– sefalim – that drained into the foundation of the Temple. Rabba bar bar Ḥana quotes Rabbi Yohanan as interpreting a passage in Shir ha-Shirim (7:2) as teaching that these drains – shittin – existed from the time of creation.
The rishonim and aharonim point out that it is difficult to reconcile Rabbi Yohanan’s teaching that the shittin are part of God’s creation with a statement made by him later on in the Gemara that describes King David as having them dug. Many answers are given to this question – e.g. that they were closed up at some point and that King David reopened them, or that Rabbi Yohanan is presenting the opinions of two different tanna’im. The Maharsha explains simply that the term shittin refers to different things. In our discussion they are the pipes through which the wine and water that are spilled on the altar drain down into the Kidron Valley; in the later statement the shittin (or shattot) are the foundation of the altar itself.
Rabbi Yosei interprets a passage in Sefer Yeshayahu (5:1-2) as meaning that these passages led down into the depths of the earth. The Ge’onim quote a tradition that the shittin were an amah in width and 600 amot deep.
It was taught in a that Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok said: There was a small gap between the ramp and the altar west of the ramp, and once in seventy years young priests would descend there and gather from there the congealed wine left over from the libations that set over time, which resembled round cakes of dried and pressed figs. They would then come and burn it in sanctity in the Temple courtyard, as it is stated: “In sanctity shall you pour a libation of strong drink unto the Lord” (Bamidbar 28:7); just as its pouring is in sanctity, so too must its burning be in sanctity.
The Me’iri explains this to mean that the kohanim did not actually go down to the very bottom, but that they would clean as deep as they could using implements that were available to them.