Sunday, December 29, 2013

Plumbing [in] the Depths of the Temple

The Temple had a complex plumbing system which supplied water to many different locations. In this post I would first like to examine the eight places in the Temple where water was located.

Locations where water was used in the Temple

Monday, November 11, 2013

Counterweighting the Kiyor

I wanted to reexamine one detail from my model of the Muchni – the sturdy wooden machine which raised the Kiyor [Laver] from the well of water each morning and lowered it down again in the evening. In my model I have the Kiyor balanced by a lead counterweight hanging from the back of the Muchni and it is this weight which keeps the Muchni from tipping over and also makes it possible for a single Kohen to raise the Kiyor which, when full of water, weighed over 5,000 pounds (see the earlier post for more on this).

To perfectly balance the Kiyor a total of 5,548 pounds of lead would be required, which works out to a solid block measuring about 1 x 1 x 2 amos (18 x 18 x 36 inches). To balance the Kiyor in the afternoon (when it was empty) would require only 3,356 pounds of lead, or a block measuring about 1 x 1 x 1.25 amos (18 x 18 x 23 inches). When I first made my model I had simply guessed at the size of the counterweight but, after looking at the numbers above, it turns out that the block of lead I used is actually quite close to 3,356 pounds. So while the Muchni does offer some mechanical advantage in the gearing and pulleys, the Kohen raising the Kiyor still has to put some muscle power into it.

Here is an updated version of the animation showing the Kiyor being raised from the well of water. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Location of the Yesod Ramp: Part 2

Last week I came up with the following diagram and accompanying equation which describes where along the main Ramp of the Altar the minor ramp to the Yesod branched off to the west. 

Tiferes Yisrael, in his Temple Diagram §48, indicates that the minor ramps branched off somewhere on the lower half of the main Ramp. When the above equation is solved (I entered it in Grapher, my Mac's built-in graphing program), we get:

e = 13.81

This means that the ramp to the Yesod began 13.81 amos from the foot of the main Ramp, or 2.19 amos below its midpoint, which is indeed on the lower half of the main Ramp.

As for the ramp to the Sovev on the east, it is physically impossible to have it branch off on the lower half of the main Ramp and also conform to the Temple standard of 1 amah of height for every 3 amos of length. Since the slope will, in any case, differ from the standard, it appears that we may have the minor ramp to the east branch off at the same point as the ramp to the Yesod on the west. This not only makes the Altar more symmetrical, but having the two ramps directly across from one another shortens the distance that the Kohen needs to walk when descending from the Sovev to bring excess blood to the Yesod.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Location of the Yesod Ramp: A Mathematical Diversion

SUMMARY It is possible to determine mathematically where the minor ramp to the Yesod branched off from the Main Ramp based on the dimensions of the Altar.

Two minor ramps branched off of the Altar's Main Ramp, one on the west leading to the Yesod and the other on the east leading to the SovevTiferes Yisrael states that the "two minor ramps branched off near the foot of the Main Ramp, on its lower part" (Temple Diagram §48), which I take to mean that the minor ramps began somewhere on the lower half of the Main Ramp. In this post I attempt to figure out exactly where the ramp to the Yesod began.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Lighting the Interior of the Antechamber

In an earlier post I included this image of the interior of the Antechamber. Here the large curtain of the main entryway is partially open with the morning sun shining in from the east, a pretty typical lighting scheme.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Otem

The floor level of the Antechamber stood 6 amos above that of the Courtyard. These first 6 amos of the building’s height were occupied by the Otem, a sturdy foundation of hewn stone which rested upon the bedrock of Mount Moriah and supported the immense weight of the Antechamber and Sanctuary walls. Due to the steps in the east, the Otem was not at all visible on that side but could be seen on the northern, southern, and western sides of the Antechamber. The Otem extended under the Sanctuary as well but was not visible from the outside of the building (it formed the inner wall of the bottom level of tau'im, or small rooms outside the Sanctuary).

