Foundation Stone

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The Foundation Stone in the floor of the Dome of the Rock shrine in Jerusalem. The round hole at upper left penetrates to a small cave, known as the Well of Souls, below. The cage-like structure just beyond the hole covers the stairway entrance to the cave (south is towards the top of the image). The rock of the Dome of the Rock Corrected.jpg
The Foundation Stone in the floor of the Dome of the Rock shrine in Jerusalem. The round hole at upper left penetrates to a small cave, known as the Well of Souls, below. The cage-like structure just beyond the hole covers the stairway entrance to the cave (south is towards the top of the image).
The bottom of the Foundation Stone, photo taken from the Well of Souls Bottom of the Foundation Stone.jpg
The bottom of the Foundation Stone, photo taken from the Well of Souls

The Foundation Stone (Hebrew : אֶבֶן הַשְׁתִיָּיה‘Even haŠəṯīyyā, literally "The Foundation Stone"; or simply Hebrew : סֶּלַעSelā‛, "Rock"), or the Noble Rock (Arabic : الصخرة المشرفةal-Saḵrah al-Mušarrafah, lit. "The Noble Rock") is the rock at the centre of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. It is also known as the Pierced Stone because it has a small hole on the southeastern corner that enters a cavern beneath the rock, known as the Well of Souls.


In traditional Jewish sources, it is considered the place from which the creation of the world began. [1] The site was used by the Temple in Jerusalem; most classical Jewish sources agree it was the location of the Holy of Holies. [2] [3] If it was the site of the Holy of Holies, that would make this the holiest site in Judaism. [4] Jewish tradition views the Holy of Holies as the spiritual junction of Heaven and Earth, the axis mundi, and is therefore the direction that Jews face when praying the Amidah. In modern academia, this is usually the consensus, however, overall there is no conclusive opinion on the matter.


The rock is located towards the centre of the Temple Mount, a term usually applied to an artificial platform built and expanded over many centuries at the top of Jerusalem's southern hill. The current shape is the result of an expansion by Herod the Great on top of vaults over a summit called Mount Moriah which three millennia ago was the highest elevation in early Jerusalem's proximity to the City of David.[ citation needed ]

Early Jewish writings assist in confirming that the Dome of the Rock, completed in 691, is the site of the Holy of Holies and therefore the location of the Foundation Stone. Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer (9th century) wrote: "Rabbi Ishmael said: In the future, the sons of Ishmael (the Arabs) will do fifteen things in the Land of Israel … They will fence in the breaches of the walls of the Temple and construct a building on the site of the sanctuary." [5]

Rabbis have discussed the precise location of the rock. David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra was convinced that "under the dome on the Temple Mount, which the Arabs call El-Sakhrah, without a doubt is the location of the Foundation Stone." [6] The Travels of Petachia of Ratisbon , [7] c.1180, The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela [8] and The Travels of the Student of the Ramban all equally state that "on the Temple Mount stands a beautiful sanctuary which an Arab king built long ago, over the place of the Temple sanctuary and courtyard." Obadiah ben Abraham Bartenura, who wrote a letter from Jerusalem in 1488, says that "I sought the place of the Foundation Stone where the Ark of the Covenant was placed, and many people told me it is under a tall and beautiful dome which the Arabs built in the Temple precinct." [9]

Other traditional sources disagreed; operating under the belief that the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount as it stood in their time was the Southern Wall of the Biblical era, they argued that the measurements given in the Talmud do not reconcile. [10] The Holy of Holies ends up being too far north and they therefore locate the Foundation Stone as being directly opposite the current exposed section of the Western Wall, where no building currently stands. This is the view of Isaac Luria [11] and the Maharsha, [12] who state the prophecy that "Zion will become a ploughed field" indicates that no dwelling will be established there until the time of the Redemption. It therefore follows that the footprint of the Temple courtyard and Holy of Holies is situated in the unbuilt area between the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque. [13]

Some believe the position is north of the Dome of the Rock, opposite the Gate of Mercy, which Immanuel Hai Ricchi [14] identifies as the Shushan Gate mentioned in the Talmud. This gate was described as being opposite the opening of the sanctuary. [15]

Modern Jewish academics list four possible locations of the Foundation Stone: [16]

  1. The stone that was located beneath the Ark of the Covenant is the one under the Dome of the Rock. [17]
  2. The stone that was located beneath the altar is now the one that is under the Dome of the Rock. [18]
  3. The stone that was located beneath the Ark of the Covenant is now near El Kas fountain to the South of the Dome of the Rock. [13]
  4. The stone that was located beneath the Ark of the Covenant is now inside the Spirits Dome situated to the North of the Dome of the Rock. [15]


