Middot, Chapter Two, Mishnah Five

 

Introduction

Today’s mishnah is about the courtyard of the women. This was the first courtyard which one would enter upon entering the Temple.

I am not going to explain every section, just those that I feel are not self-explanatory.

 

Mishnah Five

1)      The courtyard of the women was a hundred and thirty-five cubits long by a hundred and thirty-five wide.

2)      It had four chambers in its four corners, each of which was forty cubits.  

3)      They were not roofed, and so they will be in the time to come, as it says, “Then he brought me forth into the outer court, and caused me to pass by the four corners of the court, and behold in every corner of the court there was a court. In the four corners of the court there were keturot courts” (Ezekiel 46:21-22) and keturot means that they were not roofed.

For what were they used?

4)      The southeastern one was the chamber of the Nazirites where the Nazirites used to boil their shelamim and shave their hair and throw it under the pot.  

5)      The northeastern one was the wood chamber where priests with physical defects used to pick out the wood which had worms, every piece with a worm in it being unfit for use on the altar.

6)      The northwestern one was the chamber of those with skin disease.  

7)      The southwestern one:

a)      Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob said: I forget what it was used for.

b)      Abba Shaul says: they used to store there wine and oil, and it was called the chamber of oil.  

8)      It [the courtyard of the women] had originally been smooth [without protrusions in the walls] but subsequently they surrounded it with a balcony so that the women could look on from above while the men were below, and they should not mix together.  

9)      Fifteen steps led up from it to the courtyard of Israel, corresponding to the fifteen [songs of] ascents mentioned in the Book of Psalms, and upon which the Levites used to sing.  

a)      They were not rectangular but circular like the half of a threshing floor.

 

Explanation

Section three: The rabbis read Ezekiel as a description of the future Temple that will be built in Messianic times. Nevertheless, the current Temple is to a certain extent patterned, at least in the rabbinic mind, after Ezekiel’s description. The word “keturot” in Ezekiel is unclear, but the rabbis interpret it to mean “unroofed.” Albeck notes that this is based on the Syriac phrased “Beta Ketira” which means “unroofed house.” Syriac is a Semitic language very close to Aramaic.

Section four: The Nazirites would boil their shelamim, peace offering, and throw their shaven hair into the fire under the pot (see Numbers 6:18; Nazir 6:8).

Section five: Priests with defects could not serve at the altar. Instead, they would sit in the chamber of wood and sort out which wood had worms, because wormed wood was not welcome on the altar.

Section six: Those with skin disease would immerse themselves in the special chamber for those with skin disease.

Section seven: The rabbis aren’t exactly sure what the southwestern chamber was even used for, at least not Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob. Abba Shaul claims that it was used to store wine and oil and it was called “the oil chamber.”

Section eight: Originally the walls of the women’s courtyard were smooth, without any protrusions to uphold a balcony. However, when they saw that there was a problem with men and women mixing during the Simhat Bet Hashoevah, a raucous festival that occurred during Sukkot (see Sukkah 5:2), they made a balcony for women to be above. We should note that during the rest of the year men and women mingled together in the women’s courtyard. Only during the risky time of great celebration did they separate the genders. This balcony is an eventual, much later source for women sitting in the balcony at synagogues, but in the Temple it was only used on one special occasion.

Section nine: Leading up from the courtyard of the women there were fifteen steps, going through the Nicanor gates and into the courtyard of the Israelites. These fifteen steps corresponded to the fifteen “songs of ascent” in Psalms 120-134. Upon them the Levites would sing during the Simhet Bet Hashoevah. The steps were shaped in semi-circles, and not rectangles as were other steps found in the Temple.

 

 

 

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