Appendix X. On the Supposed Temple-Synagogue

(See Book II. ch. x.)

Laying aside, as quite untenable, the idea of a regular beṯ hamidrash in the Temple (though advocated even by Wuensche), we have here to inquire whether any historical evidence can be adduced for the existence of a Synagogue within the bounds of the Temple-buildings. The notice (Sot. vii. 8) that on every Sabbatic year lection of certain portions was made to the people in the ‘Court,’ and that a service was conducted there during public fasts on account of dry weather (Taan. ii. 5), can, of course, not be adduced as proving the existence of a regular Temple-Synagogue. On the other hand, it is expressly said in Sanh. 88b, lines 19, 20 from top, that on the Sabbaths and feast-days the members of the Sanhedrin went out upon the ḥel or Terrace of the Temple, when questions were asked of them and answered. It is quite true that in Tos. Sanh. 7 (p. 158, col. d) we have an inaccurate statement about the second of the Temple-Sanhedrin as sitting on the ḥel (instead of at the entrance to the Priests’ Court, as in Sanh. 88b), and that there the Sabbath and festive discourses are loosely designated as a ‘Beth ha-Midrash ‘which was on ‘the Temple-Mount.’ But since exactly the same description – indeed, in the same words – of what took place is given in the Tosephta as in the Talmud itself, the former must be corrected by the latter, or rather the term ‘Beth ha-Midrash’ must be taken in the wider and more general sense as the ‘place of Rabbinic exposition,’ and not as indicating any permanent Academy. But even if the words in the Tosephta were to be taken in preference to those in the Talmud itself, they contain no mention of any Temple-Synagogue.

Equally inappropriate are the other arguments in favour of this supposed Temple-Synagogue. The first of them is derived from a notice in Tos. Sukkah. iv. 4, in which R. Joshua explains how, during the first night of the Feast of Tabernacles, the pious never ‘saw sleep,’ since they went, first ‘to the Morning Sacrifice, thence to the Synagogue, thence to the Beth ha-Midrash, thence to the festive sacrifices, thence to eat and to drink, thence again to the Beth ha-Midrash, thence to the Evening Sacrifice, and thence to the “joy of the house of waterdrawing”’ (the night-feast and services in the Temple-Courts). The only other argument is that from Yoma vii. 1, 2, where we read that while the bullock and the goat were burned the High-Priest read to the people certain portions of the Law, the roll of which was handed by the ḥazzan of the Synagogue (it is not said which Synagogue) to the head of the Synagogue, by him to the Sagan, and by the Sagan to the High-Priest. How utterly inconclusive inferences from these notices are, need not be pointed out. More than this – the existence of a Temple-Synagogue seems entirely incompatible with the remark in Yoma vii. 2, that it was impossible for anyone present at the reading of the High-Priest to witness the burning of the bullock and goat – and that, not because the former took place in a regular Temple-Synagogue, but ‘because the way was far and the two services were exactly at the same time.’ Such, so far as I know, are all the Talmudical passages from which the existence of a regular Temple-Synagogue has been inferred, and with what reason, the reader may judge for himself.

It is indeed easy to understand that Rabbinism and later Judaism should have wished to locate a Synagogue and a Beth ha-Midrash within the sacred precincts of the Temple itself. But it is difficult to account for the circumstance that such Christian scholars as Reland, Carpzov, and Lightfoot should have been content to repeat the statement without subjecting its grounds to personal examination. Vitringa (Synag. p. 30) almost grows indignant at the possibility of any doubt – and that, although he himself quotes passages from Maimonides to the effect that the reading of the Law by the High-Priest on the Day of Atonement took place in the Court of the Women, and hence not in any supposed Synagogue. Yet commentators generally, and writers on the Life of Christ have located the sitting of our Lord among the Doctors in the Temple in this supposed Temple-Synagogue!