On Wednesday, the third intermediate day of the week-long holiday of Sukkot, Kohanim (Jews of the priestly caste) dressed in ceremonial garb and using utensils created especially for use in the Third Temple, led the third annual reenactment of the joyous water libation ceremony that was once part of the Temple service.
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. Kohanim descended from the Temple to the Shiloach Spring at the base of the Mount Moriah, where they filled the flask with three log of spring water (approximately two pints) and returned to the Temple.
Two Kohanim then ascended the stone altar in the Temple’s inner courtyard, placing two silver cups on the southwestern corner. One Kohen poured the water from the silver flask while the second Kohen simultaneously poured wine from the second cup, both liquids flowing into holes in the altar specially prepared for this ceremony.
Willow branches were arranged in the four corners of the altar. The entire ceremony was accompanied by blasts from silver trumpets.
This year, the reenactment commenced at the Tower of David Visitors’ Center and the Kohanim, accompanied by a large crowd of festive onlookers, descended by foot to the Shiloah Spring in a valley at the base of the Temple Mount, filling the silver flask created by the Temple Institute for use in the Third Temple.
The procession, like the original Temple ceremony, was accompanied by blasts from silver trumpets, also from the Temple Institute.
The Kohanim then ascended to the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem, lead by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, director of the Temple Institute.
A wooden model of the altar and other Temple elements were used for the reenactment in the courtyard of the synagogue.
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. In the same spirit, Wednesday’s reenactment was followed by music and dancing.