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The Music of the Beth Hamikdash
(the Jerusalem Holy Temple)


The Levitical Choir "Why were the Levites selected to sing in the Temple? Because the name Levi means cleaving. The soul of him who heard their singing at once cleaved to God." (Zohar 2:19a)


The precept of the Levite's Service at the Santuary:

1- In Sefer Hachinuch

2- In Rambam Mishneh Torah

Levitical Song in the Holy Temple of jerusalem

The Teamim

The deciphering of the musical signs in the Bible, the Teamim:

1- According to Suzanne Haik-Vantoura

2- According to Daniel Weill







THE PRECEPT OF THE LEVITE'S SERVICE AT THE SANCTUARY

That the Levites should serve at the Sanctuary, to be gate keepers and singers over the offerings every day: for it is stated, And the Levite, he shall do the service of the tent of meeting (Numbers 18: 23). In the language of the Midrash Sifre (1): I might understand that if he wished he might serve, and if he did not wish to, he need not serve; hence Scripture states, And the Levite, he shall do the service - even against his will. In other words, this matter is obligatory, something imposed on him as compulsory.
So was it likewise explained in chapter 2 of the tractate 'Arachin (11a) that oral music was never to be uttered by anyone other than a Levite. This precept was reiterated in different phrasing in the Torah: for it is stated, then he shall minister in the name of the Lord his God (Deuteronomy 18: 7). And it was stated there in the tractate 'Arachin (11 a): What is a ministry that is in the name of the Lord? - we can but say: it is song (2).

At the root of the precept lies the reason that it is to the glory of the [Divine] King and the place that there should be certain people there from the certain, known tribe, permanently appointed to minister, and an outsider should not enter among them for the service - in keeping with [the practice of] royalty on earth: They appoint known honorable men, that all the work of the palace should be done by them. For it is not fitting for a king that he should change the ministering servants before him every day, and that all should thus make use of the crown of ministry to the king. This is something quite clear.


1. Sifre, Numbers 119.
2. Because the verse means more literally, "with the name of the Lord," and in their singing the Levites pronounced His holy name (Rashi, TB 'Arachin 11a, s.v. b 'shem). From the beginning to here is based on ShM positive precept 23.


Among the laws of the precept there is what the Sages of blessed memory taught:3 that if a Levite accepted every religious duty of the Levites except for one thing, he is not accepted until he adopts them all. Their service was that they would guard the Sanctuary, as we wrote in this sidrah ( 388). Some of them were gatekeepers, to open and close the gates of the Sanctuary. But their principal service was to chant over offerings.4 Now, they would utter song over none but the 'olah (burnt) offerings of the whole community which were obligatory, and over the sh'lamim (peace-offerings) of Shavu'oth during the pouring of the wine.S But for voluntary 'olah offerings that the whole community would present as the altar's "summer fruit offerings," and so when libations (drink-offerings) [of wine] were brought by themselves, song would not be uttered over them.6 A Levite in grief' was permitted to serve and chant.8 There would never be fewer than twelve Levites standing on the platform to utter song over an offering; and more could be added without limit.(9) The song that the Levites would utter was by mouth; for principally, song is by mouth.lo But others would be standing there, who played on musical instruments: some were Levites, and some were Israelites of distinguished lineage who were acceptable to intermarry with the kohanim. For none might ever go up on the platform but a person of distinguished descent.(10) There were never fewer than nine lutes, and more might be added without limit. Of cymbals, though, there was but one [set]. (11) It would seem that the reason is that the sound of cymbals is loud, and somewhat agitating; if there were many, the other musical instruments that were there would not be heard, and certainly not the chant of the mouth. As for the flutes on which they played, theirs was a reed flute, because its sound is sweet.(12) On twelve days of the year, the flute would play before the altar; 12 and it could thrust aside the Sabbath,13 because it was part of the service of the offering, and the offering could thrust aside the Sabbath. (14) A Levite would not enter to serve until he had been taught for five years, as the Sages of blessed memory inferred from Scripture; (15) and


