The Inner Courts

THE INNER COURTS

Temple Mount: The Inner Courts

The innermost Court of the Holy Temple was the area that included the Heichal (Sanctuary) and the Mizbeach (Stone Altar).This area was also called "The Camp of the Divine Presence." The Court was divided into three section: The Court of Israel, the Court of the Priests, and the Area between the Hall and the Mizbeach. The Women's Court was situated to the east of the Court. This was a more recent addition.

All the courts were surrounded by a wall and were raised above the level of the Temple Mount by twelve stairs - each stair the height of half a cubit. The width of the courts was one hundred and thirty five cubits. The length of all the courts was three hundred and twenty two cubits, of which one hundred and eighty seven cubits was the length of the "Camp of the Divine Presence", and one hundred and thirty five cubits, the length of the Women's Court. Within the "Camp of the Divine Presence" were the following divisions: The Court of Israel - eleven cubits by one hundred and thirty five cubits; the Court of the Kohanim (Priests) - eleven by one hundred and thirty five cubits and the Area "between the Ulam (entry hall of the Sanctuary) and the Mizbeach" - twenty two cubits. (Source: Midot 2: 5-7).

Only Jews who were pure (free from impurity through contact with a corpse) were permitted entry into the courts. Rabbinical decree forbade all others from entering into the Cheil (the area surrounding the courts). From the Women's Court and within, entry was also forbidden by Rabbinical decree to people who changed their status to purity on that day. The Court of Israel was of a higher level of sanctity than the Women's Court. Those who needed to bring an offering to complete the process of their purification, but had not yet done so were forbidden entry. Its level of sanctity was determined by Torah.

Regarding entry for the impure, the Court of the Kohanim had the same level of sanctity as the Court of Israel. Entry was permitted to pure kohanim. Israelites could also enter the Court of the Kohanim Court for the purpose of slaughtering their offering, etc. (Source: Kelim: 1:8).

The Women's Court generally served the women who came to pray and bring their offerings. On occasion men also gathered there - such as during the Simchat Beit HaShoeva celebrations and the reading of the Torah on Yom Kippur. There was a platform between the Court of Israel and the Court of the Kohanim. Levites stood on this platform to sing the "Song of the Day." Representatives of the tribes of Israel would stand in the Court of Israel to be present during the Tamid (daily) Service on behalf of the entire nation. Israelites were also permitted to enter this court for prayer and prostration. Most of the services of the Mikdash were performed in the Court of the Kohanim. The Court encompassed the area of the Mizbeach and the Heichal.

Temple Mount: The Women's Court

The Women's Court was the most eastern court in the Mikdash. This court was erected during the time of King Yehoshafat and was also called the "outer court" or the "new court." It was called the "Women's Court" because it was generally used as a gathering place for women. During the Second Temple period, a balcony was built around the Women's Court to accommodate those women who wished to be present during the "Festival of the Water Libation" celebrations during Sukkot.

The dimensions of the Women's Court was one hundred and thirty five square cubits. In the four corners of the court, four chambers were located, of forty square cubits. (according to some opinions, forty cubits by thirty cubits). These chambers were: The Nazarite Chamber, The Chamber of Oils, The Chamber of Lepers and the Chamber of Wood. These chambers were open to the sky. (Source: Midot 2,5)

Only Jews who were not impure from exposure to death were permitted entry to the Women's Court by Rabbinical decree. However according to the Torah, the level of sanctity of this court is the same as the outer court of the Temple Mount, and even a corpse could be brought inside. (Source: Kelim: 1, 8)

The Women's Court also served as a gathering place for pilgrims on special occasions - such as: Simchat Beit HaShoeva Celebrations, the Hakhel Gathering on Sukkot, and the reading of the Torah on Yom Kippur.

A balcony, called the gazuztra, was constructed along the top perimeter of the Women's Court and its four inner chambers, to enable women to participate in the Hakhel (center picture) and Simchat Beit HaShoeva (picture on left) gatherings, while maintaining a separation between men and women.

