PHOTOS: Reenactment of Ancient Water Libation Ritual Revives Part of Temple Service

“Seven days shalt thou keep a feast unto Hashem thy God in the place which Hashem shall choose; because Hashem thy God shall bless thee in all thine increase, and in all the work of thy hands, and thou shalt be altogether joyful.” Deuteronomy 16:15 (The Israel Bible™)

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.

Kohanim (Jewish priests) perform a sacred water libation service on Sukkot, October 19, 2016. (Adam Propp)
Kohanim (Jewish priests) perform a sacred water libation service on Sukkot, October 19, 2016. (Adam Propp)

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.

The water is scooped into the vessel. (Adam Propp)
The water is scooped into the vessel. (Adam Propp)

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.

The water and wine pouring onto the stone. (Adam Propp)
The water and wine pouring onto the stone. (Adam Propp)

Willow branches were arranged in the four corners of the altar. The entire ceremony was accompanied by blasts from silver trumpets.

Kohanim blow ceremonial trumpets. (Adam Propp)
Kohanim blow ceremonial trumpets. (Adam Propp)

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.

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The procession, like the original Temple ceremony, was accompanied by blasts from silver trumpets, also from the Temple Institute.

The Kohanim lead the procession back to the Hurva. (Adam Propp)
The Kohanim lead the procession back to the Hurva. (Adam Propp)

The Kohanim then ascended to the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem, lead by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, director of the Temple Institute.

The location of the ceremony, performed outside of the Kotel. (Adam Propp)
The procession outside of the Kotel. (Adam Propp)

A wooden model of the altar and other Temple elements were used for the reenactment in the courtyard of the synagogue.

The Kohanim circle the wooden altar. (Adam Propp)
The Kohanim circle the wooden altar. (Adam Propp)

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.

Kohanim and spectators dance and celebrate with the vessel of water. (Adam Propp)
Kohanim and spectators dance and celebrate with the vessel of water. (Adam Propp)

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