This is a translation and a brief commentary on the tractate Midoth which deals with the physical dimensions of the Holy Temple.
All words in the text that are underlined can be clicked on to see a visual image.
All words italicized are explained in the commentary at the end of the Mishna.
All places in the text followed by a number in parenthesis – example: (19)- refer to map #1 or map #2.
Since many of the diagrams and models comes from various sources there may be a lack of consistency among them. They are for illustrative purposes only.
To better understand the Mishnayot, click on Map #1 and Map #2 below and print out the two maps. That way you will be able to visualize the place to which the Mishna refers and follow more easily.
THE LEVITES KEEP WATCH IN TWENTY-ONE PLACES — FIVE [LEVITES] AT FIVE GATES OF THE TEMPLE MOUNT(1), FOUR AT ITS FOUR CORNERS ON THE INSIDE, FIVE AT FIVE GATES OF THE AZARAH COURTYARD (48). FOUR AT THE FOUR CORNERS [OF THE AZARAH] ON THE OUTSIDE, ONE AT THE OFFERING CHAMBER(42b), ONE AT THE CHAMBER OF THE CURTAIN, AND ONE BEHIND THE HOLY OF HOLIES
CHAMBER OF AVTINAS– The chamber where the “ketores”-incense was prepared. The chamber, named after a renown family of incense makers. It was located in the vicinity of the Water Gate(43). Some say it was located on a balcony above the Water Gate inside the Azarah Courtyard.
SPARK CHAMBER- a room on a balcony above the Spark Gate. A small fire was kept constantly burning here, should the Temple ever need a fire-source.
HEARTH BUILDING- the sleeping quarters for the priests. This was the only heated room in the Temple.
FIVE GATES OF THE TEMPLE MOUNT- The 5 gates are discussed in Mishna 3.
AT FIVE GATES OF THE AZARAH COURTYARD- There were 13 gates around the Azarah Courtyard. This was the main courtyard of the Temple. It is often referred to simply as the Azarah. The Levites stood guard at 5 of the 13. The Mishna does not state which five.
AZARAH- The main courtyard on the Temple Mount.
THE OFFERING CHAMBER- the chamber where sacrificial animals were examined for blemishes. Some commentaries identify this chamber with the Chamber of the Sacrificial Lambs mentioned in Mishna 6.
CHAMBER OF THE CURTAIN- where the curtain which separated the Holy and the Holy of Holies was woven. Its exact location is not known.
HOLY OF HOLIES- lit. behind the place of the covering. The Holy of Holies was also called the Place of the Covering, referring to the covering of the Ark.
THE OFFICER OF THE TEMPLE MOUNT USED TO GO ROUND TO EVERY WATCH STATION, WITH LIGHTED TORCHES BEFORE HIM.
AND IF ANY WATCHMAN DID NOT RISE [UPON HIS APPROACH] AND SAY TO HIM, PEACE BE TO THEE, OFFICER OF THE TEMPLE MOUNT, IT WAS OBVIOUS THAT HE WAS ASLEEP. [THE OFFICER] WOULD STRIKE HIM WITH HIS STICK, AND HE WAS ALSO AT LIBERTY TO BURN HIS CLOTHES. THE OTHERS USED TO SAY, WHAT IS THE NOISE IN THE AZARAH COURTYARD? IT IS THE CRY OF A LEVITE WHO IS BEING BEATEN AND WHOSE CLOTHES ARE BEING BURNT, BECAUSE HE WAS ASLEEP AT HIS POST.
REBBE ELIEZER BEN YAAKOV SAID: ONCE THEY FOUND MY MOTHER’S BROTHER ASLEEP, AND THEY BURNT HIS CLOTHES.
THE GATE OF KIPONUS(3) ON THE WEST WHICH WAS USED BOTH FOR ENTRANCE AND EXIT.
THE GATE OF TADDI(4) ON THE NORTH WHICH WAS NOT USED [BY THE PUBLIC] AT ALL,
AND THE EASTERN GATE(5) OVER WHICH WAS A REPRESENTATION OF THE PALACE OF SHUSHAN AND THROUGH WHICH THE HIGH PRIEST WHO BURNT THE RED HEIFER AND ALL WHO ASSISTED WITH IT USED TO GO FORTH TO THE MOUNT OF ANOINTING.
GATES OF CHULDAH- named after the First Temple era prophetess, Chuldah. These were the main Temple entrance and exit. Near these gates, the prophetess Chuldah would address the Jewish women who were making their way onto the Temple grounds. Some say that these gates were called the Chuldah gates because they led into long narrow tunnels that surfaced on the mountain’s top. Passing through the tunnel made on feel like a rodent crawling through the woodwork of a house. Chuldah in Hebrew means rodent.
KIPONUS- Kiponus means garden in Greek. There was a rose garden nearby. The pedals were used in the preparing of the “kitores”-incense. Some say it was called the Capanus Gate, meaning “head” in Greek. Since this gateway was the closest to the Holy of Holies it was called the Head Gateway.
