PHOTOS: Sanhedrin Revives Ancient Temple Water Libation Ritual in Shiloah Valley

October 9, 2017

3 min read

On Monday afternoon, a group of approximately 500 set out from the Dung Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, singing and dancing as they descended into the valley below Jerusalem with one goal in mind: to draw one small jug of water from the Shiloah Pool in order to reenact the Temple water ceremony.

Spectators follow the kohanim down to the Siloah spring. (Adam Propp)

Three Kohanim (Jewish men of the priestly caste) wearing priestly garments led the group past the archaeological remains of the City of David. After dancing down winding alleyways, the festive crowd arrived at the Shiloah Pool.

Kohanim blow silver trumpets created for Temple use. (Adam Propp)

To the sounds of silver trumpets playing the Biblically prescribed blasts, the priest knelt beside the holy spring, drawing the water from the same source his ancestors did.

The water is drawn from the spring. (Adam Propp)

Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, founder of the Temple Institute, presided over the event.

“Sukkot was a holiday for all the nations and the nisuch hamayim (water libation) was an essential part of that,” Rabbi Ariel said when the procession arrived at the ancient pool. “The rain for the entire world was judged on Sukkot.”

(Adam Propp)

The procession then climbed to the plaza at the southern wall of the Temple Mount, where a model altar had been constructed of wood. The ceremony, carried out precisely as it was performed in the Temple, took place closer to the Temple Mount than any other Temple reenactment thus far. An equal amount of water and wine were poured into two separate containers. The two liquids then spilled out onto the altar through openings in the containers.

The water libation ceremony. (Adam Propp)

The reenactment altar was decorated with large branches from a willow tree to replicate how the altar in the Temple was decorated for the holiday.

“This is really what makes Jerusalem special, and always has,” Rabbi Hillel Weiss, spokesman for the nascent Sanhedrin and organizer of the event, told Breaking Israel News. “Just as in Temple Times, people came from around the world to participate in the Sukkot Temple service.”

The water libation ceremony. (Adam Propp)

The Sanhedrin is already planning future events. Rabbi Weiss emphasized that each successive event re-enacting the Temple service draws a larger crowd, but many prominent rabbis who were reluctant to endorse the project are now supportive. The Chief Rabbi of Hebron Rabbi Dov Lior, Jerusalem’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern, and Safed’s Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu all gave their blessings to the event.

Kohanim perform the priestly blessing over the crowd. (Adam Propp)

In Temple times, a libation of water was made together with the pouring out of wine at the morning service on the last six days of the week-long Sukkot holiday. Though not explicitly mandated in the Torah, the water libation is part of the oral tradition passed down from Moses. Sukkot is a joyous holiday and the water libation was the focal point of this joy. In the Temple, the ceremony would take fifteen hours with accompanying celebrations lasting all night until the Temple service began again the next morning.

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