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The superintendent would say to them, 'Come, let's do a lottery: who will slaughter, who will splash, who will remove the ash from the inner altar, who will tend to the candelabrum, who will take the limbs up the ramp - the head, the foot, the two "hands", the tail, the [other] foot, the breast, the neck, both flanks, the guts, the flour, the pancakes and the wine'. They would hold the lottery and whoever won, won.


Now that all the "housekeeping" was done they could proceed with the actual sacrifice of the Tamid - the daily sacrifice. Before we explain the contents of our mishnah perhaps it would not be amiss to investigate the biblical origins of the Tamid offering. The word Tamid in Hebrew means 'regular', 'constant', 'continuous'; in our present context it would be better perhaps to understand the term as 'daily'. Basically, there were two kinds of sacrifice: public sacrifices and private sacrifices. The public sacrifices were offered by all Israel, as it were. (All Israel participated to the extent that all Jewish adults all over the world contributed funds with which the animals to be slaughtered were purchased and the Bet Mikdash as an organization was funded; also, as we have seen, all Israel was represented at the public sacrifices by the Ma'amad. The private sacrifices were, of course, sacrifices brought by individuals for various reasons which do not concern us here.

The public sacrifices consisted, basically, of the sacrifices that were offered on Sabbaths, New Moons, Festivals - and daily. The two lambs that were sacrificed every day - one at dawn and the other mid- afternoon - were termed Tamid in order to distinguish them from the other public sacrifices that were only offered on certain occasions. To this extent the other, occasional sacrifices were an extra, offered after the regular daily sacrifice. Thus they came to be called collectively 'Extras', in Hebrew Musafim. The sacrifice offered daily at dawn in the Bet Mikdash was mirrored in the Shaĥarit worship that took place in the synagogues all over the Jewish world; the sacrifice offered daily in the afternoon was mirrored in the Minchah worship in the synagogues; and the Extra sacrifice that was offered on special days was mirrored in the Musaf worship in the synagogues. [The origin of Arvit, the evening worship in the synagogues is not clear at all. It is customary to link it to the burning of the unconsumed fat and limbs on the altar which took place, as we have seen, just before dawn. However popular this may be as a folk explanation it does not really have any historical or even logical basis.]

The Torah [Numbers 28:2-8] makes the following stipulation:

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Command the Israelites: You shall be diligent in offering Me my food, deliciously-smelling holocausts, at their appropriate time. This is the holocaust that you shall bring: two yearling unblemished lambs per day, a regular offering. One of the lambs you shall offer in the morning and the other you shall offer in the afternoon. Together with one tenth of an efah of fine flour as a cereal offering, mixed with one quarter of a hin of beaten oil. This is a continuous offering [Tamid] instituted at Mount Sinai, a deliciously-smelling holocaust for God. Its [accompanying] drink consists of one quarter of a hin for each lamb, the intoxicating liquor to be poured out in the sacred place. The other lamb shall you offer during the afternoon, just like the morning offering and its drink: a deliciously-smelling holocaust for God.

I think a couple of notes would not be out of place here. First of all, the translation attempts to bring modern equivalents for all the terms, since only in this way can the origin of the sacrificial system be made plain. Obviously, the sacrifices are meals presented, as it were, for Divine consumption. No value judgment is implied. The term 'holocaust' is used in its primary meaning of 'a completely incinerated offering' (as opposed to other sacrifices, parts of which were returned to the person making the offering for festive consumption).


Michael A. Poretsky writes:

As most people do, you place the kodesh-kodashim at the site now occupied by the Mosque of Omar. This may not be correct. Several years ago (10-15) an article appeared in the magazine Biblical Archeological Review in which the author postulated the actual location of the Bet ha-Mikdash and its layout. His work was based on measurements and examination of various artifacts then available on Har ha-Bayit. If you can locate the article, you might find it of interest. I'm sorry that I no longer have that issue of the magazine.

I respond:

This is a link to the articles that Michael refers to: http://www.bib-arch.org/barso99/barso99sg1.html

Naomi Koltun-From writes:

1) In Tamid 1:4 and 2:1 the officiating priests are instructed to 'sanctify' [root word kadosh?] their hands and feet with the water from the laver. What is the purpose of this? Presumably they are already ritually pure or they wouldn't be up there. Furthermore they are instructed to 'sanctify' at this point and not to purify - but yet they do it with water. What is the meaning of all this? I realise the washing is a biblical instruction (as you quoted) but there Aaron is not told to 'sanctity' but just to wash [which in of itself is a weird request]. Are there any commentaries on the instruction?. You note in your discussion that the water itself is sacred - where does this come from?

I respond:

A fascinating question - to which, I'm afraid, I do not have a satisfying answer. It would seem that all the commentators understand that the hands are washed in order to purify them and purified hands are considered sanctified - in the sense that now those hands can touch sacred objects. Naomi's assumption that the priests are already ritually clean is correct: we have noted on several occasions that in order for anyone to enter the priestly court they must have previously bathed in a mikveh. In his commentary on Tamid 1:4 Rambam automatically assumes that 'wash' and 'sanctify' in our context are synonymous. A paraphrase of his comment: The Torah commands that no one shall approach the altar without having sanctified their hands and this derives from the command to Aaron to wash his hands... as Naomi noted. The other commentators make a similar assumption.

I don't know whether it would help, but perhaps we could return to a comment I made when discussing that mishnah, when I referred to the duty to this day that the hands are to be washed ritually by everyone first thing every morning before worship. The Shulĥan Arukh of Rabbi Yosef Karo [published 1556] deals with this matter in Oraĥ Ĥayyim 4:1. The commentators point out that two explanations have been offered as to why one must wash one's hands first thing in the morning. According to one explanation it is because people's hands are 'active' during sleep and touch various parts of the body which are considered to be polluting. According to another explanation one washes the hands first thing in the morning because upon awakening from sleep we have been reborn as it were; thus we must rededicate [sanctify] ourselves to divine service 'just like the priest does in the Temple'. I hope this helps.

A very persistent Albert Ringer asks yet again:

I am still interested in how much of the altar could be seen. A last try: could people see what went on in the temple from Har Hazofim?

I respond:

I don't know. I would think not, since the view from Mount Scopus would have been blocked by the Fortress of Antonia would it not? This Roman garrison was built adjacent to the precincts of the Bet Mikdash. Perhaps Albert had in mind The Mount of Olives. We are told by the Mishnah that when performing a certain ritual on the Mount of Olives the High Priest had to be able to see some part of the Bet Mikdash. He was able to see the top of the very high portal of the Vestibule, which was ten metres high. If he could only see the top of this building it is unlikely that he could see the altar, which was only 5 metres high.

EXPLANATIONS (continued):

The first item on the ritual agenda had been the preparation of the main altar, and the priest who received the privilege of performing that duty had been selected by the first 'lottery' that had taken place previously in the Hearth Room, before the priestly contingent had even entered into the Azarah [Courtyard of the Priests]. We described the procedure at that place. This time, however, the lottery took place in a different room and in a more extended manner. At the very end of the previous mishnah we learned that when the preparation of the altar had been completed the priestly party repaired to the Gazit Room.

The Gazit Room is probably the most well-known today of all the chambers of the Bet Mikdash, for its memory has played a foremost part in the yearnings of the Jewish people for the restoration of the Temple and its ritual over almost two thousand years. The Gazit Room was the chamber where the Great Sanhedrin held its meetings. Rambam, in his exposition in Mishneh Torah [Bet ha-Beĥirah 7:6], mentions incidentally that this chamber straddled the edge of the Azarah; thus half of it was within the precincts of the Azarah and half of it was outside, projecting into the terrace that surrounded the whole complex of courts and buildings. Although the Great Sanhedrin was the highest halakhic authority in the Jewish world, its main daily task was checking the pedigree of the priests who arrived for duty. The Mishnah [Kiddushin 4:4] describes the extent to which a detailed investigation of a priest's pedigree was undertaken, to make certain that no one who claimed to be a priest would be permitted to officiate unless the Great Sanhedrin was certain that his claim had been substantiated. When we studied Tractate Kiddushin a question was posed:

Please share with us some conjectures as to how such records were actually kept, modified, retrieved and otherwise processed? And for how long? And how would someone enter their family in such records for the first time? There surely must have been a very large number of such records and it would be almost inconceivable that at the time they had anything close to our own manual record keeping systems. So how was it done so as to maintain its viability and authenticity?

To this question I responded:

We know very little. The mechanics are discussed in the Mishnah, Tractate Middot 5:1. The Gazit Chamber [situated above the southern wall of the terrace surrounding the Bet Mikdash] - it was there that Israel's Great Sanhedrin [Supreme Court] would assemble and judge the [legitimacy of] the priesthood. A priest whose pedigree was found to be invalid would dress himself in black, wrap himself in a black Tallit, and make his way home. A priest whose pedigree was found to be valid would dress himself in white, wrap himself in a white Tallit, and would go and join his fellow priests at divine service..." From this it would seem that the investigation proceeded according to the laws of evidence, since the matter was within the bailiwick of the Supreme Court. I do not share the concern at the manner of maintaining records: why should we assume that Sifrei Yuĥasin - Genealogical Records - could not be maintained and updated properly. Bureaucracy was one of the first social arts to reach perfection in all developed societies!

However, in our present context the Gazit Room was used as a place in which the second of the day's lotteries would be held. The superintendent would line all the priests up in a row or a circle. He would then say 'think of a number', or something like that. Anyway a number was agreed - twenty, thirty, forty, fifty-seven, whatever. He would then say from which priest he would start counting - let's say from the tenth man to his left. He would then tell them all to hold out one finger (a term still used in modern Hebrew to indicate voting). The superintendent would then count the fingers from the one he had indicated as the starting point until he reached the number which had been agreed. The person thus reached was the lucky priest who would actually get to slaughter the lamb which would be offered that morning. The twelve priests who happened to be standing to his left, in sequential order would perform the rest of the tasks associated with this offering, in the order presented in our mishnah. (Some of what follows is not for the squeamish.)


