The Place Where Yaakov Davened

Question #1: Ascending Har Habayis Today

“I have been told that it can be halachically permitted to ascend Har Habayis, and I have also heard that it is forbidden and could violate some very severe Torah laws. Which is true?”

Question #2: Non-Jews in the Beis Hamikdash

“Where in the Beis Hamikdash may a non-Jew pray?”

Question #3: Is Yaakov second rate?

“If Yaakov created the maariv prayer, why is his prayer treated as inferior to those created by Avraham and Yitzchak? After all, the Gemara’s conclusion is that tefillas arvis reshus, the evening prayer is optional (Brachos 27b).”

Introduction:

Our parsha opens: “Then Yaakov left Be’er Sheva, heading towards Haran. And he stopped at the place and spent the night there because the sun had already set.” Rashi raises the question that the posuk should say that he stopped at “a” place, not “the” place; it is clearly referring to a place with which we are already familiar. Rashi explains that this refers to Har Hamoriah, where Akeidas Yitzchok took place. We are more familiar with referring to this mountain as Har Habayis, literally, “the mountain of The House,” upon which the Beis Hamikdash was later built.

Chazal derive from here that Yaakov arrived at this holy place and instituted the prayer of maariv. Shelomoh Hamelech prayed that the Beis Hamikdash should be a place for both Jews and non-Jews to worship Hashem (see Melachim I 8:41), and this spirit is again emphasized in a later prophecy, ki beisi beis tefillah yikarei lechol ha’amim (Yeshayahu 56:8) “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.”

This provides an opportunity to discuss the laws mentioned in the Mishnah describing the different levels of sanctity that apply to the Land of Israel and the Beis Hamikdash area, all laws that we need to know today and will need to know even more thoroughly when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, bimheirah be’yameinu.

The first chapter of Mesechta Keilim, which is an introduction to the entire seder and the concepts of Taharos, closes with the following: “There are ten levels of sanctity” germane to different places in Eretz Yisrael, and then the Mishnah enumerates the different levels. This article will list and explain these different levels, which should help us understand some of the laws that apply.

(1) Land of Israel

The lowest of these levels of sanctity is “the land of Israel itself, which is holier than all other lands” in that three offerings brought to the Beis Hamikdashkorban omer, bikkurim and the two loaves offered on Shavuos — can be brought only from produce of Eretz Yisrael.

There are many other halachos germane exclusively to Eretz Yisrael, such as that most agricultural mitzvos of the Torah apply only in Eretz Yisrael, at least min haTorah.

The special semicha given by Moshe Rabbeinu that is required for many halachic areas can be issued only in Eretz Yisrael (Sanhedrin 14a; Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:6). Another halacha that can be fulfilled only in Eretz Yisrael is the appointment of a king over the Jewish people (Tosefta, Sanhedrin 4:6).

Eastern side of the Jordan

The eastern side of the Jordan became part of the Land of Israel in the days of Moshe, when the kings Sichon and Og attacked the Benei Yisrael, and they and their armies were annihilated. However, these lands were not originally part of the Land of Israel that was promised to the Benei Yisrael when they left Egypt. Can the korban omer, bikkurim and the two loaves of Shavuos be offered from produce of the eastern side of the Jordan River, which was not part of the originally promised Eretz Yisrael?

This is the subject of a dispute among the rishonim, in which Rashi (Sanhedrin 11b s.v. al shetayim and Menachos 83b s.v. kol ha’aratzos) rules that these korbanos can be brought from the eastern side of the Jordan, whereas the Ran (Nedorim 22a s.v. hahi) rules that they cannot.

(2) Walled Israeli cities

The next level of sanctity is that the walled cities of Eretz Yisrael, according to the Mishnah, are holier than other places in Eretz Yisrael in the following two ways:

(1) A metzora may not remain in these cities.

(2) Once a meis has been removed from these cities, it may not be returned. (And certainly if the person died outside a walled city, his remains may not be brought into the city). The Rambam and the Raavad disagree whether this ruling includes an absolute prohibition to bury someone in a walled city in Eretz Yisrael (Raavad, Hilchos Beis Habechirah 7:13) or whether someone who died within the walled city may be buried in the city (Rambam ad loc.). All agree that once the meis was removed from the walled city, it may not be returned to the city, and certainly may not be buried there.

Capital punishment

According to many early authorities, another law about the walled cities of Eretz Yisrael is that when a Beis Din carried out capital punishment, this was required to be performed outside a walled city in Eretz Yisrael (Rash and Rosh, Keilim 1:7, based on Mishnah Sanhedrin 42b; see also Tosafos ad loc. s.v. beis).

Purim

An obvious question is — why did I not mention that there is a difference in that the walled cities celebrate Purim on the fifteenth of Adar, sometimes called Shushan Purim, whereas unwalled cities celebrate Purim on the fourteenth of Adar.

The answer is that this has nothing to do with walled cities in Eretz Yisrael; even walled cities outside Eretz Yisrael that date back to the time of Yehoshua entering Eretz Yisrael would celebrate Purim on the 15th (see Ran, Megillah 2a s.v. kerachin, in the name of Tosafos).

(3) Yerushalayim

The third level is the walled city of Yerushalayim, in which it is permitted to eat maaser sheini, the meat of kodshim kalim (Keilim 1:8)such as korban pesach and shelamim, and bikkurim (see Bikkurim 2:2).

