Is The Even Shesiya Located Inside The Dome Of The Rock?

by Beis Hashem Staff

October 20, 2023

PREVIOUS ARTICLE IN THIS SERIES: https://beishashem.org/the-even-shesiya-machaneh-shechina-and-har-habayis/

In previous articles, we clarified that the only area on Har Habayis where a tamei mes is forbidden entry with a chiyuv kares is Machaneh Shechina, which is the area where the actual building of the Beis Hamikdash stood on the Har. The rest of Har Habayis has the geder of Machaneh Leviah, which is fully muttar for a tamei mes to enter into, provided that he purifies himself from all tumah sheyatza min haguf. We also described the layout of the Beis Hamikdash and, more specifically, the location and characteristics of the Even Shesiya within the Beis Hamikdash.

The gimmel machanos in Yerushalayim © Rabbi Yehuda Levi

In this article, we will explore whether we can successfully locate the exact place of the Even Shesiya within today’s Har Habayis using the mekoros laid out previously. For if we can successfully place the even shesiya on today's Har habayis, we would very easily be able to map out where Machaneh Shechinah is using the exact measurements found in Mishnayos Middos. This will enable us to know where we must avoid entering into, and more importantly, where one may enter on Har Habayis.

Floorplan Of The Beis Hamikdash

We previously discussed that Shlomo Hamelech built a platform of 500 amos by 500 amos called Har Habayis over Har Hamoriah and built the Beis Hamikdash on top of the platform. The Beis Hamikdash complex from the soreg onward was exactly 167 amos widthwise (north to south) by 360 amos lengthwise (east to west), taking up just under 25% of the square amos of the platform (see the previous article for an amah by amah breakdown). The Even Shesiya, which is the peak of Har Hamoriah, rose out of the platform to the northwest and functioned as the floor of the Kodesh Hakadashim. 

We also previously noted that the Beis Hamikdash, from the soreg to the Kodesh Hakadashim, rose to a height of 22 amos and 3 fingers over a span of 322 amos, with the stairs in the Mikdash rising in parallel to the ascent of the natural mountain. 

הַמִּקְדָשׁ כֻּלּוֹ לֹא הָיָה בְּמִישׁוֹר אֶלָּא בְּמַעֲלֵה הָהָר. כְּשֶׁאָדָם נִכְנָס מִשַּׁעַר מִזְרָחִי שֶׁל הַר הַבַּיִת מְהַלֵּךְ עַד סוֹף הַחֵיל בְּשָׁוֶה. וְעוֹלֶה מִן הַחֵיל לְעֶזְרַת הַנָּשִׁים בִּשְׁתֵּים עֶשְׂרֵה מַעֲלוֹת רוּם כָּל מַעֲלָה חֲצִי אַמָּה וְשִׁלְחָהּ חֲצִי אַמָּה. וּמְהַלֵּךְ כָּל עֶזְרַת הַנָּשִׁים בְּשָׁוֶה. וְעוֹלֶה מִמֶּנָּה לְעֶזְרַת יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁהוּא תְּחִלַּת הָעֲזָרָה בַּחֲמֵשׁ עֶשְׂרֵה מַעֲלוֹת. רוּם כָּל מַעֲלָה חֲצִי אַמָּה וְשִׁלְחָהּ חֲצִי אַמָּה. וּמְהַלֵּךְ כָּל עֶזְרַת יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּשָׁוֶה וְעוֹלֶה מִמֶּנּוּ לְעֶזְרַת הַכֹּהֲנִים בְּמַעֲלָה גְּבוֹהָה אַמָּה וְעָלֶיהָ דּוּכָן יֵשׁ בּוֹ שָׁלֹשׁ מַעֲלוֹת. רוּם כָּל מַעְלָה חֲצִי אַמָּה וְשִׁלְחָהּ חֲצִי אַמָּה. נִמְצֵאת עֶזְרַת הַכֹּהֲנִים גְּבוֹהָה עַל שֶׁל יִשְׂרָאֵל שְׁתֵּי אַמּוֹת וּמֶחֱצָה. וּמְהַלֵּךְ כָּל עֶזְרַת הַכֹּהֲנִים וְהַמִּזְבֵּחַ. וּבֵין הָאוּלָם וְלַמִּזְבֵּחַ בְּשָׁוֶה. וְעוֹלֶה מִשָּׁם לָאוּלָם בִּשְׁתֵּים עֶשְׂרֵה מַעֲלוֹת. רוּם כָּל מַעְלָה חֲצִי אַמָּה וְשִׁלְחָהּ חֲצִי אַמָּה וְהָאוּלָם וְהַהֵיכָל כֻּלּוֹ בְּשָׁוֶה. נִמְצָא גֹּבַהּ קַרְקַע הַהֵיכָל עַל קַרְקַע שַׁעַר הַמִּזְרָח שֶׁל הַר הַבַּיִת שְׁתַּיִם וְעֶשְׂרִים אַמּוֹת