Structure and location of the Otem

Monday, July 15, 2013

Women of the Wool – Their Role in the Tabernacle and in Astrophysics

The Torah makes special note of the fact that one aspect of the Tabernacle's construction - the spinning of the goat hair - was done by the women (see Exodus 35:26). I had often wondered why, of all the types of manual labor which went into constructing the Tabernacle, this job (and perhaps others like it, such as weaving or embroidering) was given to the women. It is not necessarily the case that they were more experienced in this work than the men, since for 210 years prior (while slaves in Egypt) the men had been forced to do women's work and vice versa (Sotah 11b). Since spinning wool was traditionally a woman's job, it should emerge that, if anything, the men would have been better trained at this skill than the women.

Monday, June 3, 2013

View of Temple Mount / Eastern Gate

This is an update of the earlier post showing the interior of the Temple Mount.

In the foreground on the left is a large building representing the synagogue which was located on the eastern side of the Temple Mount. Just beyond the synagogue is the Sanhedrin courthouse. The other buildings are nondescript offices for Temple personnel.

Floating above the Temple Mount is an array of roof panels. The heights of the panels are staggered so that sunlight can come through, but they still offer enough coverage to shield the majority of the area from the hot summer sun and the winter rains. I have not yet decided if these are to be made of wood and supported by sturdy poles placed throughout the Temple Mount, or if they should be made of canvas and hung from ropes attached to the walls. The picture shows the eastern wall of the Temple Mount, which was lower than the other walls, but on the other three sides the roof panels would be roughly at the same height as the top of the walls, or 40 amos above floor level.

Looking east on the Temple Mount

Monday, May 27, 2013

Spices of the Incense: Karkom (Saffron)

Ground saffron
Twice a day, once in the morning and again in the afternoon, the Kohanim would offer Incense upon the Golden Altar inside the Sanctuary Building. This special blend of spices and other ingredients was prepared by the Avtinas Family in one large batch which lasted an entire year. The Talmud (Kereisos 6a), based upon an Oral Tradition, provides the names and quantities of each ingredient and in this post I would like to focus on the spice known as כרכום [karkom], commonly translated as saffron.

The Talmud records that 16 maneh of saffron were used in compounding the Incense. One maneh is equal to approximately 20 ounces, so 16 maneh would equal 320 ounces, or 20 pounds of saffron. If this does not sound like an inordinate amount of spice, consider how saffron is obtained.

Crocus sativus (common crocus)
with bright crimson stigmas
Saffron is derived from the three bright crimson stigmas [thin stalks] which grow from the crocus flower. After being harvested, dried, and ground, the [modern day] yield of saffron per flower comes to about 0.00025 ounces. At this rate it takes over 4,000 crocus flowers to produce a single ounce of dried spice! For this reason, saffron has come to be known as the most expensive spice in the world.

To produce the 20 pounds of saffron used in the Temple for the Incense, a staggering 1.3 million flowers were needed. Based on modern planting densities used in the Mediterranean (see this article, under "Cultivation"), the amount of land required to grow this many flowers is 12.7 acres. For comparison, the entire Temple Mount (which measures 750 feet by 750 feet) is 12.9 acres. Even though there was a garden located on the western side of the Temple Mount which was used to cultivate the spices of the Incense, it emerges that another, much larger, plot of land was needed where the bulk of the saffron could be grown.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Beit Hamikdash by Rabbi Zalman Koren

A book newly available in English is Rabbi Zalman Koren's The Beit Hamikdash (Shaar Press, 2010). This large and exquisitely illustrated volume showcases the author's research and model of the Second Temple. It comprises three parts: an introduction to the concept of a Temple and its place in Jerusalem; a detailed description of the Temple structure which incorporates Talmudic and archeological sources; and a walk-through of the Temple model on display in the Western Wall Tunnels. Students of Tractate Middos and the classic Second Temple literature will no doubt find some of the author's conclusions innovative (such as his skewed orientation of the Courtyard walls and the fact that the Women's Courtyard was not perfectly square), but these result from a reading of the Jewish sources which is heavily influenced by the archeology and features of today's Temple Mount. Nonetheless, the account he presents demonstrates a remarkable breadth of knowledge of the literature and is sure to pique the interest of anyone seeking a scholarly approach to the structure of the Temple.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Immersing the Paroches Curtain

