A Rejection of the Proofs That Caphtor Vapherach Supported the Southern Theory of the Temple’s Location on Mount Moriah

This article is a continuation of the post entitled: Caphtor Vapherach and the Theory of the Architect Tuvia Sagiv and a little about Asher Kaufman’s Views about the Temple Mount. In that post strong evidence was brought to show that Caphtor Vapherach agreed with everyone else, that the Temple Building, was located at the place now occupied by the Dome of the Rock. With this introduction I will try to deal with the strongest proof offered by the other side, for a more southern location of the Temple building on Mount Moriah.

The main proof used by supporters of the “Southern Theory” is based on what Caphtor Vapherach stated: “Even today the Shushan Gate in the east is recognizable and it is sealed up by hewn stones. And if you divide this wall into 3 parts, this entrance will be in the first part, starting from the southeastern corner”.
Since the length of the eastern wall of the Temple Mount Complex in our times is 466 meters, one is prone to conclude that the Shushan Gate is located 155 meters from the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount complex. This understanding of Caphtor Vapherach arouses great astonishment, for behold the Dome of the Rock and the place of the Temple are about 90 meters more to the north and we would expect that the Shushan Gate would be located due east from the place of the Temple, the place of the Dome of the Rock. And it is possible based on another interpretation of Caphtor Vapherach to move, the Temple’s location even more to the south. Namely, to a point that is 166.66 cubits (a third of 500 cubits) from the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount Complex of our times.
The second interpretation that we are dealing with a Shushan Gate that is 166.66 cubits from the southeastern corner of today’s Temple Mount one should reject without any hesitation. For behold Caphtor Vapherach (Chapter 6) records: “The sanctified Temple courtyard was not aligned in the middle of the Temple Mount, rather it was more distant from the southern side of the Temple Mount from all (four) directions and it was nearest to the west than all other directions, and between it and the north, there was more space than between it and the west and between it and the east, there was more space than between it and the north. It turns out the closest direction was in the west, afterwards the north, afterwards the east, and afterwards the south”. Now if the Shushan gate was indeed just 166.66 cubits away from the southeastern corner, then there would be a blatant contradiction within the words of Caphtor Vapherach, for in this situation, the south side of the Temple Mount would have to be closer to the sanctified Temple Courtyard than the north side of the Temple Mount.
Now if we explain that Caphtor Vapherach was dividing the entire length of the eastern wall of the current Temple Mount Complex, into 3 parts, that is to say all 466 meters, was the sanctified Temple Mount, then we would have a double problem.
A. It would turn out that the Caphtor Vapherach would be advocating that the cubit is equal to 0.932 meters which would contradict what he said elsewhere.
B. Even if we were to accept that they used in the Temple Mount a cubit of 0.932 meters, we would once again in this situation would have an inner contradiction in the words of Caphtor Vapherach, because once again by putting the Shushan Gate only 155 meters from the southeastern corner, you would have to arrive at a result where the distance between the Divine Camp and the north side of the Temple Mount would be greater than the distance to the south. While Caphtor Vapherach informed us to the contrary, that the distance between southern side of the Temple Mount to the Sanctified Temple Courtyard was greater than the distance to the north. Therefore after Caphtor Vapherach also established, that the Temple Mount was a square of 500 cubits by 500 cubits, we are forced to conclude one of the following conclusions. Either only part of 466 meter wall that we see today in the east had the sanctity of the Temple Mount while the other parts are not holy at all. Or alternatively, the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount as identified by Caphtor Vapherach is not identical with the wall that we see today.
Now someone who observes the Eastern wall of the Temple Mount Complex of our days will see no hint in any of the stones that are found there to the Shushan Gate (that was sealed off with hewn stones), observed by the author of Caphtor Vapherach; which would indicate it was seemingly destroyed or hidden during the days that the Ottoman Empire ruled the area. There is no sign of a gate (10 cubits wide and 20 cubits high) in our days, neither opposite the Dome of the Rock nor in any point along the Eastern Wall that we see today.

