The Ladies Gallery

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Celebration of Succot in the Temple
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Whoever did not see the "Simchas Beis Hashoeva," says the mishna, never saw true simcha in his life. In preparation for this great scene of music, singing and dancing which accompanied the drawing of water to be poured on the altar during the offering of the daily morning sacrifice on Succos, a "major adjustment" was made in the Beis Hamikdash.

What was this "major adjustment"?

Since there was an interest in enabling women to watch this great celebration, precautions had to be taken to prevent the mingling of men and women. After a couple of experiments in separating them on one level proved unsuccessful, it was decided to build a gallery from which the women could look down upon the proceedings without any danger of contact with the men below. This required building girders into the walls, and each Succos placing boards on them to form the balconies.

But how could they do this, asks the gemara, when King David declares (Divrei Hayamim I 28:19) that all the exact details of the structure of the Beis Hamikdash were recorded in writing on the basis of prophecies from Gad and Nassan, indicating that no adjustments are permitted?

The answer, says the Sage Rav, is that the leaders making this adjustment based themselves on a passage in Zecharia (12:12) which stresses the urgency of separating men from women in public gatherings to prevent them from being corrupted.

On the surface it seems that the gemara is simply pointing out that in a situation of such emergency the ban on making adjustments in the Beis Hamikdash could be relaxed. Maharsha, however, seemed to have been troubled by the idea of an explicit ban on adjustments being suspended in order to accommodate women as spectators. If such accommodation requires building galleries for the Simchas Beis Hamikdash service to be complete, then this would constitute an adjustment in the functional structure of the Beis Hamikdash, and would be forbidden. But Rashi stresses that the purpose of the adjustment was not to affect the service itself, but to achieve the separation between men and women. This idea of separation is strongly underlined by the Prophet Zecharia as a way of preventing the negative effect of mingling. Since the purpose of the galleries was morality rather than service, concludes Maharsha, it was not included in the ban on adjustments of which King David spoke. The blueprints prophetically handed down to David were perfect, requiring no adjustment. It was human nature that was so imperfect that the separations attempted without galleries proved insufficient, and a "major adjustment" had to be made in order to allow women to watch the simcha without their presence creating a spiritual problem.

  • Succah 51a

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