The Paroches curtain of the Sanctuary Building had considerable weight and, according to the Mishnah, three hundred Kohanim were needed to assist in immersing it. [All Temple vessels were immersed in a mikveh prior to their first use.] While this number is understood to be an exaggeration, even when the Mishnah exaggerates it still allows for a literal interpretation of its words, as follows: When immersing the curtain it was important to keep it from bunching up or folding over itself which would prevent water from getting into all the folds of the cloth. For this reason Kohanim would be stationed all around the perimeter of the curtain and pull it taut while lowering it into a shallow mikveh that was (at least) 20 amos wide and 40 amos long. It was not necessary to have anyone stand along the top edge, however, since a band of gold fastened to that edge kept it from wrinkling. The remaining three sides had a total length of 100 amos (40+20+40) which is equivalent to 600 handbreadths (6 handbreadths per amah). Since a handbreadth is the size of a fist, 300 Kohanim holding on with two hands would require exactly 600 handbreadths.

The closest I came to experiencing this event was at the Fort McHenry flag raising. When the weather is nice and the winds are just right, the large flag is flown over the fort and all of the guests who are there at the time can participate in raising it. This flag measures 30x42 feet, which somewhat approximates the size of the Paroches (which was 30x60 feet). Not nearly as heavy, though, since this flag is made of lightweight material and is quite thin, while the Paroches was one handbreadth thick and weighed more than an elephant.

Raising the large flag at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, MD

Monday, May 6, 2013

Preview of Temple Mount / Eastern Gate

For my next scene I am working on some of the details of the Temple Mount interior.

Just inside the walls of the Temple Mount ran a cedar-covered portico supported by marble columns, each of which was hewn from a single block of stone and adorned with flowered capitals. The columns stood 25 amos tall and each measured “as wide as three men can reach” which is about 12 amos (18 feet) in circumference. The cedar roof covering this portico extended 30 amos (45 feet) from the inside of the Temple Mount walls and had a fence on top to prevent anyone who might be walking there from falling off.

Aside from this portico which covered the interior perimeter of the Temple Mount, the remaining area of the Temple Mount was also covered by a roof. This roof extended from the inner edge of the portico up to the walls around the Courtyard, leaving the Women’s Courtyard and the Main Courtyard open to the sky. The roof was designed to keep out the heat of the sun in the summer and the rain in the winter and had some sort of openings to let in light.

In the rendering shown below I have started putting many of these elements into place, such as the columns (modelled after those found at Persepolis), the cedar roof above the portico, and the fence around that roof. We are looking at the eastern wall which was lower than the other three walls of the Temple Mount and stood only 26 amos (39 feet) high. This is why it is not visible above the cedar-covered portico. The gate in this wall is the Shushan Gate leading out to the Mount of Olives. The building at the lower left is the Sanhedrin courthouse which was located just inside the eastern gate.

Not (yet) shown is the large roof of Temple Mount proper.
Interior of the Temple Mount, looking east.

Monday, April 29, 2013

(Final) View of Minor Sanhedrin Courthouse

Here is the final rendering of the minor sanhedrin courthouse. Amenities now include fine rugs for the students to sit upon, a fireplace to keep the room warm in the winter, a buffet to sustain the members of the court during long proceedings, and a large wall cabinet where transcripts of each session could be stored.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Major Change to the Minor Sanhedrin Courthouse

Last week I posted a description of the minor Sanhedrin courthouse but have since learned that a major change must be made to the overall design. Rashi to the Mishnah on the bottom of Sanhedrin 36b writes that the three rows of students who sat before the judges also arranged themselves in a semicircle, and this view is followed by Tiferes Yisrael (upon whom my model is based) to Sanhedrin 4:4 §24. The new description is as follows:

In these courts the judges sat on chairs or benches arranged in a semicircle facing south (where the door of the chamber was located) and three rows of 23 students each, also arranged in semicircles one behind the other, sat on the ground in front of the judges. A person is one amah wide which means that each semicircle had a diameter of about 16 amos and a radius of about 8 amos. Thus, from east to west the court would need 16 amos of space (to account for the diameter of the semicircle) while from north to south it needed 19 amos (8 amos for the radius of the judges' semicircle, one amah of space between the judges and students for the witnesses and litigants to enter before the court, 8 amos for the radius of the first row of students, and 2 more amos behind them for the next two rows).