  1. 'Who will splash' the blood of the slaughtered animal against the side of the altar. This act was an essential feature of the sacrificial ritual; it is specifically mentioned seventeen times in the book of Leviticus alone.
  2. 'Who will remove the ash from the inner altar'. We have already mentioned that this much smaller altar of pure gold stood inside the main hall [Heikhal] of the Bet Mikdash and was used for burning incense. This part of the ritual will be discussed in mishnah six of this chapter.
  3. 'Who will tend to the candelabrum'. The verisimilitude of this candelabrum may be seen to this day on the arch of Titus in Rome, where the spoils of victory decorate the monument, and it is, of course, the emblem of the governing institutions of the State of Israel. This part of the ritual will be described in mishnah nine.
  4. 'Who will take the limbs up the ramp - the head, the foot'. The various parts of the dismembered carcass would be ceremonially carried to the altar. This would actually be done in two stages: the limbs would be left halfway up the ramp at which point everybody would go back to the Gazit Room for morning prayers and only afterwards would the sacrificial ritual be resumed. The rest of our mishnah details the various parts of the dismembered animal. The first in the procession carried the animals head and rear right leg.
  5. 'The two hands' refers to the two front feet.
  6. 'The tail and the [other] foot': the rear part of the animal's tail, where it joins the rump, and the animal's left foot.
  7. 'The breast and the neck'. More accurately we would mention the fatty tissue adhering to the breast and the whole alimentary segment of the carcass - the neck and the ribs and connected to them the windpipe, the heart and the lungs.
  8. 'Both flanks', together with the backbone, the spleen and the liver.
  9. 'The guts' - what was left of them together with the legs.
  10. 'The flour' for the accompanying cereal offering.
  11. 'The pancakes' which would be offered by the High Priest. We have already seen that these were prepared daily.
  12. 'The wine' for the accompanying libation.


In answer to a query I quoted a mishnah from Tractate Avot which concludes with the words: no person ever said there is no room for me to stay in Jerusalem. On that I whimsically commented, the last item on the list is true to this very day -unfortunately! Juan Carlos Kiel takes me to task: I do not follow your reasoning. Should you say 'fortunately' perhaps?

I respond:

No, I think not. My meaning was that unfortunately, even today no one will say that there is not enough room for them to stay in Jerusalem. The hotels are empty. Would that Jews from all over the world would be coming to Jerusalem at this time, until there is no room left for anyone to stay.

Poul Ezra writes:

Numbers 28.8 requires a delicious-smelling sacrifice. Burnt flesh has an awful odour. What did the priest do to make it delicious-smelling?

I respond:

Is that not what the incense was for? A later mishnah is this chapter will (exaggeratedly?) describe how so strong an incense was used that sheep grazing on Mount Machaeros on the far side of the River Jordan would sneeze when the wind carried the scent in their direction. That sounds like pretty heady stuff.

Again in response to a query, I wrote: It would seem that all the commentators understand that the hands are washed in order to purify them and purified hands are considered sanctified - in the sense that now those hands can touch sacred objects. The assumption that the priests are already ritually clean is correct: we have noted on several occasions that in order for anyone to enter the priestly court they must have previously bathed in a mikveh.

My colleague, Arnold Stiebel, supplements:

My Rabbi's explanation (of ages ago) was the ritual washing of hands was to re-purify the mind of the priest (or others) before a sacred act. From the time of their entering the mikveh and donning the holy vestments, if an impure thought came to mind, the act of washing of the hands was a reminder to them to think higher. The same when we wash before making a blessing to eat.

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The superintendent would say to them, 'Go and see whether the time for the slaughtering has come'. If it had come the lookout would say, 'Light!'. Matya ben-Shemu'el says, 'Is the whole of the east lit up as far as Hebron?' and the other would respond, 'Yes!'.


Once it had been established by the lottery (as described in the previous mishnah) who was going to perform what part of the ritual there was now nothing to do except wait for the ritual to begin. The first item on the agenda would be, of course, the slaughtering of the lamb that was that morning's 'Tamid'. However, the lamb could only be slaughtered after daybreak. (This was derived by the sages from a verse in the Torah [Leviticus 19:6] which was understood in the Gemara [Megillah 20b] to indicate that all sacrifices were to be offered only by day (even though the day actually begins, according to Jewish custom, after nightfall the previous evening).

The superintendent (Rabbi Ovadya of Betinoro says that this was the role of the deputy High Priest) would now depute someone to go and check whether dawn had broken. I would assume that he would have chosen someone who had not yet been lucky in the lottery. Out of the twenty-four aspirants so far only fourteen had actually some ritual task to perform (the one who got the privilege of clearing the ashes from the altar and the thirteen mentioned in the previous mishnah). This person would go up onto some roof which would give him a clear view of the eastern sky. I find it strange that the Mishnah does not specify where this lookout spot was. After all, it has been most diligent so far in describing the topography of the various parts of the Bet Midrash in considerable detail. Nor have I found that any of the classical commentators have noticed this fact. One possibility is, of course, that there was no one special place that was used for this purpose, but that the deputed lookout could himself chose where to station himself.

The lookout would look for signs that the eastern sky was beginning to brighten. According to Rambam in his commentary on Berakhot 1:1, dawn breaks seventy-two minutes before sunrise. For example, sunrise today in Jerusalem was at 6.30 am, which means that the first light of day could be seen - given a clear sky - at 5.18 am. When the lookout was certain that he had seen the beginning of light in the eastern sky he would call out 'Light!' The Hebrew term used by our mishnah is strange, 'Barkai'. The word is obviously connected with the idea of a shaft of light (the same root to this day indicates lightening). What the lookout obviously means is that he has seen the first light of day.

The text of what follows in our mishnah is phrased in language that is typical when bringing a view that is different in some way from that of Tanna Kamma. However, in this case, as we shall see later on, it is possible to understand the phrase differently. According to the traditional way of understanding the text, a Tanna - Matya ben-Shemu'el - gives a variant conversation. (Our mishnah is duplicated in Yoma 3:1, where the name is given as Matitya: Matya is obviously a diminutive of Matitya.) In his commentary on Mishnah Yoma 3:1 Rambam understands our Mishnah as follows:

There was a high place in the Temple to which the lookout would ascend, and when he could see the whole of the east[ern sky] begin to change he would say to them 'Barkai', which means something like 'the light has begun to shine'. Those in the Courtyard of the Priests would say to him, 'As far as Hebron?' - in other words, 'As far as you can see does the light reach Hebron?' He would then say to them, 'Yes' and they would then immediately proceed to the slaughtering. You must appreciate that the time mentioned by Matitya ben-Shemu'el (requiring the light to reach as far as Hebron) is different from the time mentioned by Tanna Kamma. Halakhah follows Matitya ben-Shemu'el.

All this seems somewhat strange (though not impossible). But there is another way of understanding our mishnah [Shekalim 5:1]:

The following are the superintendents that there were in the Temple: Yoĥanan ben-Pinĥas was in charge of the seals; Aĥiya of the libations; Matitya ben-Shemu'el of the lotteries; Petaĥya of the nests... ben-Aĥiya [was in charge] of those with dysentery, Neĥunya dug ditches, Gavinei was the herald, ben-Gever was in charge of locking the gates ... Hugras ben-Levi was in charge of the singing, the Garmu family were in charge of the Shewbread, the Avtinas family were in charge of making the incense, El'azar was in charge of the Arrases and Pinĥas was in charge of the wardrobe.

Here we have a fairly full list of what must have been the permanent staff of the Bet Mikdash during the last days of its existence (or earlier, when that particular mishnah was formulated). We note immediately that 'Matitya ben-Shemu'el was in charge of the lotteries': in other words this was the name of the superintendent whose task it was to supervise the ritual and organise the lotteries. Accordingly, our mishnah should be re-understood as follows:

The superintendent would tell them to go and check whether the time for the slaughtering had arrived. If it had arrived the lookout would shout 'Light!'. Matya ben-Sheu'el [the superintendent] would then ask whether the light had reached Hebron.

If the answer was in the affirmative the time had come to begin the slaughtering. According to this reading, the superintendent was anxious to wait a little in order to make certain that there was not here a trick of the lookout's eyesight.


I gave a translation of the command of the Torah in connection with the Tamid and I translated the Hebrew term Isheh as 'holocaust': Command the Israelites: You shall be diligent in offering Me my food, deliciously-smelling holocausts

Aryeh Abramovitz writes:

I heard an interesting explanation on the meaning of isheh, which is usually translated 'holocaust' or 'burnt offering' from the root 'esh' - fire. According to Prof. Israel Knohl, isheh is the feminine form of shai, as in akriv shai lamora. So it would be a 'deliciously-smelling gift'... It also seems to me that 'holocaust' is a good translation for olah which is a completely burnt offering (as these were, but isheh is used in conjunction with partially burnt offerings as well).

I respond:

The first part of Aryeh's comment is interesting (though I obdurately remain unconvinced). In biblical Hebrew nouns created by adding a preformative Alef to the root are not numerous; indeed in some cases the original Alef was lopped off, as in the case of shtayim, 'two'. However, I find it very difficult to accept Aryeh's second comment. After all, the Tamid itself is an Olah (completely incinerated) and the synonym Isheh is used to qualify it specifically.

Albert Ringer returns us to the question of ritual purity:

Can it be that the washing of hands and feet has the simple purpose of purifying these parts? The priests have washed outside the azara and is ritualy clean at that moment. However, he may have poluted hands and feet by walking a non-sacred floor or touching a door. If I remember well, we wash our hands while making kidush beacause the outside of the container with a liquid brings polution to the hands. A dry door might not do that in a modern halachical sense, a priest in the temple might want to be certain.

I respond:

An incidental comment: there is no requirement to wash the hands before making Kiddush over wine.

When I described the details of the lottery I wrote: He would then tell them all to hold out one finger ... The superintendent would then count the fingers from the one he had indicated as the starting point until he reached the number which had been agreed.

Rick Dinitz writes:

I remember a commentary on this mishnah that exlained hatzbi'u slightly differently. Rather than holding out only one finger, each kohen would choose the number of fingers he would extend. Since each kohen would decide the number of fingers for himself, neither the superintendent nor any individual kohen could manipulate the lottery to a particular outcome. In contrast, if each kohen always extended one finger, the superintendent could easily do mental aritmetic to select a starting point that would lead to a predetermined outcome.

I respond (mischeviously):

Are we to assume that votes were rigged even then? On a more serious note: there are several similar suggestions, one that I recall having something to do with the priests' hats.

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Now he would say to them, 'Go and fetch a lamb from the Lamb Room'. Now the Lamb Room was in the north- western side. There were four rooms there: one was the Lamb Room, was was the Seal Room, one was the Hearth Room, and one was the room in which they would prepare the Shewbread.