By the way, the current “Old City” walls of Yerushalayim, constructed by the Ottoman Turks almost 1500 years after the churban, are not the borders that define the halachic sanctity of the city. Without question, there are areas outside the current walls that did have the sanctity of Yerushalayim, and the walls probably encompass areas that were not part of the city at the times of Tanach and Chazal, and, therefore, do not have the sanctity of Yerushalayim. When Moshiach comes, it will be necessary to determine exactly where the borders of the halachic “old city” of Yerushalayim are.

(4) Har Habayis

The fourth level is Har Habayis, beyond which many tamei people may not enter, including zavim, zavos, niddos and women after childbirth, until they have been able to complete the first stage of their taharah process. Because of space considerations, we cannot explain the details of these types of tumah, but our readers should be aware that, because of these laws, many people who ascend the Har Habayis today violate a Torah prohibition equivalent to eating treif food.

For clarification purposes: In addition to walls surrounding the city of Yerushalayim, there were also walls surrounding the entire Har Habayis. The Kosel HaMaaravi, where we daven, is part of the western wall of the Har Habayis. These are not the walls of the Beis Hamikdash. The Beis Hamikdash occupied only a small area of the Har Habayis. Although the Har Habayis has much more kedusha than that of Yerushalayim, the Beis Hamikdash has much greater kedusha than that of the Har Habayis. Today when we are all temei’im, someone entering the area where the Beis Hamikdash once stood is chayov kareis, an extremely severe punishment (Kaftor Vaferech, Chapter 6; Kesef Mishneh, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 6:14; cf. Ra’avad ad loc., who disagrees).

As we said, the Har Habayis has far less sanctity than the Beis Hamikdash. Nevertheless, most contemporary poskim prohibit ascending the Har Habayis. A minority of poskim permit entering areas of the Har Habayis that are not part of the Beis Hamikdash, in order to daven or perform a mitzvah, but only after performing certain taharah procedures, including washing oneself thoroughly, making certain that there are no chatzitzos (intervening substances on one’s body), and immersing in a mikveh. All agree that it is prohibited to enter any part of the Har Habayis if one is tamei with what halacha calls tumah hayotzei migufo, which includes people who are baalei keri, zav, zavah, niddah and yoledes.

Ascending Har Habayis today

At this point, let us address our opening question:

“I have been told that it can be halachically permitted to ascend Har Habayis, and I have also heard that it is forbidden and could violate some very severe Torah laws. Which is true?”

The answer is that most people who ascend the Har Habayis are, unfortunately, violating major halachos, and, for this reason, the vast majority of contemporary halachic authorities rule that no one, except for security personnel when necessary, should ever ascend Har Habayis. Unfortunately, since it has now become “stylish” in many circles to ascend the Har Habayis, many people are violating halachos, somethingthat they would never have done on their own without encouragement.

(5) Cheil

The fifth level is the “cheil,” beyond which non-Jews may not proceed, nor Jews who are tamei meis. The word “cheil” means a wall or fortification (see Tehillim 48:14, Yeshayahu 26:1). Most authorities assume that the sanctity of the cheil over the Har Habayis is only a rabbinic injunction, and that min haTorah it is permitted to enter the cheil with this level of tumah, but prohibited from entering the Beis Hamikdash proper (Raavad, Hilchos Beis Habechirah 7:16; Rash, Rosh and Gra, Keilim 1:8).

This is the first time the Mishnah has mentioned the category called tamei meis, tumah contracted through contact with a corpse. (Someone who was ever in the same room or under the same roof as a corpse also becomes tamei meis.) This status creates a major halachic concern, because it is a severe Torah prohibition to enter the Beis Hamikdash grounds while tamei, and virtually everyone today has become tamei meis. Although other forms of tumah can be removed by immersion in a mikveh at the appropriate time, tumas meis can be removed only by sprinkling on the person who is tamei from the water in which was mixed ashes of the parah adumah (the red cow or heifer whose processing is described by the Torah in parshas Chukas and in mesechta Parah). Since we do not know where the remaining ashes of the previously prepared paros adumos are, we cannot purify ourselves from tumas meis.

At this point, we can address the second of our opening questions: “Where in the Beis Hamikdash may a non-Jew pray?”

The answer is that he may pray anywhere on the Har Habayis that he would like, as long as it outside the cheil area. Technically speaking, this means that he is praying near the Beis Hamikdash, but not inside it.

(6) Ezras Nashim

The sixth level is the Ezras Nashim. The term “ezras nashim” is used today to mean the area of a shul which is designated for the women to daven. The original term refers to an area of the Beis Hamikdash, or, more technically, the entrance area of the Beis Hamikdash. Beyond this area, only someone completely tahor may enter. It is called the Ezras Nashim because women usually did not enter past this point, although they could, if there was a halachic reason for them to do so.

We should note that the Beis Hamikdash is oriented westward. In other words, from the Ezras Nashim until the Kodesh Hakodoshim, which is the highest level of sanctity, we are entering on the east, and moving toward the west, with the Kodesh Hakodoshim being the western most area of the Beis Hamikdash.

The Beis Hamikdash was not centered in the middle of the Har Habayis, but on its west-northwest side (Rambam, Hilchos Beis Habechirah 5:6). The Ezras Nashim is the beginning of the Beis Hamikdash itself.