3. TB B'choroth JOb.
4. I.e. while certain offerings (detailed below) were being sacrificed and brought to the altar.
5. TB 'Arachin Ila-b.
6. Ibid. 12a; MT hilchot{, k'/e ha-mikdash iii 2. The Hebrew for "summer-fruit offerings", ka-yitz, means literally "summer"; it'is understood here, however, as the sweet fruits that ripen in the summer, as in 11 Samuel 16: 1-2. By association it takes on the sense of dessert, sweet food after the main course; and by further association it denotes here volumary offerings brought on the altar when it would otherwise be idle (sacritices being regarded symbolically as Divine "food" consumed by the altar); sce e.g. Rashi, TB Sh'vu'oth 12b top, s.v. ka-yitz: 7. Over the death of a near kin, before the burial.
8. Sifra, sh 'mini, pm:k 2, 9.
9. TB 'Arachin l3b.
10. Ibid. Ila. (The paragraph is based on MT ibid. J.)
11. TB 'Arachin 13a.
12. Ibid. lOa.
13. Although playing an instrument on the Sabbath is generally forbidden by a rule of the Sages.
14. The paragraph is based on MT hilchoth k'[e ha-mikdash iii 4-6.
15. Because Numbers 4: 3 states that a Levite began his service at thirty, while Numbers 8: 24 states that they were to enter for service at twenty-five; hence a fiveyear training period is inferred; TB l:Iullin 24a.


hence they (of blessed memory) said that if a student sees no good sign [of progress and success] in his study for five years,16 he will never see any.1' He was never to enter to serve until he was an adult:9 for it is stated, every man to his service (Numbers 4: 49). A Levite would not be disqualified to serve by years (age) or by disfiguring blemishes, but only by the deterioration of the voice-for instance, the old, whose voice becomes spoiled with age.(18) As for the verse in the Torah, and from the age of fifty years he shall return from the service of the work (Numbers 8: 25), this applied only at the time that they would carry the mishkan (Tabernacle) from place to place. Yet even in the older years, when one's voice was deteriorated, he was not disqualified from guarding the Sanctuary and locking doors.18 All this, with the rest of its details, is explained well in various places in the tractates Tamid and Middoth; also in chapter 2 of 'Arachin some of this subject is clarified. I have been a bit lengthy about this for you, my son, for the Sanctuary will soon be rebuilt, and you will need it-amen, may the Eternal Lord so accomplish it. It applies at the time the Temple exists, for the Levites. If a Levite transgressed this and did not chant over an offering on his day that was set for him - for days were determined for them according to the division of the watches19 - but rather kept silent, he would thus disobey this positive precept, and his punishment would be very great, for he would seem like one who does not desire the honor of service to the Eternal Lord. Therefore God would deprive him of honor. But as for anyone of the Levites who delighted in the service of his Creator, life, peace, blessing and honor would be with him.


16. Because he forgets what he has learned (Rashi ibid. s. v. shelo' ra 'ah).
17. Since this is all the time Scripture allotted a Levite for training; TB ibid.
18. TB l;:Iullin 24a. (The paragraph is based on MT ibid. 7-8.)
19. Cf MT ibid. 9.





RAMBAM MISHNEH TORAH - The book of Temple Service, (vessels and ministers).


1. The descendants of Levi were wholly separated (from the community of Israel) for the service of the Sanctuary, as it is said: At that time the Lord sepamted the tribe of Levi (Deut. 10:8). It was a positive commandment for the Levites to be free and ready for the service of the Sanctuary, whether they so desired or not; as it is said: But the Levites alone shall do the service of the tent of meeting (Num. 18:23). A Levite who undertook all the duties assigned to the Levites except one was not accepted until he undertook all of them.

2. Their service was that they guard the Sanctuary; that some of them act as gate-keepers to open the gates of the Sanctuary and to shut its doors; and that some of them be singers to chant over the offerings every day, as it is said: then he shall minister ill the name of the Lord his God, as all his brethren the Levites do (Deut. 18:7). Now which ministry was it that was performed in the name of the Lord? You must say it was that of chanting. When did the Levites chant? At all burnt offerings of the community which were obligatory and at the peace offerings of Pentecost during the libation of wine. But they did not chant at voluntary burnt offerings which the community offered when the Altar was idle or at the drink -offerings which were offered by themselves.