Once it was quite clear that dawn had broken the superintendent would instruct the priests to fetch a lamb for the sacrifice. At this juncture the priests were assembled in the Gazit Room, which was on the southern wall of the Azarah [Courtyard of the Priests]. Presumably the superintendent would now depute a priest who had no other part to play in the ritual to fetch a lamb from the Lamb Room where a stock of lambs was always ready. (These lambs were constantly checked and re-checked to make sure that they met the requirements of the Torah that the sacrificial animal be 'unblemished'.)

The priest thus deputed would have to cross the courtyard from one side to the other, heading in the direction of the Hearth Room, where he and his colleagues had spent the night. The Hearth Room was part of a complex of four rooms. They probably were all surrounding a central area in which a fire was kept burning all the time. Our mishnah lists all the offices that were housed in that complex. As we enter the complex from the Azarah we have two rooms to our right and two rooms to our left. Nearest us on our right is a room in which they would prepare the Shewbread; further in on that same side was the Seal Room. On our left and nearest to us is the room we are looking for, the Lamb Room, and further in is the Hearth Room.

The Bet Mikdash was run in many respects like a business venture. In theory, people bringing private sacrifices would provide their own additional items - libations, cereal offerings etc. However, since these items had to be prepared and maintained in a state of ritual purity, right up until the moment they were used, it was much more convenient for all concerned to purchase these items at the last minute 'on the spot'. For example, the Mishnah [Shekalim 5:4] describes how someone who wished to purchase wine for a libation (an offering of wine or oil or cereal) to accompany a private sacrifice would first have to run the gauntlet of the Temple bureaucracy. First he would visit the Seal Room. There he would hand over the sum of money required and would receive from the priest in charge a chit ('seal'). According to the Mishnah [Shekalim 5:3] there were several kinds of chit: 'Calf', 'Ram', 'Kid', 'Indigent Leper', 'Well-to-do Leper'. 'Calf' meant that the bearer had paid for a libation to accompany the sacrifice of a herd animal; 'Ram' actually referred to rams; 'Kid' indicated that the bearer had paid for a libation to accompany the sacrifice of an flock animal. Someone recovering from a skin disease was required to bring an offering (a total of three flock animals) which was accompanied by a libation of cereal mixed with oil [Leviticus 14:10]. However, the Torah [Leviticus 14:21] recognizes that such an outlay might be problematic for someone 'financially challenged', so it provides for an alternative (one animal and smaller libations). Armed with the appropriate chit the worshipper would now go to the priest in charge of libations, hand over the chit and receive his libation. (The products were purchased by this priest from outside contractors.) At the end of each day these two arms of Temple bureaucracy would meet together in order to 'make the books add up'.

The other room of which we must speak is the room in which they prepared the Shewbread. Since this item, while of considerable interest, does not have a direct connection with our main topic, I shall make do with an edited quotation from the Encyclopedia Judaica:

The manner in which the Shewbread was prepared is described in Leviticus 24:59. Like most cereal- offerings, it also was made of semolina. Consisting of 12 loaves, apparently corresponding in number to the tribes of Israel, the Shewbread was arranged on the [golden] table [in the main sanctuary] in two rows of six loaves. Each loaf was made of two-tenths of an ephah, twice the quantity of the usual meal-offering. Frankincense was placed on the shewbread, but unlike the prescriptions for other cereal-offerings it is here explicitly stated that the frankincense had to be pure, and furthermore that the token portion (Azkarah) contained only the frankincense (in contrast to the token portion of a usual cereal-offering, which contained some oil and fine flour in addition to the frankincense). Thus no part of this bread was put on the altar, since only the token portion was burned. The Talmudic halakhah prescribes that these loaves were to be of unleavened bread. The loaves were changed every Sabbath. On the basis of the relevant passages it may be presumed that the priest did not have to go into the sanctuary especially for this purpose, but would change the loaves when he came there on the Sabbath at the appointed times, that is, either in the morning or at dusk, to attend to the lamps or the incense altar. As in the case of most cereal-offerings, the shewbread was eaten by males among the priests in a sacred place.


Juan Carlos Kiel writes:

Many of us are concerned with the apparent secrecy of the rituals in the Temple. As standard, only 52 weeks x 24 men/week = 1248 men per year would be allowed to be witnesses to the rituals in the Azarah, and when we relate this to a Jewish population of a few million at that time, it is almost a secret. Not to mention the prohibition to non-Jews to witness those rituals. There is an interesting quote in this respect, from Josephus Flavius, relating to the reign of Herod Agrippa: in Antiquities, Book XX, Chapter 8.11 he writes:

About the same time king Agrippa built himself a very large dining-room in the royal palace at Jerusalem, near to the portico. Now this palace had been erected of old by the children of Asamoneus. and was situate upon an elevation, and afforded a most delightful prospect to those that had a mind to take a view of the city, which prospect was desired by the king; and there he could lie down, and eat, and thence observe what was done in the temple; which thing, when the chief men of Jerusalem saw they were very much displeased at it; for it was not agreeable to the institutions of our country or law that what was done in the temple should be viewed by others, especially what belonged to the sacrifices. They therefore erected a wall upon the uppermost building which belonged to the inner court of the temple towards the west, which wall when it was built, did not only intercept the prospect of the dining-room in the palace, but also of the western cloisters that belonged to the outer court of the temple also, where it was that the Romans kept guards for the temple at the festivals. At these doings both king Agrippa, and principally Festus the procurator, were much displeased; and Festus ordered them to pull the wall down again: but the Jews petitioned him to give them leave to send an embassage about this matter to Nero; for they said they could not endure to live if any part of the temple should be demolished; and when Festus had given them leave so to do, they sent ten of their principal men to Nero, as also Ismael the high priest, and Helcias, the keeper of the sacred treasure. And when Nero had heard what they had to say, he not only forgave them what they had already done, but also gave them leave to let the wall they had built stand. This was granted them in order to gratify Poppea, Nero's wife, who was a religious woman, and had requested these favors of Nero, and who gave order to the ten ambassadors to go their way home; but retained Helcias and Ismael as hostages with herself. As soon as the king heard this news, he gave the high priesthood to Joseph, who was called Cabi, the son of Simon, formerly high priest.

I respond:

I don't buy any of this. Nowhere in all our vast literature on the subject of the rituals of the Bet Mikdash do we find even a hint that the rituals were secret. They are stated in the Torah, amplified in the Mishnah and Talmuds, in the Midrashim and the Baraitot - all of which are documents open to the perusal of all people, Jew and non-Jew alike. Permitting anyone who wished to be in attendance in the Priestly Courtyard was a logistic impossibility: it just could not hold all the masses that thronged the Temple area at all times. That is why it was required that at least representatives of the people be present at the public rituals. (For private rituals the person bringing the offering was required to be present in the priestly courtyard throughout the offering, so the 'goings on' in the Bet Mikdash were not witnessed by the members of the Ma'amad alone.)

As for Josephus, it is well-known that he is a most unreliable source when it comes to gossip and 'local colour'. The very king, Herod Agrippa [40-44 CE], that he refers to was the darling of the sages and they didn't have a bad word to say about him. Factually, the royal palace was on the western side of the city (not far from what is now the Jaffa Gate). It would have been impossible for anyone sitting inside the palace to see what was going on in the Temple Courtyard many hundreds of metres to the east and high up on the Temple Mount. Juan-Carlos, would you buy a second-hand car from Josephus?

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They would go into the Utensils Room and remove from there ninety-three articles of silver and gold. They would give the Tamid a drink from a golden cup. Even though it had already been examined the previous evening they would examine it again in the light of the torches.


I cannot even begin to imagine how ninety-three objects could be used in the ritual about to take place. The amplification given in the Talmud of Eretz-lsrael [Ĥagigah 22a] is even less assuring:

Rabbi Shemu'el bar-Naĥman quotes Rabbi Yonatan: these parallel the ninety-three instances of the Divine Name in the prophecies of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Rabbi Ĥuna says, 'I checked up and there are only eighty-three...'

Let us remember that in connection with the fact that a golden cup was used to give a last drink to the sacrificial lamb we have already learned the Gemara has already opined that this is a crass exaggeration. Maybe the whole of our present mishnah is a pious exaggeration.

The animal was given a drink of water just before it was to be slaughtered because, apparently, this would make it easier to skin it after it was killed.

When the Torah institutes the daily sacrifice, the Tamid [Numbers 28:3] it specifically states that the animal must be a perfect yearling - that is to say that it must be one year old and have no physical blemishes. These animals were housed in a special room where they were constantly checked for blemishes in the days leading up to their brief moment of glory. However, as our mishnah says, one last check was now made to make certain that the selected animal had not become accidentally blemished overn night. The priesthood was not always so meticulous in this regard. The prophet Malachi [1:6-8] at the very beginning of the period of the Second Temple castigates the priests for using second-and third-rate animals for sacrifice.

... : : ...

...You offer on My altar disgusting food. You ask, 'How have we disgusted You?' - When you say that God's Table is despicable! When you offer a blind animal for sacrifice is that not bad? When you offer a lame or unhealthy animal is that not bad? Try offering such an animal to your Governor: would he be pleased?


I wrote: The Gazit Room was the chamber where the Great Sanhedrin held its meetings ... Rambam ... mentions incidentally that this chamber straddled the edge of the Azarah; thus half of it was within the precincts of the Azarah and half of it was outside, projecting into the terrace that surrounded the whole complex of courts and buildings..

Juan-Carlos Kiel writes:

I always thought that the Basilica built on the south side of the Temple, over the Ĥulda gates and passges, where today is the Al-Aqsa mosque, was were the Lishkat ha-Gazit stood. A really magestic building, that could house the 'Supreme Court', i.e.: the Great Sanhedrin, the lesser courts and even be a center of learning, The size of the Lishkat ha-Gazit 'riding' atop the wall that encircles the Azarah would make it a much smaller room, unfit for public sessions, involving 71 members and all the witnesses, minor scholars, etc. On the other side, this would enable perhaps to non ma'amad members to witness the rituals in the Azarah...

I respond:

There are very cogent reasons for assuming that the 'really majestic building' to which Juan-Carlos draws our attention was not the Gazit Room. When we studied tractate Sanhedrin [10:2] we learned that attached to the Bet Mikdash were three courts:

One met at the entrance to the Temple Mount, one met at the entrance to the Courtyard, and one met in the Gazit Hall.

Secondly, in the tractate we are studying at the moment we have already seen that the lottery to allocate the various tasks among the priests on duty was held in the Gazit Room. The mishnah [2:5] reads

They then ignited both fire stacks, descended [the ramp] and went into the Gazit Room.

