The Court of the Women in the Temple
The Chel Terrace
(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
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."
The Women's Court in the
Temple in Jerusalem
Mark 12:41-44 "Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people
put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one
poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called
His disciples to Himself and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that
this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the
treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her
poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood."
If you were to approach the Temple in
Jerusalem in the first century A.D. you would pass through the eastern gate
where Jesus made His triumphal entry. Then you would come to the Court of
the Gentiles which was a large court paved with stones of various colors. It
was open to all comers including the cattle-dealers and the money-changers
who desecrated the Temple. This court was also called the Outer Court, the
Lower Court, and the rabbi’s usually called it "the Mountain of the Lord’s
House." All around the Temple proper was a 9 foot high terrace with stairs
which was higher than the Court of the Gentiles. It was surrounded by a 5
foot high wall which was designed to keep out the gentiles. There was also
pillars in the wall at various distances (the Soreg) with inscriptions in
Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, warning all gentiles to come no further under
penalty of death.
Going beyond the Court of the Gentiles and at the top of the terrace there
was a platform for about 15 feet and then there was another wall. On the
east side stood the magnificent 60 foot wide "Gate Beautiful" mentioned in
Acts 3:2,10. It was also referred to as the "Gate Susan" because it
contained a beautifully sculptured relief of the city of Susa. During the
time of the morning and evening sacrifices this great entrance was the place
of public worship.
Entering through the Susan Gate you would come to a large court called "the
Court of the Women" not because there were only women there but because
women could not go beyond it. There were smaller courts with columns in the
four corners of the court.
According to the Mishnah (Middoth 2,5) the Women's Court was was just over
200 feet square between bounding lines. Each court on the outside was 60
In front of these columns were the eleven treasure chests of the Temple for
the voluntary offerings of money, and there were also two at the Gate of
Susan, for the half-shekel tax. Jesus was sitting ‘opposite the treasury'
when he saw the widow put into one of the containers the two copper coins
which were all that she had (Mark 12:41-44; Lk 21:1-2).
It was near these treasure chests that the man healed of his blindness came
up to Jesus in John 8:20 and worshipped Him.
Continuing eastward there was a magnificent circular staircase and the
Nicanor Gate. Entering through the gate there was a narrow hall filled with
beautiful cloistered columns called "Court of the Israelites" and it was
also through a wall and up a flight of stairs. The Court of the Israelites
surrounded the "Court of the Priests" which was where the altar of sacrifice
was. The women could only glance over a balcony from the Court of the Women
to see the ceremonies inside the Inner Court (According to Middoth).
Oil of Yah Court
Leper's Chamber Court
The Temple Treasury
Woman - A Heart Message