During the times of the Beis Hamikdash (Temple), Jerusalem was a city divided into several zones of Kedusha, increasing levels of sanctity. The Mishnah (8-9) in the first Chapter of Keilim describes the numerous levels of limitations and obligations that each higher level had.
1. לפנים מן החומה מקודש מהם שאוכלים שם קדשים קלים ומעשר שני
2. הר הבית מקודש ממנו שאין זבים וזבות נדות ויולדות נכנסים לשם
3. החיל מקודש ממנו שאין עובדי כוכבים וטמא מת נכנסים לשם
4. עזרת נשים מקודשת ממנו שאין טבול יום נכנס לשם ואין חייבין עליה חטאת
5. עזרת ישראל מקודשת ממנה שאין מחוסר כפורים נכנס לשם וחייבין עליה חטאת
6. עזרת הכהנים מקודשת ממנה שאין ישראל נכנסים לשם אלא בשעת צרכיהם לסמיכה לשחיטה לתנופה
7. בין האולם ולמזבח מקודש ממנה שאין בעלי מומין ופרועי ראש נכנסים לשם
8. ההיכל מקודש ממנו שאין נכנס לשם שלא רחוץ ידים ורגלים
9. קדש הקדשים מקודש מהם שאין נכנס לשם אלא כהן גדול ביום הכפורים בשעת העבודה
1. Within the walls of Jerusalem
2. On the Temple Mount
3. The Cheil: Another walled area at the top of the mount, surrounding the entire Temple compound.
4. Women’s Courtyard
5. Israel Courtyard
6. Cohanim Courtyard
7. The area between the Altar and the Sanctuary
8. The Sanctuary until the Holy of Holies
9. The Holy of Holies
Current Orthodox Judaism doesn’t have anything like it. We are familiar with the three levels of Cohen-Levi-Israel. But these levels were altogether different. The only thing I can think of that matches this is the multi-level security clearance the Federal Government has with security; Classified, Secret, Top Secret, Code Clearance, private home server (sorry, couldn’t resist!) etc.
Someone walking into Jerusalem had to have a very clear and precise idea of what they had been doing, and where they were allowed to go before proceeding. Tourists were limited in where they could go. But Jews were also very careful to maintain a purity in terms of who they associated with, and what they were allowed to eat.
Lest you think this was easy, the Talmud makes it fairly clear that many people were quite confused about what to do, and what they couldn’t do. Another Mishnah, in Chagiga, says that when each of the Shalosh Regalim (Pilgrimage festivals) was over, the priests would purify the entire Temple area.
This sounds like it would be far too difficult to keep. It wasn’t easy even for them. What I take from this system is that there was a spiritual, and ergo social, sensitivity to various people and situations that kept Jews who were there to serve God, and especially the Cohanim, isolated from people who didn’t care about such things. The net effect would have been to isolate the spiritual elite, or those aspiring to be like them, from the vulgar people.
This doesn’t seem very democratic. But purity of thought and character can often be, or should be, undemocratic. It’s not that people can’t aspire to great character. Rather, the idea is that if you don’t aspire in a very real way, we can’t hang out!
The Talmud therefore speaks of an unofficial class of people called the “Nekiyei Daas She’b’Yerushalayim”, those of pure character of Jerusalem, who wouldn’t sign a document unless they knew who else was signing. I feel the need to add this last point because without grasping that there is a moral component, a skeptic might conclude from this essay that Jerusalem was this big OCD World Center. We should understand that this observance of Kodashim and Taharos, Holy and Pure things, has deep roots in moral truths. Is it possible to forget the moral truths and focus only on the technicalities? Of course! The risk is there. And I’m certain that this was a problem back then. More on that later when I discuss Jeremiah.
Yet EVEN SO, the overall impact these guidelines had was to preserve the purity of the spiritually minded from the grossness and boorishness of the unrefined. This was true even of the inner meaning was forgotten. Because when you have a habit of washing your hands, you will be cleaner even if you don’t know what germs are.
All this began when a Jew entered the Gates of Jerusalem.