This suggests that the Gazit Room was in fairly close proximity to the altar: does it seem probable that the priests, already engaged in the performance of the ritual, would leave the Azarah, make their way outside the actual complex of the Bet Mikdash all the way across to the southern exit from the Temple Mount in order to hold a lottery? And then to make their way back (pausing to bathe in the Mikveh again - not mentioned by our sources) to resume the ritual? Furthermore, we shall see in the next chapter that the liturgical part of the ritual was held in the Gazit Room: would they really make this trek twice? It just doesn't seem likely. If our classic sources place the Gazit Room on the edge of the Azarah it doesn't seem to me that there is any cogent reason for doubting this testimony.

Also in connection with the Gazit Room: Monique Susskind Goldberg writes:

You are placing the Lishkat Hagazit on the southern side of the Azarah. In the map of the Bet ha-Mikdash included in the Kahati Mishnah, it is placed on the northern side, the same side as the Hearth Room. Do you have any comment?

I respond:

The last mishnah of tractate Middot clearly places the Gazit Room on the southern wall of the Azarah. Kahati is basing himself on a variant reading of this text quoted in the Gemara [Yoma 19a], which reverses the sides. This variant reading was quoted by Rambam in Mishneh Torah [Bet ha-Beĥirah 5:16]. However, in his commentary on that mishnah he makes no comment; but, significantly (and perhaps wisely?), in the diagram of the layout of the Bet Mikdash (found in Rambam's own handwriting in the second version of his Mishnah Commentary, deposited with many of his personal artifacts in the Cairo Genizah) he omits placing the Gazit Room anywhere!

I described the making of the Shewbread. Liliana Trodler-Laine writes:

I always understood or perhaps misunderstood that there was a relationship between the shewbread, the offering of fine wheat and today's ĥalot. If this is so shouldn't we incorporate semolina in the making of the ĥalot?

I respond:

I am unaware of any direct connection between the Shewbread and the ĥallot that we use at our dining tables on Shabbat and Yom-Tov. The term ĥallah in this context simply refers to a loaf of bread. On the other hand, if someone wants to use semolina to bake their ĥallot I cannot think of a reason why they should not do so. It might be fun - but I cannot guarantee gastronomic pleasure. My dictionary defines semolina as 'hard grains left after the bolting of of flour, used in puddings etc.' The term derives from the diminutive of the Italian 'semola', bran. A cookbook which we have says that semolina is much used in Indian baking and the results are 'interesting'.

The one who had won the privilege of [slaughtering] the Tamid would now lead it to the slaughterhouse, while the others who had won the privilege of [carrying] the limbs would follow him. The slaughterhouse was to the north of the altar. After it were eight miniature posts. These had slabs of cedarwood and had iron hooks fixed into them. Each of them had three sets and they would suspend it on them and skin it onto marble tables that were between the posts.

The time had now come for the actual sacrifice. However, if it were not so unlikely that a work such as the Mishnah would try to create dramatic tension I would be sorely tempted to think so. For after bringing us to the point where the animal is brought to the place of its slaughter our tractate will hold over the details of the actual sacrifice until the next chapter and will interpolate four fairly long mishnayot whose subject is a different part of the ritual.

The first mishnah of our present chapter described how the priests on duty that morning would be allocated their tasks. The priest who had won the privilege of actually slaughtering the sacrifice would now take charge of the animal that had been retrieved from the Lambs' Room. Our mishnah says that the priest in question would to lead it to the place of slaughtering; however, the same Hebrew verb could also be given other meanings: that he would drag it or that he would take charge of it, receive it into his custody. While there is no practical difference to these possible understanding of the verbs, they certainly have emotional consequences. Are we to picture in our mind's eye a one-year-old lamb being led docile to its slaughter? Such a picture could have influenced the prophet when he describes the fate of the suffering servant of God [Isaiah 53:7] as one 'who did not protest, like a sheep being led to the slaughter'. A completely different picture would be created in our minds if we are to imagine that lamb being dragged to the place of sacrifice, unwilling, fearful. Of course, neither picture need be correct. It could be that all that our mishnah wishes to say is that the priest now took charge of the animal. One of the halakhic means of obtaining legal possession of something is to 'lead it'. We discussed this fully when we studied Kiddushin 1:4. The structure of the sentence of our mishnah leads me to believe that the most appropriate construction would be: 'The priest who had won the privilege of slaughtering the Tamid would take charge of it and proceed to the slaughterhouse', with twelve of his colleagues following in his wake.

The description of the slaughterhouse in our mishnah is precise but ambivalent. It is almost as if the author were assuming that the reader knew what his description meant because he could see it with his own eyes. First of all we must clarify that there was no slaughterhouse as such in the Bet Mikdash. Inside the Priests' Court was an unroofed open area, situated between the altar and the Hearth Room where the appurtenances of the sacrificial slaughter were assembled. It is this area that our mishnah describes.

It would perhaps be helpful here to quote from Tractate Middot 5:2, a mishnah which describes the placement of the various facilities in the Priests' Court, in a line from South to North. (The total distance from wall to wall was 135 cubits - about 67.5 metres.)

The ramp and the altar took up 31 metres; from the altar to the 'rings' was four metres; the rings occupied twelve metres; from the rings to the tables two metres; from the tables to the slabs two metres; and from the slabs to the [northern] wall of the Court four metres. The rest [12.5 metres] was the space between the ramp and the [southern] wall and the place occupied by the slabs themselves.

The rings referred to in this mishnah are twenty-four rings, arranged in six rows of four (or four rows of six). It seems that each of the twenty-four priestly contingents had its own ring, which was used to secure the animal before slaughter. It now becomes clear that the slabs which are referred to in our mishnah are not the place of slaughter but the place where the animal was skinned and rinsed after it had been slaughtered.

Eight small posts were fixed into the floor of the Court, between the rings and the far wall. Rambam, in his commentary on our present mishnah, writes: ...short posts with cedarwood bases - i.e. wide, thick slabs. Each post was fitted with three hooks. These were used to suspend the carcasses while they were skinned and dismembered. These iron hooks were either one on top of the other so as to accommodate animals of various sizes, or they were placed on three sides of the post so that more than one person could be at work.

Lastly our mishnah refers to marble tables. After slaughter and dismemberment the animals internal organs were washed on these tables together with all the external organs, so as to removed from them as much blood as possible.

, , . , , . , , :

Those who had won the privilege of clearing the ashes from the inner altar would already have proceeded there, carrying four articles: the basket, the pitcher and two keys. The basket was like a golden three- kav one but holding two and one half; the pitcher was like a large golden jug; of the two keys, one went down to the armpit and the other opened normally.


You will recall that at the very beginning of our present chapterwe learned that among the priests fortunate enough to gain a privilege in the lottery were two whose task was not directly connected with the slaughtering of the sacrificial animal: who will remove the ash from the inner altar [and] who will tend to the candelabrum. Our mishnah now concentrates of the activities of these two priests. While the others were moving off in the direction of the slaughterhouse these two priests were making their way towards the building of the main sanctuary.

Since the sanctuary will play a part in the discussions of the tractate it would perhaps be useful if we describe its general layout now - at least those details that are important to our understanding of the tractate. The large building - according to Middot 4:7 it was fifty metres wide - consisted of three parts. The main entrance was approached by a flight of twelve steps that gave access to the vestibule. This was a very large and very high entrance hall, but only 5.5 metres deep. The vestibule [Ulam] gave access to the Sanctuary [Heikhal], which was twenty metres long and ten metres wide. It contained three articles of furniture: the golden altar, the golden candelabrum and the golden table for the Shewbread. The Sanctuary gave access to the Holy of Holies, a cube measuring ten metres on all sides. It is assumed that the rock that now projects up into the mosque of Omar on the Temple Mount was the 'Foundation Stone' which projected into the heart of the Holy of Holies. This assumption is not uncontested and some modern scholars think that the centre of the Holy of Holies was actually a few metres distant. (One solitary scholar thinks that the rock in the mosque is the remains of the foundation of the main altar in the Azarah, which would be a much more consequential displacement of the layout.)

We must imagine our two priests crossing the Azarah and, in the first light of dawn, mounting the twelve steps that led up to the Vestibule. They are carrying utensils that will serve them when they carry out their task. The golden basket is described as being a three-'kav'-er. This is an awkward translation of the Hebrew Tarkav which was a term used to describe a utensil that could contain three kavs. The Kav was a unit of capacity. We have already noted that each Kav was the equivalent of about 1.92 litres, so a 'Three-Kav' basket would hold about 5.75 litres. However, as our mishnah takes pains to point out, the golden basket that one of our priests is carrying was only similar in shape to the well-known 'Three-Kav' basket, since this one could only contain the approximate equivalent of 4.8 litres. The golden basket was the trash can into which the priest would remove the ashes from the golden altar. Rambam, in his commentary on the first mishnah of Chapter 6, says that the golden pitcher that the other priest was carrying was the trash can into which he would empty the residue from the Candelabrum.

The priests were also carrying two keys, that they would use to open the doors of the Heikhal. Our mishnah, using what is for us a rather enigmatic description, says that one of the keys 'went down to the armpit'. It is clear that this phrase was from popular language, but its precise meaning is no longer clear to us. On the right hand side of the main entrance to the Heikhal was a wicket entrance. The priests would enter the Heikhal from the Vestibule through this wicket, which was secured by two locks. Rambam, in his commentary on our present mishnah, writes:

One of these two locks was at the bottom of the wicket, so that it would not be easy for someone to open in and he would have to stretch out his arm from his wrist to the armpit in order to reach it.

This explanation does not sound all that convincing (though he may be basing himself on a remark in the Talmud of Eretz-Israel [Mo'ed Katan 17b]). The explanation of Rabbi Ovadya of Bertinoro seems to make better sense: this wicket had two locks, one on the outside and the other on the inside. In order to open the lock that was on the inside the priest would have to open a small access cover in the wicket, push his arm through right down to his armpit until his hand reached the lock that was at the bottom of the wicket on the inside.

The other lock was presumably straight in front of the opener, on the outside, so it 'opened normally'.


