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.

While reading this book over Shavuos I came across the citation of Pesachim 26a which states that R' Yochanan ben Zakkai used to teach the Jewish people in the shade of the Sanctuary Building. The pre-yom tov lectures drew so many people that the Temple study hall could not hold all of them so R' Yochanan had to move the lecture to a large area where everybody could find a seat. The place that he chose was shaded by the Sanctuary Building so that the people could focus on the content of the speech in relative comfort. Rabbi Koren writes (p.121, citing no source) that "it can be easily proven that the only place fitting this description is the plaza situated north of the Chamber of the Hewn Stone and the Temple itself." [In Rabbi Koren's model the Chamber of the Hewn Stone is located at the northwest corner of the Courtyard, so this plaza is just to the north of the Courtyard wall, on the Temple Mount.] Indeed, it does follow that the area under discussion was to the north of the Temple (since that is where the shadow of the Sanctuary Building would pass over the course of the day) but less clear is the fact that this area was on the Temple Mount at all. The primary reason behind this latter contention is that Rashi (ad loc.) writes that the plaza where R' Yochanan gave his lectures was off of the Temple Mount proper but could still be reached by the shadow of the Sanctuary Building since it was so tall and cast its shade a great distance.

My first reaction upon seeing this Rashi was great joy since it seems to support an oft-ignored conclusion of the Talmud Yerushalmi that the Temple Mount (except for the Courtyards) was completely covered by a roof. This being the case, the shadow of the Sanctuary would not have been necessary on the Temple Mount since it was already shaded by its own roof, therefore Rashi concludes that the Sanctuary must have cast its shadow onto an area outside the Temple Mount.

I quickly came to realize that this is not correct. R' Yochanan ben Zakkai lived in the first century CE, during the times of the Herodian Temple. Since Josephus (who provides an eye witness description of that structure) does not mention that the Herodian Temple Mount had a roof, it appears that Herod did not include this feature from the original Second Temple in his edifice. If so, Rashi's motivation for placing the lecture site off of the Temple Mount proper had nothing to do with the Temple Mount roof since such a thing did not exist at that time.

I would suggest that in the Herodian Temple no suitable lecture site was available on the Temple Mount itself since, as had been the case in the original Second Temple, the areas around the Courtyards were filled with the buildings and offices needed to keep the Temple running. However, Herod had expanded the Temple Mount beyond the 500x500 amos of the original structure and this added space may have, in fact, been left as open areas for the public to gather. Thus, when Rashi states that the lectures took place "in the plaza in front of the Temple Mount" he means an area just outside the original, halachically recognized, Temple Mount on the Herodian expansion.

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