The Beis Hamikdash was not built on flat ground but rather on the incline of Har Moriah. A person who entered from the Eastern Gate of the Temple Mount would proceed to the end of the Cheil on one level. He would ascend from the Cheil to the Ezras Nashim on twelve steps. Each step was half-amah high and half-amah wide. He would proceed through the entire Ezras Nashim on one level. He would ascend 15 steps to the Ezras Yisrael, which is the beginning of the Temple Courtyard. Each step was half-amah high and half-amah wide. He would proceed through the entire Ezras Yisrael on one level and ascend from it to the Ezras Kohanim using one step that was one amah high (Duchan). Above [that step] was a platform of three steps. Each step was half-amah high and half-amah wide. Thus, the Ezras Kohanim was two and a half amos higher than the Ezras Yisrael. He would proceed through the entire Ezras Kohanim, [the area of] the Mizbeach, and the space between the Mizbeach and the Ulam on one level. From there, he would ascend to the Heichal using twelve steps. Each step was half a cubit high and half a cubit wide. The Ulam and [the remainder of] the Heichal building (Kodesh and Kodesh Hakodashim) were both on the same level. Thus, the ground on which the Heichal was located was twenty-two amos higher than the ground on which the Eastern Gate was located.

Hilchos Beis Habechira, 6:1-5

As such, if we were to find a specific ascent of that magnitude over that specific amount of space in the topography of the mountain anywhere on Har Habayis, that would be a significant clue as to where the Beis Hamikdash once stood and, by extension, where a tamei mes is forbidden to enter.

Topography

Today, the summit of Har Hamoria resides inside the Dome of the Rock [the building in the center of the Temple Mount with a gold dome] and sticks out about a meter and a half high from the floor of the building. The Dome of the Rock building itself is built on an elevated platform, which rises even more above the Temple Mount. 

A map of the topography of Har Hamoriah. Red marks the boundaries of the Herodian Har Habayis platform visible today, and the black dotted lines mark where the original Har Habayis platform of Shlomo Hamelech is. © Pinchos Abramowitz and Rabbi Yehuda Levi

Upon thorough review of the topography of the mountain, it is clear that the only location where one can place the location of the Even Shesiya and the Kodesh Hakadashim based on the descriptions of the Mishnayos and Rambam is the summit located in the Dome of the Rock in the center of the mountain. This is because there is concrete data from those mekoros about where the Even Shesiya CAN’T be located. Let’s examine this in more detail.

Pink marks the 294 amos that the Kodesh Hakadashim couldn't be located in from the east. © Pinchos Abramowitz and Rabbi Yehuda Levi

Here is a map of the topography of the Har. From the east of the Har (pink on the map), there are a minimum of 294 amos from the wall that the Even Shesiya cannot be located in. As the Mishna explained, the Kodesh Hakadashim was located to the west, with the Heichal (73 amos), Azara (76), Ezras Nashim (135), and Cheil (10) all before it. (73+76+135+10=294 and. this doesn't even take into account the additional amount of space between the cheil and the eastern wall of the Har Habayis, as we don’t have a mekor for the exact amount of space that was taken up.)