(7) Ezras Yisrael

The seventh level is the Ezras Yisrael, beyond which anyone tamei is prohibited from entering min haTorah. Even someone with a very mild amount of residual tumah, called mechusar kippurim, may not enter this area.

The term Ezras Yisrael does not mean “He who helps Israel,” or “the help of Israel” (as it does when used in davening) but comes from the word azarah, as it is used many times in Yechezkel and Divrei Hayamim, where it refers to the “courtyard,” the enclosed areas of the Beis Hamikdash that are outside the Kodesh or Heichal. The term Ezras Nashim that we mentioned previously also uses the word azarah in the same sense.

(8) Ezras Kohanim

The eighth level is the area called the Ezras Kohanim. Normally, only kohanim are allowed to enter past this point, although there are circumstances in which a Yisrael is permitted to enter past this area to carry out some halachic responsibility.

The Ezras Kohanim was a strip of area alongside the eastern side of the mizbei’ach.

At this point, it is appropriate to quote the words of the Rambam: “The location of the mizbeiach is extremely exact, and it may never be moved from its location… We have an established tradition that the place where David and Shelomoh built the mizbeiach is the same place where Avraham built the mizbeiach and bound Yitzchak. This is the same place where Noach built a mizbeiach when he left the Ark and where Kayin and Hevel built their mizbeiach. It is the same place where Adam offered the first korban, and it is the place where he (Adam) was created….

“The dimensions and shape of the mizbeiach are very exact. The mizbeiach constructed when the Jews returned from the first exile was built according to the dimensions of the mizbeiach that will be built in the future. One may not add or detract from its size” (Hilchos Beis Habechirah 2:1-3). Prior to building the second Beis Hamikdash, the prophets Chaggai, Zecharyah and Malachi testified regarding three halachos about the mizbeiach that were necessary to reinstitute the korbanos, one of which was the exact location of the mizbeiach (Zevachim 62a).

(9) Between the mizbei’ach and the Kodesh

The ninth level is the area past the mizbei’ach, to which a kohein with a blemish or one who has not had his hair cut properly may not enter.

As the Mishnah teaches, a kohein with either of these disqualifications may not perform the service in the Beis Hamikdash, and if he did, the korban that he worked with became invalid (Mishnah Zevachim 15b).

(10) The Kodesh

The tenth level is the Kodesh. In the Beis Hamikdash, there actually was an area in front of the Kodesh called the Ulam, which has the same level of kedusha as the Kodesh. The the ulam area did not exist in the Mishkan.

Inside the Kodesh area was where the menorah, the shulchan and the golden mizbei’ach stood. The golden mizbei’ach was used daily only for the burning of the ketores, although on Yom Kippur it was also used for some of the holiest of the korbanos, those that were brought into the Kodesh Hakodoshim.

(11) The Kodesh Hakodoshim

The highest level of sanctity is that of the Kodesh Hakodoshim. This was entered only by the Kohein Gadol and only on Yom Kippur. In actuality, the Kohein Gadol entered the Kodesh Hakodoshim four times on Yom Kippur: The first time was with the Yom Kippur ketores, the second time to begin the kaparah of his special Yom Kippur bull offering, the third time to attend to the kaparah of the goat offering, and the fourth time, later in the day, to pick up the censer and the ladle with which he had offered the ketores when he first entered.

But one second; you told me that the Mishnah says that there are ten levels of sanctity, and then you listed eleven. This is inconsistent!

You are indeed correct. At the end of their commentaries to this chapter, the Rash and the Bartenura raise this question, to which there are many answers. The Rambam seems to understand that the first level that I counted, Eretz Yisrael, should not be included: The Mishnah is listing ten levels of sanctity above Eretz Yisrael.

Conclusion: Was Yaakov third rate?

At this point, let us return to the third of our opening questions: If each of our three daily prayers was established by one of our forefathers, why is it that two of these prayers are obligatory, and yet the Gemara concludes that maariv is optional? Even if we understand the Gemara to mean, as some rishonim explain, that it is only relatively optional – meaning that davening maariv is mandatory, but that it is more easily deferred – we want to know why Yaakov seems to get a second-rate standing. After all, he is considered the most chosen of the forefathers, bechir shebe’avos, so why should his prayer be considered of lesser importance?

The Penei Yehoshua (Berachos 26b s.v. mihu) explains that Yaakov never intended to create a new prayer at night, but intended to daven mincha! Suddenly, Hashem made the sun set, and it got dark early, in order to force Yaakov to stop at that place. Thus, Yaakov’s prayer was because he had missed mincha, but not because he was trying to institute a prayer in the evening. Since his creation of maariv was unintentional, it shows no lack of respect for Yaakov to suggest that it may have more lenient rules than the prayers created by Avraham and Yitzchak, shacharis and mincha.




Aliyah Laregel

This website contains many articles on a wide range of Yom Tov related topics that can be found under the headings Sukkah, Esrog, Yom Tov, Hallel, Chol Hamoed, Eruv Tavshillin. The enclosed article discusses a different aspect of Yom Tov observance, that of…

Aliyah Laregel

Question #1: Yizkor on Simchas Torah?

“Is there a reason why Yizkor is recited in Eretz Yisroel in the middle of the Simchas Torah davening?”

Question #2: No Aliyah Laregel

“Someone once told me that when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel will be optional. How can that be?”

