Huldah Gates – Temple Mount

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The Mishnah which is a written collection of the Jewish oral traditions, describes the five gates of the Temple Mount as follows: The two Huldah gates are at the south, used for entry and exit. Kyponus in the west, used for entry and exit. Taddi at the north, not used. The eastern gate, on it Shushan capital shape. Why in the south two gates, while in all other directions 1 gate only? The first reason is: tradition – To the south of the Temple Mount located the City of David. This is the area of Jerusalem at its early stages, where King David and the Israelites lived in 1,000BC. Hence, from the days of the First Temple, the residents of Jerusalem arrived to the Temple Mount from the south, hence the main entrance to the temple area was from the south and therefore there are two gates there. I will add that the Shiloh Pool in the south of the city played an important role in everything related to purification and bathing. After purifying themselves, the Israelites ascended from there, from the south during pilgrimage to the Temple Mount.

The power of the tradition was so strong that even a thousand years later, when Herod expands the temple mount and rebuilds the temple, he established the entrance and exit gates to the temple mount from the south, even though in his days, the urban center of Jerusalem was in the upper city, west of the Temple Mount.

The area here, between the city of David and the temple mount was called the Ophel, a derivative of this word in Hebrew is “Lehapil”, meaning to climb. It was given this name, because when the Israelites wanted to visit the temple, they had to climb from a relatively low place – City of David, to a high place, the Temple Mount. The slope in the south of the Temple Mount was longer and steeper than the other slopes, and only there was it possible to realize the idea of ​​designing an entrance that would be impressive and steep enough to create a feeling of ascent. We can now better understand verse 5 in Jeremiah chapter 31: “Arise, and let us go up to Zion, To the LORD our God”. Go up to Zion it says, meaning literally go up to the temple. The visitors to the temple were required to climb to the holy place that towered over them as it should.

The staircase here, part of which has been restored, led to Huldah Gates and through them to the Temple Mount. The staircase was also designed in a way that requires us to focus on our steps. The change in the depth of the stairs makes us slow down and climb in a calculated way that respects the place we are going to visit – the temple.

Huldah in Hebrew means a large rat. let’s face it, a strange name for a gate, so what its origin?

The first and simplest possibility is that the name of the gate is after the name of Huldah the prophetess who prophesied in Jerusalem during the days of King Josiah.

A second possibility, is that the name may be related to the way of entry through the gates. In order to enter the Temple Mount from the street, a significant difference in height had to be bridged, and for this purpose, tunnels were installed in the vaults of the Temple Mount. Stairs were built in these tunnels and the crowd entered through the gates and slowly climbed the stairs that led to the impressive Temple Mount Plaza. This entrance is similar to the passage of a rat in its den, since the rat lives underground in dens and exits through their opening to the surface.

A third possibility, In the book “Housewarming” written by Moshe ben Gershom in 1696 – the author suggests that the name is because the majority of the people would enter and leave Huldah Gates, based on the 2nd verse in the book of Psalms chapter 49 – “Hear this, all ye peoples; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world” where inhabitants of the world in Hebrew its written “Haled” which is a derivative of the name Huldah. If we adopt this option, Huldah mean inhabitants of the world.

Today, the only remnants left of the gates are: half of the lintel and half of the arch of one of the two western gates, collectively called the double gate, or the Western Huldah Gate. Also, remnant is the location of the eastern gates according to the three arches even though the gates are sealed, and only a small part of the stones are original. The three arches are together called the triple gate, or the eastern Huldah Gate, and together with the double gate in the west, they both make up the Huldah Gates. It is important to remember that the Mishna recognizes the Temple Mount, whose area is 500 by 500 cubits. It does not refer to the area of ​​the mountain as it was expanded by Herod, therefore when it describes gates within the Temple Mount wall, it refers to a smaller area and a smaller southern wall. I feel the need to address this point. The Mishna as I mentioned is a written collection of the Jewish oral traditions. The Mishna was signed at the end of the 2nd century or several years later, over 120 years after the destruction of the Second Temple, so why were the changes made by Herod avoided by the Mishna?

According to Ben-Zion Luria who researched the Torah and the land of Israel, the Mishna depicts an ancient situation because of the Sages’ opposition to Herod’s expansion of the Temple Mount, and I will not detail the reasons in this video.

The double gate and the triple gate are external gates in the Temple Mount wall that was expanded by Herod, and they lead through a tunnel and a set of stairs to the original Huldah gates located north of the Royal Stoa, which is a large and impressive public building that stood at the end of the Second Temple along the south side of the temple mount.

