Sunday, December 28, 2014

Introductory Slideshow for Maseches Tamid

On Thursday, December 25, 2014, I presented a slideshow at Kehillas Kol Torah in Baltimore. The head of their night seder chaburah, R' Shlomo Wiener, asked if I could give an introductory shiur on Maseches Tamid which they were to begin the following week.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Justification for Dismantling the Altar

One of the more shocking discoveries made by the Maccabees after expelling the Syrian-Greeks from the Temple was that the Outer Altar had been used for idol worship. Although the stones of the Altar were attached to the ground and legally impervious to the defilement of idol worship, the Jews felt that it was unconscionable to resume the holy sacrificial service on such stones. One of the lesser-known facts of the Chanukah story is that amidst the cleaning up of the Temple, searching for pure oil, and assembling a new Menorah, the Jews also dismantled the entire Altar and rebuilt it using new stones.

I had always been impressed with the lengths that the Sages went through to build a new Altar, but at the same time puzzled since all these efforts were technically unnecessary.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Jbrick: Custom, Jewish-Themed LEGO® Sets

I am pleased to announce that Yitzy Kasowitz, a colleague of mine in the field of LEGO®-inspired Jewish education, has started a new company called jbrick which produces custom, Jewish-themed LEGO® sets. Yitzy, who lives in Saint Paul, MN, has the dream job of designing LEGO® sets for Brickmania which specializes in historical and military models. While working at Brickmania, Yitzy has honed his building skills and developed many new and advanced techniques. His work at Brickmania has been featured in museums and LEGO® events throughout the country. Companies such as Brickmania and now jbrick use only authentic LEGO® components and combine these into models that are not available in the standard LEGO® line of sets.

Monday, November 17, 2014

View of the Table of the Fats

Off to the west of the main Altar's ramp, next to the silver table which held the utensils for the sacrificial service, was a marble table known as the Table of the Fats. All portions of sacrificial meat designated to be burned on the Altar were first placed on this table.

Monday, November 10, 2014

View of the Chamber of the Utensils

Each morning the Kohanim would enter the Chamber of the Utensils to retrieve the ninety-three utensils used in the sacrificial service and set them out upon the silver table west of the Altar's ramp (see the last post).

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Thirty-One Daily Vessels of the Sacrificial Service

Off to the west of the main Altar's ramp stood a silver table upon which the Kohanim would set out the ninety-three vessels used in the daily service. These ninety-three vessels were actually three sets of thirty-one vessels, since the Temple kept on hand two backup copies of each of its vessels in case one should become tamei or otherwise unusable. The following is a list of the thirty-one vessels (as recorded in the sefer Ezras Kohanim):

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Musical Magrepha of the Temple

The term magrepha (lit., shovel) appears three times in connection with the daily sacrificial service:
(1) "The Kohanim took magrephas ... and went up to the top of the Altar ... and started piling the ashes onto the tapuach [mound]" (Tamid 2:1-2).
(2) "In Jericho they could hear the sound of the magrepha" (Tamid 3:8).
(3) "One [of the Kohanim] would throw the magrepha into the space between the Antechamber and the Altar, and a person in Jerusalem could not hear his friend speaking on account of the sound of the magrepha" (Tamid 5:6).

From the context, (1) would appear to be describing a shovel. Yet the Gemara (Erchin 11a) describes the magrepha as an intricate musical instrument capable of producing 100 different notes, which might fit with (2). But could such an instrument have been thrown onto a hard stone floor — every day?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Did the Kohanim Eat in a Succah?

The Torah gives us a positive commandment to eat and sleep in a succah for seven days, but did this requirement apply to the Kohanim serving in the Temple as well? 

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Building of a מקדש מעט

For the busy days before Succos, here is a slight diversion from the Second Temple proper but still something which centers around the building of a Mikdash.


Monday, September 29, 2014

View of the Golden Shovel for the Incense

Twice a day the Kohanim would burn incense on the Golden Altar of the Sanctuary Building. The incense would be spread upon a bed of smoldering coals collected from a special fire kindled on the Outer Altar. A Kohen would ascend the ramp with a silver shovel that had a capacity of 4 kav (approximately 350 cubic inches) and scoop up coals from the incense fire located near the southwest corner of the Altar's top. After descending back down the ramp, he would pour the coals into a golden shovel with a capacity of 3 kav (260 cubic inches).