TADDI- a gateway with an unusual lintel stone. Whereas all Temple doorways had horizontal lintel stones consisting of a single block of stone, the Taddi gate had a triangular lintel, like an inverted “V.” See Chapter 2, Mishna 3.
This gateway was for the exclusive use of the Temple priests. There are many interpretations as to the derivation of the name. Some say it was named after the benefactor who had the its doors constructed. Some say the word means “high,” since its triangular lintel was higher than the other gateways. Others say it means “leaning,” referring to the fact that its two lintel stones lean on one another. Others maintain it means “private,” meaning that this gateway was for the private, or personal use of the priests. Still others say that it was called the T’ri Gateway because its lintel formed the peak of a triangle.
EASTERN GATE- also called Shushan Gate. This gateway was opposite the entrance to the Sanctuary and opposite the highest point on the Mount of Anointing. This gateway faced the Persian city of Shushan which was to the east of Eretz Yisroel. The purpose of the representation of the Persian capital was to pay tribute to the Persians who permitted the building of the Second Temple. It also served as a reminder to remain faithful to the Persians.
MOUNT OF ANOINTING- identified with the Mount of Olives, to the east of the Temple Mount.
THERE WERE SEVEN GATES IN THE AZARAH, THREE IN THE NORTH AND THREE IN THE SOUTH AND ONE IN THE EAST.
IN THE EAST THERE WAS THE GATE OF NICANOR(14) WHICH HAD TWO ROOMS ATTACHED, ONE ON ITS RIGHT AND ONE ON ITS LEFT. ONE WAS THE ROOM OF PINCHAS THE DRESSER(15) AND ONE THE ROOM OF THE MINCHAS CHAVITIN MAKERS(16).
GATE OF KINDLING- The firewood that was used on the Altar was carried in through this gate.
GATE OF FIRST BORN OFFERING- All “kodoshim kalim” (sacrifies of lesser sanctity), such as the first-born offerings, were brought into the Azarah through this southern gateway. These sacrifices did not have the restriction of “kodoshai kodoshim” (sacrifices of greater sanctity) which had to be slaughtered north of the Altar.
WATER GATE- Three reasons are given for the name of this gate. 1) On Succos, the water libation, “nisuch ha’mayim,” was brought into the Temple through this gateway. 2) A small stream trickled through the gateway. 3) A mikva, used by the High Priest on Yom Kipper, was located on a balcony above this gate.
GATE OF NICANOR- named after the donor who had these two large copper doors commissioned in Alexandria Egypt.
PINCHAS THE DRESSER- the dressing room for the priests, named after the first official in charge of this chamber. It was located on the eastern wall of the Azarah, to the north of the Nicanor Gate.
MINCHAS CHAVITIN MAKERS- Every day a “mincha” (meal offering) was offered on behalf of the High Priest. It was prepared in this chamber.
GATE OF THE SPARK- In front of the gateway, towards the outside, was a balcony supported by marble columns. The Spark Chamber was located on the balcony.
EXCEDRA- a roofed area supported by columns
CHEL- the area immediately outside the Azarah. See Chapter 2, Mishna 3.
GATE OF THE SACRIFICE- “Kadashai kadashim” (sacrifices of greater sanctity) were brought in through this northern gateway.
HEARTH BUILDING- the priests’ sleeping quarters. This was the only heated building in the Temple. Hearth refers to a fireplace.
THERE WERE FOUR CHAMBERS(42a-42d) [CONNECTED] TO THE HEARTH BUILDING, LIKE SMALL ROOMS OPENING INTO A HALL. TWO [CHAMBERS WERE] IN SACRED GROUND AND TWO IN NON-SACRED.
THERE WERE BEAMS PROTRUDING [FROM THE WALL INSIDE THE HEARTH BUILDING] SEPARATING THE HOLY FROM THE PROFANE.
FOR WHAT WERE [THESE CHAMBERS] USED? [THE ONE ON THE] SOUTH-WEST WAS THE CHAMBER OF THE SACRIFICAL LAMBS(42b). [THE ONE ON THE] SOUTH-EAST WAS THE CHAMBER OF THE SHEWBREAD MAKERS(42d). [THE ONE ON THE] NORTH-EAST(42c) [IS WHERE] THE HASMONEANS STORED THE STONES OF THE ALTAR WHICH THE KINGS OF GREECE HAD DEFILED.THROUGH [THE ONE ON THE] NORTHWEST THEY USED TO GO DOWN TO THE MIKVA(42a).
[CONNECTED]- There are differences in opinion if the four chambers were located inside the Hearth building, in the corners of the building, or if they were located outside the building, not far from the corners.
SACRED GROUND- Half of the Hearth Building was located within the Azarah and half the building was located outside the Azarah, in the Chel. One was not even permitted to sit in the Azarah. Since the Hearth Building was for sleeping, it had to be constructed at least partially outside the Azarah. Maimonides envisions the entire building outside the Azarah. Only the half of the building that was adjacent to the Azarah had sanctity.