We have recently mentioned the Shewbread, and one of the items in our discussion was concerning any possible connection between the semolina used in baking the Shewbread and the ĥallot that we use today on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Bob Rottenberg writes:

Many years ago, when I was first baking my own bread and also re-discovering my connection with Judaism, I interpreted 'fine wheat' [semolina - SR] as 'the wheat that was the finest for a person to eat.' Hence, I used whole wheat flour in making my ĥallah. One Friday, as I was kneading the ĥallah dough, my hands spoke to me, saying, 'We are also involved in this process, and kneading whole wheat flour is a very rough process. Try using white flour, and we'll be much more able to appreciate Shabbos!' Ever since then, I've used (unbleached) white flour, and add some wheat germ for nutrition purposes. My hands thank me every time I do it.

I respond:

We too bake our own ĥallot and we use whole-wheat flour because of its nutritional value. Our hands have no need to converse with us on this matter since the kneading is done for us by a wonderful breadmaking machine, which does all the work except the braiding.

Now he would arrive at the northern wicket. The great door had two wickets, one to the north and one to the south. No one ever entered through the one to the south. This was mentioned explicitly by Ezekiel: And God told me that this door must be closed and never opened; no one shall ever enter through it. The God of Israel enters through it, it shall remain closed. He would open the wicket with the key and enter the passage and from the passage he would enter the Heikhal until he reached the great door. When he reached the great door he would remove the bar and the openers and open it. The priest performing the slaughter would not start until he heard the sound of the great door being opened.


This door was of very large proportions: ten metres high and five metres wide. At this stage, with the first light of morning now just beginning to grow, it was barred from the inside. On either side of this massive door were two wickets that gave access into the area surrounding the Heikhal. The wall of the Heikhal was not an outer wall, but it was surrounded on three sides by cells and passages. (The fourth side was, of course, the Vestibule.) Our mishnah gives us the topography in terms of the compass, but it is easier for us to imagine ourselves standing in front of the massive door, with two wickets on either side. The one to our left is never used and is always closed and locked. This curiosity is explained in our mishnah as being required by a verse in Ezekiel [44:2] which is quoted as part of our mishnah. As Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi, Provence, 1160-1235) writes in his commentary to that verse, its plain meaning is obviously referring to the entrance to the Mikdash itself: the Hebrew Sha'ar [door, gate, entrance] is too grandiose a term for a wicket. In his commentary on that verse Rashi merely notes that 'our sages applied this verse to the southern wicket of the entrance to the Heikhal'. Since the verse is really not appropriate to the wicket we must assume that it was permanently closed because it was not used and later this fact was sanctified into custom by applying the verse from Ezekiel. In his commentary on our mishnah Rambam ignores this verse altogether.

So, after entering the Vestibule, our priest crosses it diagonally until he reaches the right hand wicket. It is this wicket which he opens with the two keys, as described in the previous mishnah. The wicket gave entrance into a narrow passageway that occupied the space between the Heikhal itself and the complex of cells that surrounded it. Our mishnah has a parallel in tractate Middot; however in Middot there is a maĥloket [difference of opinion] between Tanna Kamma and Rabbi Yehudah bar-Ilai.

Rabbi Yehudah says: He would walk through the wall itself until he reached the space between the two doors; thus he would open the outside doors from within and the inside doors from without.

This statement of Rabbi Yehudah is incomprehensible without reference to the previous mishnah [Middot 4:1], where the doors to the Heikhal are described as being double doors. The two leaves of the door that were in the side next to the Vestibule opened inwards and rested against the thick wall of the entrance-way. (Each door was about 1.25 metres wide!) On the other side of the entrance-way another matching set of doors folded back onto the walls of the Heikhal. It now becomes easier to understand the situation: the priest passes through the wicket into a passage that is set into the space between the wall of the Vestibule and the wall of the Heikhal - a space that could have been less than a metre wide. If, after passing through the wicket, our priest would turn left into the passage-way he would eventually reach the wall onto which the door would be folded. Presumably there was an entrance here of some kind. He now found himself between the two sets of doors.

He would fold the inner doors back against the wall of the Heikhal. (Apart from the space occupied by these doors when folded back all the walls of the Heikhal were plated with gold.) Now he could open the doors that gave access to the Vestibule. These doors were obviously bolted from within by a huge bar which rested into sockets which could be slid open to release the bar. It is these sockets that our mishnah calls 'openers'. He could now remove the bar and push open the massive doors. Our mishnah states that the sound of these doors opening was also the signal for the slaughter of the lamb.

. . . . . . . . , . . , , :

From Jericho they could hear the sound of the great door being opened. From Jericho they could hear the sound of the Magrefah. From Jericho they could hear the sound of the wooden [contraption] that ben-Katin made for the laver. From Jericho they could hear the voice of Gabini the Herald. From Jericho they could hear the sound of the flute. From Jericho they could hear the sound of the cymbal. From Jericho they could hear the sound of the singing. From Jericho they could hear the sound of the Shofar. There are those who say that [they could even hear] the voice of the High Priest when he uttered the Divine Name on Yom Kippur. From Jericho they could smell the incense. Rabbi Eli'ezer ben-Diglai says: my father's family had goats on Mount Machaeros and they would sneeze from the smell of the incense.


Jericho is about 23 kilometres from the Temple Mount as the crow flies. (According to the Talmud [Yoma 20b] this distance was ten Parsah, which would yield approximately 2.5 kilometres per Parsah.) This whole mishnah seems to me to be one pious exaggeration. It could well be that the exaggerations are not from the time of the editing of the mishnah, but derive from popular embellishments of the facts in Temple times; but that, in my view, will not make them any the less exaggerations. We have already noted on two occasions that there were sages who freely admitted that teachings received were obvious exaggerations. Surely, the contents of our present mishnah should just be added to those examples. It only remains, therefore, to explain the details of each of these exaggerations.

The fact that in the previous mishnah the opening of the great doors of the Heikhal (Sanctuary) was mentioned - in great detail - is the connecting link with our present mishnah: when the priest opened the great doors that were described in our previous mishnah the sound could be heard 25 kilometres away! When we were studying tractate Rosh ha-Shanah we had occasion to question the ability of observers to see the light of beacons over great distances, even though there were participants who claimed that with almost no other light to block their view it may have been possible for observers to see a beacon that was being waved up and down even at great distances. However, would the relative quiet of the early morning have made it possible for the creaking of an admittedly massive set of doors to be heard at a site some 25 kilometres distant?

What was the Magrefah, a designation that I left untranslated in the translation above. One thing is clear: it emitted musical sounds of some kind. Weird and wonderful claims are made about this musical contraption in the Gemara [Arachin 10b at the very bottom of the page]:

Rava bar-Shela quotes Rav Mattanah who quotes Shemu'el: There were ten holes in it [the Magrefah] and each one of them could emit ten musical sounds; it follows that the whole instrument could emit one hundred sounds. A Tannaitic source teaches that it was one cubit high and a bit stuck out from it which had ten holes and each one of them could emit one hundred sounds; it follows that it could emit a total of one thousand sounds. Rav Naĥman bar-Yitzĥak says that the source is an exaggeration.

The description in the Gemara is ultimately attributed to Shemu'el, a first generation Amora in Babylon (mid third century CE). This means that his sources of information were second-hand at the very least and he lived more than 200 years after the destruction of the Bet Mikdash. Therefore I see no reason to add anything to the opinion of Rav Naĥman bar-Yitzĥak. The word Magrefah in Hebrew means 'rake' - the gardening implement, not the human kind - and Rambam, in his commentary on our mishnah suggests that maybe this musical instrument was called Magrefah because in its shape it was reminiscent of a rake. To my unauthoritive mind the instrument sounds like something belonging to the same family as the bagpipes or the organ.

The wooden contraption invented by ben-Katin - probably a High Priest who officiated some time during the last decades of the Bet Mikdash - has been mentioned by us already and described as much as possible. The likelihood of the creaking of this wooden wheel (which would haul up the laver from its cistern) being heard 25 kilometres away is surely negligible.

Gabini was the Herald of the Bet Mikdash, presumably in the last days of its existence. According to Rambam, in his commentary on our mishnah, it was his task to alert 'all men to their stations' just before dawn, when he would announce 'Priests to their ritual post, Levites to their station and Israelites to their Ma'amad!'. I wonder whether the muezzin of the Aqsa mosque today, with all his electronic amplification, could be heard in Jericho...

The flute was sounded at the main altar on twelve festive days of the year: on 14th Nisan, when the Paschal lamb was slaughtered in its thousands; on 15th Nisan, the first day of Pesach; on 14th Iyyar, which was a second Passover opportunity for those who legitimately missed the original celebration; on Shavu'ot; and on all eight days of Sukkot. The mishnah [Arachin 2:3] tells us that the flute used was not a metal flute, but a solo reed flute, because it sounded nicer. Could a solo reed flute played in Jerusalem be heard in Jericho?


Barak Rosenshine writes:

How far into the 330 year history of Judah did this order of sacrifices continue? Were there breaks in the continuity?

I respond:

It is difficult for me to understand Barak's question, since I do not know to which historical entity the 330 years refer. The Kingdom of Judah in biblical times was created with the death of Solomon (let's say around 957 BCE) and was discontinued by the Babylonians in the year 587 BCE - that is a total of 370 years. The state of Judah was recreated after the return from the Babylonian exile and the Second Bet Mikdash was reconsecrated in the year 515 BCE (although sacrifices had been offered on the site since 538 BCE). The Bet Mikdash was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 CE which yields a total of 585 years.

We have no indications that the sacrificial cult in Jerusalem during biblical times was not continuous. During the period of the Second Temple possibly there was the well-known hiatus associated with the clash between the Hasmoneans and their supporters and the Hellenists, commemorated in the festival of Chanukah. Apart from that we have no certain knowledge of any interruption of the sacrificial cult during this period until about three weeks before the Bet Mikdash was destroyed.

David Sieradzki writes:

I am having a very difficult time understanding what you mean. Specifically, what do you mean by a 'wicket'? (as distinguished from a door, gate, or entrance), the Vestibule? (as distinguished from the Heikhal). Also, with all respect, can you comment on or remind us of what greater principles or lessons for life we can learn from the material in this massekhet of Mishnah (beyond curiosities in historical archeology of the Temple Mount and the general merit of learning Torah lishma)? I'm afraid I'm having difficulties motivating myself to focus on some of this material.

I respond:

In explanation #2 on 1:3 I wrote:

The door [giving entrance from the Hearth Room into the Priests' Court] was a massive door which was certainly not used daily - if ever. Within this massive door was set a much smaller door: this is the wicket that the superintendent opens with the keys.

Thus a wicket is a small door or entranceway set into a much larger door, so that the larger door need not be opened all the time.

