Jewish Women Recreating Temple Veil

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 |  Tsvi Sadan

For more than two years a small group of women have been attempting to recreate the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem.

"The women of the veil chamber," as they call themselves, have founded a little workshop in the biblical Samarian community of Shiloh that is filled with weaving devices and wool. Their attempt to weave the veil is in accordance with the commandment: "you shall make a veil woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen. It shall be woven with an artistic design of cherubim" (Ex. 26:31).

Learning how to weave the veil is another way of preparing for the day the Temple will be rebuilt.

But the task is almost beyond reach. Everything needs to be learned from scratch. The weaving techniques and the special six-cord threads required by the biblical text, the production of the correct blue, purple and scarlet dyes - all of these are lost arts.

The size of the veil itself, a single rag-like object measuring 20 meters high, 10 meters wide and 10 centimeters thick, is a project of immense complexity in and of itself. The making of the veil is therefore going to be a long learning process of trial and error.

One of the more unique challenges is to weave the faces of the cherubim so that it is an eagle face on one side of the veil and a bull's face on the other side. Another is the aforementioned production of the exotic colors needed for the veil. The scarlet is assumed to be made out of an oak aphid; the blue out of a special sea snail. The purple was also produced from animals, though no one knows for certain what animal.

While the project is beset by seemingly insurmountable obstacles already in its infancy, the women believe they will be able to produce a veil that will pass the scrutiny of the rabbis.

In addition to the "the women of the veil chamber," there is another group of women who for four years already have been producing the priestly garments needed for Temple worship, including special trousers, tunics, sashes and hats.

The making of the priest's clothing also required a learning process, but unlike the veil, these were fairly simple to produce. Since according the Jewish law a priest can perform his duties only if he is wearing his special priestly clothes, some who would fill this role are already acquiring the required garments and keeping them safely in their homes. These garments, which have to be tailor-made for each person, are sold at affordable prices to encourage as many Jews of priestly lineage as possible to buy them.

Some may see such activities as provocative. Others may see it as delusional. The weavers themselves believe that by getting involved in such a holy activity they are hastening the time of Israel's redemption. Whatever the case, at the very least one cannot but admire the desire to revive a lost enchanting art that for one reason or another continues to excite millions around the world.

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