Question #3: Women and Yaaleh Veyavo

“If a woman forgot Yaaleh Veyavo in bensching of Yom Tov, does she repeat the bensching?”

Introduction:

Although we cannot observe the beautiful mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel until the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, many halachic observances and customs result from the laws associated with this mitzvah. The questions above reflect some of those practices.

The mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel

The mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel is mentioned several places in the Torah. In parshas Ki Sissa (Shemos 34:23), the Torah states: Shalosh pe’amim bashanah yeira’eh kol zechurcha es penei Ha’adon Hashem, Elokei Yisroel, “Three times a year shall all your males appear in the Presence of the Lord, Hashem, the G-d of Israel,” and a similar posuk appears in parshas Mishpatim (Shemos 23:17). In parshas Re’eih (Devorim 16:16), the Torah specifies that the three times are Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos. In this last place, the Torah concludes with the following statement: “Three times a year, all your males shall appear before Hashem, your G-d, in the place that He will choose, and you should not appear before Hashem empty-handed. Each man should bring with him according to the bounty that Hashem your G-d has provided you.”

This last verse teaches that the mitzvah is not only to ascend to Yerushalayim and to the Har Habayis (the “Temple Mount”), but also to bring korbanos when we come. It also states that a wealthier individual is obligated to spend more on his korbanos than a pauper (Mishnah, Chagigah 8b).

Three mitzvos

When the Tosefta (Chagigah 1:5) and the Gemara (Chagigah 6b) discuss the details of Aliyah Laregel, they refer to it as three mitzvos: “The Jewish people were commanded three mitzvos when they were oleh regel,” that is, traveling to the Beis Hamikdash grounds on Yom Tov required three specific mitzvah actions:

  1. From the words of the above-quoted posuk, “You should not appear before Hashem emptyhanded,” we derive that one is required to offer a korban olah when we appear in the Beis Hamikdash, called an olas re’iyah. This korban is completely consumed on the mizbeiach, except for its hide, which is given to the kohanim as one of the gifts that the Torah provides.
  2. The mitzvah of offering special korbanos shelamim in honor of the festival, called Chagigah or shalmei chagigah. Some of the meat of this korban goes to the kohanim, but most of it goes to the owners who serve it as part of their Yom Tov meals while in Yerushalayim. Any tahor Jewish person is permitted to eat from this korban.
  3. The mitzvah of simcha, which includes offering korbanos and eating their meat on each day of the festival, including chol hamoed. Since meat of korbanos may be eaten only in Yerushalayim, this means that, at the time of the Beis Hamikdash, the entire Jewish people spent the whole Yom Tov, including all the days of chol hamoed, in Yerushalayim.

One fulfills this latter mitzvah with any animal korban from which one is permitted to eat, including other korbanos that one must offer anyway (Mishnah, Chagigah 7b). In other words, one may wait to bring his other required korbanos, such as firstborn animals, maaser beheimah, donated shelamim offerings, and chata’os until Yom Tov, and offer them then, while one is in Yerushalayim anyway. When he offers them on Yom Tov, he may fulfill the requirement of consuming shalmei simcha with the meat of these korbanos. (In the case of chata’os and similar korbanos, this approach can be used only by kohanim, since no one else is permitted to consume them.)

Rules of Har Habayis

One is required to be completely tahor when ascending the Har Habayis and to do so with complete awe of the sanctity of the place, and to act appropriately. Among the specific laws that apply on Har Habayis is a prohibition against wearing shoes and of carrying one’s wallet or money belt.

Exempt from Aliyah Laregel

Notwithstanding the words of the Torah that all the males should ascend the Har Habayis three times a year, Chazal derive that there is a long list of men who are exempt from fulfilling the mitzvos of re’iyah. This list includes:

  1. Difficulty in walking

Anyone who has difficulty walking is exempt from the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel. This includes the elderly, the ill, someone with a lameness or injury in his legs, and even those who are unused to walking without shoes, since one is prohibited from wearing shoes on the Har Habayis (Chagigah 4a). Someone who can walk there only because he uses a prosthesis is also exempt from the mitzvah (Chagigah 3a; 4a). Similarly, someone who has discomfort in one leg, even if he has no discomfort in the other leg and can still walk, is also exempt (Chagigah 3a).

  1. Vision impaired

Anyone whose vision is impaired is exempt from the mitzvah. This includes someone who can see out of only one eye (Chagigah 4b).

  1. Hearing impaired

Someone who cannot hear, but can speak, or someone who can speak but not hear is exempt from the mitzvah of re’iyah, although they are obligated in simcha and indeed all other mitzvos of the Torah (Chagigah 2b). Also, someone who does not hear in one ear is exempt from re’iyah (Chagigah 3a).

All three of these categories of people who are exempt from the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel and of offering the olas re’iyah and the shalmei chagigah are still obligated in the third mitzvah mentioned above, of partaking in korbanos simcha (Rambam, Hilchos Chagigah 2:4, based on Gemara Chagigah 4a). This is, of course, assuming that they went to Yerushalayim for Yom Tov, because one may eat these korbanos only there.

  1. Tamei

People who are tamei are exempt from fulfilling the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel (Gemara Chagigah 4b; Tosefta Chagigah 1:1). Someone who is tamei is required to make himself tahor in order to fulfill the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel. However, if he did not purify himself or was unable to do so, he is now exempt from the mitzvah, since as long as he is tamei he may not enter the Beis Hamikdash grounds. Indeed, someone who is tamei cannot fulfill the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel, since he is not allowed to enter the Beis Hamikdash grounds (Rambam, Hilchos Chagigah 2:1).