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Height of the Chambers of the Knives

SUMMARY A new sun study of the Courtyard reveals Tiferes Yisrael's opinion on the height of the Chambers of the Knives.

Alert reader U. Weinstein sent in the following comment to an earlier post:
It seems that you did not follow the assumption of the Ezras Kohanim that the 'beis hachalifos' was only as tall as the 'ta'im' and not 100 Amos tall as the Ulam.
Until reading this comment I had not given the matter any thought since, to the best of my knowledge, Tiferes Yisrael in Middos (upon whom my Temple model is based) does not mention anything about the height of the Chambers of the Knives [Beis Hachalifos]. Now, of course, I was curious whether his opinion on the matter could be deduced somehow. It turns out that it can, and one important part of the answer requires looking not at the shape of the building itself, but at its shadow.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Preparing the Red Cow on the Mount of Olives

The Torah requires that the preparation of the red cow [parah adumah] be carried out facing the opening of the Sanctuary. While the Tabernacle was still in use as the Jews wandered in the wilderness, the red cow would have been prepared off to the east of wherever the Tabernacle happened to be situated at the time. During the First and Second Temple eras, the procedure was carried out on the Mount of Olives, east of the Temple.

Mount Moriah and the Mount of Olives were separated by the Kidron Valley, and to allow the Kohanim to easily reach one from the other a walkway was constructed starting from the eastern gate of the Temple Mount. This walkway was supported by two levels of arches, with the columns of the upper level located over the airspaces of the lower level (Parah 3:6). This arrangement ensured that anyone standing on the walkway would be completely protected against the tumah of a grave that might be present in the ground below (see this post for more details).
The 71 members of the Great Sanhedrin line the walkway to greet the Kohen bringing the red cow to the Mount of Olives (see Parah 3:7 with Tiferes Yisrael §53).

Monday, August 18, 2014

Preview of the Temple Mount's Eastern Gateway

Currently I am modeling the eastern gateway of the Temple Mount and the walkway which led from the gateway to the Mount of Olives, further to the east. This gateway was also called the Shushan Gate, named for the depiction of the city of Shushan painted above it which served to remind all those entering this gate that it was the Persian Empire which had granted the Jews permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Creating a LEGO® Minifig Kohen

Transforming a standard LEGO minifigure into a Kohen fit for the sacrificial service requires dressing him in the four priestly vestments worn by the Kohanim: pants, robe, belt, and turban.

It is not necessary to model the pants since they were more like knickers and not visible beneath the robe.

The simplest way to create a Kohen robed in white is to use a white torso and legs. Although the "robe" look is lost when you reach the legs, this design offers the most flexibility in terms of posing the minifig for different parts of the sacrificial service:

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Keys of the Heichal

The Ninth of Av is a day upon which many tragedies occurred for the Jewish people, foremost among them the destruction of the First and Second Temples. The events surrounding the Temple's destruction are recorded in various historical sources and religious texts, and many of these found their way into the current liturgy of the day. I would like to look at the following incident, referenced in Kinnah 32, which occurred during the final hours of the First Temple era (recorded by the Gemara, Taanis 29a):
Many groups of young Kohanim gathered together with the keys to the Heichal [Sanctuary] in their hands. They ascended to the roof of the Heichal and called out, "Master of the World! Since we have not merited to be faithful treasurers the keys shall be transferred back to You!" They threw the keys heavenward and the form of a hand appeared and took the keys from them. The Kohanim then threw themselves from the roof into the burning remnants of the Temple below.
The Heichal had but one gateway, so if the keys mentioned here were to that gateway why does the Gemara refer to them in the plural? The Gemara also implies that each of the many groups of Kohanim was holding one or more of the keys (otherwise it could have stated simply that "many young Kohanim gathered together...") — just how many keys did the gateway have? And why do the Kohanim refer to themselves as "treasurers" [גזברין]?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Water Rockets and Raven Chasers

Iron roof tile with spikes for the
roof of the Sanctuary Building.
One of our family's pastimes is launching homemade water rockets at the park, and over the past few years we have also been bringing the rockets to our shul's annual barbecue where they have become an unofficial part of the day's activities. About a week before the big day we were out in the front yard doing some test flights when one of the rockets hit an ill wind and was blown off course. This is not really a problem since they are so light that they roll, or bounce, off any roof they land on. Usually.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Omni Wheels in the Temple

SUMMARY Omni wheels might be what King Solomon had in mind when he built his laver stands with "a wheel within a wheel."

