כ״ו בטבת ה׳תשע״ד (December 29, 2013)

Yoma 51a-b: Walking between the curtains

How did the enter the Holy of Holies to perform the Yom Kippur service?

The Mishna on our daf presents the opinion of the Tanna Kamma , who believes that the Holy of Holies was separated from the kodesh (Sanctuary) by a double curtain. The kohen gadol would enter the cubit-wide space between the two curtains, walk the width of the Temple, and enter the kodesh kodashim. The double curtain was introduced in the Second Temple to replace the wall that existed in the first Temple, which was an amah (cubit) thick. Rashi explains that since the second Temple was much taller than the first Temple, and the wall could not be thicker than a single cubit, it was impossible to build the wall so high, and it was replaced by the curtains. The idea of using a curtain came from the Mishkan, where there was a single curtain separating the different areas of the kodesh. Rabbi Yosei argues with the Tanna Kamma, claiming that even during second Temple times there was just a single curtain.

The Gemara quotes three opinions about how the kohen gadol crossed the area of the kodesh, which included the menorah, the mizbe’ah and the shulhan.

  • According to Rabbi Yehuda the kohen gadol walked between the menorah and the mizbe’ah.
  • According to Rabbi Meir, he walked between the shulhan and the mizbe’ah
  • Rabbi Yosei suggests that he walked between the shulhan and the northern wall.

The Gemara explains that the difference between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yosei is based on their different opinions about which side of the Temple had the opening in the curtain. Rabbi Meir’s opinion is based on his understanding of how the table was placed, and the concern that there was not enough room for the kohen gadol to walk along the wall.

In this illustration the tables are positioned east to west along the length of the Sanctuary

When the first Temple was built, King Solomon added ten extra tables to the Biblically mandated shulhan. According to most opinions, these additional shulhanot did not exist in the second Temple, and there was certainly room for the kohen gadol to walk between the table and the wall. Nevertheless the tanna’im still argue, since the traditions of the first Temple were still kept during the second Temple period.

Previous
Next