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Preview of Minor Sanhedrin Courthouse

The Temple complex housed a total of three courthouses: two minor sanhedrin courts of 23 members each and the Great Sanhedrin of 71 members. The first of these courts was situated on the Temple Mount just to the right (i.e., north) of the Shushan Gate. In these courts the judges sat on chairs or benches arranged in a semicircle facing south (where the door of the chamber was located) and three rows of students, 23 in each row, sat on the ground in front of the judges. Taking into account the space required to seat the judges (their semicircle had a diameter of about 16 amos) and students, and allowing one amah of space between the judges and students where the witnesses and litigants would stand, the minimum dimensions of this chamber were 23 amos wide (east to west) by 12 amos long (north to south).

This is the next scene that I am working on in my virtual Beis Hamikdash model. In the picture here I have just started blocking out the rough dimensions of the room and where everybody will be sitting or standing. The two litigants apparently cannot agree on the size of that fish...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Preparing the Temple for Pesach

In Temple times, the weeks leading up to Pesach included not only preparing the house but the body as well, for anyone who had contracted corpse-tumah had to purify themselves before partaking of the Pesach offering or visiting the Temple. The procedure entailed a one-week quarantine during which the individual was sprinkled with spring water mixed with the ashes of the red cow [parah adumah]. It was not necessary to travel to Jerusalem to do so but rather this could be  carried out in the comfort of one's own city since the family groups [mishmaros] of Kohanim living throughout the land of Israel possessed small, but sufficient, amounts of ashes for this express purpose.

It once happened in the First Temple era during the reign of King Chizkiah that an unprecedented breach of ritual purity caused the festival of Pesach to be delayed a full month (Sanhedrin 12a). One theory as to the source of this tumah is that the skull of Aravnah the Jebusite was discovered beneath the Altar (Tosafos ad loc., based on Yerushalmi Sotah 5:2). [Aravnah was the owner of the threshing floor purchased by King David to serve as the site of the future Temple (II Samuel 24:18-25).]

There are a number of difficulties with this approach:
1) If it was a matter of corpse-tumah, the purification procedure only takes one week, so why was a whole extra month needed?
2) If the remains of Aravnah were causing the tumah, could they not simply be removed from the Temple precincts (where they obviously did not belong) and reinterred elsewhere?
3) Why is it that the skull was only discovered at this point?
4) A closer look at the source in Yerushalmi indicates that this incident of the skull being found occurred in the Second Temple era, not the First Temple era (as Tosafos understand).

The Chasam Sofer (to Sanhedrin 12a) offers a novel historical perspective which addresses each of the above questions. When Aravnah sold his threshing floor to King David he reserved a small portion of his estate for himself and it was there that he was eventually buried. In that region of Jerusalem there were many natural subterranean tunnels and the tumah from Aravnah's tomb made its way through them to the area beneath the Temple. Now, when the First Temple was built King Solomon had taken this into account and he designed the walls in such a way to form a halachic barrier to the tumah which kept it from invading the Temple grounds.

Many years later, the evil King Achaz destroyed the original Altar and built a new one for idol worship in its place, and the extent of his "renovations" was such that it disrupted the halachic barriers put in place by Solomon. When King Chizkiah took office and began to repair the Temple, the tumah from Aravnah's tomb was rediscovered. [Although the Gemara speaks of Aravnah's "skull," Chasam Sofer explains that the term גלגל actually refers to the spreading of tumah underground. See further there.] The remains could not be moved since they were in their rightful place so Chizkiah needed to repair the halachic barriers in order to ready the Temple for use. This, however, was not a simple matter, and he found it necessary to delay the festival of Pesach by one month in order to allow his men time to carry out the repairs.

When the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians they razed the building down to its very foundations ["aru, aru, ad hayesod bah"], once again breaking down the barriers which shielded the Temple from the tumah of Aravnah's tomb. The Yerushalmi which indicates that the skull was discovered during the Second Temple era is describing what happened when the Temple was rebuilt by the returnees of the Babylonian exile when they once again had to address the issue of Aravnah's remains.

(Special thanks to R' Nechemiah Feldman for bringing this Chasam Sofer to my attention.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

LEGO® Outer Altar of the Tabernacle

There are many similarities between the Outer Altar constructed for the Tabernacle in the wilderness and the Outer Altar of the Temple in Jerusalem. Both have a one-amah high Yesod (base) around the bottom,  both have keranos (horns) at the four top corners, and both stand 10 amos tall.