Basic design of a First Temple laver stand.
In the First Temple, King Solomon built ten moveable stands [מְּכֹנוֹת] which supported the ten lavers [כִּיֹּרֹת] that stood in the Courtyard. These stands are described in I Kings 7:27-37 in very cryptic language, although the basic idea which emerges is that the stand was a type of wagon with four wheels and the laver rested on top of it. One drawback of the standard wagon design is that it can only be rolled forward or backward but cannot be steered. If the stand did need to be turned one way or the other, it would have to be done by pushing or pulling on one end, a difficult task considering that the stand was made of copper and quite heavy — just the laver itself, when full of water, weighed over 5000 pounds! While it is possible that a method of steering the stand was built into the design, the verses do not seem to indicate that this was so.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Plating the Sanctuary Building with Gold

The interior of the Sanctuary measured 20 amos wide (from north to south) and 61 amos long (east to west). In the First Temple this room had been plated with gold and magnificently decorated, but the original builders of the Second Temple could certainly not afford such a luxury. At some point during the Second Temple era, however, the following incident occurred which allowed for this chamber to receive the gold plating it deserved:

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

View of the Chamber of Hewn Stone

Based on the dimensions worked out in the last two posts, here are some renderings of the interior and exterior of the Chamber of Hewn Stone. In the first picture we are looking at the unconsecrated half of the chamber where the court would meet. A convening of the full court for judicial proceedings was rare, and most of the time the court was involved in confirming the pedigrees of Kohanim and Leviim who came to work in the Temple. I have set up tables and chairs for this purpose where candidates would present themselves before the judges.

A Kohen confirms his pedigree with a judge of the Sanhedrin court.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Dimensions of the Chamber of Hewn Stone: Part 2

SUMMARY By modeling the building after a Roman basilica, it becomes much easier to fit the Chamber of Hewn Stone into the Courtyard.

In the last post I concluded that the maximum space available for the Chamber of Hewn Stone in the northeast corner of the Courtyard measures 21×55 amos, or 1155 amos2, far short of the required 1485 amos2. I believe that the solution to this problem lies in the Gemara (Yoma 25a) which describes this chamber as a "large basilica." In Roman times, the term basilica referred to a specific type of building. The following is from A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome by Samuel Ball Platner:
Basilica: the name given by the Romans to a very common type of building erected for business purposes and also for the accommodation of the courts. It usually consisted of a rectangular hall, of considerable height, surrounded by one or two ambulatories, sometimes with galleries, and lighted by openings in the upper part of the side walls. The hall often ended in an apse or exedra.
[This citation comes from the website LacusCurtius, run by Bill Thayer, which contains much useful information on the ancient Roman world.]

Here is a very basic layout of what a Roman basilica looked like:

Monday, June 16, 2014

Dimensions of the Chamber of Hewn Stone: Part 1

SUMMARY After looking at the numbers, the Chamber of Hewn Stone is, as they say, simply too big to be allowed.

The Chamber of Hewn Stone, in the northeast corner of the Courtyard, was the seat of the 71-member Sanhedrin court. The northern half of the chamber was built outside the Courtyard walls (and thus remained unconsecrated) and the southern half of the chamber was located within the Courtyard. Since the judges and students were seated during the proceedings, and sitting was not permitted in the Courtyard, they sat in the northern, unconsecrated half of the chamber. This Sanhedrin was arranged just like the smaller ones of the Temple Mount and Women’s Courtyard: the judges sat on seats in a semicircle facing south and three rows of students, also in semicircles, sat before them on the ground.

