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:

Rounding the Room
Now, since we know from our own sources that the judges were already seated in a semicircle, the first change I would like to suggest is to make the northern half of the chamber curved like the exedra shown above. This not only makes it look more like a basilica, but by removing the square corners of the room it also reduces the area of the northern half of the chamber from 1485 amos2 to 1281 amos2.

[The seating area consists of a rectangular area measuring 45×10 amos for the students (= 450 amos2) plus a half-circle of radius 23 amos for the judges (whose area = 232π/2 = 831 amos2) for a total of 1281 amos2. See diagram.]
Applying this new value of 1281 amosto the area of the Chamber of Hewn Stone's southern half would require a room measuring 21 amos wide and 61 amos long. However, as mentioned above, only 55 amos are available for the length, so another change is needed.

Doubling the Height
The next adaptation of the basilica design is to transform the southern half of the chamber into a "rectangular hall of considerable height." I propose that the southern half be divided into two stories of equal size, each measuring approximately 21 amos wide and 31 amos long (651 amos2). Together, these two stories combine to provide more than enough floorspace to cover the needed area of 1281 amos2. As a rule, any upper chamber or rooftop is imbued with Courtyard sanctity so long as the only access to that area is through the Courtyard. Thus, by having the second story open exclusively to the one below, it retains its status as “the half of the Chamber of Hewn Stone located inside the Courtyard” both in name and in sanctity. This the same principle is also employed to consecrate the mikveh over the Chamber of Parvah as well as the terrace for eating sacrificial meat above the Chamber of Salt.

The layout of the Chamber of Hewn Stone now looks something like this:

The Two Adjoining Chambers
One final point to address is the size and placement of the two adjoining chambers along the western side of the Chamber of Hewn Stone. The Chamber of the Basin was to the south and the Chamber of Wood was to the north. This latter chamber was also built halfway inside the Courtyard and halfway outside the Courtyard (to allow the Kohen Gadol to sleep in this unconsecrated area during the week before Yom Kippur).

I began with the assumption that these two chambers (the part in the Courtyard, at any rate) each occupied half of the available space along the Chamber of Hewn Stone's western side, which makes them approximately 15 amos long from north to south and 4 amos wide. See diagram.

The problem was now how to complete the Chamber of Wood by providing it with an unconsecrated portion outside the Courtyard walls, since on paper the room is now up against the large exedra of the Chamber of Hewn Stone. Rather than have it snake around the exedra, I looked back at the seating arrangement of the judges and students and discovered that there was enough "unused" space in the southwest corner of the exedra to fit in the required area for the northern half of the Chamber of Wood, as follows: This southern half of this chamber measures 4×15 amos, or 60 amos2. If the northern half is set at 12×5 amos (also 60 amos2) then it fits neatly into the corner of the exedra. See diagram.

I was initially bothered by the fact that this new addition throws off the symmetry of the building. This would also be a good time to admit that, in my Temple model thus far, I had overlooked a minor chamber mentioned on Yoma 2a — the Chamber of the Stone House — located, as it turns out, at the northeast corner of the Courtyard. Solving both problems at once, I would suggest that the southeast corner of the exedra be turned into the Chamber of the Stone House. One final note is that the area occupied by the Chamber of Wood (outside the Courtyard) and Chamber of the Stone House should not count toward the area assigned to the Chamber of Hewn Stone, which means that we can subtract their areas (a total of 120 amos2) from that of the exedra (1281 amos2), leaving 1161 amos2. The southern half must also be adjusted to match this reduced area, and since the width of the room is fixed at 21 amos, this shortens the length to 28 amos. Rather than go back and adjust the Chamber of Wood, I opted to simply take 2 amos of length away from the Chamber of the Basin. See diagram.
Final design of the Chamber of Hewn Stone
and its associated chambers.


  1. I see you made the Sanhedrin sitting on the northern side of the lishka, but what about the Gemara in Yoma (25a) that says that it sat on the western side?

  2. Don't have a solid answer for you, but it is a machlokes among the meforshim and I sided with Tiferes Yisrael.


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