The differences between these two altars range from the obvious to the obscure. In the obvious category are all those structural details which make the Tabernacle altar portable, such as the smaller size (it measured just 5 amos to a side, as opposed to 32 amos), the hollow interior which was filled with dirt when the Jews camped and emptied during travel (as opposed to being made of solid stone), the walls being made of wooden planks plated with copper, and the need for poles to carry it.

An interesting fact about the poles is that they were placed just above the midpoint of the Altar, some 6 amos from the ground. Now, most people measure 3 amos from their shoulders to the ground (Meiri to Shabbos 92a) which would make it nearly impossible for anyone to even reach the Altar's poles, let alone carry them on their shoulders. Turns out that the Levites, who carried the Altar, stood 10 amos tall and could easily handle this job (see Shabbos 92a).

Among the more subtle differences is that the Yesod of the Tabernacle Altar went around all four sides. In the Second Temple, due to certain technical requirements which had to do with the location of the Altar with respect to the boundary between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, there was no Yesod along most of the southern and eastern sides of the Altar. In the wilderness this was not an issue, hence the Yesod could surround the Altar on all four sides.

I assembled a Lego® model of both altars which I usually show together so that people can get a sense of the difference in size between the Tabernacle Altar (which most people are more familiar with from reading about it in the Torah) and the vastly larger altar built for the Second Temple. Below are some pictures of the Tabernacle Altar model. The body of this altar measures about 3 inches to a side and 6 inches tall.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

מלאכת המשכן וכליו

It is that time of year when I take out my copy of Meleches Hamishkan V'keilav by Rabbi Dovid Meyers (printed by the author, 2006 [second ed.]). This book is an exhaustive study of every element of the Tabernacle, from the beams and coverings to the Ark and Menorah. The author has researched so many of the sources which deal with these topics and presents each item in unprecedented detail. The book is arranged by topic in an easy-to-use format, first citing the relevant Torah passage and then a listing of all the laws and requirements which are derived from the verses and commentators. The meat of the book is found in the form of footnotes where the different opinions and sources are cited and discussed. In addition to all the above, there are copious line drawings to illustrate each point, and at the end of every section there is a very helpful collection of drawings which shows the item in question according to the various opinions cited in the notes.

The author has also reviewed much of the material in his book with HaRav Chaim Kanievsky and he prints the correspondance with HaRav Kanievsky in a separate section in the back.

One of my favorite gems of Tabernacle Torah which this book addresses is a question I had asked myself about the adanim (silver sockets) which hold the kerashim (wooden beams). Every student of the Tabernacle knows the dimensions of the adanim, which are 0.75 x 1 x 1 amos (with a hole in the middle to accept the kerashim), and we also know that each one was formed from one kikar of silver. The problem is that the volume of one kikar of silver is simply not enough to form the shape of the adanim! I was pleased to discover that this issue had been raised by others before me and that this question was asked to the Chazon Ish. He answered that the adanim were not, as commonly believed, made of solid silver, but rather were hollow on the inside (Meleches Hamishkan V'keilav p.311, note 15, citing Ta'ama D'kra).

Monday, February 25, 2013

Understanding the Term Nechoshes

The word nechoshes appears over 40 times in the Torah, from the development of metal tools (Genesis 4:22) to the vessels of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:3 ff), to the curses of the tochachah (Leviticus 26:19 and Deuteronomy 28:23). Most translators understand this to mean copper while some prefer brass (Jerusalem Bible). To others, nechoshes denotes copper or bronze (Jastrow) or even all three—copper, bronze, or brass (Alkalai). The variant nechushah (Leviticus 26:19) is sometimes distinguished from the more standard nechoshes (copper) to mean brass (Aryeh Kaplan, Alkalai). As well, in the form nechushtan it is taken to mean bronze (Jastrow). Understanding the nature of copper, bronze, and brass will help explain the close relationship between these varying translations.

