The Women's Courtyard
To the east of the Main
Courtyard stood a large enclosed area called the Women’s Courtyard,
measuring 135 cubits (202˝ feet) to a side. Entry into this area was not
restricted to women, as its name might imply, but in fact was used as a
staging area for the multitudes of people arriving daily bearing sacrifices
and gifts who would assemble here before proceeding into the Main Courtyard.
It was called the Women's Courtyard because the women would specifically
gather here to watch the Rejoicing of the Water-drawing which took place
each year on the holiday of Succos. On the holiday of
Succos the Rejoicing of the Water-drawing would take place inside the
Women's Courtyard. The celebration began on the second night of the holiday
when the great sages and pious men of the generation would assemble in this
courtyard to dance, juggle, and sing God's praises while scores of
Leviim stood upon fifteen round steps at the western side of the
courtyard providing musical accompaniment. This rejoicing continued all
night until dawn when, with great ceremony, a delegation was dispatched to a
nearby spring to draw water for that day's water libation. [The water
libation, which was only performed on Succos, entailed pouring a
pitcher of water into a bowl at the southwest corner of the Altar.] Numerous
spectators, both men and women, stood along the sides of the Women's
Courtyard to watch these festivities. The mingling of men and women at this
event led to a certain amount of frivolity and steps were taken to correct
this. The Sages came up with an innovative solution in which the women would
gather upon balconies constructed within the courtyard while the men would
stand below on ground level.
|Interior of the Women's
These balconies for the women ran along
the southern, eastern, and northern sides of the courtyard, but not the
western side. Halfway up the walls of the Women's Courtyard were protruding
stone ledges that supported the wooden planks which formed the floorboards
of the balcony. Above the floorboards they built row upon row of ascending
steps to afford all of the women a good view of the festivities below. Only
the protruding balcony supports were permanent fixtures in the courtyard,
while the floorboards and steps were put up each year during Succos
and then taken down after the holiday.
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