Size of the Judges' Area
The Gemara tells us that a person is one amah wide, so the judges formed a half-circle 71 amos in circumference. A full circle of this size would have a circumference of 142 amos, a diameter of 45.2 amos, and a radius of 22.6 amos. Thus, the amount of space occupied by the judges themselves amounts to an area approximately 45 amos wide (east to west) and 23 amos long (north to south). See diagram.
Area needed to seat 71 judges in a half-circle.

Monday, June 9, 2014

View of the Northern Courtyard Wall

With the Hall of the Fire now in place, all four gateways of the Courtyard's northern wall have been modeled. Pictured from left to right are the Gate of the Spark, the Gate of the Offering, the Women's Gate (a minor gate, just visible behind the portico support column), and the Gate of the Hall of the Fire. Although I show a curtain hanging across the gateway of the Hall of the Fire, I think that this curtain should be moved to the Hall's northern gateway instead. Since the purpose of the curtains was to grant the Temple a measure of privacy as the sacrificial service was being carried out, it would be better to place the curtain between the public and the staff lounge, so to speak, rather than between the Hall and the Courtyard. The Hall could not have had two curtains, one across each of its two gateways, since the Gemara (Kesuvos 106a) allows only one curtain per gate.

Gates of the northern Courtyard wall.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Hall of the Fire: Part 2

Running around the interior of the Hall of the Fire were stone ledges, each one shorter than the one beneath it, forming stadium-like steps around all four walls upon which the Kohanim would sleep. The uppermost ledge was reserved for the elders of the watch of Kohanim scheduled to serve the next day, the other Kohanim slept upon the remaining ledges, and the youngest Kohanim slept below on the ground. Although the ledges ran around all four sides of the Hall the Kohanim were only permitted to sleep on those ledges in the northern, unconsecrated half of the Hall.

Sketch of the Hall of the Fire with the
ledges starting at ground level.
One of my biggest challenges in visualizing this chamber was figuring out how to design these ledges to conform to the opinion of Tiferes Yisrael who writes that the ledges formed the roofs of the four chambers in the corners of the Hall.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Hall of the Fire: Part 1

Built around the first of the major gates on the northern side of the Courtyard, just to the west of the Butchering Area, was a large complex with a domed ceiling called the Hall of the Fire (Beis Hamoked). This building served as sleeping quarters for the watch of Kohanim currently on duty as well as a place for them to warm themselves during the day, a necessary amenity since they had to walk around barefoot on cold marble floors. The large warming fire in the main room of this chamber gave it its name.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

View of Pinchas the Clothier

To the north of the Nikanor Gate was the Chamber of Pinchas the Clothier where the priestly vestments would be stored and distributed. As Kohanim arrived in the Temple over the course of the day to perform the sacrificial service they would report to this chamber where they would change out of their regular clothes and be dressed in the priestly vestments by the clothier's assistants. Upon completing their service they would return the vestments to this chamber and change back into their regular clothes. The individual Kohanim did not own private uniforms but rather were issued garments of the appropriate size from the Temple’s general supply. This practice ensured that the priestly vestments remained in the Temple where they could be supervised by the clothier who saw to it that they were used and cared for with the utmost sanctity and respect. As for the chamber’s name, the very first Temple clothier was a man named Pinchas and all subsequent officers to hold this post were given the title “Pinchas the Clothier.”

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Update for Chavitin Chamber and Southeast Corner of the Courtyard

Here is a quick update before Pesach showing another view of the Chamber of the Makers of the Chavitin. Among other small improvements, the Kohanim now have a new hand cart to bring supplies from the Chamber of the Oils and the chimney has a cover to keep out the rain.

Chamber of the Makers of the Chavitin.

Monday, April 7, 2014

View of the Chamber of the Makers of the Chavitin

To the south of the Nikanor Gate was the Chamber of the Makers of the Chavitin. In this chamber the Kohanim would prepare the chavitin, a type of meal offering offered daily — and paid for — by the Kohen Gadol. This entailed kneading a prescribed amount of flour, water, and oil, scalding the dough in boiling water, baking it, and then frying it with oil in a pan called a machavas.