There is a major difference between the various categories of exemptions from Aliyah Laregel. People excused from the mitzvah for medical reasons may perform the mitzvah, and if they do so, they will be rewarded as einam metzuvim ve’osim, those who perform a mitzvah that they are not obligated to perform. However, someone who is tamei is forbidden to participate in Aliyah Laregel, since doing so would cause him to violate the sanctity of the Beis Hamikdash. He should try to make himself tahor as soon as possible.

  1. Uncircumcised

There are specific situations in which someone is not obligated to have a bris milah performed, because of the danger that is involved. Although such a person is exempt from the mitzvah of bris milah, he is still not circumcised, and, as such, he is exempt from several of the Torah’s mitzvos, including the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel. Similar to the person who is tamei, this individual is forbidden to observe the mitzvah.

Children

Although a child is not required to observe any mitzvah, Chazal required the father to see to it that he observe most mitzvos, in order to acquaint himself with keeping them. In this context, we find a dispute between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel. Both schools hold that a father is required to have his minor son accompany him on the mitzvah of entering the Beis Hamikdash on Yom Tov. The question is: From what age is the father obligated to do so? According to Beis Shammai, the father is obligated to do so from when the child is old enough to ride his father’s shoulders, when the father walks from Yerushalayim to the Har Habayis.

We should be aware that the responsibility of a father to train his child to perform a mitzvah is only when the child will be obligated to fulfill that mitzvah when he becomes an adult. Thus, regarding the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel, should the child fit any of categories 1-3 above that exempt an adult from this mitzvah, the father is not obligated to bring the child with him when he is oleh regel (Rambam, Hilchos Chagigah 2:3).

Smelly professions

There are certain professions that leave their artisans with a malodorous odor. Tanners and copper smelters, for example, are surrounded by substances whose ill fragrance sometimes permeates their clothing and hair. Are they obligated in the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel, or do we say that since their attendance might adversely affect other people required to observe the mitzvah that they are exempt? This question is discussed by the Gemara (Chagigah 4a). The Rambam (Hilchos Chagigah 2:2) concludes that they are required to clean themselves and their clothes fully and fulfill the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel.

Yizkor and Aliyah Laregel

I mentioned previously the posuk from parshas Re’eih (Devorim 16:16), in which the Torah specifies that each person is obligated to donate according to the bounty that Hashem has provided him. At this point, I want to address one of our opening questions:

“Is there a reason why Yizkor is recited in Eretz Yisroel in the middle of the Simchas Torah davening?”

To answer this question, we need to explore the history of this prayer. Yizkor is a custom that began among Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz and is recited four times a year: on Yom Kippur, the eighth day of Pesach, the second day of Shavuos and on Shemini Atzeres. Why specifically on these four days?

On all of these days, there was a custom to make donations to tzedakah, and, at one point, there became established an idea of reciting a prayer that the tzedakah donated should serve for the benefit of one’s departed parents and other relatives. On Yom Kippur, it is obvious why special donations were made to tzedakah, but why specifically on the three days of Yom Tov mentioned above, as opposed to the other days of Yom Tov?

The answer is that in chutz la’aretz, the reading for these three yomim tovim — the eighth day of Pesach, the second day of Shavuos and Shemini Atzeres — is in parshas Re’eih, and the last posuk of the reading states: “Each man should bring with him according to the bounty that Hashem your G-d has provided you.” Although the literal meaning of the posuk refers to the amount one should spend on the korban olas re’iyah, it certainly can be understood to include gifts for tzedakah, and indeed that became an accepted practice. The people made donations to tzedakah, but decided to have them as an iluy neshamah, an elevation for the souls of their departed relatives. (By the way, in some German communities, there was no minhag of Yizkor and instead, they observed a different practice on those days, called matanas yad.)

When the Ashkenazim began returning to Eretz Yisroel in the nineteenth century, they realized that in Eretz Yisroel, there is no eighth day of Pesach or second day of Shavuos, and the day that is called Shemini Atzeres in chutz la’aretz is called and observed as Simchas Torah, when we read parshas Vezos Haberacha and the beginning of Bereishis. Thus, parshas Re’eih is never read on Yom Tov.

Because people did not want to lose this beautiful minhag of reciting Yizkor, they continued to observe the practice on the day of Yom Tov closest to those days, that is, on the seventh day of Pesach, Shavuos, and on Simchas Torah.

Beloved servants

We have discussed some of the laws of the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel, a topic that we will continue to discuss in a future article, when we will iy”H answer the remaining of our opening questions. Contemplating this special mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel should give every one of us chizuk. Consider that Hashem Yisborach commanded us to come to the Beis Hamikdash “in order to be seen.” The message here is that we are His beloved servants and He desires to see us, as it says in the Gemara (Chagigah 4b), “A servant whom his master desires to see.” Furthermore, the Gemara describes Klal Yisroel as “the servant whom the master desires to eat at his table.”

May we soon merit fulfilling this mitzvah in the third Beis Hamikdash, may it be rebuilt speedily, and that Hashem should look upon us favorably! Wishing all of our readers, together with all of Klal Yisroel, a good Yom Tov!