On the Basis of What Evidence Can We Offer a Theory That Perhaps Caphtor Vapherach’s Eastern Wall Was Eastward of the Ottoman Wall That We See in Our Times

Rabbi Yisrael of Shklov, wrote in Pe’at Hashulchan, Hilchot Eretz Yisrael, Chapter 3, Beit Yisrael section (26):
• “One has to weigh the matter, for perhaps they made an innovation in this wall as they say that it is written about an incident that it was built by means of powerful Jews from Spain that found favor in the eyes of the king and they shortened it and made a wall in a new place, for there is an implication that the wall of G-d’s Temple Mount was at the end of its incline…. {end of quote}.
• Caphtor Vapherach (Chapter 6) reports about the eastern wall of his time:
“Behold, we see that from the edge of the Mount, that is to say, Mount Moriah on the east there is about 50 cubits or less, until reaching the Yehoshafat Valley below and there is no logical reason to assert that such a great amount of the Mount was eroded away, therefore we are forced to say, these indeed are the (original) walls of the Temple Mount”.
In our times, in most sections of the eastern wall, the reality does not fit with what Caphtor Vapherach wrote about. To quote Rabbi Azariah Ariel in his response to Rabbi Avi Sylvetski’s article, “Nachon Yihyeh Har Beit Hashem”:
“It is not clear from where he (Caphtor Vapherach) measured the edge of Mount Moriah; for if he just started from the road which is situated east of the wall, you will find there is more than 40 meters distance to the wall! We are forced to say that Caphtor Vapherach must have knowingly or unknowingly used gigantic cubits. And if you want to give a somewhat forced interpretation, one can say his intent was that there is a very short segment at the southern edge of the wall, where at that segment the distance is shortened, 15 to 30 meters, and this segment alone is sufficient in order to prove that the wall is not part of the wall of the sanctified courtyard”. According to my suggestion it is possible to explain the Caphtor Vapherach without resorting to forced interpretations. That is to say that the wall observed by Caphtor Vapherach was east of today’s wall.
• According to Rabbi Pinchus Abramowitz https://har-habait.org/articleBody/30795

In secular year 1867, Captain Charles Warren arrived in Israel on behalf of the British Exploration Fund for the exploration of Palestine (Israel) and Antiquities (PEF) for the purpose of investigating aspects of the Holy Land. The Turkish Authorities did not allow Warren to dig within the Temple Mount and he was forced to study the walls of the Temple Mount by the use of a system of vertical shafts and horizontal tunnels that he dug around the Temple Mount from the outside.

Charles Warren was not able to dig close to the Mercy (Golden) Gate on the outside because of a Muslim graveyard stretched out along the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. Therefore he dug 44 meters to the east of the wall. Warren opened up a shaft that reached the bedrock and underground he dug a tunnel westward in the direction of the Mercy (Golden) Gate. When he reached a point 15 meters outside the eastern wall Warren was blocked by a massive underground wall, which he could not pass through. Warren tried to bypass the wall but stopped the work when the digging became too dangerous. So the end result was that Warren was not successful in reaching the eastern wall and investigating the foundations of the Mercy (Golden) Gate {end of quote}. If we already know about the existence of a gigantic wall east of today’s Temple Mount complex, perhaps we can assume this is what Caphtor Vapherach observed or perhaps he saw another wall that the Ottomans succeeded in breaking down entirely.

• Radbaz when he permitted ascent to the Temple Mount in our times (Responsa of Radbaz, Vol. 2, ch. 691) seemingly established that he agrees with the words of Caphtor Vapherach, and here is a translated quote:
Behold it has become clarified that the eastern wall that is currently built is the eastern wall of the Temple Mount because from there onwards is the Mount of Olives. Additionally, the Mercy Gates (Golden Gate) are in that wall and the author of Caphtor Vapherach wrote that they are the gates that the mourners and the grooms entered within (gates that Caphtor Vapherach believed were originated by Shlomo Hamelech/ King Solomon).
Now without tampering with the printed text of Radbaz, it is implied in that same halachic ruling, that there are 489 cubits from the western wall of the Dome of the Rock Building until the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. And one who is expert in measurements wrote to me, that it turns out according to the Radbaz that the cubit is 43 cm, which is smaller than all the known viewpoints about the size of the cubit. Just if we assume that the ruling of the Radbaz was written before they built the current wall and the wall that existed in the time of the Radbaz was more to the east, then we could be able to claim that the viewpoint of Radbaz regarding the cubit was in line with the view of some of today’s Poskim.
Incidentally, I do not believe, Madras Salima, mentioned in the same ruling by Radbaz (Responsa of Radbaz, Vol. 2, ch. 691) is the Al-Aqsa Mosque; and thus another complaint against the viewpoint of Radbaz is erased.

