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Shevuot 15a-b: Holy Additions

Most of us have probably experienced the need to expand our homes or to add on to the local synagogue as the community expands and there are needs that did not exist when the structure was first built. Can we do that to the Temple? Will the newly built area have the same level of holiness as the original structure?

In the context of discussing where a person who is ritually defiled cannot enter in the Temple precincts, the Mishna teaches (14a) that the Temple can have additions built that will have the same level of holiness, but only if a specific formula was followed. In order for the addition to be made holy it must be consecrated in the presence of the king, a prophet, the Urim VeTummim, the full of 71 Sages, and two thanksgiving sacrifices – all accompanied by the singing of the levi’im.

The Gemara on today’s daf explains that the source for this is the passage written regarding the erection of the mishkan – the Tabernacle in the desert – ve-khen ta’asu – “so shall you do,” which is understood to mean that for all generations these elements are necessary in order to establish the holiness of the Temple.

But how do we know that these elements were all there when the mishkan was first put up?

The rishonim explain that Moshe played the role of both king and prophet, and his brother, Aharon was the who wore the Urim VeTummim. The Gemara appears to assume that the Sanhedrin was there, as well, although others suggest that Moshe embodied the full Sanhedrin, as is indicated in Massekhet Sanhedrin. The Gemara explains that establishment of the Second Temple is the source for needing the thanksgiving sacrifices (see Neḥemia 12:31).

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

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