On 1:1 (explanation #3) I wrote:

Twelve steps led up to the main entrance to the building of the Bet Mikdash itself. This building was about fifty metres in both height and width. Just inside is a huge vestibule... The vestibule gives entrance to the Mikdash, the main hall, or Heikhal.

The main value of the study of tractate Tamid today for Conservative Jews is historical. The tractate describes in minute detail - detail born of love and yearning - the ceremonial functioning of the Bet Mikdash in the matter of the slaughter and offering of the sacrificial lamb every morning of the year. Until recent times all Jews, at least officially, yearned for the restoration of this ceremonial cult. Among Conservative Jews there are varying opinions. A very small minority still hope for the restoration of the sacrificial cult in the Messianic Age. Others choose to retain the references to the sacrificial cult that appear in our present-day liturgy for their historical worth: they represent a stage in the religious development of the Jewish people. Yet others choose to make substitutions for the references to the sacrificial cult since they would see the restoration of the sacrificial system as a retrograde step which has no religious meaning for them.

Perhaps some of you would like to comment on the basis of what we have learned so far.

EXPLANATIONS (continued):

The offering of the Tamid was accompanied by the singing of the Levitical choir, which stood on the platform which was at the Nicanor Gate in the Womens' Court. This singing of the 'Psalm of the Day' (to which we shall return at the end of our tractate) was sung when the libation of wine was offered by the officiating priest. The pouring out of the wine for the libation was announced by the sounding on two silver trumpets Teki'ah, Teru'ah, Teki'ah. Immediately another priest would make a clash of cymbals which was the signal for the Levitical choir, on the other side of the Nicanor Gate, to begin singing. The singing was accompanied by the playing of an orchestra. According to the mishnah [Arachin 2:3] this orchestra had a variable number of players:

... no less than two harps and no more than six; no less than two flutes and no more than twelve.

Apart from the trumpets, cymbals, harps and flutes already mentioned the Shofar was sounded daily in the Bet Mikdash. The main function of the Shofar was to signal. According to the mishnah [Sukkah 5:5] the Shofar was sounded three times to announce the opening of gates, nine times during the offering of the Tamid, and a further nine times when the sacrifice was repeated in the afternoon. On special occasions there were even more Teki'ot. (A stone has been discovered with the words 'To the Shofar Sounding Room' cut into it.)

Our mishnah suggests that the clash of cymbals, the singing of the choir and the sounding of the Shofar could be heard in Jericho. I find this, too, hard to accept, except as a pious exaggeration. I am certain that even the raucous roar of thousands of soccer fans in Teddy Stadium when Beitar scores a goal against ha-Po'el could not be heard in Jericho.

At the height of the most impressive solemnities of the Yom Kippur ritual in the Bet Mikdash the High Priest would invoke the name of God using the original pronunciation of the word, a pronunciation which has now been irrecoverably lost. In my explanation (#6) of Sanhedrin 7:6 I wrote:

I would like here to point out an egregious error. The original pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton has been irretrievably lost for nearly two millennia. Whenever the term is used in the Bible or Prayer-Book we substitute for it the surrogate term 'Adonai' [Lord]. The Massoretes, who were responsible for transmitting the Biblical text to us in its present format, added the vocalization of the word 'Adonai' to the letters of the Tetragrammaton in order to remind the reader to read the term 'Adonai'. When non-Jews read the Hebrew text they misunderstood, and started construing this term as if it were a real word, thus creating the nonsensical proper noun 'Jehovah'. This word has no basis whatsoever in Jewish tradition.

Our present mishnah teaches that there were sages - and Tanna Kamma was not one of them - who taught in addition that when the High Priest uttered this most holy name three times on Yom Kippur his voice could be heard in Jericho. Not only does this view strain the imagination, but it also raises a distinct halakhic quandary. While the High Priest was uttering the Divine Name all the people shouted out as loudly as they could 'Blessed be His Majesty's glorious Name for ever' (in Hebrew: Barukh shem kevod malkhuto le'olam va'ed). They did this in order to drown out the voice of the High Priest so that they would not here the most holy Name. (It is in commemoration of this shout in the Bet Mikdash that, to this day, on Yom Kippur when we recite the Shema we shout out this doxology instead of adding it quietly as we do on all other occasions of the year.) If such steps were taken in the Bet Mikdash itself in order to drown out the voice of the High Priest how are we to explain the idea that his voice could be heard in Jericho?

Mount Machaeros is in Transjordan, which makes it even further distant from Jerusalem than Jericho. While I am extremely skeptical about the probability of the incense offered in the Bet Mikdash being strong enough in its perfume to cause sheep to sneeze all those kilometres away, I prefer to leave the question open for greater experts in animal husbandry than I am to answer.


The comment made by David Sieradzki has prompted replies. You will recall that David had written:

Also, with all respect, can you comment on or remind us of what greater principles or lessons for life we can learn from the material in this massekhet of Mishnah ... I'm afraid I'm having difficulties motivating myself to focus on some of this material.

Bayla Singer offers her response:

Coincidentally, in my local Bible Class, we're studying a section of Exodus which focuses minutely on the details of the tabernacle, altar etc (Chapter 25 et seq), and the parallel question has come up: what moral or ethical principles can we learn from this? With respect to the altar and its fittings, our Rabbi has commented that the details give us a vivid picture of exactly what was involved in the sacrifice: that it wasn't the neat, almost antiseptic, activity that we moderns are likely to visualize. (Modern scholars have noted that as far as the Bible is concerned, in the narrative portions we are not given much detail;
the spare, compact language is in sharp contrast to such ancient Mediterranean epics as the Gilgamesh, the Iliad and the Odyssey.) With respect to Talmud, Jacob Neusner, in his 'Invitation to the Talmud' - a teaching book - has suggested two underlying reasons for the elaboration of detail in Talmud. One is superficial: in surrounding cultures (and indeed in Europe until very recently) 'court etiquette' was extremely detailed and compliance was seen as a matter of respect to the office; could one then offer less respect to the Almighty? Another is perhaps less obvious: arrangements were spelled out in order to embody principles, some of which may have been lost to us. As pious 'archaeologists' we can try to reconstruct these principles. Neusner offers as example the inquiry into the order in which activities such as the ushering-in of Shabbat occur. My memory supplies 'wine first, or candles first?' (I don't have the book at hand). Another example which might be offered is the question of the Ĥanukah candles: from eight the first night to one on the last, or vice versa? For these, we have the underlying principles discussed; for others, it is as the math texts say 'an exercise for the reader.'

Perhaps some would like to take up Bayla's challenge.

Zackary Berger writes on the same topic:

No matter how hard I try I cannot conjure up a true yearning for the restoration of the sacrificial system. This is true of most Conservative Jews. So why not remove the out-of-date references? After all, the liturgy has been changed many times over the years. Why not? Because the Temple and its sacrifices are the primary (sole?) organizing principle of our prayers, a metaphor which we pray in reference to. In fact, our notion of galut has become inextricably linked up with the destruction of Jerusalem and our Temple, even though the first is rebuilt and the second is something I yearn for only metaphysically. And maybe that is how we should revive the meaning of the sacrifices today: with the notion that there is nothing in our prayers, no formula that can grant us the atonement that was so powerfully felt by our ancestors on Yom Kippur after the Cohen Gadol emerged from the Holy of Holies. We can use a different metaphor: in fact, maybe we should start developing an alternative. But it will take a few hundred years before any alternative, more modern metaphor approaches the historical resonance and beauty of the traditional yearning for the Temple.

I comment:

See what I wrote in the Masorti Siddur, Va'ani Tefillati, page 382-383.

Avraham Jacobs offers a different tack:

I would like to comment on the value of remembering the ceremonies held in the Temple. First of all these ceremonies and offerings are explicitly mentioned as Mitzvot in the Torah. Was the Temple not destroyed, we would still bring twice daily the Tamid. However, already with the destruction of the first Temple, Prophets differ in their visions about the functioning of the last and final Temple, e.g. Ezekiel starting chapter 40, Isaiah 66. Also prophets active during the second temple, notably Malachi were very critical. Malachi has been said to hint that in the last Temple only the mincha offering will remain. Secondly, after the destruction of the second Temple, and even before, prayers were substituted for the services and offerings in the temple. Our prayers perform the same function as the offerings in the Temple, namely to bring us in closer contact with God. The mentioning of these offerings in our prayers, and even the expression of yearning for revival of these services is a token of our feeling of unity with our ancestors. Personally I don't like the phrase in some prayer books as 'There our ancestors sacrificed to You with their daily offerings...'. Our ancestors brought our offerings also. Had they not had the offerings in the Temple, we probably would not be here. We and our ancestors and our progeny are one. That is my understanding of 'Kol Israel arevim ze laze'. The question remains how do we depict the Temple for which we daily pray. I think that is exactly what each and every individual prays for. One person sees himself as the priest Ezekiel, another as Malachi, and still others pray for the Shul of All Nations. I have very much respect for the orthodoxy, not wanting to go again through the frustrations of the second Temple, so for the time this question remains purely hypothetical. But, when finally, That Day arrives, with the sounding of Shofar Hagadol, and the Bet Hamikdash will descend from Heaven, and all that remains for us is fixing the doors, I am quite sure, that from that same Source will descend a spirit of unity among us, and there will be no differences of opinion of what will burn on the altar. Then we will be 'goy eĥad ba'aretz'.

, , , . , , . , , , . , , :

The one who gained the privilege of removing the ashes from the inner altar would now go inside. Taking up the basket he would place it in front of himself: he would scoop up handfuls [of ash] and put them into it; in the end he would sweep the remainder into it. Then he would leave it there and leave. The one who had gained the privilege of trimming the candelabrum would now go in: if he found the two easternmost lights still burning he would remove the ash from the rest and leave these [two] still burning; if he found them burned out he would remove their ash and relight them from those still burning and then he would remove the ash from the others. In front of the candelabrum was a stone consisting of three steps; it was on this that the priest would stand while trimming the lights. Then he would leave the pan on the second step and leave.


Mishnah 8 interrupted the description of what was going on inside the Heikhal while outside the lamb was being slaughtered and prepared fro offering. Our present mishnah, therefore, takes up the description from the end of mishnah 7. The doors of the Heikhal had been opened and now the first of the two priests went inside. He was carrying a basket into which he would put the ashes that he was about to remove from the inner altar. This altar of gold was used only for the burning of incense. Our mishnah describes how this priest would first of all scoop up the ash from the altar with his bare hands - presumably lest the use of an instrument of any kind might scratch the gold of the altar. When the amount of ash that was left was too little to conveniently scoop by handfuls the priest would sweep it (also with his hands, presumably) into the basket. Then he would leave the basket with the ash where it was and make his way outside.