 




Sifting the Makom HaMikdash

Now that the “Three Weeks” has begun, I am sharing with you my reflections on an appropriate halachic topic.

Sifting the Makom HaMikdash

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Recently, someone asked me a shaylah that involves what is probably one of the most heart-breaking issues I was ever asked. The question was: “Are there any halachic issues involved in sifting through the earth removed by the Waqf from the Makom HaMikdash?”

To explain this shaylah, I will first explain what has happened, then discuss the halachic issues involved — and finally explain the answers. There is also a fascinating halachic-architectural issue that I noticed while studying photographs of the Moslem construction, which I will discuss at the end of this article.

During the past many years, the Waqf, the Moslem “Trust” that controls the holiest place on earth, the Har HaBayis, has been making major “renovations” there, including the construction of yet another mosque – this one located near the Shaarei Chuldah, which is the southern entrance to Har HaBayis. These gates are called Shaarei Chuldah because Chuldah the Prophetess stood between these two gates and admonished the Jews to do teshuvah.

For clarification purposes: The Kosel HaMaaravi where we daven is part of the Western Wall of the Har HaBayis, known in English as “the Temple Mount,” which is the top of the mountain called Har HaMoriah. The Beis HaMikdash included open courtyards as well as the structure that stood on the Har HaBayis, but occupied only a small area of the mountain. Although the Har HaBayis has much more kedusha than that of Yerushalayim, the Beis HaMikdash has much greater kedusha than that of the Har HaBayis. Someone entering the area where the Beis HaMikdash once stood is chayov kareis, an extremely severe punishment.[i] The Mishnah (Keilim 1:8-9) lists seven levels of kedusha above that of Yerushalayim — the highest being that of the Holy of Holies, the Kodesh HaKodashim area of the Beis HaMikdash, that only the kohen gadol may enter, and then, only to perform the service on Yom Kippur.

As we said, the Har HaBayis has far less sanctity than the Beis HaMikdash. Nevertheless, most contemporary poskim prohibit ascending the Har HaBayis. A minority of poskim permit entering areas of the Har HaBayis that are not part of the Beis HaMikdash in order to daven or perform a mitzvah, but only after one has performed certain taharah procedures, including washing one’s self thoroughly, making certain that one has no chatzitzos (interrupting substances on one’s body), and immerses oneself in a mikveh. All agree that it is prohibited to enter any part of the Har HaBayis if one is tamei with what halacha calls tumah hayotzei migufo, which includes people who are baalei keri, zav, zavah, niddah and yoledes.

The Moslem construction

The Moslem construction is without any permits and is illegal. However, the Israeli authorities refuse to interfere, citing concerns about violence! One of the Waqf’s goals is to obliterate any remnants of the Batei HaMikdash from the Har HaBayis so that they can persist with their lies that Jews never lived in Israel, and that the Batei HaMikdash never existed. The Waqf has removed hundreds of truckloads of “debris” from the Har HaBayis, which they dump in the Kidron Valley and other sites around Yerushalayim.

With the help of volunteers, Israeli archeologists are painstakingly sifting through the rubble removed from the Har HaBayis, to look for artifacts. (Thus, there is no halachic concern of ascending to the Har HaBayis.) Someone asked me whether he can volunteer for this work, citing the following potential shaylos:

  1. Is there a halachic concern that in the unearthing of these items someone is receiving personal benefit from property of the Beis HaMikdash, thus violating the severe Torah prohibition called me’ilah.
  2. Since we are all tamei, is there concern that one might be rendering impure (i.e., making tamei) property or the stones of the Beis HaMikdash?
  3. What are we required to do with stones or earth that were originally part of the Beis HaMikdash or the Har HaBayis?
  4. The remnants being unearthed include bone fragments, some of them human. This leads to two specific questions: (a) May a kohen work in this project? (b) Is there a halachic concern of mistreating the dead, since these human remains will not be buried afterwards, but will be stored and used for scientific research and study?
  5. Some artifacts that surface are clearly from what were once idols. Is there a halachic requirement to destroy them? Is it the finder’s responsibility to destroy them, something which the archeologists do not permit?

The archeological finds

Now some background on what the search is revealing, so that we can explain the halachic issues raised. Everything found on the Har HaBayis has a dark gray-ash color, rather than the typical white limestone color of Yerushalayim earth. This is because the fires of the destructions that transpired discolored the Har HaBayis earth.

Every bucketful of sifted earth contains numerous historical items, including coins, pottery and glass fragments,  arrowheads and other primitive weapons and pieces of human or animal bone. Coins unearthed date from as early as the second Beis HaMikdash to as late as the period of Napoleon III (mid-nineteenth century). The pieces of animal bone are presumably from what people ate there – possibly, leftovers from korbanos, but also leftovers of non-Jewish meals of the last centuries.

Other remnants unearthed are connected with the churban, such as Babylonian and Roman arrowheads, and Roman catapult projectiles, all sad reminders of the Jews who died there during the two churbanos.

Probably a greater reminder of the churban is the general attitude of the Moslems, who, in effect, rule over the Har HaBayis today. One would think that the Moslems would treat the Har HaBayis with some level of sanctity, since they claim that it is one of their holy sites. Unfortunately, this is not true. The workers loiter and smoke there, and children play soccer. Their chief concern seems to be that Jews not pray there.