During the Simchat Beit HaShoeva Celebration the Women's Court was lit up at night by four large oil lamps. Young kohanim would climb to the lamp tops and replenish their oil wells with fresh olive oil to keep the lamps burning, (picture on right).

The reading of the Torah by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur (picture top right) and by the King of Israel on Hakhel, was done on the steps leading up to the Nicanor Gate.

The Four Chambers of the Women's Court: The Chamber of Nazarites

According to Mishna Midot, the size of each of the four inner chambers of the Women's Court was forty square cubits (approx. 20 square meters). Some opinions maintain that the size was thirty by forty cubits. These chambers were surrounded by a wall, but they did not have a ceiling. The chambers were added to the Women's Court at the beginning of the Second Temple period. The primary source for these chambers is the book of Ezekiel.

These chambers were of the same level of sanctity as the Women's Court. According to Torah their sanctity is identical to the Temple Mount, however, Rabbinical decree forbade entry to people who changed their status to purity on that day.(Source: Kelim: 1:8).

At the completion of the period of the Nazarite's vow, he was required to bring three offerings: a sin offering, a burnt offering and a peace offering. He was also commanded to shave his whole head. In this chamber, the Nazarite would shave his hair and throw it into the fire under the big vat that was there. In this vat, the meat from the peace offering was cooked. The cooked shank of the peace offering was given to the Kohen and the rest of the meat from the offering was for the Nazarite. (Sources: Numbers 6: 13-18, Midot: 2:5).

The Four Chambers of the Women's Court: The Chamber of Lepers

One of the four chambers located in the corners of the Women's Court was the Chamber of the Lepers. In this chamber, Israelites afflicted with the disease known in Hebrew as tzar'at, and incorrectly tranlsated as leprosy, gathered with their offerings (guilt offerings, sin offerings and burnt-offerings) on the eighth day of their purification process before they brought their offerings in the Court. (Source: Yoma 30)

As with the other three chambers located within the Women's Court (Ezrat Nashim), the chamber measured forty square cubits, and had no ceiling. (A different opinion reckons the size as thirty by forty cubits.) The chamber shared thesame level of sanctity as the open area of the Women's Court.

In this chamber there was a ritual bath, used by the leper's for immersion on the eight day of the purification process. This ritual bath apparently served the general public as well prior to their entering the Court since "No person could enter the Court without having immersed." After immersion, the leper would go up to the Nicanor Gate, to be anointed with the blood and oil from his offerings.

The Four Chambers of the Women's Court: The Chamber of Oils

The Chamber of Oils was one of the four chambers located in the corners of the Women's Court. This chamber was used to store the oils and wine used in the Mikdash services. Regarding the events of Chanukah, the Gemara relates that "the Greeks defiled all the oils in the Heichal." This source apparently refers to the oils that were kept in the Chamber of Oils. (Source: Midot: 2:5).

The measurements of the chamber were, like the other three chambers within the Women's Court, forty square cubits. A different opinion reckons the size as thirty by forty cubits. The chamber had no ceiling, and shared the same level of sanctity as the Women's Court.

This chamber served as a storage room for the olive oil used to light the menorah each day, olive oil used in the preparation of various meal-offerings and for wine used in the libations on the Mizbeach.

The Four Chambers of the Women's Court: The Chamber of Wood

The Chamber of Wood was one of the four chambers located in the corners of the Women's Court. In this chamber kohanim that had some physical blemish and thus were invalidated from doing other services, inspected the wood to be used upon the altar. Only wood which was found to be free from worms was used upon the Mizbeach. According to the Mishna, Tractate Shkalim, this chamber was associated with the place where the Ark of the Covenant was hidden at the end of the First Temple period. The Mishna relates that two kohanim were inspecting the wood for worms. One of them saw that a floor tile looked different from the rest and "they knew that the Ark had been hidden there." (Sources: Shkalim 6:2, Midot 5:2).

The measurements of the chamber were, like the other three chambers within the Women's Court, forty square cubits. A different opinion reckons the size as thirty by forty cubits. The chamber had no ceiling, and shared the same level of sanctity as the Women's Court.