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The Foundation Stone (Hebrew: אבן השתייה Even ha-Shtiyya or סלע Sela, Arabic: صخرة Sakhrah "Rock") is the name of the rock at the heart of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. It is also known as the Pierced Stone because it has a small hole on the southeastern corner that enters a cavern beneath the rock, known as the Well of Souls. It is the holiest site in Judaism (Midrash Tanhuma, chapter 10); Jewish tradition views it as the spiritual junction of Heaven and Earth. Jews traditionally face it while praying, in the belief that it was the location of the Holy of Holies in the Temple.
The rock is located towards the centre of the Temple Mount, an artificial platform built and expanded over many centuries. The current shape is the result of an expansion by Herod the Great on top of vaults over a hill, generally believed to be Mount Moriah. The rock constitutes the peak of this now hidden hill, which is also the highest in early biblical Jerusalem, looming over the City of David.
There is some controversy among secular scholars about equating Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount and the Foundation Stone as the location where events occurred according to the Biblical narrative.
Early Jewish writings assist in confirming that the Dome of the Rock, completed in 691, is the site of the Holy of Holies and therefore the location of the Foundation Stone. Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer, a midrashic narrative of the more important events of the Torah believed to have been compiled in Italy shortly after 833 CE, writes: “Rabbi Yishmael said: In the future, the sons of Ishmael (the Arabs) will do fifteen things in the Land of Israel … They will fence in the breaches of the walls of the Temple and construct a building on the site of the sanctuary”.
Religious Jewish scholars have discussed the precise location of the rock. The Radbaz is convinced that “under the dome on the Temple Mount, which the Arabs call El-Sakhrah, without a doubt is the location of the Foundation Stone”. The Travels of Rabbi Petachiah of Ratisbon, c.1180, The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela and The Travels of the Student of the Ramban all equally state that "on the Temple Mount stands a beautiful sanctuary which an Arab king built long ago, over the place of the Temple sanctuary and courtyard”. Rabbi Obadiah ben Abraham who wrote a letter from Jerusalem in 1488 says that “I sought the place of the Foundation Stone where the Ark of the Covenant was placed, and many people told me it is under a tall and beautiful dome which the Arabs built in the Temple precinct".
Others disagree, citing that if the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount is in fact the one which existed when the Temple was standing, the measurements given in the Talmud do not reconcile. The Holy of Holies ends up being too far north and they therefore locate the Foundation Stone as being directly opposite the current exposed section of the Western Wall, where no building currently stands. This is the view of the Arizal and the Maharsha, who state the prophecy that “Zion will become a ploughed field” indicates that no dwelling will be established there until the time of the redemption. It therefore follows that the area of the Temple courtyard and Holy of Holies is situated in the unbuilt area between the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque.
Some believe the position is north of the Dome of the Rock, opposite the Gate of Mercy, which Rabbi Emmanuel Chai Reiki identifies as the Shushan Gate mentioned in the Talmud. This gate was described as being opposite the opening of the sanctuary.
Modern Jewish academics list four possible locations of the Foundation Stone:
- The stone that was located beneath the Ark of the Covenant is the one under the Dome of the Rock.
- The stone that was located beneath the altar is now the one that is under the Dome of the Rock.
- The stone that was located beneath the Ark of the Covenant is now near El Kas fountain to the south of the Dome of the Rock.
- The stone that was located beneath the Ark of the Covenant is now inside the Spirits Dome situated to the north of the Dome of the Rock.
Although the rock is part of the surrounding 90-million-year-old, Upper Turonian Stage, Late Cretaceous karsted limestone, the southern side forms a ledge, with a gap between it and the surrounding ground; a set of steps currently uses this gap to provide access from the Dome of the Rock to the Well of Souls beneath it.
