intended to increase the knowledge, interest, and anticipation of the reader, thereby hastening the realization of our hopes and prayers for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash.
Women in the Azara?
The Gemara (Kiddushin 52b) quotes Sumchus, a student of the Tanna R. Meir: "If a man - or more correctly, a Kohein - betrothed a woman with his portion of sacrificial meat, whether it be Kodashei Kodashim… he has not betrothed her." ("This sacrificial meat was given to the Kohanim only for eating, and not for anything else." - Rambam, Hilchot Ishut 5:5.
Consequently, the attempted Kiddushin could not take effect. Since Kodashei Kodashim, the meat of sacrifices of a higher level of sanctity could not be removed from the Azara for any reason, obviously for a Kohein to consider betrothing a woman with it, it had to be at least conceivable that she would be physically present in the Azara. Of course, as per R. Yosi, the possibility also existed that the woman authorized a messenger to receive her Kiddushin in the Azara on her behalf.) Upon hearing Sumchus' remark, R. Yehuda exclaimed, "How would a woman come to be in the Azara?" This exclamation of R. Yehuda provoked Rashi to comment, (erroneously, as we shall see); "Women could not enter (the Azara) as we learned in… the first chapter of Mishna Keilim" (Kiddushin 52b). One of the Ba'alei Tosafot (mediaeval Sages, who in the generation immediately after Rashi, began to write critical and explanatory glosses on the Gemara), points out Rashi's error. "Kuntrus' (i.e. Rashi's) statement that 'women could not enter the Azara as we have learned in the first chapter of Keilim' is inaccurate. We have not found anywhere that women were forbidden to enter the Azara.
What we actually learn in the first chapter of Keilim (Mishna 8) is "The Cheil (ramparts which surrounded the walled Mikdash complex including the Ezrat Nashim and the Azara) is still more holy (than the Temple Mount), because non-Jews and those who have contacted ritual impurity by coming into contact with a corpse may not enter therein. The Ezrat Nashim is still more holy because no one who has immersed himself that very day (because of ritual impurity) may enter therein (He would have to wait until the next day to enter the Azara)… Ezrat Yisrael, the Court of the Israelites, is still more holy because no one whose atonement is incomplete (Mechusar Kapara) may enter therein... Ezrat Kohanim is still more holy, for Israelites could not enter there except at a time when they had a particular reason, i.e. laying on hands on their Korbanot, slaughtering them, or 'waving' (note Vayikra 7:30)." The Ba'al Tosafot concludes, "We cannot derive (from this Mishna) that women were not permitted to enter the Azara. We learned in Zevachim 31b that women were permitted to slaughter their sacrificial animals, and, if this is indeed so, then they certainly were permitted to enter the Azara (where the slaughtering of sacrificial animals took place)." Rambam encapsulates the Halachot ordained in the Mishna in Keilim in Hilchot Bi'at HaMikdash 3:2-7 (and reiterates them in Hil. Beit HaBechira 7:15-18).
Paraphrasing the Mishna, Rambam excludes the Nida (the menstruant, Vayikra 15:19-24), the Yoledet (the parturient, note Vayikra 12) and the Zava (a woman who experiences abnormal vaginal blood flow, Vayikra 15:25-29) from the Temple Mount. Women who did not fall into these categories were not excluded and, if they were in a state of ritual purity, freely entered the Ezrat Nashim. Josephus observes that "those (men) who were pure came in (to the Ezrat Nashim) with their wives" (Antiquities 15:11). Again basing himself on the Mishna, Rambam excludes from the Azara "all those whose atonement process was incomplete…" (Hil. Bi'at HaMikdash 3:7), but he does not exclude women in general. The Chidushei Harashash, (R. Shmuel Strashun of Vilna, 1794-1872) writes that, while in theory, "a woman could stand outside the Azara and slaughter her sacrificial animal with a long knife, nevertheless (practically speaking), a woman must stand next to her sacrificial animal. Therefore she may enter the Azara just like a man" (Kiddushin 52b). Tif'eret Yisrael (Midot 2:6) explains, "Women must enter the Azara to stand next to their Korban because, as we have learned, how can a person bring a Korban and not (be permitted to) stand next to it? (Ta'anit 27a).
The Mishna states, "Ein Adam Nichnas La'azara - No one may enter the Azara for the Avoda (and even not for the Avoda) even if he was pure until he has immersed" (Yoma 3:3). Before entering the Azara, the men immersed in Mikva'ot located in the Lishkat HaMetzora'im (Chamber of Lepers) situated in the northwestern corner of the Ezrat Nashim. They entered the Azara by ascending the adjacent fifteen concave Nicanor steps located in the western side of the Ezrat Nashim and passed through the Nicanor Gate. Women entered the Azara through Sha'ar HaNashim, the Women's Gate. Despite the fact that the Mishna states that all the entrances leading into the Azara were the same size (Midot 2:3), Tif'eret Yisrael (ibid. 2:6) speculates that Sha'ar HaNashim may have been smaller, since "it was not so common" for women to bring Korbanot. He notes that "Sha'ar Ha- Nashim was located between Sha'ar HaKorban (the Sacrificial Gate, where the Kodashei Kodashim were brought into the Azara) and the Beit HaMokeid (the Chamber of the Hearth, a sort of hostel for Kohanim)" on the northern side of the Azara (Midot 2:6). Just as the men immersed in Mikva'ot adjacent to the Nicanor Gate before entering the Azara, it is quite likely that, before entering the Azara, the women immersed in Mikva'ot situated in close proximity to the Sha'ar HaNashim. <to be continued>
Catriel Sugarman (email@example.com, 02-652-7531) gives illustrated lectures on the Beit Hamikdash and related topics. Catriel is in the process of writing a book: The Temple of Jerusalem, A Pilgrim's Perspective: A Guided Tour through the Temple and the Divine Service.