We could ask ourselves why he did not take the basket of trash with him. In his commentary of our mishnah Rabbi Ovadya of Bertinoro gives the reason:-

He did not remove the basket immediately because the trash, like the trash from the candelabrum, would have to be deposited at the [main] altar. So he would have to wait until after [the blood of] the Tamid [lamb] had been sprinkled and the other [priest] had completed tending to the lights. Only then would both of them remove the basket and the pan and throw the trash at a certain spot by the altar.


I now present two communications that I have received concerning musical instruments mentioned recently. Firstly, the Magrefah. I wrote: to my unauthoritative mind the instrument sounds like something belonging to the same family as the bagpipes or the organ.

Albert Ringer takes me to task:

Eric Wener describes the Magrepha in The Sacred Bridge (Volume II, pg 15) as follows: To the signal instruments, which accompanied certain sacrifices, belongs the rather enigmatic magrepha, which was either a small steam siren, or a massive kind of tam-tam, which could be filled with burning coals. Organs, as we know them, did not exist in Roman times.

I respond:

The description to the 'enigmatic' Magrefah as being 'a small steam siren ... filled with burning coals' cries out with all its might for some kind of source. How does the author know this? It certainly is not supported by any of our sources that are known to me. On the other hand, the authoritative 'Pelican History of Music' contains the following penned by Peter Crossley-Holland (page 109): A small pipe- organ (magrepha) rather like the panpipes (syrinx) seems to have appeared around the beginning of the common era.

Albert Ringer also takes the opportunity to relate to the immediate question raised by David Sieradzki about relevance:

As you pointed out already during your explanation, this mishna describes the temple and its daily procedure mainly as it was in the last period of its functioning, say from the time of Herod on. The quite simple and probably poorly run sanctuary of the time of Ezra and Nehemia was, through time, enlarged and embellished, lastly by Herod. All Jews in the Roman world paid yearly taxes to the temple, making it one of its richest and grandiose institutions. That alone makes the mishna interesting as a historical source. Our ancestors found the various descriptions of the temple and its ritual of a high religious value. The descriptions where seen as a kind of ideal organization, instituted directly by God. For them, the description contained a kind of shadow both of the mechanisms of the heavenly spheres as of the world to come. They tried to form their world to reflect this image. A good understanding of the synagogue ritual is probably impossible without a good knowledge of the temple ritual. In short, I find the text highly interesting and do not see why it should be of less moral content then, for instance, rules about when exactly to say the Shema.

Yiftah Shapir writes:

Magrefa: the word appears several more times in the Mishna (like Shabbat 17:2) in some of these cases it is quite clear that the Mishna is referring to a household tool - and not a musical instrument. In other places it is a tool of the Mikdash - but not necessarily a musical one (Sheqalim 8:2). Morover, if we read a few pages on in Tractate Tamid (5:6) - we hear about the Magrefa and its loud sound again: but it seems to me obvious that the mishna there is not referrig to a musical instrument: it tells us that it is thrown between the Heikhal and the Mizbeah. My simplistic understanding is that you throw a tool, not a musical instrument, and the sound heard is the sound of a metal object hitting the stone floor...

I comment:

We must carefully distinguish between the various meanings of the word magrefah, whose original meaning is - as I pointed out in the relevant shiur - a rake. It seems reasonable that Rambam is correct \ when he surmises that the 'musical instrument' was so called because its external shape was reminiscent of a rake. It still seems to me that the Magrefah was a pipe instrument of some kind. Its being thrown is also perhaps connected with the way in which the air was passed through the pipes. One of my grandchildren was given last Ĥanukah a 'sevivon' that had holes in it and when it was spun it played Mozart - seriously! Also see Crossley-Holland as quoted above.

Yiftah further comments:

In modern Hebrew the word Hallil is of course a flute, but I remember reading in a book about musical history that in ancient times the word referred to some kind of a drum - which is hollow (Hallul - hence the word Hallil). Reading the Mishnah you are referring to -(Arakhin 2:3) is possible under this understandig, too. It says that the "Hallil" is struck with a pipe ("Abuv") of reed rather than with a pipe of copper. One can understand it as saying that it is a drum which is to be struck by a reed baton rather than a copper baton!

I respond:

The idea that the ĥalil of the mishnah is a drum rather than a flute is very intriguing. I have always been struck by the fact that the verb used in connection with this instrument is invariably 'to strike', and I had assumed that 'strike the flute' meant to 'strike up'. However, in the same article that I quoted above, Peter Crossley-Holland also writes: 'Though ĥalil is now the name given to a flute, the old ĥalil was a double oboe of oriental or Egyptian origin, unknown in the services of the First Temple.' And, since we have twice quoted Crossley-Holland, let me complete the quotation: here is what he writes about the chorus and orchestra: 'Towards the end of its time ... the Second Temple still had a chorus of Levites to sing the Psalms ... The minimum number of men was twelve, aged between thirty and fifty, and their period of training was five years. These might be joined by Levite boys 'to add sweetness to the sound'. The Temple orchestra consisted of a minimum of twelve players, playing nine lyres, two harps, and one pair of cymbals. On each of twelve festal days two ĥalilim were added.'

EXPLANATIONS (continued):

When the priest had finished clearing away the ashes from the incense altar his colleague would go into the Heikhal (sanctuary) in order to trim the lights of the candelabrum. Let us pause for a moment to get our bearings. He was in a hall about 20 metres long and about 10 metres wide. The walls of this hall were completely covered in gold. Ahead of him, at the far end of the hall, was a screen, behind which was the Holy of Holies, all of whose walls were about 10 metres long. As he stood in the entranceway, immediately before him and in the centre of the hall was the golden altar of incense which had just been readied for a new day of worship. Further down the hall, against the right hand wall, was the table of Shewbread. Opposite it, against the left hand wall, stood the famous candelabrum, whose similitude is known to us from the decorations on the triumphal Arch of Titus in Rome (and which is now the emblem of the government of Israel). (There are scholars, both religious and academic, both medieval and modern, who depict the candelabrum differently. I can think of no logical reason to assume that the depiction on the Arch of Titus is not essentially accurate.) The candelabrum had seven branches, each crowned with a cup to house the oil which was its fuel. It was towards this candelabrum that the priest now made his way.

Our mishnah describes his procedure. Let us imagine that we are the priest. We are standing on the topmost of the three steps before the candelabrum, facing it and, therefore, also facing the wall. If the two outer lights on our extreme left are still burning we leave them burning and trim the rest of the lamps, removing the residue and so forth. If these two lights have gone out we clean them first and rekindle them from the other lights still burning, and only after that will we tend to the rest. (The first mishnah of chapter six will describe what we would do if we found them all extinguished.)

The memory of the candelabrum is still alive in most of our synagogues, where, above the ark, burns a solitary light, the Ner Tamid, the constant light. Its equivalent on the candelabrum was the second light in from the left, for reasons too recondite to bother us right now.


In a response concerning the various attitudes towards the restoration of sacrificial worship at some time in the future I wrote: See what I wrote in the Masorti Siddur, Va'ani Tefillati, page 382-383.

Froma Fallik writes:

I do not own a copy of this siddur nor does my synagogue. I suspect I am not alone. Perhaps you could summarize.....?

I respond:

This was very thoughtless of me and I apologize. This siddur was published for the use of Masorti Jews in Israel: it is, as far as I know, the only Conservative Siddur ever published which contains not one word of English. Here is an expurgated rendition into English of the relevant material:

The fourth Berakhah of the Amidah on Shabbat and Yom Tov is termed by the sages Kedushat ha-Yom (the sanctity of the day). When the Bet Mikdash was still standing, on those days on which nowadays we recite the Musaf (additional) Amidah they would offer the special sacrifices for that day. Since the destruction of the Bet Mikdash the Musaf Amidah contained a prayer for the rebuilding of the Temple and the restoration of its sacrificial cultus; and within the Berakhah Kedushat ha-Yom specific mention was made to the particular sacrifices associated with that day, quoting them from the text of the Torah. Few in the Masorti Movement today hope for the restoration of the sacrificial system at some time in the future. But the sincere yearning for a single, solitary, religious centre has not waned, as the status of the Kotel (Western Wall) in the eyes of the general population demonstrates.

We can distinguish two main attitudes in the Masorti Movement concerning the contents of Kedushat ha- Yom. One attitude regards praying for a Third Temple positively, but not for the restoration of the sacrificial system. According to this attitude, the yearning for a Third Temple symbolizes a yearning for the reunification of the Jewish people (including a reunion of emotions) and the realization of the values of universal peace and tolerance enshrined in the prophetic visions of the 'culmination of history' (Aĥarit ha-Yamim). The manner of worship in such a future Temple will be substantially different from what we know thus far - just as worship by prayer ritual became the dominant form of worship after the sacrificial system had become impossible because of the destruction of the Bet Mikdash. We cannot know today, in advance, what new manner of worship will come about in the future. This attitude is based on the visions of the prophets and on the words of Rambam in his book Moreh Nevukhim (The Confused Man's Guide) - mainly chapter 32 of part three.

The other main attitude in the Masorti Movement sees the sacrificial cultus as an historical stage in the spiritual development of the Jewish people - a stage that received God's blessing in the Torah through the multifarious details of its observance. Accordingly, we should not deny this stage in our history, but we should relate to it in the past tense and not as something desired for the future. This attitude was the dominant one in Conservative Judaism since the third decade of the twentieth century, and many see it as a tradition that has been hallowed by time.

Obviously, just as the two attitudes are not identical neither are they mutually contradictory. There will be worshippers who will find the one attitude more to their liking than the other and there will be others who will wish to adopt both attitudes simultaneously. In the Siddur Va'ani Tefillati both attitudes are expressed, the one after the other, with only the form of printing distinguishing between them. Thus the worshipper can easily choose the attitude that most approximates his own thinking.