The rock has several human-made cuts in its surface; these are generally attributed to the Crusaders, whose frequent damage to the rock was so severe that the Christian kings of Jerusalem finally put a marble slab over the rock to protect it (the marble slab was later removed by Saladin). More recently, there has been speculation that several man-made features of the rock's surface may substantially predate the Crusaders. Archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer noticed that there are sections of the rock cut completely flat, which north-to-south have a width of 6 cubits, precisely the width that the Mishnah credits to the wall of the Holy of Holies, and hence Ritmeyer proposed that these flat sections constitute foundation trenches on top of which the walls of the original temple were laid. However, according to Josephus there were 31 steps up to the Holy of Holies from the lower level of the Temple Mount, and the Mishnah identifies 29 steps in total, and each step was half a cubit in height (according to the Mishnah); this is a height of at least 22 feet—the height of the Sakhra is 21 feet above the lower level of the Temple Mount, and should therefore have been under the floor.
Nevertheless, taking the flat surface to be the position of the southern wall of a square enclosure, the west and north sides of which are formed by the low clean-cut scarp at these edges of the rock, at the position of the hypothetical centre is a rectangular cut in the rock that is about 2.5 cubits long and 1.5 cubits wide, which are the dimensions of the Ark of the Covenant (according to the Book of Exodus).
The Mishnah gives the height of the rock as three finger breadths above the ground. Radbaz discusses the apparent contradiction of the Mishnah’s measurements and the actual measurement of the rock within the Dome of the Rock which he estimates as the “height of two men” above the ground. He concluded that many changes in the natural configuration of the Temple Mount have taken place which can be attributed to excavations made by the various peoples who have occupied Jerusalem throughout the ages.
This is the holiest site in Judaism. Jews all over the world pray towards the Foundation Stone.
- As the navel is set in the centre of the human body,
- so is the land of Israel the navel of the world...
- situated in the centre of the world,
- and Jerusalem in the centre of the land of Israel,
- and the sanctuary in the centre of Jerusalem,
- and the holy place in the centre of the sanctuary,
- and the ark in the centre of the holy place,
- and the Foundation Stone before the holy place,
- because from it the world was founded.
(for comparison see omphalos)
According to the sages of the Talmud it was from this rock that the world was created, itself being the first part of the Earth to come into existence. In the words of the Zohar: “The world was not created until God took a stone called Even haShetiya and threw it into the depths where it was fixed from above till below, and from it the world expanded. It is the centre point of the world and on this spot stood the Holy of Holies”.
According to the Talmud, it was close to here, on the site of the altar, that God gathered the earth that was formed into Adam. It was on this rock that Adam—and later Cain, Abel, and Noah—offered sacrifices to God. Jewish sources identify this rock as the place mentioned in the Bible where Abraham fulfilled God's test to see if he would be willing to sacrifice his son Isaac. The mountain is identified as Moriah in Genesis 22. It is also identified as the rock upon which Jacob dreamt about angels ascending and descending on a ladder and consequently consecrating and offering a sacrifice upon.
When, according to the Bible, King David purchased a threshing floor owned by Araunah the Jebusite, it is believed that it was upon this rock that he offered the sacrifice mentioned in the verse. He wanted to construct a permanent temple there, but as his hands were "bloodied", he was forbidden to do so himself. The task was left to his son Solomon, who completed the Temple in c. 950 BCE.
An early Christian source noting Jewish attachment to the rock may be found in the Bordeaux Pilgrim, written between 333–334 CE when Jerusalem was under Roman rule, which describes a “…perforated stone to which the Jews come every year and anoint it, bewail themselves with groans, rend their garments, and so depart.”
Role in the Temple
Situated inside the Holy of Holies, this was the rock upon which the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the First Temple. During the Second Temple period when the Ark of the Covenant was not present, the stone was used by the High Priest who offered up the incense and sprinkled the blood of the sacrifices on it during the Yom Kippur service.
Commemoration in Jewish law
"נשייא דנהגן דלא למישתייה עמרא מן דאב עליל מנהג – שבו פסקה אבן שתייה"
"Women are accustomed not to prepare or attach warp threads to a weaving loom from Rosh Chodesh Av onwards (till after Tisha B'Av), because during the month of Av the Foundation Stone (and the Temple) was destroyed".
