Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A different opinion on the thickness of the boards of the Tabernacle

Here is a different opinion on the matter.

You can find the full original article here
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Parashat TERUMA.
The Structure of the Mishkan.
Thickness of the Mishkan Boards.
by Rav Meir Spiegelman
translated by Kaeren Fish

The length of all the boards of the Mishkan was ten cubits, and their width a
cubit and a half. The Torah makes no mention of their thickness. We must
conclude, then, that this measurement is of no significance. The importance of
the Mishkan is inward rather than outward, and therefore only its internal
measurements are noted.

The internal length of the Mishkan is at least
thirty cubits, since there are twenty boards each a cubit and a half wide. The
width of the Mishkan is at least nine cubits, for there are six boards on its
western side. This number is somewhat inconvenient, for it is not a common
number in the Torah. It is difficult to rest with the assumption that the
Mishkan is thirty cubits long and nine cubits wide. Our difficulty becomes even
more acute in light of the fact that the length of the Kodesh Ha-kodashim is ten
cubits; it does not seem reasonable that its length should be ten cubits if its
width is nine.[4] We are therefore led to conclude that the inner measurement of
width of the Mishkan was ten cubits. This assumption is confirmed by the
structure of the curtains, as will be explained below.

The Sages
determine that the boards were a cubit thick. However, there is some dispute as
to whether they are oblong in shape – such that their thickness remains uniform
throughout their length – or whether they take the form of a split pyramid (a
sort of right-angled triangle), such that their thickness measures a cubit only
at the bottom; at the top they are almost a point. The latter option seems more
probable, for a number of reasons.

First of all, the boards involve a
weight problem. If the board is a cubit thick from top to bottom, and it is made
of solid wood, then the volume of each board is much more than a cubic meter of
wood. Based on a conservative estimate that the specific weight of wood is half
of the weight of water (in fact, different types of wood have different
weights), we conclude that each board weighs more than half a metric ton. Since
the Mishkan included at least fifty boards, we must arrive at the fantastic
total of around twenty-five tons (not including poles, the boards of the screen,
the parokhet, etc.). The Torah states that two wagons served to transport the
boards. Thus, if our calculations are correct, each wagon – drawn by only two
oxen – must have borne more than twelve tons. Clearly, this is not physically
possible, but nowhere is there any indication that the transportation of the
boards in the wagons was in any way miraculous. If, on the other hand, we assume
that the boards stood in the shape of a split pyramid, their weight is halved,
which seems more reasonable.[5]

Secondly, the Torah states that on the
western side of the Mishkan there were six boards, and another two boards for
the edges of the Mishkan. If the boards were a uniform thickness of a cubit and
a half, the boards at the corners should be no different from the others.
Assuming that the internal width of the Mishkan is ten cubits, the width of each
board at a corner could also be a cubit and a half, of which one cubit covers
the width of the boards on the northern or southern side, while the remaining
half-cubit is devoted to the internal width of the Mishkan. Hence there is no
need for the Torah to tell us that there are two boards on the corners. The
general statement telling us that on the western side there were eight identical
boards would have been sufficient. If the thickness of the boards was
negligible, or if they were in pyramid form, then the boards of the corners
would have to be a different shape from the boards in the middle of each side
(in order to close the corner – they would have to be of full thickness), and we
must therefore assert that there were special boards for the corners of the

Thirdly, the Torah fails to describe how the curtains were
placed upon the boards. The length of the curtains was twenty-eight cubits. This
length was laid sideways upon the Mishkan. The inner width of the Mishkan
measured ten cubits. We are thus left with eighteen cubits. If the thickness of
the boards at the top was a cubit, then each cucovered eight cubits of the
board. This would look strange, for there is no special reason to cover
specifically eight cubits, rather than seven cubits or eight and a half cubits.
The authorities who maintain this opinion would counter that the Torah wanted to
leave one cubit of gold revealed, and – correspondingly – a cubit of silver (on
the assumption that the silver sockets were a cubit high). However, this
hypothesis does not seem to sit well, and it seems preferable to adopt the
opinion according to which the boards were shaped as split pyramids. According
to this view, since the width of the board was small, the curtains covered nine
cubits on each side, down to the height of the sockets (although the outer
length of the boards was a little more than ten cubits, this discrepancy is
negligible).[6] Based on this understanding, the picture that arises seems more
reasonable: the curtains of the Mishkan covered all the gold of the boards. The
goatskin curtains, on the other hand, covered all the boards, including the
silver sockets.

We are left with the question of the need for the
goatskin curtains, and why these cover the silver sockets, while the curtains of
the Mishkan do not cover them.

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