The Chambers of the Court

THE CHAMBERS IN THE COURT

The Chambers in the North Wall of the Inner Court

A number of chambers were located in the northern part of the Court. The Chamber of Hewn-Stone was where the Great Sanhedrin convened. The Chamber of Wood was the chamber of the High Priest. It was here that the High Priest lived for the seven days preceeding his service on Yom Kippur. The Chamber of the Well is where water,was drawn for use in the Court. The Place of the Hearth housed a number of smaller chambers.

In the Place of the Hearth, additional smaller chambers were situated: The Chamber of Approved Offerings; the Chamber of the Makers of the Showbread, the Chamber of the Seals and the Chamber of the Place of the Hearth. (Source: Midot 5:5).

The three chambers: Hewn-stone, Wood and the Well were adjacent one to the other and shared a common roof. The Place of the Hearth was located to the west of these chambers. This was a large chamber that had a domed roof. West of it was the loft of the Place of the Spark.

The Chamber of the Hewn-Stone

One of the chambers in the north of the Court was called the Chamber of the Hewn-Stone. In the western part of chamber, where an opening lead to the Chail, the Great Sanhedrin convened. Its members sat in a semi-circle. In the center sat the head of the Sanhedrin. In the eastern part of this chamber, where an opening lead to the Court, the priests on watch gathered to recite the Shema and to pray here, after the Tamid offering had been slaughtered and its blood was dashed upon the altar.

After this, the lotteries were conducted here in this chamber, to determine how the various daily priestly duties would be distributed among the priests. (Sources: Tamid: 4:3; Yoma 25).

The Chamber of the Hewn-Stone was next to the Chamber of Wood. The Chamber of the Well was situated to their east.

The Chamber of the Hewn-Stone and the Place of the Hearth had two doors. One door lead to the Chail, which was not a sanctified area, and the other lead to the sanctified Court, Therefore the level of sanctity inside the chambers was divided into two parts. The part of the chamber facing the Court was on the level of sanctity of the Court. Here, only kings from the house of David were permitted to sit. In contrast, the part of the chamber facing the Chail was on the level of sanctity of the Chail. In this area, one was permitted to sit.

In this chamber, the Great Sanhedrin convened, and primarily discussed the laws of the priesthood. Additionally, the priests on duty would pray and conduct lotteries in this chamber. (Sources: Tamid 2:5; Midot 5:4).

The Chamber of Wood, "Parhedrin"

The Chamber of Wood was the chamber of the High Priest. In this chamber, a mezuzah was affixed, because the Kohen Gadol would live here seven days prior to Yom Kippur. This chamber was originally called the Chamber of Balavatai, meaning "the Chamber of the Ministers." During the period of the Second Temple, its name was changed to the Chamber of the Parhedrin, derived from the word for "official." This was because the high priests were changed each year in the manner of royal appointees. This chamber had a wooden door and was therefore called the Chamber of the Wood. (Sources: Yoma 8 and 11).

The Chamber of Wood was situated between the Chamber of Hewn-Stone and the Chamber of the Well.

The part of the chamber in which the Kohen Gadol slept had the level of sanctity of the Temple Mount and not that of the Court, because one could not sit down in the Court.

This was the chamber of the Kohen Gadol, where he lived for seven days prior to Yom Kippur, (see bottom left picture). (Source: Yoma 1:1).

The Chamber of the Well

The Chamber of the Well (Hebrew, Gola) is one of the chambers in the northern part of the Court. From this chamber, water was supplied for use in the Court. This chamber was called Gola (diaspora) because it was built by people who returned from exile in Babylon. Alternatively, some say it was named after the wheel (galgal) located within the chamber, that was used to draw the water from a pit in the ground.

The Chamber of the Well was situated to the west of the Chamber of the Wood.

The Chamber of the Well had the level of sanctity of the Court.

From this chamber water was supplied for the entire Court.

