The Temple Mount


The Temple Mount: Dimensions

At the beginning of the Second Temple period, the area of the Temple Mount was five hundred cubits square (approx. two hundred and fifty square meters). During the time of Herod, the area was greatly expanded and reached its present day dimensions, approximately 36 acres (150,000 square meters). The Holy Temple and its courtyards were situated on the Temple Mount.


The Temple Mount: 2nd Temple Era

The bottom left picture depicts the Temple Mount following Herod's expansion to current size, (approximately 36 acres). The top left picture highlights the Holy Temple and the area of the Temple Courtyards, surrounded by the low wall known as the Soreg, beyond which point Jews with tamei met (impurity due to contact with a dead body), and non-Jews, were forbidden to enter. The picture on the right shows Temple kohanim and Passover pilgrims with their lambs, passing through openings in the Soreg.


The Temple Mount Walls: The Eastern Wall

The wall surrounding the Temple Mount rose to a height of forty cubits. However on the eastern side the wall was lower, so that the kohen (priest) could see directly into the entrance to the Heichal (Sanctuary) of the Holy Temple, while standing on the Mount of Olives, (also called the Mount of Anointing), due east of the Holy Temple, where he slaughtered and prepared the ashes of the red heifer.


The Temple Mount: The Stoa & Watchtowers

The Levites kept watch in watchtowers which were situated in the four corners of the wall surrounding the Temple Mount plaza. The Stoa was a covered area that stood on pillars, (a portico, or colonnade) ran along the entire circumference of the Temple Mount plaza.


The Temple Mount: Sanctity

The Temple Mount was defined as the "Levite Camp." The source for the sanctity of the "Levite Camp" is the Camp of the Levites in the desert; its parallel in the Temple is the entire Temple Mount plaza (seen in the pictures on the right inside the red line), enclosed by the Stoa colonnade. Maimonides writes: “The Temple Mount is more sacred than the city itself, in that women who have just given birth [and others who are temporarily impure] may not enter it... [On the other hand,] a corpse may be brought there, and certainly one who is impure from having come in contact with death may enter” (Beit HaBechira 7:15).

Those forbidden to enter onto the Temple Mount Plaza (Levite Camp) were:

Men and women experiencing irregular emissions.

Menstruating women; Women who had recently given birth.

Lepers. (Lepers were also forbidden to enter the walled city of Jerusalem.)

The Soreg: Those who had been rendered impure through exposure to the dead were not allowed to proceed beyond the Soreg fence, which was a low built partition,(seen in the pictures on the left inside the red line). A number of openings in the Soreg allowed for pilgrims who were permitted, to pass through.

Gentiles were permitted to enter the Temple Mount up until the Soreg fence. Large signs made of stone were placed along the Soreg with warnings engraved on them, forbidding entry to gentiles and those who were impure. Some of these signs have been found in archaeological excavations. Written in Greek and Latin, the signs state: "The stranger may not pass the Soreg and the partition around the Temple. A stranger who enters, does so at his own risk.”


Temple Mount: Uses & Duties

The Temple Mount served as a gathering place for the pilgrims arriving on the three festivals.

The Stoa area also served as a storage place for various items such as the four species, which were placed there during the Sukkot festival, when it occurred on the Sabbath.

The picture on the right shows Sukkot pilgrims holding their four species (arba minim) which they have just taken from the Stoa where they had been temporarily stored.

On the left can be seen a cross section diagram of the Stoa portico which surrounded the Temple Mount. Behind it is a model of the Temple Mount. The pitched red covered the Stoa along the southern edge of the Temple Mount. Along the western, northern and eastern walls the Stoa has a flat white roof.


Temple Mount: The Outer Gates: The Chuldah Gates

The Chuldah Gates are the southern gates of the Temple Mount. These gates served as the main entrance to the Temple Mount, since the majority of the population lived in the City of David area, which was south of the Temple Mount. The Chuldah gates served as both entrance and exit and therefore were double. The double gates let into a tunnel that took the pilgrims up to the Temple Mount plaza.

Two reasons are suggested for the gate's name:

A. The prophetess Chuldah was in the practice of sitting there. (see 2 Kings 22:14–20 and 2 Chronicles 34:22–28)

B. The underground tunnels that led from the gates up to the Temple Mount complex resembled tunnels made by a mole in the ground. (Chuldah is Hebrew for "mole.")


Temple Mount: The Chulda Gates: Sanctity

Through these gates one entered the area of the Temple Mount, whose sanctity paralleled that of the "Levites Camp." However, since the gates themselves were beneath the level of the Temple Mount, and there is a principle that the underground tunnels were not sanctified, those who were forbidden to enter the Temple Mount plaza were permitted to enter the gate compound.