Monday, March 31, 2014

View of the Southeast Corner of the Courtyard

After spending the last few weeks working on the views of the three chambers in the corner of the Courtyard, as well as the Avtinas Chamber and its adjoining mikveh, here is a view of everything in situ. In this picture we are looking over the Altar to the southeast corner where the chambers of Salt, Parvah, and Rinsers are lined up, spilling over from the Israelites' Courtyard into the Kohanim's Courtyard. At the border of these two courtyards, to serve as a visual divider between them, a series of wooden blocks protruded from the walls and ran up their entire height. Not shown in this picture is the Chamber of Chavitin Makers (coming soon) which stood just to the south of the Nikanor Gate, as well as the entrance from the Courtyard to the Chamber of the Oils (the southwestern chamber of the Women's Courtyard).

Looking toward the southeast corner of the Courtyard.

Monday, March 24, 2014

View of the Chamber of Rinsers

The third chamber in the southeast corner of the Courtyard was the Chamber of Rinsers. Here the Kohanim would wash out the stomachs of sacrificial animals. Since this work, like that done in Parvah, created an unpleasant smell, it was actually carried out in an underground room beneath the main chamber. The stairwell leading down to this room was closed off by a door which helped minimize the foul odors reaching the Courtyard. It emerges that the Chamber of Rinsers was more like a vestibule with a door in each wall: in the north to the Courtyard; in the south to the underground room; in the east to the adjacent Chamber of Parvah; in the west to the ramp which led up to the mikveh on the roof of the Chamber of Parvah.
Chamber of Rinsers as seen
from the southeast
Underground room beneath the
Chamber of Rinsers

Monday, March 17, 2014

View of the Chamber of Parvah

The Chamber of Parvah, located to the west of the Chamber of Salt, was used to process the hides of the sacrificial animals. While I did not research the exact procedure used, some of the key steps involve stretching the hides over wooden frames, soaking them in a caustic bath to remove the hair, and then scraping them clean. Since this is a very smelly process this chamber did not open directly to the Courtyard but likely had a door to the adjoining Chamber of Rinsers which did open to the Courtyard. [I am curious, though, how (or if) this chamber was ventilated. Adding windows does not seem to be an option since that would allow the smell into the Courtyard, which is exactly what they were trying to avoid by not giving this chamber a door to the Courtyard in the first place.]

Kohanim prepare the hides within the Chamber of Parvah

Monday, March 10, 2014

Another View of the Salt Chamber

In the next series of posts I will be focusing on the three chambers located in the southeastern corner of the Courtyard: the Chamber of Salt, the Chamber of Parvah, and the Chamber of Rinsers.

Unlike some of the Courtyard's other chambers, these were located entirely within the Courtyard itself and not within its walls. The first of these was the Chamber of Salt which held a large supply of salt used for different purposes, such as tanning hides in the adjacent Chamber of Parvah, applying to the sacrificial parts before they were placed upon the Altar, and sprinkling on the Altar's ramp to absorb the oils and blood which spilled there and thereby prevent the Kohanim from slipping.
The Salt Chamber as seen from the southeast. To its west is the Chamber of Parvah and the door in the northern wall leads to the Israelites' Courtyard.

Monday, February 24, 2014

View of the Mikveh above the Water Gate

Having just spent the night of Yom Kippur in the Avtinas Chamber, the Kohen Gadol would begin the Avodah of the day by immersing in a mikveh located above the Water Gate prior to donning the Priestly Vestments. This mikveh was accessed via [a door located on] the non-sanctified side of the Avtinas Chamber and so did not possess Courtyard sanctity.

Yoma 31a implies that the dimensions of this mikveh were 1x1x3 amos, the minimum size of a mikveh, even though the average person is actually closer to 4 amos tall.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Preparation of the Incense and View of the Avtinas Chamber

The next chamber I would like to explore is the Avtinas Chamber. This was an elevated chamber located directly above the Water Gate on the southern side of the Courtyard where the Avtinas family would compound the Incense offered daily in the Temple. In order to design this workspace it is instructive to review how the ingredients of the Incense were prepared.