Regarding the double gate – you can see one half arch out of the 2 arches that make up the gate. The arch is from the Muslim period, so are the decorations above the arch which include carvings of plant models and geometric models. These models are from the early Islamic period. Regarding the cornice several meters higher, it is from Herod’s period, you can also see part of an arch below it. See the window under the lower half of the arch, it is the original Western Huldah Gate space under the Al Aqsa Mosque that you see above. In this space is the Western Gate tunnel, which the Muslims call Al Aqsa Al Kadima, that is, the ancient Al Aqsa.

In the tunnel there are magnificent remains of a tall and impressive original stone pillar from the end of the Second Temple period, and above it four original domes decorated with geometric decorations.

From the tunnel, there were steps that led under the Royal Stoa to the Temple Mount Plaza and to the original Huldah Gate from the time before Herod.

You can enter this area under the Al-Aqsa Mosque only with the permission of the Muslim Waqf on the Temple Mount. The façade was rebuilt by Muslim builders in place of the gate that was apparently destroyed by the Christians at the end of the Byzantine period, when the Christians captured Jerusalem from the Persians.

We only see half of the arch of the right gate, while the other half and another complete arch of a double gate are in the area of ​​the adjacent building on the left. This building is from the Middle Ages and is outside the Temple Mount and rests on its southern wall.

The triple gate is built on the remains of the eastern Huldah Gate. Not much remained of the original gate. Three arches of the same height and the same openings were built by the Muslims. Only the size of its width remained from the original gate. The gates were closed in the late Arab period or during the time of the Crusaders, during which the area of ​​the city was reduced, and the southern wall of the Temple Mount became the city wall. The width of the gate is 15 meters, which indicates that it was probably originally a triangular gate, probably in a common structure in those days, that is, a tall central gate and two low gates on either side.

In the Mishna there is a simple and beautiful regulation regarding the way to enter Huldah Gates: All who enter the Temple Mount shall enter from the right, that is the eastern gate, then, surround the complex and exit through the western gate, except those who lost a loved one and are in mourning or ostracized that year or have a sick person at home or lost a valuable object – All those will enter from the western gate, surround the complex the opposite way and exit via the eastern Hulda Gate.

Anyone who passed you in the opposite direction, you know that something bad happened to him, you asked him the reasons and comforted him and it didn’t matter who was in front of you or where he came from. It was a custom that demonstrated sensitivity and care to others, a custom of mutual guarantee, of interest and care, an uplifting custom experienced by the pilgrims to the temple that intensified the love of nothing. The pilgrimage to Jerusalem served as a binding factor, which emphasized the shared destiny between the parts of the people, a special custom that did not prevail in the temples of other nations.

The eastern Huldah Gate served as the central entrance to the Temple Mount. We can learn about its glory from the New Testament, where it is named the beautiful gate. The stairs from the triple gate are narrower than the stairs from the double gate. This means that the entrance to the Temple Mount was much narrower than the exit from it. This is a logical design since the entrance to public buildings is not continuous but it is controlled; Discontinuous because there are people who are late compared to those who prefer to be early. Controlled since you were checked at the entrance if you have visited for example the mikvah for purification before entering the temple mount. (Mikvah is a purification bath in Judaism.)

The exit, on the other hand, at the end of the ceremonies was quick because, like any public building, the goal is to allow the public to evacuate it as quickly as possible. The main entrance – the eastern gate, included probably a middle main entrance and two smaller ones on the sides. What were the side entrances used for? one option is they were the entry gates for dignitaries. There are other options, but I won’t go into the details of the options in this video.

A final topic is purification. On the Temple Mount, purity laws were very strict, especially with respect to priests who were responsible for the worship and maintenance on the Temple Mount. If one of the priests became impure, he had to quickly leave the Temple Mount and purify himself in the mikvah.

For that purpose, tunnels were cut in the rock that took him out of the boundaries of the Temple Mount. These tunnels were cut in the rock, without any connection with the public entrance and exit routs. They were hewn in circles and you can see now a picture of one that was found.

And to conclude, as usual, I have a question for you. At the height of the threshold of Huldah gates there is a row of stones which contains uniquely large stones. What is the name of this layer of stone? The answer will appear at the end of the video.

How to get there?

Information Sources

  1. Book: The Dig at the Temple Mount, Author: Meir Ben-Dov, Publisher: Keter
  2. Book: Pathways in Jerusalem, Editor: Eyal Meiron, Publisher: Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi
  3. Book: The new Israel Guide, book 12 – Jerusalem, Editor: Alona Vardi, Publisher: Keter
  4. Book: The Jewish War, Author: Josephus Flavius
  5. Qadmoniot: Magazine for the Antiquities of Eretz-Israel & Bible Lands No. 101-102, Publisher: Israel Exploration Society Jerusalem
  6. The new encyclopedia for archeological excavations in Israel

Mention in the Bible

  1. Jeremiah chapter 31 verse 5
  2. Psalms chapter 49 verse 2

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