The Place of the Hearth

In the northern section of the Court stood a large structure called the Place of the Hearth. Here were the priests' quarters, where those on duty slept before beginning their service early the following morning. The elder priests slept on stone slabs designed for this purpose. It was the elder priests who were responsible for safe-guarding the keys to the Heichal. The younger priests slept on the floor. In the four corners of the Place of the Hearth there were four small chambers:

The Chamber of the Approved Offerings, in which six lambs that were found to be free of blemishes to be used in the Tamid service were kept.

The Chamber of the Showbread Makers was where the Showbread loaves were prepared.

The Chamber of the Place of the Hearth was where the priests went down to the Immersion Chamber.

The Chamber of the Seals was where those who came to the Mikdash to bring an offering would purchase a seal showing the amount of libations they would need to bring along with their offering.

The individual would then hand this seal to the official in charge of distributing the libations, and the latter in turn would give fine flour and wine according to the amount designated by the seal. The Place of the Hearth was one of three places in which the priests kept watch each night. (Sources: Midot 1:1,6).

The Place of the Hearth was a large chamber with a domed roof. Within its four corners were four small chambers. (Source: Tamid 1:1).

The Place of the Hearth had two entrances. One opened to the Court, and through this entrance the priests would go out to inspect the Court at dawn. The second entrance opened to the Chail. In the center of the Place of the Hearth were dividing lines - small markings which stood out to delineate between the two different levels of sanctity within the chamber. One half of the chamber was designated with the sanctity leve of the Court, and the other half had the level of sanctity of the chail (which is on non-sanctified ground).

The Place of the Hearth: The Chamber of the Approved Offerings

The Chamber of the Approved Offerings was located in the southwest corner of the Place of the Hearth. This was also called the Chamber of the Lamb Offerings or the Chamber of the Offerings. In this chamber, a minimum of six lambs, inspected and found to be free of blemishes, were kept daily. Each morning one lamb was removed to be used for the Tamid offering. The lamb was given water to drink from a golden cup before being slaughtered. This made it easier for the hide to be flayed. On holidays and festivals, all the sheep, rams and bulls designated to be used as offerings were placed in this chamber. (Sources: Arachin; 2:5. Tamid 3:4).

The Chamber was elongated; to those coming from the south, the chamber appeared to extend to the north, while to those coming from the north, the chamber appeared to veer to the south.

This chamber was situated within the half of the Place of the Hearth that stood on sanctified ground, thus its level of sanctity was that of the Court.

The Place of the Hearth: The Chamber of the Showbread Makers

The Chamber of the Showbread Makers was located in the southeast corner of the Place of the Hearth, on sanctified ground. In this chamber, the Showbread loaves were baked, two loaves at a time. The baking of the Showbread cannot be performed on Shabbat and was done on Friday. It was performed by a priestly family called Garmo. This was the only family who knew the secret of how to prepare the Showbread. (Sources: Midot: 1:6. Menahot: 11:2).

The kneading of the Showbread was performed in a non - sanctified area, one loaf at a time. The baking was performed in a sanctified area, where the level of sanctity was that of the Court.

In this chamber, the Showbread loaves were baked, and apparently the other meal-offerings were prepared here as well.

(The picture on the right shows the Kohanim in the The Chamber of the Showbread Makers. The top middle picture shows the kohanim placing the showbread upon the Golden Table inside the Temple Sanctuary.)

The Place of the Hearth: The Chamber of the Seals

The Chamber of Seals was where individuals who came to the Mikdash to bring an offering would purchase a seal showing the amount of libations they would need to bring along with their offering.

The individual would then hand this seal to the official in charge of distributing the libations, and the latter in turn would give fine flour and wine according to the amount designated by the seal. (Sources: Midot 1:1,6).

The Chamber of Seals was located in the northeast corner of the Place of the Hearth.

The level of sanctity of the Chamber of Seals was that of the cheil.

The large stones seen in the picture, stacked up against the wall between the two treasurers, were placed there by the Hasmoneans. These had been the stones of the altar that were desecrated by the idolatrous practices of the Greek kings.