Citing this, the Mishnah Berurah rules that not only are women not to prepare or attach warp threads to a weaving loom, but it is forbidden for anyone to make, buy or wear new clothes or shoes from the beginning of the week in which Tisha B'av falls until after the fast, and that people should ideally not do so from the beginning of Av.
In further commemoration of the Foundation Stone, it is also forbidden to eat meat or drink wine from the beginning of the week in which Tisha B'av falls until after the fast. Some have the custom to refrain from these foodstuffs from Rosh Chodesh Av, while others do so from the Seventeenth of Tammuz.
טענתנו גפי קרת נתונים, ישבתנו שן סלע איתנים
You carried us and placed us on the [Holy] City’s height, You settled us on the Patriarch’s rocky peak.
רבוצה עליו אבן שתית חטובים...שמה בתוך לפני מזיב מאשנבים
Upon it lying the stone from which the foundation was hewn…Who gives ear from which the waters flow (i.e. the foundation stone "from which flow all the waters of the world").
הושענא! – אבן שתיה – הושענא
Please save! – Foundation Stone – Please save!
הושענא! – תאדרנו באבן תלולה – הושענא
Please save! – Adorn us with the elevated Stone – Please save!
The Noble Sanctuary, where the Foundation Stone is located, is thought by commentators of the Qur'an to be the place to which Muhammad traveled in the Night Journey. Although the Qur'an does not specifically mention Jerusalem in name as the ascension site, labelling the site as the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Hadith, the recorded sayings of Muhammad, specify that the site is indeed the Foundation Stone in Jerusalem. According to Islamic belief, angels visited the site 2,000 years before the creation of Adam. It is also thought to be the place where Israfel, the angel of the trumpet, will sound his horn on Resurrection Day.
- Chapter 30.
- Responsa 691.
- A. Benisch, Travels of Petachia of Ratisbon (with English translation), London 1856.
- The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Travels in the Middle Ages; (English translation originally published by Joseph Simon/Pangloss Press in 1993, ISBN 0-934710-07-4).
- Avraham Ya'ari, Igrot Eretz Yisrael, Ramat Gan 1971.
- Kaftor VeFerach.
- Emek HaMelech, Preface, paragraph 9.
- End of Makkot.
- "Fig. 6. The Southern System (237 K)". Templemount.org. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
- Aderes Eliyahu.
- "Fig. 5. The Northern System (63K)". Templemount.org. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
- "The Hidden Secrets of the Temple Mount". Templemount.org. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
- "Fig 4 The Middle System (124 K)". Templemount.org. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
- "Fig. 3. The Central System (42 K)". Templemount.org. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
- Tractate Yoma 5:3.
- Responsa (639).
- Kedoshim Ch.10.
- Tractate Yoma 54b.
- Vayechi 1:231.
- 1 Chronicles 21:25, and 2 Samuel 24:18-25.
- Tractate Yoma 5:2.
- Tractate Sotah 48b.
- "Bordeaux Pilgrim - Text: 7a. Jerusalem (first part)". Christusrex.org. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
- Zohar Vayechi 1:231; Midrash Tanchuma Acharei Ch.3 (see Etz Yosef commentary); Maimonides, Beis HaBechirah 4:1.
- Pesachim 4:1.
- This follows the version recorded by Rav Nissim Gaon.
- i.e. the stone became obsolete from its function in the Temple.
- 551:7, 8.
- This is derived from the fact that another version of the same piece of Talmud reads: "למישתייה חמרא" “(to refrain) from drinking wine”. This follows the version recorded by Hai Gaon. It is brought down by the Kolbo, Hilchos Tisha B'Av, and Machzor Vitri 263.
- Artscroll Selichos, Second day, Selicha 5.
- Artscroll Selichos, Fast of Gedalia, Selicha 46.
- "Sahih Bukhari Hadith Volume 5, Book 58, Number 226:".
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