There was a court in the Temple called the Ezrat Nashim, or “Court of the Women.” It was 135 cubits by 135 cubits and it was east of the main Azarah. There were four large buildings in the four corners this court. In the southwest corner, you had the Chamber of Oil, in the southeast there was the Chamber of the Nazarites. In the northwest corner you had the Chamber of the Lepers and in the northeast corner you had the Chamber of Wood. These chambers were 40 cubits by 40 cubits.
There was a southern, eastern and northern gate into the Court of the Women. One of the largest ceremonies in the Temple was held in this court called the “Simchat Beit ha Shoevah” which means “The Rejoicing in the House of the Water-pouring.” This ceremony took place every night of Sukkot. Four huge poles with four vats holding about 6 pints of oil was set up in the four corners of this court. The discarded undergarments of the priests were used as wicks for these lights. A special balcony around this court was made for the women and children during this week because the celebrating got quite “exciting.” They were not separated at any other time of the year.
Descriptions of this court can be found in the “Works of Flavius Josephus” by William Whiston, Baker Books, p 374 where he says, “Beyond these fourteen steps there was the distance of 10 cubits (The Chel); this was all plain, whence there were other steps, each five cubits a piece, that led to the gates, which gates on the north and south sides were eighth, on each of those sides four, and of necessity, two on the east; for since there was a partition built for the women on that side, as the proper place wherein they were to worship, there was a necessity of a second gate for them: this gate was cut out of its wall, over against the first gate (This is the Nicanor Gate). There was also on the other sides one southern and one northern gate, through which was a passage into the court of the women; for as to the other gates, the women were not allowed to pass through them; nor when they went through their own gate could they go beyond their own wall. This place was alloted to the women of our own country, and of other countries, provided they were of the same nation, and that equally; the western part of this court had no gate at all, but the wall was built entire on that side; but then the cloisters which were between the gates extended from the wall inward, before the chambers; for they were supported by very fine and large pillars. These cloisters were single, and excepting their magnitude, were no way inferior to those of the lower court.”
Josephus just said that they were not allowed past the Court of the Women in this passage. While there were many aspects to women and their worship in the Temple that can be documented and will help us understand the major aspects of the Jewish Temple service, there is also much coming forth that will enhance that knowledge even today. Specific sites that related to women were the Ezrat Ha Nashim as we have said. However, there is also the Shaar Nashim (Gate of the Women) on the north side, a mikvah and a “restroom” for women. Many people find it hard to believe that the Temple had restrooms, but this was a necessity. The Shaar Nashim was located on the north wall. It is between the two corner buildings on the north side called the Beit ha Moked and the Beit ha Nitzotz. There was a building between these two buildings with two doors. The doorway that was the most east was the Shaar Nashim (Women’s Gate).
It would appear that women had access to the Azarah, or inner court. Some believe they did not, and here is why. They were restricted beyond this gate. Now, the depth of the building is 50 cubits (about 100 feet). You had two categories of korbanot, Kodshai Kodeshim (“most holy” and they had to be eaten within the Azarah. Then you had the Kodshai Kelim (“holy”) and they could be eaten within the walls of Jerusalem, like the Passover lamb. Kodshai Kodashim can only be eaten within a building that opens up into the Azarah because of the kedusha (Ezek 42; Ezek 44). Who could eat the Kodshai Kodeshim among women? Only the wife and the daughters of the kohanim (priests). In the corner buildings these foods are cooked. Inside the Women’s Gate these foods were brought for these women to eat in that location. They could not just take them out of the Azarah because the food was Kodshai Kodeshim.
Why do you think that women were not allowed in the Inner Azarah? Here is why. The Temple of God and the Temple of the pagans were very different. Pagan temples had two major themes: warfare and fertility linked to the economy. These pagan temples had priests and priestesses who were homosexual and prostitutes. But, the women in the Lord’s Temple could not go into the inner court, not because they were women and God was discriminating, but because he is making a clear distinction between his Temple and those of the pagans. His Temple had nothing to do with these practices and concepts of war and fertility. For instance, you did not have milk in the Temple. Why? Because Exo 23.19 says, “You are not to boil a kid in the milk of it’s mother.” This was a pagan practice in their heathen temples. This verse has been taken by the rabbi’s to signify that you can’t eat milk and meat together in a meal, but that is not what this verse teaches. The word “boil’ is the the Hebrew word “bashail” which means “to be mature.” This means that you are not to let the kid “mature” and get older, possibly old enough to produce offspring, but you are to give it as required. Exo 22.29-30 says that the people were not to delay the offering of their harvest. Also, the first-born were to be given to the Lord. Then it says they were to do the same (not delay) giving their oxen and sheep. It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day it was given to the Lord. Spiritually, this means that we are not to “stay in the milk” (Heb 5.12-13) but we are to go on to maturity in the Word (the meat). This verse has nothing to do with the current rabbinical practice of separating meat and milk in a meal.
In Part 2, we will pick up with the role of women in the Mishkan and the building that was the Mishkan later, which was the stone/tented Mishkan at Shiloh.