The Place of the Hearth: The Immersion Chamber

The northwest chamber in the large Place of the Hearth was called the Chamber of the Place of the Hearth. From this chamber, the priests would descend to the "winding passage" - a spiral staircase that led to the Immersion Chamber. In the Immersion Chamber, the priests would immerse themselves in a ritual bath before performing their service in the Mikdash. There was also a lavatory in the Immersion Chamber referred to as "the seat of honor" for reasons of modesty. (Source: Tamid 1:1).

The priests descended a spiral staircase called the mesiba to the Immersion Chamber. This staircase was illuminated by candles held in nooks in the walls on both sides. (Sources: Tamid 1:1).

The level of sanctity of the Immersion Chamber was that of the Cheil, because it faced the Place of the Hearth in the Cheil.

The Place of the Spark

Above the Gate of the Spark, which was also called Yechoniah Gate, was the loft of the Place of the Spark. According to one opinion, the Place of the Spark was named after the perpetual fire that was kept burning there, from which fire was taken in the event that the fire of the woodpile on the mizbeach was extinguished. This loft was one of three places guarded by the priests. (Source: Midot 1:1).

The Place of the Spark was an elevated chamber, built on top of pillars, under which was the Yechoniah Gate.

Since it opened to an unsanctified area, its level of sanctity was that of the cheil.

The Chambers in the Southern Part of the Court: The Chamber of Avtinas

In the southern part of the Court - above the Gate of Water - were two chambers: The Chamber of Avtinas, and adjacent to it the High Priest's Immersion Chamber.

The Chamber of Avtinas was situated in the southern part of the Court. In this chamber, the incense which was made of the 11 spices, was prepared and stored. The Avtinas family was the only family who knew the secret of how to prepare the incense and especially how to identify a particular herb called ma'aleh ashan, literally "that which causes smoke to rise." It was this ingredient that caused the smoke from the incense to rise up in a straight column.

On the eve of Yom Kippur, the High Priest was brought to the Chamber of Avtinas to learn how to gather all of the granules of the incense from the vessel into his palms properly without assistance, (see picture on bottom left). He was also required to make an oath that he would not deviate from the instructions for the the incense service while alone in the Holy of Holies, (see picture on bottom right). This chamber was one of three places guarded by the priests.

The Chambers in the Southern Part of the Court: The High Priest's Immersion Chamber

Located next to the Chamber of Avtinas was the Immersion Chamber of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). As can be seen in the picture on the lower left, the High Priest is ascending the winding staircase to the High Priest’s Ritual Bath on Yom Kippur, on the second floor of the Azara, above the Parva Chamber (with the open door, where the animal hides were processed). At the top of the stairs, two priests spread a linen sheet between the High Priest and the people, to remind them that the Yom Kippur service is performed, in part, with white linen garments, and that all are obligated to “whiten” themselves of their sins.

Of the High Priest’s five Yom Kippur immersions, the last four took place here, in the “holy” ritual bath. The first time, however, he would immerse in the “profane” ritual bath, near Beit Avtinas (seen at right, outside the gate, above the tall
window).

At left are seen three doors, to the Chamber of Salt, the Parva Chamber, and the Washing Chamber, from where the winding staircase ascended. The High Priest, climbing to the ritual bath, wears his golden garments, and is followed closely behind by a priest carrying his white garments, which he will wear after the immersion.

The Chamber of the Vessels

The kohanim gathered in the Chamber of the Vessels to bring out the 93 gold and silver vessels that would be used in the course of the day (Tamid 3:4).

The Mishna (Shekalim 5:6) mentions another wing of this room that was used for contributions from the public: “Whoever wished to contribute a vessel to the Temple would cast it into the Chamber of the Vessels, and once in 30 days, the treasurers would open it” and review the contributions for suitability. The location of this Chamber is not specified precisely in Rabbinic sources, but it appears to have stood in the Women's Courtyard, where it would be most accessible to the public. In addition, it appears to have stood adjacent to the Chamber of the Musical Instruments (based on the use of the plural “chambers” in Middot 2:6).