Copper is a naturally occurring metal whose ore has been mined and smelted since the beginnings of metallurgy. In fact, until about 3000 BCE, copper was the sole metal used in crafting tools and vessels with only occasional pieces of lead, silver, or gold being found. Beginning in the Early Bronze Age (3000 BCE-2600 BCE), which dates closely to the period of Tuval Kayin (Genesis 4:22), many metallurgical concepts were developed, among them the formation of bronzes. Bronze began as an alloy (a blend) of copper and arsenic, with arsenic eventually being replaced by tin. Brass is a rarer alloy of copper and zinc (zinc being less common than tin). By adding varying amounts of these other metals to the copper as it was smelted, the alloy’s properties could be adjusted to optimize workability, hardness, color, and finish. Arsenic and zinc deposits may have occurred together with some copper ores and when such ores were smelted they would form a natural alloy of either bronze or brass.

Thus nechoshes, in a general context, most likely refers to the pure copper. When describing vessels or tools (such as those used in the Tabernacle and Temple, both of which post-date the development of the copper alloys) it would tend to mean bronze or, less commonly, brass, as these were the alloys of choice for their advantages over pure copper.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Build your own LEGO® Altar

For those interested in creating their very own Lego® model of the Second Temple here is something to get you started. This is a (very) small model of the Outer Altar which you can build using only 25 bricks (a bit more manageable than my larger model which uses over 2000 bricks). The model was designed using Bricksmith. One of the very nice things about this program is that it puts together a parts list for your model and I have included that below the video.

Qty.     Part     Description     Color
1          3003       Brick  2 x  2       White
1          3002       Brick  2 x  3       White
2          3001       Brick  2 x  4       White
2          3024       Plate  1 x  1        White
3          3023       Plate  1 x  2        White
1          3623       Plate  1 x  3        White
1          3710       Plate  1 x  4        White
1          3795       Plate  2 x  6        White
1          3031       Plate  4 x  4        White
1          3031       Plate  4 x  4        Red
2          30363     Slope 18  4x2      White
1          30039     Tile  1 x  1          White
4          63864     Tile  1 x  3          White
1          2431       Tile  1 x  4          White
1          6636       Tile  1 x  6          White
2          3068b     Tile  2 x  2          White

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Collecting the Half-Shekel Donation in the Temple

The Mishnah (see Shekalim 2:1, 4:3, 6:5, and 6:6 with Tiferes Yisrael ad loc.) records that there were 13 collection boxes, called shofaros on account of their long, curved necks which resembled a shofar, which were placed within the Courtyard. They were used to collect funds for the following purposes:

1. Half-shekel donation collected from the public each year.
2. Half-shekel donations owed from the previous year (which would be appropriated for different uses than the current year’s shekalim).

Both of these shofaros for the half-shekel donations were kept inside a chamber. As the donations came in, the treasurers would deposit them into these shofaros and issue a receipt to the donor. At the end of each day the coins would be transferred to a (larger) storage container also located inside this chamber.

3. Mature bird offerings (turtledoves). One who is obligated to bring a pair of birds – one for a chatas and one for an olah offering – such as a zav, a zavah, a woman who has given birth, or a metzora, may discharge their obligation by placing enough money to cover the cost of the birds into this box. The Kohanim check this box daily and make sure to bring the offerings on behalf of the owner by the end of each day.
4. Young bird offerings (common doves). One who has pledged a voluntary bird olah may place the cost of the offering in this box and the Kohanim will bring the offering on his behalf.
5. Wood for the Altar.
6. Levonah (frankincense) which accompanied most offerings.
7. Gold for vessels of the Temple.
8-13: General donations for the purchase of additional olah offerings. Each of these six shofaros was designated for a specific beis av (of which there were six) who would receive the hides of the animals offered from these funds.

Two possibilities for the design of the collection boxes: was the "shofar" 
facing up or down?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Mount Sinai and the Temple

In describing the episode of the Revelation at Mount Sinai in last week's parshah, the Torah identifies a number of different areas of the mountain:

  • "The foot of the mountain" (Exodus 19:17) where the people gathered.
  • "The top of the mountain" (v.20) where God descended.
  • "The cloud" (v.18) where Moses entered.
  • "The thickness of the cloud" (v.19) where God came and spoke to Moses.