SEPARATING THE HOLY FROM THE PROFANE- The wooden beams projected from the wall to mark the boundary between the half of the building that was located within the Azarah and the half of the building that was located outside the Azarah. The priests were only permitted to eat from the “kadashai kadashim” within the sacred area of the azarah.
SACRIFICAL LAMBS- A supply of lambs used for the morning and afternoon Tamid-sacrifice was kept in this chamber.
SHEWBREAD MAKERS- A family called Garmu was in charge of baking the weekly Shewbread that was kept on the golden table.
HASMONEANS- family name of the Macabees.
STONES OF THE ALTAR- This chamber was also called the Receipt Chamber. If one desired to offer a meal offering, it was paid for in this room. A receipt was given and taken to the chamber where the flour and oil was stored. (See Chapter 2, Mishna 5) The necessary supplies were given to the bearer of the receipt. The Receipt Chamber (Lishkas HaChosemos) was vacated and used to store the remains of the defiled altar.
MIKVA- The mikva of the priests and the bathrooms were located underground. In this chamber was a spiral staircase that led to these underground rooms.
THE HEARTH BUILDING(28) HAD TWO GATES, ONE OPENING INTO TO THE CHEL(7) AND ONE INTO TO THE AZARAH COURTYARD(48). REBBE JUDAH SAYS: THE [GATE] THAT OPENED INTO TO THE AZARAH COURTYARD HAD A SMALL GATE [BUILT INTO IT] THROUGH WHICH THEY WENT TO EXAMINE THE AZARAH COURTYARD.
TWO GATES- There were two gates in the Hearth Building opposite each other. One was on the southern wall of the building and opened into the Azarah. The other was on the northern wall and opened into the Chel.
CHEL- The area immediately surrounding the Azarah.
EXAMINE- Early each morning a few priests would pass through the small doorway to examine the state of the Azarah and it’s paraphernalia. The door of the large gateway was too heavy for the small contingent to open and so a small doorway was made for them.
THE HEARTH BUILDING(28) WAS DOMED. IT WAS A LARGE ROOM SURROUNDED WITH STONE PLATFORMS. ON THESE THE ELDERS OF THE SERVING PRIESTS USED TO SLEEP. THE KEYS TO THE AZARAH [GATES WERE ENTRUSTED] INTO THEIR HANDS. THE YOUNG PRIESTS SLEPT EACH WITH HIS CUSHION ON THE GROUND.
DOMED- This building served as the sleeping quarters for the priests. To give special recognition for their service, their quarters was the only building to have a dome.
PLATFORMS- Built along the walls of the Hearth Building, in the half of the building that was located outside the Azarah, was a series of large stone steps going from the floor to the ceiling. The elder priests would sleep on these steps.
THERE WAS A PLACE THERE [IN THE HEARTH BUILDING], ONE CUBIT SQUARE ON WHICH WAS A TILE OF MARBLE. ONTO [THIS TILE] WAS FIXED A RING [FROM ABOVE] AND A CHAIN [FROM BELOW] ON WHICH THE KEYS [TO THE LOCKS ON THE DOORS OF THE TEMPLE GATEWAYS] WERE HUNG.
WHEN CLOSING TIME CAME, THE PRIEST WOULD RAISE THE SLAB BY THE RING AND TAKE THE KEYS FROM THE CHAIN. THEN THE PRIEST WOULD LOCK FROM WITHIN WHILE THE LEVITE WAS SLEEPING WITHOUT.
WHEN HE HAD FINISHED LOCKING UP, HE WOULD REPLACE THE KEYS ON THE CHAIN AND THE SLAB IN ITS PLACE AND LAY HIS CUSHION ON IT AND SLEEP THERE.
IF A SEMINAL EMISSION HAPPENED TO ONE OF THEM, HE WOULD GO OUT [OF THE HEARTH CHAMBER] BY [WAY OF] THE WINDING STAIRCASE(42a) WHICH WENT UNDER THE ROYAL FORTRESS. IT WAS LIGHTED WITH OIL LAMPS ON BOTH SIDES, UNTIL HE REACHED THE MIKVA. REBBE ELIEZER BEN YAAKOV SAYS: HE DESCENDED BY THE WINDING STAIRCASE WHICH WENT UNDER THE CHEL(7). HE [THEN] WENT OUT BY THE TADDI GATE.
PLACE- a recess in the floor.
WINDING STAIRCASE- The winding staircase led to a lower level. In this subterranean area were the bathroom and the mikva. There was also a tunnel there that led underground to near the northern Tadi Gate.
ROYAL FORTRESS- a synonym for the temple, or possibly refers to the Antonia Fortress which was adjacent to the northern part of the Temple Mount.
OIL LAMPS- Niches where cut into the walls of the tunnel and lit oil lamps were placed there to illuminate the darkness.