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Middot 35a-b: The Temple Mount
Massekhet Middot is devoted to a description of the Temple Mount. The Mishnayot on today’s daf include detailed descriptions of the area from the ezrat yisrael (Court of the Israelites) and south of it. The furthest north that a Jewish person who was not a kohen could enter was the ezrat yisrael. Kohanim were allowed in the ezrat kohanim (the Priests’ Courtyard), as well.
Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov reported on the set-up of the Temple:
The ezrat nashim was an open square of 135 cubits by 135 cubits. In each corner of the square were permanent chambers, each of which was 40 square cubits and not roofed. Each of these courtyards served a specific purpose:
- Lishkat ha-nezirim (Chamber of the Nazirites) was where the nazir would have his hair cut and burned under the pot where his sacrifice was being cooked.
- Lishkat dir ha-etzim (Chamber of the Woodshed) was where kohanim who could not perform the Temple service due to a mum (physical blemish) were employed in checking the wood (designated as fuel for the altar) for worms. The Meiri explains that this was necessary either because nothing non-Kosher could be brought on the altar, or because disgusting things would be inappropriate to be brought on the mizbe’aḥ.
- Lishkat ha-metzora’im (Chamber of the Lepers) was where people who recovered from Biblical leprosy would go to the mikveh.
- Lishkat beit shemanya (Chamber of the House of Oils) was where the oil and wine used for the offerings and libations were stored (this last bit of information was supplied by Abba Shaul, when Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov could not recall what the office was used for).
With all the detail that appears in the Gemara, there are still a number of things that are left unexplained. For example, the azara – an area that included not only the altar, but the area of the slaughterhouse, as well – is not clearly detailed. The Gemara teaches that the altar was in the middle of the azara, opposite the entrance to the Holy and the Holy of Holies. Since there had to be room for the apparatus of the slaughterhouse, including taba’ot (rings to hold the animals), shulḥanot (tables on which the animals were butchered), and nanasim (hooks on which the animals were hung), the Rambam explains that only part of the altar was opposite the entrance to the ulam (the vestibule) and the heikhal (the Temple proper). The kevesh (ramp) leading to the mizbe’aḥ was to the south, leaving room on the northern side for the tables, rings and hooks.
This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.
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