We can now begin to answer the questions raised above:

Beis HaMikdash property

Question #1: Is there a halachic concern that in the unearthing of these items someone is receiving personal benefit from property of the Beis HaMikdash thus violating the severe Torah prohibition called me’ilah.

Much broken pottery has been found among the artifacts. These items are of great archeological curiosity because they indicate who used the Har HaBayis and ate their meals there over the millennia. Halachically, we know that kohanim ate meat of the holier korbanos only in the Beis HaMikdash area. After cooking these korbanos, the halacha required that the earthenware pots used be broken in a holy area of the Beis HaMikdash.[ii] The shards discovered may indeed be remnants of these vessels. However, these earthenware pieces have no sanctity, since all holy vessels were manufactured from metal only.

Remnants of holy vessels

Many types of holy vessels, such as bowls, baking dishes, forks, and numerous other items were used in the service in the Beis HaMikdash. What is the halacha if someone found a usable metal item that might be one of the holy vessels of the Beis HaMikdash, or something that might be a remnant from the mizbayach (the altar)? Is there a prohibition of me’ilah in using these items?

Because of complicated halachic issues, the poskim dispute whether one would violate me’ilah in such a case. Allow me to explain. Based on a pasuk in Yechezkel,[iii] the Gemara presents us with a halachic concept referred to as “ba’u peritzim vichilaluhu” – when the lawless entered, they removed its sanctity, meaning that under certain circumstances, misuse of Beis HaMikdash vessels defiles them and removes their kedusha.[iv] The Rishonim dispute when this concept applies. The Baal HaMaor explains that when the Hellenized Jews used the mizbayach of the Beis HaMikdash inappropriately (during the events prior to the Chanukah story), this defiling removed the sanctity from the stones of the mizbayach. In his opinion, the other vessels of the Beis HaMikdash still maintain their sanctity, and, furthermore, only Jews can cause the kedusha to be removed, not gentiles. Thus, according to the Baal HaMaor, someone who uses a vessel of the Beis HaMikdash today violates the severe prohibition of me’ilah. The Ramban disagrees with the Baal HaMaor, explaining that when the gentiles entered the Beis HaMikdash to destroy it, they profaned the sanctity of the building and its vessels. In his opinion, someone who subsequently made use of these vessels for his own personal purposes would not violate any prohibition of me’ilah. As a result of this dispute, one should not use a metal utensil found in the Har HaBayis ruins, because of the possibility of committing me’ilah, based on the Baal HaMaor’s stricter opinion.

Question #2: Since we are all tamei, is there concern that one might be profaning (i.e., making tamei) property or the stones of the Beis HaMikdash?

I could find no halachic literature directly discussing this shaylah. There is a prohibition of making something tamei in the Beis HaMikdash.[v] However, I am unaware of any halachic source that prohibits making these items tamei once they have been removed from the Beis HaMikdash grounds. Furthermore, stones themselves do not become tamei.

Question #3: What are we required to do with stones or earth that were originally part of the Beis HaMikdash or the Har HaBayis?

Destroying the Beis HaMikdash (chas veshalom)

To destroy any part of the Beis HaMikdash violates a Torah prohibition.[vi] This includes removing a stone from the mizbayach or from any other part of the Beis HaMikdash with the intent of destroying it.[vii] To destroy items that belong to the Beis HaMikdash, even those that are not used for a holy purpose (kodashei bedek habayis), or to intentionally destroy part of the Har HaBayis  is prohibited miderabbanan.[viii]

Is there a responsibility to bury the broken stone from the Beis HaMikdash or from the Har HaBayis?

The halacha is that damaged stone from the Beis HaMikdash or its vessels must be buried, just as we bury worn-out sifrei Torah.[ix] Thus, the halacha requires that stone or other remains from the Beis HaMikdash be respectfully buried. Unfortunately, today, the stone and other remains that have no archeological value are simply abandoned at the worksite.

Does the earth from the Har HaBayis have sanctity?

The Mizbayach Adamah,[x] whose author was the rav of Yerushalayim during part of the eighteenth century, discusses a shaylah whether grapes grown on the Har HaBayis are prohibited because of me’ilah. From his discussion, it is clear that he considers all earth of the Har HaBayis to have kedusha that might create a prohibition of me’ilah. Thus, the same concerns I raised above about the stone remains exist concerning the earth itself, and it must be buried in a respectful way.

Question #4: The remnants unearthed include bone fragments, some of them human. This leads to two specific questions:

(a) May a kohen participate in this project?

(b) Is there a halachic concern of mistreating the dead, since these human remains will not be buried afterwards, but will be stored and used for scientific research and study?

Human bones

The discovery of human bone fragments on the Har HaBayis is puzzling, since Jews would never have buried anyone there. In all likelihood, these are bones of non-Jews that were interred there, or perhaps of Jews who were killed on the Har HaBayis and, unfortunately, not buried according to halacha. Even if we assume that these are bones of non-Jews, a fragment as small as the size of a barleycorn will convey tumah, if moved or touched. Therefore, since there is a reasonable chance that a kohen might touch or lift a human bone fragment, he should refrain from participating in this project.

Burial

Does a non-kohen need to be concerned about the possibility that he will locate bones, and that he now has a mitzvah to bury them?