Blue marks the beginning of the descent of Har Hamoriah to the west. The Kodesh Hakadashim couldn't be located there, as Chazal only informed us of an ascent from east to west with no descent. © Pinchos Abramowitz and Rabbi Yehuda Levi

From the west, the Even Sheisya cannot be located in the blue. This is because, as we mentioned above, there was a steady ascent from east to west without a descent. Therefore, the Even Shesiya, which was the peak of the mountain, cannot be in the western part of the Har. From the topography map, blue marks where the mountain begins to descend, showcasing that the Even Shesiya cannot be in that area as it must be before that descent.

Yellow marks the 250.5 amos that the Even Shesiya couldn't have been located from the south of the original walls of the Shlomo Hamelech Har Habayis. © Pinchos Abramowitz and Rabbi Yehuda Levi

From the south, there is a minimum of 250.5 amos where the Even Shesiya cannot be located (yellow on the map). The Mishna states that the largest amount of space between the walls of the Har and the Beis Hamikdash was to the south. Before the expansion of Hordus, the Har was 500 amos north to south. The Azara was 135 amos, so there were 365 amos of the Har outside the Azara. Half of 365 is 182.5 and since the Mishna says “rov”, we’ll assume that a minimum of 183 amos of the open area of the Har was to the south. In addition, the even shesiya was located in the center of the azara which gives us a minimum of 67.5 amos from the walls of the azara to the location of the even shesiya. Therefore, we can safely ascertain that the even shesiya cannot be located within 250.5 amos from the southern wall (183+67.5=250.5. This is not even counting the expansion of Hurdos to the south).

In addition, the highest point in the south of the mountain is too close to the eastern wall of Har Habayis and there isn't 294 amos from the eastern walls to the highest elevation on the south of the mountain. As such, we can be certain that the Mishna is correct when it says: “Rubo min hadarom - the majority of space between the walls and the mikdash is to the south.”

From the north, the mountain drops off into the Beit Zita valley. The valley stretches the full length of the Har from east to west. Josephus reports that during the siege of Jerusalem in 63 BCE by the Roman General Pompeii, his armies camped for 3 months on the hill north of the Temple Mount. During that time, they were unable to cross the valley and capture the Temple Mount due to its steepness until they filled it up with sticks and dirt. When Hordus expanded the Har 40 years later, he included the filled-in valley, connecting the two hills as part of the Temple Mount compound, which is the current northern border of the compound today. 

Green marks 77.5 amos to the northern descent of Har Hamoriah into the Beit Zitah Valley. Chazal do not inform us of any descent within the Azara, so we can infer that the even Shesiya must have been a minimum of that amount from the decent of the mountain. © Pinchos Abramowitz and Rabbi Yehuda Levi

The Beis Hamikdash had to have been built on Har Hamoriah proper and not on the later Herodion expansion, so it could not have been located where the descent of the original valley begins (green on the map); rather, it must have been further south. In addition, the amount of space from the Even Shesiya to the walls of the Cheil is 77.5 amos (half of 135 is 67.5 + 10 amos of the Cheil). We must assume that the Even Shesiya was located a minimum of 77.5 amos from the drop, for if not, the Azara would have a descent to the north, which is not mentioned in the Mishna (or, for that matter, in any other place such as Josephus, etc.). There also must have been additional space to the north, as the azara wasn't flush against the northern wall of the Har. As the Mishna reports, the least amount of space was to the west (which was at least 11 amos), and the next amount was to the north, leading us to infer that there were more than 11 amos northward.

So, in summation, there is only a very small area left of Har Habayis to accurately place the Even Shesiya that would match with the information in the Mishna (white on the map). As is demonstrated, the Even Shesiya cannot be located on most of today's Temple Mount compound, except for the center area where the Dome of the Rock is located.

© Pinchos Abramowitz and Rabbi Yehuda Levi

Yet, as every good yeshivamann will tell you, proof from topography isn't enough to decide such an important halachic question, especially when dealing with a safek kares! 

In the next article, we will explore the vast mesorah through the generations that places the Kodesh Hakadashim and the Even Shesiya inside the Dome of the Rock.

NEXT ARTICLE IN THIS SERIES:

The arguments based on the topography presented in this article are largely based on the research done by R' Pinchos Abramowitz, as documented in his sefer Hamakom Asher Bachar Hashem

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