EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE MIKDASH
Join us as we explore what daily life is like in the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) in our short, question-and-answer style series “Everyday Life in the Mikdash”.
#1: Where do the Kohanim (priests) sleep?
The kohanim sleep in a room called “Lishkat Beit HaMoked” located in the Ezrat Kohanim (Priestly Courtyard) . Each kohen (priest) works in the Beit HaMikdash for one week at a time, two times a year. During this week, he sleeps in Lishkat Beit HaMoked. The beds are arranged in multiple levels, as seen in the image, and there is also space on the floor for the younger kohanim to sleep. (Mishna Tamid 1:1)
#2: How is it decided which Kohanim (priests) do which parts of the Avodah (service)?
Many parts of the avodah are given out by a lottery system, called the “Payis”. There are four lotteries each day in the Temple, each for different parts of the avodah. For example, the second lottery is for the parts of the Avodat HaTamid (daily service), which includes the Korban Tamid (daily sacrifice). (Mishna Yoma Chapter 2)
#3: When is the Lechem HaPanim (showbread) baked and eaten?
The Lechem HaPanim, which consists of twelve loaves of specially shaped bread, is baked every Friday. On Shabbat (the Sabbath), the “old” set of bread is removed from the Shulchan Lechem HaPanim (Table of the Showbread) and the freshly baked bread is set in place. The “old” set of bread, which miraculously stays fresh for a full seven days, is then eaten by the kohanim (priests) who are serving in the Temple at the time.
#4: What is “Lishkat HaEtzim”?
Lishkat HaEtzim- literally “the Room of the Wood”- is the place where the wood is stored for the ma’arachot (bonfires) on the mizbeach (altar). In this room, located in the northeastern corner of the Ezrat Nashim (Women’s Courtyard), the kohanim (priests) inspect the wood for blemishes and prepare it for use on the mizbeach. Almost all types of wood are permitted for use in the Temple, but the wood of date trees was the preferred wood of choice.
#5: Who is permitted to light the Menorah in the Mikdash (Temple)?
Although almost all other parts of the service in the Temple must be done by the Kohanim (priests), the Menorah, the seven-branch candelabra that is lit daily in the Mikdash, may be lit by a non-Kohen. However, a Kohen (priest) must be the one set up the candles and bring the Menorah out of the Heichal (sanctuary), a part of the Mikdash that only the Kohanim are permitted to enter.
The Rambam (Maimonides) writes: “The lighting of the candles is permissible if done by a non-Kohen. Therefore, if the kohen sets up the candles and brings them out [of the Heichal] the non-Kohen is permitted to light them” (Hilchot Bi’at HaMikdash 9:7)
#6: What do the Levi’im (Levites) do in the Mikdash (Temple)?
The Levi’im have three jobs in the Mikdash. They are the shomrim (guards) in various locations on Har HaBayit (Temple Mount) and in the Mikdash itself, are in charge of opening the gates, and play instruments and sing in the Mikdash on a daily basis. The Levi’im sing and play their instruments on a special podium, called “Duchan HaLevi’im”, in the Ezrat Kohanim (Priestly Courtyard) during the daily service in the Mikdash.
#7: What does the average Kohen (priest) wear?
The average Kohen wears four special garments when the work in the Mikdash (Temple): the kutonet (tunic), the michnasayim (pants), the migbaat (hat) and the avnet (belt). The kutonet, michnasayim and migbaat are made of wool. There is a debate amongst the rabbis as to what the avnet of the ordinary Kohen was made of- some say that it was made of wool and linen, and some say that was made solely of linen. #everydaylifeinthemikdash
#8: What is “Lishkat HaGazit”?
Lishkat HaGazit is a room in the northeastern corner of the ezrat kohanim (priestly courtyard). This is where the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court of law, meets. There were about 71 members of the Sanhedrin. This room is also used as the location for the “payis” (lottery) [see Everyday Life in the Mikdash #2]
#9: How are the kohanim (priests) allowed to bring korbanot (sacrifices) on Shabbat (the Sabbath)?
The avodah (service) in the Mikdash (Temple) overrides the Torah prohibitions involved in the sacrificing process. There are some actions that are permitted to be done on Shabbat according to Torah law, but are prohibited by Rabbinic law either because they are similar to those prohibited by Torah law or because they might lead one to violate a Torah prohibition. These Rabbinic laws are called “Shvut”. However, because we are obligated to this avodah on Shabbat, all of the actions that fall into the category of “Shvut” that need to be done in order to perform the avodah properly are permitted to be done in the Mikdash on Shabbat. [Rambam Peirush HaMishnayot Eiruvin 10:14]
#10: When and how does one prostrate oneself the Mikdash (Temple)?
In the Mikdash, prostration is part of the avodah (service). At the end of every part of the service that a given kohen (priest) performs, he prostrates himself. The Rabbis instituted a halacha (law) that a non-Kohen on his way up to the Temple is obligated to prostrate himself before the breaches in the Sorag (a small fence that surrounded the main area of the Temple Mount). As well, during the Shir Shel Yom (Song of the Day) played and sung by the Livi’im (Levites) in the Mikdash, there are three trumpet blasts. For each blast, whomever from the nation who was present in the Mikdash at the time prostrates themselves. Prostration in the Mikdash (called “Hishtachavaya”) entails fully prostrating oneself on the ground, in contrast to bowing (called “Kriyah”) done outside of the Mikdash, which is only from the hips. [Mishna Tamid 6:1,3; Mishna Middot 2:3; Mishna Tamid 7:3; Babylonian Talmud Megilla 22b; Rambam Hilchot Tfillah 5:13]