Avraham Jacobs takes up the challenge issued by Bayla Singer: Quite rightly Ms. Singer remarked that the Torah spells out principles, to live by. As rabbinic Jews (as opposed to Karaites), we have the oral law, to interpret and expand on these principles, up to our days. The principles upon which the tabernacle was built, from the inside out, and all its parts, have been interpreted as a construction drawing for the Jewish home. In our homes we have the Table, the Altar, the Candlestick, even the Holy of Holies with the Covenant and the Cherubs, having the faces of a little boy and a little girl. The minute details of the Divine Service, painstakingly recollected by our sages, are not as much of historical interest, as they are relevant to our lives now and here. A high ranking Jewish military, probably not the most observant, Flavius Josephus, wrote books - describing the history and practices of his people - from fear they would be forgotten, and out of sheer love. As for a very pious archaeologist, I warmly recommend the commentary of the late Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th century Germany) on Exodus 25 and following. He refers there also to his Jeshurun volumes 4 and 5, which I don't have. As an example of his symbolic explanations I will interpret his remark on Exodus 25: 25: the Table and what is upon it represent prosperity and the joy of living. The rim of gold is to guard that Table, which should be pure (Leviticus 24), from unclean substances. This rim reminds us to try to obtain prosperity by kosher means only.

A remark on acoustics: The Temple stood at the entrance of a series of very steep canyons (Kidron), leading East to the Dead Sea. This could function as a wave guide. I would not rule out the possibility that sounds from the temple would carry as far as the mouth of the valley. The smells most certainly would go down that way. It could be verified!

I respond (briefly):

I would hesitate a thousand times and then a thousand times more before describing Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch as an archeologist! He was the founder of 'modern orthodoxy' in Germany (as opposed to ultra- orthodoxy) and his writings had a profound influence on the orthodox thinking of his generation. He was a determined opponent of his contemporary, Rabbi Zechariah Frankel, the founder of 'Conservative Judaism'. Also, I have serious doubts as to the pious motivation Avraham ascribes to the writings of Josephus: I can think of other motivations, less praiseworthy. Lastly, the Kidron Valley was (is) on the southern and western sides of the Temple Mount, and this could not serve as a natural megaphone for Jericho which is on the other side of the mount. But the idea in principle is intriguing. However, my question still stands: why do not much greater sounds and smells carry that far today?

Richley Crapo writes:

I believe you mentioned that there was a platform on the eastern side of the Nicanor Gate, presumably between the semi-circular stairway and the wall of the gate. Do any of the ancient sources provide its dimensions?

I respond:

To the best of my knowledge, they do not. Indeed, there is no agreement even as to the format of the steps themselves. Mishnah Middot 2:5 only has this to say:

A flight of fifteen steps led up from the Womens' Court to the Court of the Israelites (reflected in the fifteen 'Songs of Degrees' in the Book of Psalms). It was on these that the Levites did their singing. They were not straight, but semi-circular, like a rounded half-threshing floor.

I presume that Richley is referring to the position of these steps with the Courtyard of the Priests as a reference point, since, of course, these steps were at the western end of the Womens' Court. The psalms referred to are psalms 120 to 134, all of which have the circumscription Shir ha-Ma'alot, which can be interpreted as 'Songs of the steps' - though what the above mishnah does with these psalms is almost certainly a quaint conceit.

The mishnah quoted says that the steps were semi-circular, but it does not say whether they were convex or concave. Most depictions of them assume that they were convex, since admittedly that seems to be more pleasing from the aesthetic point of view. However, the mishnah also describes them as being 'like a rounded half-threshing floor'. This phrase is already known to us from a description in tractate Sanhedrin [4:4] of the manner in which the judges would sit: The court sat in a semi-circle, so that they could see each other. (The original Hebrew there also uses the phrase 'like a rounded half- threshing floor' to describe the semi-circle.) In Sanhedrin the only possible interpretation would be that the semi-circle was concave, facing the litigants, so that each of the judges would be able to see all the others. This might suggest that the flight of steps leading up to the Nicanor Gate was also concave. Such an arrangement would certainly suit better the Levites arranged as a choir and orchestra. This would also suggest they they actually arranged themselves on the steps and not on the platform that separated the topmost step from the entranceway.

Unfortunately, I know of no reference in the sources to the distance from the Nicanor Gate to the topmost step. But there must have been some distance since the very next mishnah [Middot 2:6] states that there were storage rooms underneath the Court of the Israelites, which opened in to the Womens' Court, where the Levites would stack their musical instruments. Mishnah Middot 2:3 states that almost all the steps there [in the Bet Mikdash] were 25 centimetres high and 25 centimetres deep. This would suggest that the entranceway of the Nicanor Gate was 3.75 metres above the floor of the Women's Court.

We mentioned Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch. I missed the fact that Avraham Jacobs, in referring to him as an 'archeologist' was in fact only continuing a simile started originally by Bayla Singer, as she pointed out to me. However, having mentioned him, H Helfgott adds the following comments:

His unpleasant role in establishing all non-Orthodox organizations as illegitimate in the eyes of the Orthodox to the side - it would seem to me that his approach itself is questionable. I've been reading his commentary on the Pentateuch, and while his insistence in finding moral principles behind any related circumstance and ritual law sometimes makes for very interesting homiletics, it is not clear to me that they are more than exactly that. If the narrative on how Jacob built a pillar on Bethel and the one on how he later built an altar there are seen to symbolize, of all things, a coming supersession of nineteenth-century Deism by theism, then I must wonder how much of this must be in the eyes of the nineteenth-century beholder, and - though by this I know I am quite outside Hirsch's framework altogether - how little of it could have been in the eyes of the biblical redactors some twenty five centuries before. What concerns me most is that I am not sure of the degree to which Neusner's proposal can lead to procedures like those of Hirsch's. Of course one should try to be some sort of 'archaeologist', attempting to learn how an ideological framework historically conditions ritual law; it is also true to some extent that one can get a more precise picture of the said framework by examining the ritual law. However the use of the term 'archaeologist' seems to me to denote a certain overvaluation of the solidity of the conclusions we can reach in such a fashion (all diffident archaeologists hiding in the list will pounce on me here) and the term 'pious' makes me think of the danger of superimposing our religious ideologies on the text and on the practices described therein, and of confusing them for the actual ideas that surrounded, and sometimes determining, the said practices (and this ideas must sometimes remain conjectural). Of course none of this is directed at Professor Neusner himself - I read his Invitation to the Talmud a long time ago, and I remember I liked it quite a bit, but certainly I do not remember the thing itself well enough to question it, and I do not have it at hand now. This was just a concern of mine on some of the implications of his statements that some of my fellow students seem to be voicing, although of course I may have completely misinterpreted them.

I was rash enough and obstinate enough to insist in questioning the validity of a literal understanding of Tamid 3:8, concerning how far sound and smell could carry. I asked: Why do not much greater sounds and smells carry that far today? Arieh Abramowitz takes me to task with some cogent arguments:

One simple possibility is that they are drowned out by the general cacophony of sounds and smells that we have today. In the early morning and in the desert it is often possible to hear sounds that are quite far away; it does not stretch credibility to breaking that in that era in the quiet of Yom Kippur or of early morning, it was possible for a sound to echo down the wadis all the way to Jericho. As for smells, even today the prevalent winds in Jerusalem (and in Israel in general) are from West to East; so it is quite possible that in a desert environment that does not supply any competing odors, the smell of the smoke and incense was detectable 40km away near Amman.

I commented: Also, I have serious doubts as to the pious motivation Avraham ascribes to the writings of Josephus: I can think of other motivations, less praiseworthy.

This is to much for Juan-Carlos Kiel, who writes:

This, together with your question about buying car from Josephus suggests that you have some particular suspicion about this priest, who was adopted by the Roman Emperor Vespasian and harangued our ancestors inside the surrounded Jerusalem, asking for their surrender, in order to preserve the city. As did Berenice, the Hasmonean princess. Perhaps you would be so kind and share with me your suspicion?

I respond:

I do not know of one single reputable historian who views Josephus in a favourable light. He was sly, self-seeking, self-promoting, self-preserving and try as hard as he can in his writings - which served to earn him an Imperial pension and a safe residence in Rome after the rest of his people whom he loved so much were suffering untold hardship in the aftermath of the Revolt. He had been entrusted with the command of some of the most important units in the Galilee at the outbreak of the war. The Encyclopedia Judaica remarks:

Because of this there was continuous strife, and clashes took place between Josephus and John [of Gush-Ĥalav] and his Galilean supporters. John failed in his attempt to induce the Sanhedrin to recall Josephus, and the conflict in Galilee persisted until the arrival of Vespasian in the spring of 67 C.E. The country, unprepared for hostilities, was wholly unable to wage an offensive war. The cities, which Josephus claimed to have fortified, were isolated from one another and could only defend themselves singly, without any cohesion or plan. The decisive battle took place around the city of Jotapata, to which Josephus had retired and which resisted for six weeks. When the city fell on Tammuz 1, 67, Josephus fled with 40 men to a cave. There each man resolved to slay his neighbor rather than be taken captive by the enemy. Josephus artfully cast the lots, deceitfully managing to be one of the two last men left alive and then persuaded his companion to go out with him and surrender to the Romans.

Josephus sounds like a real patriot, doesn't he?

Josephus, an objective historian? Again the Encyclopedia Judaica:

The Jewish War was written under the patronage of the emperor and its contents sanctioned by the imperial dynasty... It is very probable that Josephus' decision to become the historian of the Jewish War stemmed primarily from the fact that he was subject to the emperor's wishes and obliged to support his political aims. His history was probably the price exacted by the emperor in return for the grant of freedom and property. Fully appreciating Josephus' talents, Vespasian knew that the freedman could be of use to him in both his foreign and internal policy. After the events in the east and west of the Roman Empire, the fate of the entire state hung in the balance and Vespasian found himself obliged to warn the still powerful enemies of Rome that she could destroy any foe who intended to renew the war.


Thus Josephus' Jewish War (modeled on Caesar's Gallic War) was the 'true' story of the war as his Roman patrons wanted it to be presented.

And how did his contemporaries relate to him? Again, the EJ:

[After the war] Josephus left to settle in Rome where he was granted Roman citizenship and a pension by the emperor, who allowed him to live in his palace. He never again saw his native land. Although generally a favorite among the members of the courts of Vespasian and Titus during their lifetime, Josephus' position vis-a-vis the Jews was wretched in the extreme. Both in and outside Rome, they despised and hated him for his past and tried to harm him at every turn. After the suppression of the revolt of the Zealots, who had escaped to Cyrene, the rebels accused him of having been the organizer, but Vespasian refused to believe them.

Finally: discussion on Josephus is now closed (at least until the next time). Is there anybody out there who would buy a used car from Yosef ben-Matityahu ha-Kohen?

This concludes our study of the third chapter of this tractate.