus they hung two curtains on either side of the Traksin and left that 1 cubit as undefined.

Each curtain was 20 cubits wide, 40 cubits tall, and 1 handbreadth thick. They were woven of wool dyed with many colors at an incredible cost of 820,000 golden dinars (according to one opinion). It was described as “the most praiseworthy item in the world.” Spanning the top was a band of gold, 2 handbreadths tall and 2 fingerbreadths thick, which kept it taut so that the entire width of the Holy was covered (the curtain of the Antechamber also had such a feature).

The outer curtain was folded back at the southern end and held by a golden band and the inner curtain was similarly folded back at the northern end. This allowed the Kohen Gadol to walk between them without having to open them manually as he entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur while at the same time they completely blocked off the interior of the Holy of Holies from the view of anyone standing in the Holy.

The innermost chamber of the Sanctuary was the Holy of Holies. It measured 20 cubits (30 feet) square and, like the Holy, was plated with gold and set with precious stones. Protruding 3 fingerbreadths (2¼ inches) above the floor was the Foundation Stone and on this stone they placed the Ark during the First Temple era. In the Second Temple the Holy of Holies was empty since the Ark had been concealed in a labyrinth of underground tunnels before the First Temple was destroyed. The Holy of Holies also had windows which, according to Josephus, were angled so that no one could see in from the outside.


  1. Once again you have provided us with a fulsome and beautiful description. Do you not find it strange that a space most intimately associated with the most sacred space on the Temple surface should have a Greek name, rather than a Hebrew one? Also, since the Ark was secreted in a maze of tunnels under the Temple, how could the subsidiary Cohanim, much less the Levites and the general population, be sure that they were not treading on space directly above the Ark. And if they couldn't be sure, why not simply recover it and restore it to its former place. Or was it already lost to human sight?
    Thank you again for this enlightening and thought provoking series!

    1. Thank you for your interest in this class. The use of Greek in Jewish texts (such as Mishnah and Talmud) was not uncommon during the Second Temple era, as Greek was the language used by most of the people in that part of the world. I would say that since the two curtains were an innovation which only existed in the Second Temple, there was no appropriate Classical Hebrew term to describe them. Therefore, the Sages of the time picked a contemporary Greek term which best conveyed the idea behind the curtains.

      As for people walking over the place where the Ark was concealed, I do not believe this to be a problem at all. Since the underground tunnel and the floor above are two separate areas there is no concern that the people above are showing any disrespect to, and certainly not defiling, the Ark.

      The Ark could not be recovered primarily because its hiding spot was not known with any certainty. Even though there is evidence that during the Second Temple era the Sages were aware of the approximate location of the tunnel in which it was hidden, they realized that God did not wish for the Ark to be returned and so did not seek to uncover it.

  2. Why are there multiple menorahs in this picture? Wasn't there only one menorah?

  3. Please see my reply to this question on Class 13.

  4. In your expose, which, by-the-way is outstanding; you "quote" Josephus regarding the angular construct of the windows. For your consideration I would like to present the following: The walls of dwellings in ancient Israel were fairly thick. In order to facilitate sunlight's entry into a room the window wells were angled from the inside out. As the sun arcs across the sky this design facilitated getting as much light as possible from that source into a room. The temple was to be a symbol representing "light" to the world. Thus, the construction of the window wells was opposite that typically found in dwellings." The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' first major temple, found in Salt Lake City, Utah; has thick granit walls. The window wells were designed to follow the same typology as was established with the ancient temples of Jerusalem.

  5. In the text above, the veil of the temple is presented as being made of dyed wool. It was more than likely linen. Figures for the thickness of the "curtains" range from two inches to five inches thick. Where it was supposed to take 20 men to hang the veil (one "curtain" at a time), given the dimensions, I tend to lean toward the thinner side. The archtype established by linen was followed throughout history. Christ was wrapped in swaddling cloth (probably linen) at His birth. Shepherds approached by angels when Christ was born were more than likely shepherds of the temple flock and were the same individuals who inspected sheep wrapped in swaddling clothe (linen) for flaws that would prevent them from being used in sacrifices. The manger where Christ was born was more than likely the location where the inspections were preformed. Christ's burial shroud was linen. I suspect that the table clothe for the Last Supper was linen. The dyed clothe that was tied around the pilar of the temple once a year for the determination of Israel's collective status with God was dyed linen (If the clothe remained crimson, Israel was viewed to be in disfavor. If it bleached out white, Israel was viewed to be in favor). There is much more but this should be enoough to make the point...


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