Thursday, November 30, 2023

Yoma 34a – 36a: The Chamber of Parvah

The Chamber of Parvah, located near the southeastern corner of the Azarah, was used to tan the hides of the sacrificial animals. Since this is a very smelly process, the chamber did not open directly to the Azarah but likely had a door to the adjoining Chamber of Madichin  (Rinsers) which did open to the Azarah.

On the roof of the Chamber of Parvah was a mikveh used by the Kohen Gadol for four of the five immersions required as part of the avodah of Yom Kippur. The mikveh on this roof was imbued with Azarah sanctity since the only way to access it was through the Azarah (see Issue #5). While the roof certainly had a fence for safety around its edge, anyone standing on the roof would still be visible to people standing below in the Azarah, so for the privacy of the Kohen Gadol they would hold up a linen sheet around the mikveh when he immersed.

The mikveh was connected to the same system of pipes that brought water to the mikveh above the Mayim Gate from the Eitam Spring (Issue #9). In the case of the Chamber of Parvah, though, the pipes were so cleverly hidden within the walls that, to the uninitiated, it appeared as though the water was brought to the mikveh through some type of sorcery. In fact, Parvah — the man who built this chamber — is described in the Gemara as an amgushi, which is classically understood to mean sorceror. Of course, it is unimaginable that the Sages would have allowed sorcery (which is prohibited by the Torah) to be employed in the construction of a Beis Hamikdash chamber. Rather, what the Gemara means is that Parvah was an expert engineer whose designs were so ahead of his time that they gave the impression of being magical.

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  1. Do you know any more about the sheet used for privacy? Who held it? Where did they keep it? Who washed it?

  2. Thank you for your intriguing questions! I don't have any sources to answer them but I can make a guess: The linen sheet was likely purchased by the Temple treasurers with public funds just as was done for the special white robes worn by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur. It would have been held by members of the daily watch of Kohanim who were on duty that day. It would have been stored either in the Kohen Gadol's private chambers or possibly in the Chamber of Pinchas the Clothier who took care of all the uniforms of the Kohanim. If the sheet needed to be washed it may have been washed in the stream of water flowing through the Azarah where they also washed the Kohanim's uniforms.

  3. I am really wondering about the proximity of the mikve and the tannery. Wouldn't the smell get on to the Kohen gadol or at the very least be an unpleasant experience while immersing. Out of all the places to put a mikve, why do so near such a pungent odor?

    1. Well, I think that the door would mitigate much of the smell. I can't really say why the mikveh was located here of all places, but the Gemara in Yoma does mention the idea that certain elements of the YK avodah and prep were designed to weed out candidates who might be less than worthy, so perhaps the mikveh and tannery were in close proximity to make it slightly uncomfortable for the KG?


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