Pictures on left show the location of the Chuldah Gates tunnels exits on the Southern portion of the Temple Mount, (designated by arrows), and the Gates themselves, (designated by circles).

The top right model of the 2nd Temple era Temple Mount shows the Chuldah Gates entrances at the base of the southern wall of the Temple Mount.

The bottom right picture depicts Passover pilgrims with their Passover lambs, outside the Chuldah Gates. The pilgrims are removing their leather sandals in preparation for entering the gates and ascending the Temple Mount. It is forbidden to wear leather shoes on the Temple Mount.


Temple Mount: The Kiponos Gate

The Kiponos Gate was located on the western side of the Temple Mount, just south of where the contemporary Western Wall Plaza is today. There are many opinions as to the origin of the name. For example, Kiponos is possibly the Greek name of the man that constructed the gate, or alternatively, the name of a rose garden that was adjacent to the gate. (Kiponos is Greek for "rose;" Source: Tractate Midot 1:3).

The pictures on the right depict Holy Temple pilgrims approaching the Kiponos Gate on Shavuot (top picture) and on Passover (bottom picture).

The Kiponos Gate was located north of today's Western Wall Plaza and is identified with today's Shalshelet (Chain) Gate, through which Jewish worshipers on the Temple Mount exit the Mount.

All the gates of the Holy Temple were twenty cubits high and ten cubits wide. The Kiponos Gate had a square lintel as did the other gates opening into the Holy Temple Plaza, (with the exception of the Tadi Gate), and its doors were overlaid in gold.


Temple Mount: The Kiponos Gate: Function:

The Kiponos Gate served as an entry and exit for the Temple Mount. All those entering would enter on the right side, walk around the Temple Mount and exit on the left side. The interior area of the gate had the level of sanctity as the Temple Mount.


Temple Mount: The Tadi Gate:

The Tadi Gate was the northern gate, one of the five gates of the Temple Mount. It was located next to the Antonia Fortress, built by Herod for protecting the Holy Temple. This gate did not serve as an entrance or exit for pilgrims, but was used exclusively by Temple kohanim who had become impure and therefore was situated in the north, closest to the Place of the Hearth and the Priests' Immersion Chamber. From there the kohanim would exit through a special tunnel directly to this gate. There are those who opine that the name was not Tadi but Tari, which indicates the gate's special lintel built from two stones, one leaning on the other, together forming a triangle - "tri" in Greek. (Source: Tractate Midot 2:3). Like all the gates of the Holy Temple, the Tadi Gate was twenty cubits high and ten cubits wide. The interior side of the gate had the same level of sanctity as the Temple Mount.


Temple Mount: The Shushan Gate

The Shushan Gate was the name of the eastern gate, one of the five gates of the Temple Mount. The source of the name Shushan: The Jews that returned from the Babylonian/Persian exile etched the image of the city of Shushan (the Persian capitol) on the gate - to signify their appreciation to the Persian kingdom that was instrumental in building the Second Temple. Like the other Temple Mount gates, the Shushan Gate was twenty cubits high and ten cubits wide, and its doors were overlaid in gold. The Shushan Gate's lintel was lower than the Temple Mount wall. This enabled the kohen who stood on the Mount of Olives and officiated in the burning of the red heifer to look above the gate, and gaze directly through the eastern gate of the Women's Courtyard. In this manner the kohen was able to see into the entrance of the Sanctuary, thus fulfilling the requirement that he must "face the Tabernacle" while preparing the red heifer. When a red heifer was slaughtered and prepared, the kohen and those that accompanied him led the red heifer out through this gate, and across a special bridge, to the Mount of Olives. On Yom Kippur an individual was appointed to exit through this gate with the scapegoat that was cast away in the wilderness as an atonement. The interior of the gate had the same level of sanctity as the Temple Mount.

Note: The Hebrew measurement, "amah," translated as cubit, is the length of a fore-arm: 50 centimeters, (20 inches).

Top left picture: The Shushan Gate is designated by the red circle.

Bottom left picture shows the preparation for the burning of the red heifer, while the kohen (priest) faces the Temple Sanctuary.

Right picture shows the se'ir l'azazel (the scapegoat) being led out of the Temple via the Shushan Gate on Yom Kippur.


Temple Mount: The Temple Mount Plaza

The Temple Mount Plaza is located on Mount Moriah and is also called the "Outer Courtyard." The festival pilgrims would gather here before entering the Holy Temple. The Temple Mount featured five gates: the two Chuldah Gates in the south, the Kiponos Gate in the west, the Tadi Gate in the north and the Shushan Gate in the east. The people that entered the Temple Mount would initially walk to the right except for mourners. These would walk against the flow of the crowd - to the left. This was done to make their situation apparent to the public, thus enabling them to receive condolences.