3. A Levite who was in mourning was permitted to minister and chant. There might never be less than twelve Levites standing on the Platform every day to chant over the offering, but their number could be increased without limit. Their chanting was vocal, without instrument, for the essential song of the Temple service was vocal. There were others standing there playing musical instruments; some of them Levites and some of them (lay) Israelites of pure lineage who were eligible to marry into priestly families, for only a person of pure lineage was permitted to rise to the Platform. Those who played the musical instruments were not counted in the required number of twelve.

4. Upon what instruments did they play? Upon lyres, flutes, harps, trumpets, and cymbals. There might never be less than two lyres, nor more than six; never less than two flutes, nor more than twelve;. never less than two trumpets, nor more than one hundred and twenty; never less than nine harps, but their number could be increased without limit. There was only one cymbal.

5. On all Festival Days and on New Moon Days the priests would blow on the trumpets at the time of the offering and the Levites would chant; for it is said: Also in the day of your gladness, and in your appointed seasons, and in your new moons, ye shall blow with the trumpets (Num. 10:10). The trumpet was made of a bar of silver. If it was made of pieces of silver, it was fit; but if made of any other metal, it was unfit. The pipe of the flutes upon which they played was a reed, for its sound is sweet. A song would always end with a lone flute, for it makes a pleasant finale.

6. On twelve days during the year the flute would be sounded in front of the Altar: at the slaughtering of the first Passover offering; at the slaughtering of the second Passover offering; on the first Festival Day of Passover; on the Festival Day of Pente. cost; and on the eight days of Tabernacles. This playing of the flute superseded the Sabbath; for this was a flute that accompanied the offering, which was deemed Temple service and therefore superseded the Sabbath.

7. A Levite did not enter the Court to minister until he had been trained for five years. For one verse says: This is that which pertaineth unto the Levites; from twenty and five years old and upward they shall go in to perform tIle service (Num. 8:24), and another verse says: from thirty years old and upward (ibid. 4:3). Whence the dilIerence in years? It refers to the five years devoted to training. A Levite did not enter to minister until he had grown up and come of age; for it is said: every man to his service (ibid. 4:19).

8. That which the Law says concerning the Levites, and from the age of fifty years they shall return from the service of the work (Num. 8:25), pertained only to the time when the Sanctuary was carried from one place to another and was not a command intended to remain in force at all times. In the latter days the Levite was disqualified neither by reason of old age nor by reason of blemishes. Only if his voice was impaired because of old age did he become disqualified for service in the Sanctuary. It appears to me that he was disqualified only from chanting, but he might serve as one of the gate-keepers.

9. Samuel the Seer and David the King divided the Levites into twenty-four divisions. Each division served for one week. The chief of a division would divide the men of his division into subdivisions (fathers' houses: Num. 3 :15), and only certain men would serve on each day of the week. The chiefs of the subdivisions would assign the tasks to those serving on their particular day, each man to his respective duty. All the Levites were admonished not to minister at the Altar; as it is said: only they shall not come nigh unto the holy furniture and unto the altar, that they die not (Num. 18 :3). They shall not come nigh enjoins them only from ministering, but they were permitted to touch the Altar

10. Just as the Levites were admonished not to perform the service of priests, so were the priests admonished not to perform the service of Levites; for it is said: neither they, nor ye (ibid.). Similarly, each Levite was admonished not to perform a service assigned to another Levite; that is, a singer might not assist a gate-keeper, nor might a gate-keeper assist a singer. For it is said: every man to his service and to his burden (Num. 4:19).

11. If a Levite performed a service of priests or if a Levite assisted in a duty not assigned to him, he incurred the penalty of death by Divine judgment; for it is said: that they die not (Num. 18:3). But if a priest performed a service of a Levite, he did not incur the penalty of death, but he transgressed a negative commandment.








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