Rabbeinu Bechayai (to Exodus 19:17) notes that these four areas comprised four distinct levels of sanctity, each one successively higher than the previous one. The people at large were barred from entering beyond the foot of the mountain while Moses was permitted to ascend to the highest level, within the thickness of the cloud. Rabbeinu Bechayai then matches these four areas to sections of the Temple which also demonstrated increasing holiness, as follows:

  • "The foot of the mountain" is the gate of the Courtyard (i.e., the area just outside the main Courtyard, on the Temple Mount).
  • "The top of the mountain" is the Courtyard.
  • "The cloud" is the Sanctuary Building.
  • "The thickness of the cloud" is the Holy of Holies.

In truth, the Temple is comprised of more than four areas (Keilim 1:8-9 lists the eight distinct levels of sanctity within the Temple). It is therefore instructive that Rabbeinu Bechayai should specify the four which he gives here. Of interest to me is that he should match the "foot of the mountain" (the place beyond which the Jews could not enter at Mount Sinai) with the Temple Mount, because Israelites could enter even further into the Temple – i.e., into the Courtyard itself – when they were tahor (and the Jews at the time of the Revelation took pains to ensure that they were, in fact, tahor). The only people restricted to the Temple Mount were those contaminated with corpse tumah, and non-Jews. It would have been more accurate to match the "foot of the mountain" with the Israelites' Courtyard, say, which was generally the furthest that most people could go in the Temple.

One possible explanation is to suggest that our status changed in a meaningful way through the Revelation at Mount Sinai. Although we were definitely "Jewish" and had been for many hundreds of years, there is a difference between Jews who have received the Torah and Jews who have not. Until we underwent that historic spiritual transformation, we were, to a certain extent, not elevated enough to be permitted into the more hallowed ground of Sinai's "Courtyard."

Monday, January 28, 2013

Arches of the Temple Mount

In an earlier post I described how the entire Temple complex was built upon different levels of arches which raised it above the bedrock of the Temple Mount. I was going through some of my older files and found this illustration which shows how this might have looked. Here, an entire section of the Temple is cut away so that the levels of arches are visible – and color coded.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Detail from the Chamber of Oils

The Chamber of Oils, located in the southwest corner of the Women's Courtyard, housed the Temple's supply of oil, wine, and flour. Although all of these ingredients were used daily in great quantities, oil was needed the most, hence the name. A very common bulk storage container for liquids in those days was the clay amphora of the type shown here.

The Temple used only the best quality oils and the Talmud (Menachos 85b) states that the highest quality oil came from the olive groves of Tekoa. According to Kollel Iyun HaDaf, Tekoa of old was located on the mountain across from Meron (northwest of the Kineret Sea). Based on this idea, the amphora in this illustration is shown stamped with its location of origin.
Meron, Israel (Google Maps)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

New website for Choshen Mishpat topics

Rabbi Abba Zvi Naiman, a colleague of mine at Artscroll, has just launched a new website called It features, among other things, a collection of his audio shiurim on Choshen Mishpat topics. Each shiur is accompanied by a pdf of sources and the site is very nicely organized. The topics are both fascinating and relevant to everyday life and are worth a look and a listen. There is also a link to many of his published works, including the new Elucidated Derech Hashem.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Weight of the Paroches

SUMMARY The Paroches curtain weighed more than an elephant.

Using the dimensions of the Paroches and the known value for the density of wool it is possible to arrive at a rough upper limit for the weight of the Paroches. The volume of the Paroches is:

V = 20 x 40 x 1/6 amos
V =133 amos3  or 777,600 inches3

The density of wool is 0.0475 lbs/in3 so the weight of the Paroches would be 36,936 lbs.

Using the volumes of the warp and woof cords themselves (see previous post) can provide a lower limit for the weight. The volume of the 360 warp cords is given as:

v = (360)πr2h

r = 0.0278 amos (converting from 1/6 handbreadth)
h = 40 amos

The volume of the warp cords is 35 amos3

There are also 360 woof cords and their volume is given as:

v = (360)πr2h

r = 0.056 amos (converting from 1/3 handbreadth)
h = 20 amos

The volume of the warp cords is 70 amos3 and the total volume of warp and woof cords together is 105 amos3 or 612,360 inches3. According to this calculation the Paroches would weigh 29,087 lbs. [For comparison, a large elephant weighs about 25,000 lbs.]