Monday, February 10, 2014

View of the Chamber of the Paroches: Part 2

After the weaving was complete, the cloth on the lower beam needed to be transferred to another location (a larger chamber on the Temple Mount, most likely) where the paroches could be assembled. Now, the total weight of the paroches was almost 30,000 pounds which meant that each of the five sections weighed nearly 6,000 pounds. To move these, I imagine that they would attach two wheels to the frame holding the lower beam, and add some poles to make handling easier. A team of Kohanim could then roll this newly woven section of the paroches out of the chamber, through the Courtyard, and wrangle it down to the Temple Mount.
Moving the completed section of paroches
out of the chamber.

Monday, February 3, 2014

View of the Chamber of the Paroches: Part 1

In a previous post I detailed the design of the paroches curtains according to the opinion of Tiferes Yisrael. Using that description we can start to imagine what the Chamber of the Paroches might have looked like.

One important decision was the overall size of the chamber. According to Tiferes Yisrael the paroches was constructed in sections, 4 amos (6 feet) wide, which were then stitched together to form the full 20-amah width. When he states in Middos 1:1 §10 that this chamber is where "the paroches was woven" does he mean that this room was where the individual sections were woven, but then they were taken elsewhere to be assembled into the full curtain, or was the entire paroches woven and stitched together in the same location?

Monday, January 27, 2014

View of the Chamber of Shekalim

The Chamber of Shekalim (background)
near the northwest corner of the Courtyard
As described in an earlier post, there were 13 collection boxes, called shofaros on account of their long, curved necks which resembled a shofar, which were placed within the Courtyard. Two of them were used to collect the half-shekel donations brought to the Temple by the public each year. Both of these shofaros were kept inside a chamber located in one of the corners of the Courtyard. 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.
Within the Chamber of Shekalim were two shofaros,
a writing desk, and a large storage cabinet

Monday, January 20, 2014

View of the Chamber of the Spark

The Chamber of the Spark (בית הניצוץ) was located at the Spark Gate (שער הניצוץ) in the northern wall of the Courtyard. This chamber consisted of two walls which protruded into the Courtyard on either side of the gate and above these walls was an unroofed balcony. On the ground floor of this chamber the Kohanim maintained a fire which was kept burning constantly and would be used to relight the Altar fire should it ever be extinguished. For this purpose they specifically chose a type of wood which burns very slowly, and because the embers from this fire lasted a long time the gate and its associated chamber bore the name ‘spark.’ The upper floor of this chamber is one of the locations where the Kohanim would stand guard in the Temple. This balcony was not accessible directly from the Courtyard (for had that been the case the balcony would have assumed the sanctity of the Courtyard and thus the Kohen guards would not have been permitted to sit down while on duty); instead, a door in the Courtyard wall opened to a flight of steps (possibly within the wall itself) which led down to the Cheil, thus granting the balcony the status of the Temple Mount. The Spark Gate, like all Temple gates, was closed off by a large curtain while the doors were open.

Two Kohanim restock the firewood in the Chamber of the Spark.

Monday, January 13, 2014

View of the Courtyard Portico

Although the Courtyard was open to the sky, there was a portico, or roof, along the inside of the walls around all four sides which jutted out of the walls halfway up their height. [The walls were forty amos high, which would put this roof at a height of twenty amos, or just even with the tops of the gateways.] The roof was not continuous but was built in sections which ran between the gates of the Courtyard, and each section was supported by a single row of marble columns similar in design to those of the Temple Mount.

Each morning the Kohanim from the Hall of the Fire would make their way beneath this roofed area around the perimeter of the Courtyard to check that all of the Temple vessels were in place for the start of the sacrificial service.

Early morning view of the southwest corner of the Courtyard.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Double Dipping: The two mikva'os used by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur

During the service of Yom Kippur the Kohen Gadol immersed in two different mikva'os a total of five times. The first of these was done in a mikveh located above the Water Gate on the southern side of the Temple. The remaining four immersions were done in a mikveh built on the roof of the Chamber of Parvah in the southeast corner of the Courtyard.

The Ma'ayan Mikveh
Both mikva'os were fed from the Eitam Spring, apparently for the purpose of granting them the halachic status of a ma'ayan [flowing spring], as opposed to a mikveh of collected rainwater.