Monday, August 30, 2021

Moving a Door in the Beis Hamoked

The Beis Hamoked was a large structure built into the northern Azarah wall. Half of it was inside the Azarah and half was over the Har Habayis. It also contained four smaller chambers that were used for different purposes. The Mishnah does not tell us the actual size of the Beis Hamoked and it would appear that this structure could be made as large as needed. However, a careful reading of Middos 1:7 might constrain the size of the Beis Hamoked after all.

The Beis Hamoked formed one of the major Azarah gateways, and Middos 1:7 states as follows: 

שְׁנַיִם שְׁעָרִים הָיוּ לְבֵית הַמּוֹקֵד, אֶחָד פָּתוּחַ לַחֵיל וְאֶחָד פָּתוּחַ לָעֲזָרָה 

(sefaria.org)

The Beis Hamoked had two gates: one [in the north] opened to the Cheil and one [in the south] opened to the Azarah

[The Cheil was the 10-amah-wide area just outside the Azarah walls on all four sides, demarcated by a low wooden fence.] The Mishnah did not say that the northern gate opened to the Har Habayis, but to the Cheil, which means that the gate — and presumably the outer wall — must have been within 10 amos of the Azarah wall. In his commentary to this Mishnah, Tiferes Yisrael also confirms that the gate opened to the Cheil. The work Ezras Kohanim states this more definitively, concluding that the northern gate of Beis Hamoked must have been around 8 amos away from the Azarah wall so that when a person exited the gate he was clearly still in the Cheil and not on Har Habayis.

The thing that bothered me about this conclusion is that the word חיל, Cheil, is mighty close to the word חול, unsanctified (referring to the general expanse of Har Habayis as compared to the sanctified Azarah). If the Mishnah meant to say that the northern gate was in the חול, unsanctified area, then the Beis Hamoked could extend much farther than 10 (or 8) amos from the Azarah wall. Still, there are no obvious indications that a variant reading exists. I also checked the first printing of Tiferes Yisrael to Middos and there, too, the reading is the standard חיל. The only hint to a different girsa is Meleches Shlomo to the Mishnah who references Mefareish to Tamid 26b (where this Mishnah is cited) who quotes the Mishnah as reading חול. But this is clearly not the mainstream view.

In my current model, the Beis Hamoked extends about 15 amos past the northern Azarah wall. Rather than disrupt the configuration of the entire building to make it fit into 8 amos, I thought to take a different approach. Leaving the building footprint more or less as is, the northern gate itself could be moved southward until it was within the Cheil.

Left: Standard layout of the Beis Hamoked with the doors of the northern gate located beyond the Cheil.
Right: Updated layout with the doors of the northern gate moved within the area of the Cheil.

Looking north in the Beis Hamoked. The northern gate has been moved a few amos toward the south compared to the image at the beginning of this post.

One potential problem could arise with moving the gate southward. We know that the Sages imbued the Azarah gateways with the sanctity of the Azarah and for this reason they did not want people (who were potentially tamei) gathering in the areas beneath the gates when they were closed. To prevent this from happening the doors of the gates were hung at the outer edge of the Azarah wall so that there was no space within the gateway for people to shelter (see this post for more on this topic). By moving the northern Beis Hamoked gate to the south it creates an overhang that would invite people to gather.

Beis Hamoked viewed from the north. The area beneath the recessed gateway can be used for people to gather.
In truth this is not a concern here. The other Azarah gates were all built within the thickness of the Azarah wall, and since the thickness of the wall is imbued with Azarah sanctity the Sages had to make sure to keep people out of that area when the gates were closed. The northern Beis Hamoked gate is not within the thickness of the Azarah wall, and in fact the entire northern half of the Beis Hamoked is unsanctified, so there is no problem allowing people (who are forbidden from entering the Azarah due to tumah) from gathering just outside the Beis Hamoked gate.

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