In addition to the weight of the material itself there were two golden bands which ran across the top of the Paroches to keep it taut so that it covered the full 20 amos of the width of the Sanctuary building. Each band measured 2 handbreadths tall, 2 fingerbreadths thick, and 20 amos long (Shiltei Giborim). The volume of one band is:

V = 0.33 x 0.083 x 20 amos
V = 0.556 amos3  or  3,240 inches3

The density of gold is 0.698 lbs/in3 so the weight of each band would be 2,262 lbs., or 4,524 lbs. in all. This puts the total weight of the Paroches at (a minimum of) 33,611 lbs.

It is further interesting to note that the Paroches was immersed in a mikveh prior to being installed in the Temple. Just imagine how much water it must have absorbed and how much heavier it would have been for the Kohanim handling it to remove it from the mikveh and bring it to the Cheil where it was hung out to dry.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Design of the Paroches

SUMMARY The design of the Paroches curtain is described in the Mishnah in Shekalim and from here such details as the diameters of its various threads can be determined.

Interior of the Sanctuary looking west.
Paroches is in the background.
In the Second Temple there were three large  Paroches curtains: one at the opening of the Antechamber and two which hung in the Sanctuary and divided the Holy from the Holy of Holies. These curtains measured 20 amos wide by 40 amos tall (30 x 60 feet). The Mishnah (Shekalim 8:5) states that the Paroches of the Temple was woven upon seventy-two heddle shafts. The heddles of a loom are those devices which raise and lower the warp threads to allow the shuttle holding the woof thread to pass from one side of the fabric to the other. See item "f" in the diagram below.
A loom (Wikimedia Commons)
Tiferes Yisrael (Boaz 2 ad loc.) demonstrates that the 72 heddle shafts mentioned in the Mishnah could not have accounted for the full 20-amah width of the Paroches. Instead, he concludes that the Paroches was woven in sections which required 72 heddle shafts each and these sections were then sewn together to form the full Paroches.

The Mishnah (ibid.) also records the thickness of the Paroches as one handbreadth (3 inches). In order to create a fabric which is one handbreadth thick the warp cords must be 1/3 of a handbreadth thick and the woof cords, which were normally twice the diameter of the warp threads, would be 2/3 of a handbreadth (Tiferes Yisrael loc. cit.). Since each section used 72 heddles, and each heddle held one cord, this means that the sections were 24 handbreadths wide. [72 cords x 1/3 handbreadth per cord = 24 handbreadths.] 24 handbreadths is equal to 4 amos (6 handbreadths per amah), so five sections would be needed to produce a width of 20 amos. This means that the Paroches had a total of 360 warp cords [5 sections x 72 cords per section = 360 cords] along its 20-amah width.

Diameter of the Strings in the Warp Cords

Each warp cord was comprised of 24 smaller strings dyed with different colors, as follows: 6 strings of techeiles, 6 of argaman, 6 of tolaas shani, and 6 of sheiss. Since the diameter of the warp cords is given as 1/3 of a handbreadth, it is possible to estimate the diameter of the 24 smaller strings making up that cord.

In a cross-section of a cord made of smaller strings let the cord have radius R and area A such that

A = πR2

Let the strings have radius r and area a such that

a = πr2

Cross-section of a thicker cord
made of smaller strings
The total area of the cross-section of the cord is approximately equal to the sum of the areas of the smaller strings. This is only an estimate since the cord is not perfectly round in cross-section and this calculation also does not take into account the airspaces between the strings:

A = Na

where N is the number of strings in the cord.


πR2 = Nπr2

r = R / √N

d = 2r = 2R / √N

In the case of the warp cords of the Paroches:

R = 1/6 handbreadth
N = 24

Thus the diameter of each string is 0.068 handbreadths (0.14 inches).

Diameter of the Threads

The Mishnah (ibid.) states that there were a total of 820,000 threads used in the warp. To account for this number Tiferes Yisrael understands that the dyed strings which made up the warp cords were themselves made of many smaller threads. According to his arrangement, if the 360 warp cords were made of 24 dyed strings each then there were a total of 8640 dyed strings. [360 x 24 = 8640] Dividing 820,000 threads among 8640 strings gives approximately 95 threads per string. Using the same estimation from above:

d = 2R / √N

R = 0.034 handbreadths
N = 95

Thus the diameter of each thread is 0.0070 handbreadths (0.021 inches). [Common yarn diameters range from approximately 0.004 to 0.031 inches.]