The Court of Israel


The Court of Israel

The main entrance to the Court of Israel was through the Nikanor Gate. The platform was located at the edge of the Court of Israel, upon which the Levites would stand and sing. Representatives of the tribes of Israel would also stand in the Court of Israel to witness the daily Tamid offerings. Israelites were permitted entry for prayer or prostration.

The Court of Israel measured one hundred and thirty five by eleven cubits. It was situated in the eastern section of the holy Court.

The Court of Israel, whose level of sanctity was higher than that of the Women's Court, was defined as having the holiness of "The Camp of the Divine Presence." Impure individuals, as well as those who needed to bring an offering to complete the process of their purification, but had not yet done so were forbidden entry. One impure from exposure to the dead was permitted entry to the Temple Mount, but was denied entry to the Court of Israel.

An individual who intentionally entered the Court of Israel while in a state of impurity was liable to death by heavenly decree. If he entered unintentionally, he was required to bring a sin-offering.

The bottom right picture depicts Levites, having picked up their instruments at the Chamber of Musical Instruments, heading toward the Court of Israel where they would supply musical accompaniment to the daily Tamid service.

The Platform (Duchan)

The platform of the Levitical choir was at the edge of the Court of Israel. Here the Levites would sing the "Daily Song," while the wine libation was taking place, at the completion of the Tamid offering.

The platform consisted of three stairs of one half a cubit each, and it was located between the Court of Israel and the Court of the Priests. The front of the platform faced west in the direction of the mizbeach (altar) and the Heichal (Sanctuary). There are opinions that the front of the platform faced east, so that the Levites faced the direction of the Court of Israel.

The level of sanctity of the platform was equal to that of the Priests' Court.

A minimum of twelve Levites stood on the platform each day, and the number of singers in the choir could be expanded without limit. Certain Israelites of unquestionable descent were also entitled to ascend the platform and accompany the Levites with instruments. On the floor near the platform stood the "Levite Trainees" - young Levites whose voices were so sweet that they "aroused the jealousy" of the older Levites. (Source: Arachin 13).

The Tapuach

At the center of the mizbeach (altar) was a large pile of ash called the tapuach (literally, "apple" because of its round shape). Each morning the priests would clear the three wood piles of consumed coals and remove these coals to the ash pile using shovels and pitchforks. When the ash pile became too large it was removed. For this task a large vessel made of copper was used. This vessel, called the psachter, looked like a wheel-barrow. These ashes were brought to a pure location north of Jerusalem called "the Place of Burning." (According to the Rambam, the ashes were removed each day and taken outside of Jerusalem).

The accumulation of ashes formed a pile in the center of the mizbeach. On holidays and festivals, the amount of ash that accumulated there measured about three hundred kur (which is about nine hundred liters). On these occasions the ash pile was not cleared, as this was a way of honoring the mizbeach - by showing the great amount of offerings that had been sacrificed upon it.

The Tapuach & the Psachter

The copper vessel, known as the psachter, was used to cart away the ashes that piled up on the altar. Its wheels enabled it to be maneuvered easily and efficiently around the altar and on the ramp. With the help of chains, two kohanim would wheel the cart which was full of ashes outside the Temple.

The psachter could contain approximately 28 gallons. It was used for three purposes: for placing over live coals, and over a [dead] creeping animal on the Sabbath, and for drawing down the ashes from the top of the altar.

The ashes that amassed atop the altar were taken to the Beit HaDeshen (the place of the ashes), a pure place outside the Temple (Leviticus 6:4), on the Mt. of Olives outside the city walls, or to the large Beit HaDeshen in the north of Jerusalem (Tosefta Zevachim 11:4).

The picture in the middle right depicts a kohen wheeling out the psachter from the Chamber of Vessels.

The photo on the middle right shows the psachter as recreated by the Temple Institute.

The other pictures show the kohanim tending to, or working alongside the tapuach.

The Chambers on the Southern Sides of the Court

In the southeastern corner of the inner Court were located three chambers, (from east to west): The Chamber of Salt, in which the salt used for salting offerings and meal-offerings was stored; The Chamber of Hides in which the hides of the offerings were salted; and the Chamber of Washing, in which the inner organs of the burnt offerings were washed before being brought to the mizbeach (altar).

On top of the Chamber of Hides there was a ritual bath in which the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) would immerse himself four times during the course of Yom Kippur. (The first immersion was done elsewhere). While the High Priest was immersing himself in this chamber, a sheet of fine linen was spread across the entrance, separating him from the people. (Sources: Midot 5:3, Yoma 3:3).

The Priests' Court

The length of the Priests' Court was eleven cubits and its width was one hundred and thirty five cubits - the width of the entire Court.

Its level of sanctity was higher than that of the Court of Israel. Ritually pure Israelites were permitted entry into the Priests' Court only to perform specific Temple duties, such as those related to offerings they bring: the laying of hands, confession and slaughtering. (Source: Kelim: 1:9).

The bottom right picture depicts the Levites’ performing the daily song. On the right we see the Levites playing and singing on their elevated platform, (duchan), (located in the Court of Israel), during the wine libation over the altar. To the left we see Israelites prostrating themselves in the Court of the Kohanim (Priests).

Every day of the week had its own Shir Shel Yom (Song of the Day), and each song was divided into three parts; after each part, the priests would sound the trumpets, and the people in the Azara (court) would bow down towards the Holy of Holies.