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.
At first, I started the ledges at ground level and had them rise up toward the walls (see sketch). In this design, the four small chambers were completely concealed under the ledges with only their doorways visible. The single problem I encountered with this approach is the Gemara (Yoma 17a) which describes the layout of the Hall of the Fire, specifically the size and location of the chamber housing the Tamid lambs. After some discussion, the Gemara concludes that, although this chamber was actually in the southwest corner of the Hall, it was much longer than the others and stretched toward both corners (i.e., NW and SW) along the western side of the Hall to the extent that someone entering the Hall from the south gained the impression that this chamber was actually in (or extended to) the northwest corner. Now, if the chambers of the Hall had all been concealed behind the ledges, with only the doorways visible, then it is not clear how anyone would be able to come to this conclusion.

One possibility is that the placement of the doorway could be used to "mislead" the viewer. If, as above, the walls of the four chambers were hidden behind the ledges, then the only clue to the locations of the chambers would be their doorways. For three of the four chambers the doorways were visible right in the corners of the Hall, and the viewer would assume (correctly) that the chambers which were accessed by those doorways were small rooms in the corners. In the case of the chamber of lambs, which was very long, its doorway could have been located closer to the center of the Hall. When entering the Hall from the south and looking for the doorway to this chamber, one would expect to see it in the corner (as was true for the other three chambers). Failing to find any doorway in the corner, the viewer's eyes wander along the western side of the Hall and eventually find the doorway further to the north, giving the impression that the chamber was not in the southwest corner after all, but in the northwest corner.

I was not satisfied with this approach since the Gemara does not seem to be describing the placement of the doorway as the thing which tricked the eye, but rather the size of the actual chamber. In order to allow the viewer to see the entire chamber, and also have the ledges form the roofs of the chambers (as per Tiferes Yisrael), I moved all of the ledges above the chambers. Admittedly, this is not the "standard" way to imagine the ledges of the Hall of the Fire (and there is even a slight indication elsewhere in Tiferes Yisrael that the ledges may have been next to, not above, the chambers). So while this solution is not perfect, I think that, after considering all of the evidence, it is acceptable.
Interior of the Hall of the Fire, ground level.
In this picture, we are standing on ground level and looking northwest. The chamber of the lambs is on the left and the chamber leading to the bathhouse and mikveh is on the right. Between these two chambers is a flight of steps by which the Kohanim would ascend to the ledges at night.
Standing on the ledges of the Hall of the Fire.
Here we are standing on the ledges in the southeast corner of the Hall, still looking to the northwest. Also visible now on the right is the door to the chamber of receipts in the northeast corner and the other flight of steps leading to the ledges. Since there is no communication between the ledges on the western side of the Hall and those on the east, I have stairs leading to each. In another version of the Hall (not shown) I had the ledges begin 20 amos above the floor in order to clear the tall gateways in the north and south. In that model the ledges were able to run completely around all four sides of the Hall, perhaps more in line with the Mishnah's term סביב, all around, although quite a climb!
The Hall of the Fire viewed from inside the dome.
In this picture we are standing on the walkway which I added around the base of the domed ceiling. From this vantage point it is easier to see that the ledges do run around all four walls (in keeping with the term סביב), interrupted only by the gateways. The walkway would be used by the Kohanim to reach the oil lamps hanging from the ceiling and refill them. It would also be used to reach the windows where the Kohanim would sound the shofar on the eve of Shabbos and yom tov.

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