Entrance to the Temple Mount is forbidden while carrying a walking stick (as a showy sign of status, not as an aid for walking, which is permitted), while carrying coins bundled in an obvious manner, while wearing leather shoes or while engaged in any other activity that would convey a lack of respect. Additionally, one was forbidden to use the Temple Mount as a short cut between two points. (Sources: Tractate Midot 2:2; Brachot 62).

In the two bird's-eye pictures the Outer Courtyard is highlighted. It extends from the perimeter of the Temple Mount Plaza up to the low Soreg Wall which begins the area of greater holiness where entry is restricted to Jews who were not impure through exposure to death.

The top left picture depicts Passover pilgrims streaming through the Outer Courtyard and entering into the Cheil - the area beyond the Soreg.

The bottom right picture depicts a kohen (Temple Priest) walking through the Outer Courtyard at dawn. He is receiving a signal from the kohen in the far tower that the sun has appeared in the eastern sky and it is time for the morning service to begin.


Temple Mount: The Cheil

The area between the Soreg and the wall of the Courtyard is called the Cheil. In the Cheil, there were 12 stairs leading to the courtyards of the Holy Temple. The width of the Cheil was ten cubits (approximately 50 centimeters, or 20 inches) around the entire Courtyard. According to Torah law, its holiness was only that of the "Levite Camp." However, as a safeguard, our sages enacted extra measures of stringency regarding entry past the Cheil. Only Jews who were pure (of the spiritual impurity contracted through contact with a corpse) were permitted entry. When the Eve of Passover occurred on Shabbat, several changes were made in the Passover offering procedure due to the Shabbat prohibition on carrying from one domain to another. Generally, after the offering was brought, the people would take home the permitted parts to roast and eat. On the Shabbat, however, this is not permitted, and so everyone would remain within the Temple area until the end of the Shabbat.

The two top pictures depicting bird's eye views of the Temple Mount shows the area of the Cheil in highlight. The bottom picture depicts a Temple scene on the Shabbat of Passover Eve (as described in Mishna Pesachim 5:10). The first group of those who came to bring their Paschal lamb has finished; they wait (at right) in the Temple Mount plaza for the end of Shabbat. Aside them can be seen one of their offerings, wrapped in the lamb’s skin, with the slaughtering knife leaning upon it. The second group waits in the Cheil (rampart), on the steps (at left) behind the Soreg (latticed gate) partition. The third group is seen still in the Azara (Inner Courtyard, far left), waiting there until darkness falls. When three stars are seen, and Shabbat is over, all depart to roast their Passover lambs in Passover ovens throughout Jerusalem.


Temple Mount: The Temple Mount Wall

The wall surrounded the Temple Mount on four sides. Its height was about forty cubits, except for the eastern wall, which was shorter. The wall delineated the area of the holy Temple Mount. The wall had five gates: the Kiponos Gate in the west, the Shushan Gate in the east, the Tadi Gate in the north and the two Chulda Gates in the south. At the corners of the walls were watchtowers in which the Levites kept watch. The eastern side of the wall was the oldest, dating from the time of Solomon's Temple. It is generally thought that the other walls were built by Herod.

The wall was built from giant stones, which were quarried from the mountains around the city of Jerusalem. Some of the stones that were found reached a length of 14 and a half meters! The wall rose to a height of about twenty meters. The wall had a gate on every side, and on the southern side there were two gates called the Chuldah Gates.

The Temple Mount Wall surrounds the "Levite Camp." Beyond the wall, men and women experiencing irregular emissions, menstruating women and women who had just given birth were forbidden entry.

The two bird's-eye view pictures show the Temple Mount support walls highlighted. The bottom picture depicts a group of pilgrims facing the Holy Temple from the Mount of Olives, east of the Temple Mount. They see, by the reflection of the rising sun in the Golden Lamp which was suspended above the entrance to the Temple Sanctuary, that it is time to recite the morning "Shema" prayer. The lamp was a gift from Queen Helena, a convert to Judaism.

"The Largest Stone, (see photo), also known as the 'Western Stone', is the biggest stone of the Western Wall in Jerusalem and can be found in the Kotel Tunnels. It is recorded as one of the heaviest objects ever lifted by humans without the assistance of any machinery. This stone is about 45 feet in length (13.6 meters), about 13 ft. wide (4 meters), and weight about 570 tons. The Largest Stone was revealed by during the Western Wall tunnel excavations. The open area of the Western wall is about 200 feet in length and most of it is buried under the ground. The tunnels serve as an avenue for additional access of the wall at about 1600 feet."