If one can assume that the bones discovered were from non-Jews, there is no mitzvah to bury them, but only to be certain that they do not render a kohen impure. Even if the bones are from a Jew, it is unclear whether the mitzvah of burying a Jewish meis applies to such a small amount. The Mishneh LaMelech[xi] rules that the mitzvah of kevurah does not apply to part of a corpse, whereas the Tosafos Yom Tov[xii] rules that one is required to bury a piece of a Jewish meis as small as a kezayis. However, it is unclear how small a piece of bone requires kevurah.

Avodah Zarah

Question #5: Some artifacts that surface are clearly from what were once idols. Is there a halachic requirement to destroy them? Is it the finder’s responsibility to destroy them, something which the archeologists do not permit?

Some background to this shaylah: It is prohibited to benefit from an idol; furthermore, there is a Torah mitzvah to destroy idols in a way that no one can ever benefit from them.[xiii] The suggested method is to grind up the idol and scatter the filings to the wind or the sea. One may also not benefit from a broken idol, and the same halachic requirement exists to destroy it.[xiv] Obviously, the archeologists overseeing the work will not allow this halacha to be fulfilled.

Thus, in conclusion, it appears that one unless one found usable metal vessels, one does not need to be concerned about using Beis HaMikdash property while sifting earth removed from the Har HaBayis. It also seems that a non-kohen may participate in these activities if he can have control over the items that he finds and can destroy the idols and bury the human bones and any remains from the Beis HaMikdash that he may find. However, he may not participate as a member of a “dig team,” where he is forced to follow the instructions of an archeologist who is not following halachic guidelines.

A halacha background

From photographs I have seen of the new mosque, it appears that the Waqf did very little actual construction, but simply hollowed out one of the underground archways as it was originally constructed when the Beis HaMikdash was built. Explaining this underground construction is, in itself, a fascinating halachic subject.

Underground archways

Someone who stands above a buried corpse or part of a corpse becomes tamei (with the exception of the case I will describe below). When the Beis HaMikdash was built, the building was constructed in a way that it was impossible to become tamei, even if someone was once buried in the earth beneath the Beis HaMikdash, itself an almost impossible scenario. In order to eliminate the possibility of someone becoming tamei from such a corpse, the Har HaBayis was constructed with “archways on top of archways.”[xv]

To explain this construction, I will elucidate how tumas ohel works. If there is tumas meis under a building, tumah spreads throughout the building, but does not spread above the building. Therefore, someone walking on the roof of the building remains tahor, even though he walked directly above the meis.

Similarly, if one constructs an archway, and there is tumah under the roof of the archway, the tumah spreads underneath this entire archway, but not above it. This is because an archway is a building –tumah spreads underneath it, but the archway prevents tumah from rising above it.

However, if the meis was buried beneath the pillar of an archway, the tumah is not inside the ohel, but under the pillar – and the tumah rises vertically and contaminates the area directly above it.

The way to prevent this tumah from proceeding upward and rendering people above it tamei is to construct another archway directly above the pillar. This way, although the tumah will rise through the pillar of the lower archway, it will then remain within the ohel of the upper archway and not spread above it.

This is the concept of “archways on top of archways” — where both of the upper archway’s pillars rest on the arch of the lower archway, which effectively blocks tumas ohel from spreading from the ground below to any area above the double archway. If the meis is beneath the arch of the lower archway, the lower archway blocks tumah from rising above it, and if the tumas meis is beneath the pillar of the lower archway and its tumah rises above the lower archway, it will be blocked by the upper archway.

Thus, to avoid any possible tumas meis in the Beis HaMikdash, the entire Har HaBayis was constructed with underground double sets of archways, thereby guaranteeing that no tumas meis could spread upward from a meis below. The Waqf apparently cleared out the debris accumulated under one of these archways, and used it as the roof of their mosque!

Incidentally, this method of making “archways on top of archways” is used to correct the problem of roads discovered to pass over graves or cemeteries. In this instance, very small “archways” are constructed, but this is sufficient, because to accommodate this halachic problem, each section of archway-ohel needs to be only a tefach high.

We all hope and pray that the day will soon come when the Beis HaMikdash returns as the Bayis Shlishi, and we will ascend to the Har HaBayis in purity, sanctity, and joy to serve Hashem by observing all of the mitzvos.

An earlier version of this article was published in From Buffalo Burgers to Monetary Mysteries. If you would like to purchase this book, or From Vanishing Importers to Vultures’ Wings, or any of my Hebrew publications, please contact me by e-mail.

 

 

[i] Kaftor VaFerech, Chapter 6; Kesef Mishneh, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 6:14; Magen Avraham 561:2; Shu’t Binyan Tziyon #2.

[ii] Zevachim 93b

[iii] 7:22

[iv] Avodah Zarah 52b

[v] Mishnah and Gemara Eruvin 104b; Rambam, Hilchos Bi’as HaMikdash Chapter 3

[vi] Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 6:7

[vii] Rambam ibid.; and Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 1:17

[viii] Shu’t Achiezer, Yoreh Deah #49; Aruch HaShulchan HeAsid 4:24-25; Minchas Chinuch #437

[ix] Tosefta, Megillah 2:10; Rambam, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 1:15

[x] Cited by Machazik Bracha, addendum to Orach Chayim 151

[xi] End of Hilchos Aveil

[xii] Shabbos 10:5

[xiii] Rambam, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 7:1; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 146:14

[xiv] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 146:11

[xv] Mishnah, Parah 3:3; Rambam, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 5:1