Reasons to Believe That Perhaps Nevertheless the Eastern Wall that the Author of Caphtor Vapherach Saw Did Indeed Follow the Route of the Eastern Wall We See in our Times

  • As an introduction one should be aware, that objects on the Temple Mount that Caphtor Vapherach related to Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon), were at times really built by the builders of Herod, or even builders that came afterwards.

Thus regarding the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Chapter 11) Caphtor Vapherach attributes the giant walls of the tomb to construction done by the workers of Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon), when in truth, builders from the time of Herod built the outer structure of the Tomb and not Shlomo. And similarly stones that Caphtor Vapherach observed in the extensions to the Temple Mount made by Herod are from the Herodian period or later and not from Shlomo; and the Mercy Gate {or Golden Gate} on the east side of the Temple Mount, that Caphtor Vapherach attributed to Shlomo (Solomon) are according to modern researchers, really the product of construction from after the period of the destruction of the Temple. And in this section I am not dealing with locating the actual sanctified area of 500 by 500 cubits, but only what were the beliefs of Caphtor Vapherach.

A Wall Seam in the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount

In two sections of the eastern wall of the Temple Mount a wall seam can be observed. Stones from 2 different building styles from 2 different periods were placed next to each other to form the wall we see today.

Based on the Herodian style of cutting in the stones it is assumed that the stones on the southern and northern edges of the eastern wall of the Temple Mount are remnants from the Temple Mount Complex built by Herod.

On the assumption that the stones at the edges of the eastern wall are residues from the [Herodian] Temple, perhaps one might wish to assume that the wall that connected between the northern and southern edge more or less formed a straight line. Since Caphtor Vapherach seems to incorrectly associate Herodian Stones with Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon) Stones, it is quite possible that Caphtor Vapherach might have assumed that everything in the wall came from the labors of the workers of Shlomo (Solomon).

  • In our days, the Gate that is nicknamed the Gate of the Tribes in the Temple Mount Complex is found in the northeast corner. Now there is a slight indication that Caphtor Vapherach also held that the Temple Mount reached up to that point. Since in chapter 6, Rabbi Ashturi Haparchi, author of Caphtor Vapherach, seems to associate the Gate of the Tribes that we see today, with the northeastern corner of the Temple Mount. This reference by Caphtor Vapherach to the Gate of the Tribes leads me to reject the explanation offered by Rabbi Zalman Koren who suggested that Caphtor Vapherach did not make a distinction between the wall of ancient Jerusalem and the wall of the Temple Mount (when he was discussing the location of the Shushan Gate). In addition Rabbi Ashturi Haparchi lived for about a year in Jerusalem. Mixing up the wall of Jerusalem with the wall of the Temple Mount is something we might expect from a tourist, but not a resident.
  • Rabbi Ashturi Haparchi, author of Caphtor Vapherach, established, that in his days, the 2 Hulda Gates of the Temple were still recognizable in the south of the Temple Mount. But gates that fit the dimensions of the Mishna namely, gates that are 10 cubits wide and 20 cubits tall are not observed in modern times.

Caphtor Vapherach also established that the northern gate of the Temple, the Tadi Gate is not recognizable and thus he deduced that this side was destroyed.

In light of all this, an argument can be made, that from the place that Caphtor Vapherach considered to be, the Hulda Gates – which was distant from the southern wall of the Mount of modern times, Rabbi Ashturi Haparchi, started his measurements and ended his measurements by the Gate of the Tribes. And if one would divide the wall between the segment of Caphtor Vapherach’s Hulda Gates up until the Gate of the Tribes, the Shushan Gate would be located at the end of the first third, due east of the Dome of the Rock.

In the picture above the arrow points to a gate of an underground tunnel that leads to the surface of the Temple Mount which has been sealed off by later building projects. This structure is located at the south side of the modern Temple Mount.

This sealed gate does not have the dimensions needed for a Temple Mount gate. It is also does not share the same topographic level as the Soreg of the Temple Mount. That just as a person who enters the eastern gate of the Temple Mount walks on level ground until he reaches the Soreg and a little beyond (See Rambam, Hilchot Beit Habechira, Chapter 6, Halacha 1), so too, it would make sense that the ground from the Hulda Gate until the Soreg would be more or less level. An underground tunnel should not be defined as the Hulda Gate.

post by Shlomo Moshe Scheinman

As a continuation of this article see: Why Did Caphtor Vapherach Not Explicitly Mention the “Dome of the Rock” in contrast to the Disciple of Ramban who lived in the same generation or Rabbi Binyamin of Tudela (a contemporary of Rambam) Who Did Explicitly Mention the Dome of the Rock?