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The Chel Terrace
Josephus (Wars 5) also described a terrace against the enclosing wall of the colonnade at the south side of the inner court. This terrace was 15 feet wide and called in the Mishnah (Middoth 2) the "Chel." Josephus adds that the terrace was reached by descending a 7 foot wide stairway, 5 stairs downward from the gates in the southern wall. He also adds that there were 14 steps beyond the terrace.
Some Historical and Rabbinical Notes:
Chel. Was placed between brackets, and is perhaps an interpolation of the transcribers. That the chel was a space and not cubits (in height). It is this which is spoken of in the Lamentations (ii, 8), "He made the rampart and the wall to lament;" that is the wall of the court.
Within the chel was the court, and the whole court was one hundred and eighty-seven cubits long by one hundred and thirty-five broad.8 And it had seven gates, three on the north, near to the west, and three on the south near to the west, and one on the east,' set opposite the Holy of Holies in the middle.
Each of these gates was ten cubits broad, and twenty cubits high, and they had doors covered with gold, except the eastern gate, which was a wall is proved by several passages in the Talmud. In Sanhedrim 88 b, it is aid "on Sabbaths and feast days they (the members of the court) sat in the chel.'' Rashi adds " because the people were many and the place in the chamber too narrow for them." Pesachim 64 A, notes that " the first company (bringing their lambs at the Passover) remained in the mountain of the house, and the scond in the chel" and here Rashi has the important note that it was "within the soreg, between the soreg and the wall of the court of the women, where the mountain began to rise." Baal Aruch says the chel was a place surrounding the wall between the mountain of the house and the court of the women, and that there was a great divinity school,
In Kelim 5 A, we read " the chel was more sacred than the mountain of the house, because idolaters and those defiled by the dead might not enter there." Not improbably there was a rampart, perhaps with an escarp at the inner side of the open space, and joined to the wall of the courts, and to this the door of the house Moked opened (Midd i, 7). The remark of Baal Aruch "that the chel was a wsll higher than the soreg" would in this case be intelligible, and it may have been such a wall which some have supposed to have been ten cubits in height.
R. Lipsitz thinks that four cubits of the chel were level, and the remaining six on the rising ground, and that those six cubits were occupied by the steps up to the court, which steps he holds to have extended all round the house for the people to sit upon, and he founds this opinion upon the passages in Pesachim (13 b, 52 b) above quoted, and the gloss of Rashi. This learned Rabbi also holds that these steps and all the mountain of the house outside of the inner wall (the wall of the courts) were roofed over, and that probably seats were placed on the level ground outside the soreg (Mishnaoth, vol. v, 311 b, Warsaw 1864). Rashi, in Yoma 16 a, remarks that the twelve steps leading from the chel to the court of the women were "in those ten cubits" which formed the breadth of the chel, because the mountain rose from the Soreg to the court of the women six cubits, and he farther adds, in reference to these steps, that "in breadth each step was half a cubit., and in length extended, along the whole breadth of the mountain from north to south." Of the chel he says that it was " a vacant place of ten cubits."
A person descending to the bath-room28 from this chamber went by the gallery which ran under the whole Sanctuary,21 and the lamps at the Feast of Tabernacles, and they take this opinion from the Gamara (Succah 51 I), which explains that the erection of this balcony was part of the " great preparations" which were made on that occasion." At first the women were within and the men without, and when they began to indulge in levity it was arranged that the women should be outside, and the men inside, and seeing that the occasion of levity still arose they arranged for the women to be above and the men below" (Gamara, loo. cit.). Rashi upon this passage remarks that in the court of the women there were originally no beams, Jt'i, projecting from the walls, and that afterwards they placed beams jutting from the walls all round, and every year arranged these balconies of planks, upon which the women might stand and witness the rejoicings of the Beth Hashshavavah." Both Middoth and Maimonides speak of these balconies as if they were permanent. l, Middoth i, 5, 7, 8.
Lightfoot - The Court of the Gentiles compassed the Temple and the courts on every side. The same also did Chel, or the Ante-murale. "That space was ten cubits broad, divided from the Court of the Gentiles by a fence, ten hand-breadths high; in which were thirteen breaches, which the kings of Greece had made: but the Jews had again repaired them, and had appointed thirteen adorations answering to them." Maimonides writes: "Inwards" (from the Court of the Gentiles) "was a fence, that encompassed on every side, ten hand-breadths in height, and within the fence Chel, or the Ante-murale: of which it is said, in the Lamentations, 'And he caused Chel and the Wall to lament,'" Lamentations 2:8. Josephus writes, "The second circuit was gone up to by a few steps: which the partition of a stone wall surrounded: where was an inscription, forbidding any of another nation to enter, upon pain of death." Hence happened that danger to Paul because of Trophimus the Ephesian, Acts 21:29. "The Chel or Ante-murale" (or second enclosure about the Temple), "was more sacred than the Court of the Gentiles: for hither no heathen, nor any unclean by that which died of itself, nor who lay with a menstruous woman, might come." "From hence they ascended into the Court of the Women by twelve steps." On the east it had only one gate, called in the Holy Scripture, 'Beautiful,' Acts 3:2. In Josephus, the 'Corinthian' gate: saith he; "Of the gates, nine of them were every where overlaid with gold and silver, likewise the posts, and the lintels. But one, without the Temple, made of Corinthian brass, did much exceed, in glory, those, that were overlaid with silver and gold. And two gates of every court were each thirty cubits high, and fifteen broad." On the south was only one gate also, and one on the north: and galleries; or court-walks within, joining to the wall, in the same manner as in the outer court, but not double. Before which were the treasuries placed, or thirteen chests, called by the Talmudists, Shopharoth; in which was put the money offered for the various services of the Temple; and, according to that variety, the chests had various titles written on them: whence the offerer might know into which to put his offering, according to his quality. Upon one was inscribed, "The new shekels"; into which were cast the shekels of that year. Upon another, "The old shekels"; into which were gathered the shekels owing the last year. Upon another, "pigeons and turtles." Upon another, "The burnt sacrifice." Upon another, "The wood." Upon another, "Frankincense." Upon another, "Gold for the propitiation." And six chests had written on them, "Voluntary sacrifice." "The length of the Women's Court was a hundred thirty-five cubits, and the breadth a hundred thirty-five cubits. And there were four chambers in the four corners of it, each forty cubits, but not roofed." See Ezekiel 46:21,22. "At the south-east was the court of the Nazarites: because there the Nazarites boiled their thank-offerings, and cut their hair, and put it under the pot." "At the north-east was the chamber of wood: where the priests, defiled with any spot, searched the wood, whether it was unclean by worms. And all wood in which a worm was found was not fit for the altar." "At the north-west was the chamber of the Leprous." "At the south-west was the chamber of wine and oil." "On the highest sides" (we follow the version of the famous Constantine L'Empereur), "was the smooth and plain Court of the Women; but they bounded it round about with an inward gallery, that the women might see from above, and the men from below, that they might not be mingled." In this Court of the Women was celebrated the sacred and festival dance, in the feast of Tabernacles, called the "Pouring out of Water": the ritual of which you have in the place cited in the margin. "The Court of the Women was more sacred than the Chel; because any, who had contracted such an unclearness that was to be cleansed the same day, might not enter into it."