Chanukah: Rebuilding the Altar
|Rebuilding the Altar of the
One of the more shocking discoveries made by the Maccabees after expelling
the Syrian-Greeks from the Temple was that the Outer Altar had been used for
idol worship. Although the stones of the Altar were attached to the ground
and legally impervious to the defilement of idol worship, the Jews felt that
it was unconscionable to resume the holy sacrificial service on such stones.
One of the lesser-known facts of the Chanukah story is that amidst the
cleaning up of the Temple, searching for pure oil, and assembling a new
Menorah, the Jews also dismantled the entire Altar and rebuilt it
using new stones. See this earlier
class for a more detailed description of the Outer Altar.
The stones of the original Altar were stored within the Hall of the Fire, a
large structure built into the northern wall of the Courtyard. The main
purpose of the Hall was to serve as sleeping quarters for the watch of
Kohanim currently on duty and it also provided them a place to warm
themselves during the day, a necessary amenity since they had to walk around
barefoot on cold marble floors as they performed the sacrificial service.
The large warming fire located here gave it its name.
|Chamber of Receipts. Three of the original Altar
stones are displayed above the fireplace.|
In each of the four corners of Hall of the Fire were smaller chambers. The
northeast contained the Chamber of Receipts where the Kohanim would
issue receipts to individuals purchasing wine, oil, and flour from the
Temple treasury. It was in this chamber that the stones of the Altar were
stored. Now, it was impossible to fit a volume of stones the size of the
Altar into this very small chamber. It is therefore likely that this chamber
had a massive basement within the tunnels beneath the floor of the Courtyard
where the large majority of the stones were stored, while some of the stones
were left on display in the chamber upstairs to serve as a reminder of the
miraculous events of the Chanukah story.