The Temple stood high on the peak of Mount Moriah, also known as the Temple Mount, where according to Jewish tradition Abraham nearly sacrificed his only son Isaac as an act of faith.
The tunnels leading to the Temple are known as the ‘Hulda Gates’. Jewish pilgrims would enter the premises on the right tunnel and exit on the left. Thousands of worshippers would pass here daily with goats and lamb to offer as sacrifice.
The stairs leading to the gates are alternately wide and narrow to prevent running up the stairs in haste. Scholars also propose that the stairs were built this way to enable pilgrims to comfortably ascend to the Temple with the sacrificial animal.
Coming out of the Tunnels
Built by King Herod, the Second Temple was one of the most impressive and awe inspiring structures of its time. Its beauty is even referenced to in the Talmud, as it is said: “Whoever has not seen Beit Hamikdash standing high, has not seen splendor in his life”.
The courts of the Temple were used for teaching, preaching and joyous celebration during the high holidays when tens of thousands would make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Temple.
Two Temples once stood here. The first Temple, the Temple of Solomon, was built by King Solomon 3000 years ago and stood for almost 5 centuries until its destruction by the Babylonians in the 6th century BCE. About 70 years later, Jews returning from exile in Babylon built the Second Temple which also stood for some 500 years until its destruction by the Roman Empire in 70 AD.
Just as is still customary in Orthodox Synagogues today, women and men were separated to keep the minds pure of improper thoughts in the place of the divine presence of God. Women would enter from the northern stairs and stand on the walls above the court and men stood on the ground level.
Four chambers surrounded the Women’s court, each designated for a specific function in the Temple. One chamber held the wood used for the sacrificial fires; another held the oils; another was designated for monks who would trim their hair and offer sacrifice upon the completion of their monasticism period; the last chamber was used by those afflicted with leprosy for purification and sacrifices.
The stairs ahead are where the Levites once played music and sang beautiful songs of praise during the holidays.
There are three high holidays known as ‘Shalosh Regalim’ in which Jews were required to make a pilgrimage to the Temple and offer sacrifice to God — Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. The great rejoicing of Sukkot at the temple is known as ‘Simchat Beit HaShoeivah’ and tens of thousands of Jews came from all over the land to join. Accompanied by the music and singing of the Levites this was a glorious celebration of the drawing of water from the city of David to the Temple to be used in the libation ceremony.
Moving further into sacred ground, we enter the Inner court. Here stood the main altar with the ‘Eternal Fire’ that burned constantly to offer sacrifices. Only a priest, a ‘Cohen’ was allowed to enter further beyond this point.
On the north-eastern section of the courtyard was the ‘Gazit’ Chamber. This was the chamber house of the ‘Great Sanhedrin’ – which was a council of 71 wise men who served as the supreme judiciary body of the Jewish nation. The uneven number prevented the possibility of a tied vote.
The inner court was mostly used for sacrifices and preparation for ceremonies in the Temple itself. The slaughter of the sacrificial animals took place in the northern part of the court and the southern part included chambers and a ritual bath known as ‘Mikveh’ which was used for purification and is still customary in Jewish tradition.
The sanctuary of the Temple, known as the ‘Heichal’ was the main hall used in the daily work of the Temple. It is here that the ‘Menorah’, ‘Altar of Incense’ and ‘Table of Showbread’ were kept. All these items were made of pure gold according to the specification given to Moses by God during the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt.
Separating the Sanctuary from the Holy of Holies was the ‘Parochet’ - a beautiful drape embroidered with two lions and an eagle. To this day, most Torah Arks are covered by a Parochet and the lion has since become the official symbol of the city of Jerusalem.
In the first Temple of King Solomon, there were 11 Menorahs and 11 Tables of Showbread which Solomon added to those built by Moses. The tools of the ‘Mishkan’, the mobile temple used during the exodus in the desert, were all created by the artist ‘Bezalel’.
Holy of Holies
The Holy of Holies is the most sacred spot in Judaism for it is believed that upon this place resides the divine spirit of ‘Hashem’, God. At its center is the ‘Foundation Stone’ from which the world was created according to the Talmud. It was upon this rock that the Ark of the Covenant containing the holy ‘Stone Tablets’, stood during the glorious days of Solomon’s Temple until its destruction.
Only the ‘Cohen Ha’Gadol’, the high priest, was allowed in here during one day of the year – Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. If repairs needed to be made, workers would be lowered in a special box from the roof as to not see or disturb any other part of the Holy of Holies.
The destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 AD marked the end of sacrificial Judaism and introduced the new era of Rabbinic Judaism. To this day Jews all over the world turn their prayers to this site and wish for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.
This ends our tour of the Temple in Jerusalem. Visit Jerusalem.com for more 3D virtual tours of Jerusalem.