1859 watercolor of the Foundation Stone by Carl Haag The Holy Rock, Jerusalem.jpg
1859 watercolor of the Foundation Stone by Carl Haag

Although the rock is part of the surrounding 90-million-year-old, Upper Turonian Stage, Late Cretaceous karsted limestone,[ citation needed ] the southern side forms a ledge, with a gap between it and the surrounding ground; a set of steps currently uses this gap to provide access from the Dome of the Rock to the Well of Souls beneath it.

Picture of the Foundation Stone taken in the second half of the 20th century Temple area, Mosque of Omar (i.e., Dome of the Rock), etc. Rock Moriah, from the south LOC matpc.23162.jpg
Picture of the Foundation Stone taken in the second half of the 20th century

The rock has several artificial cuts in its surface generally attributed to the Crusaders whose frequent damage to the rock was so severe that the Christian kings of Jerusalem placed a protective marble slab over the rock. The marble slab was removed by Saladin. More recently, there has been speculation that several artificial features of the rock's surface may substantially predate the Crusades.[ citation needed ] Archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer reports [19] that there are sections of the rock cut completely flat, which north-to-south have a width of 6 cubits, precisely the width that the Mishnah [20] credits to the wall of the Holy of Holies, and hence Ritmeyer proposed that these flat sections constitute foundation trenches on top of which the walls of the original temple were laid. However, according to Josephus [ citation needed ] there were 31 steps up to the Holy of Holies from the lower level of the Temple Mount, and the Mishnah identifies 29 steps in total,[ citation needed ] and each step was half a cubit in height (according to the Mishnah); this is a height of at least 22 feet—the height of the Sakhra is 21 feet above the lower level of the Temple Mount, and should therefore have been under the floor.[ citation needed ]

Measuring the flat surface as the position of the southern wall of a square enclosure, the west and north sides of which are formed by the low clean-cut scarp at these edges of the rock, at the position of the hypothetical centre is a rectangular cut in the rock that is about 2.5 cubits (min. 120.4 cm SI) long and 1.5 cubits (min. 72.24 cm SI) wide, which are the dimensions of the Ark of the Covenant (according to the Book of Exodus [21] ).

The Mishnah [22] gives the height of the rock as three thumb-breadths (min. 6 cm SI) above the ground. Radbaz [23] discusses the apparent contradiction of the Mishnah's measurements and the actual measurement of the rock within the Dome he estimates as a "height of two men" above the ground. He concluded that many changes in the natural configuration of the Temple Mount have taken place which can be attributed to excavations made by the various occupiers of Jerusalem since the Second Temple construction.

Jewish significance

This is the holiest site in Judaism. Jews all over the world pray toward the Foundation Stone.

The Roman-Era midrash Tanhuma [1] sums up the centrality of and holiness of this site in Judaism:

As the navel is set in the centre of the human body,
so is the land of Israel the navel of the world...
situated in the centre of the world,
and Jerusalem in the centre of the land of Israel,
and the sanctuary in the centre of Jerusalem,
and the holy place in the centre of the sanctuary,
and the ark in the centre of the holy place,
and the Foundation Stone before the holy place,
because from it the world was founded.

According to the sages of the Talmud, [24] it was from this rock that the world was created, itself being the first part of the Earth to come into existence. In the words of the Zohar , "The world was not created until God took a stone called Even haShetiya and threw it into the depths where it was fixed from above till below, and from it the world expanded. It is the centre point of the world and on this spot stood the Holy of Holies." [25]

According to the Talmud, it was close to here, on the site of the altar, that God gathered the earth that was formed into Adam. It was on this rock that Adam—and later Cain and Abel and Noah—offered sacrifices to God. Jewish sources identify this rock as the place of the Binding of Isaac mentioned in the Bible, where Abraham fulfilled God's test to see if he would be willing to sacrifice his son. The mountain is identified as Moriah in Genesis 22. It is also identified as the rock upon which Jacob dreamt about angels ascending and descending on a ladder and consequently consecrating and offering a sacrifice upon. [26]

When, according to the Bible, King David purchased a threshing floor owned by Araunah the Jebusite, [27] it is believed that it was upon this rock that he offered the sacrifice mentioned in the verse. He wanted to construct a permanent temple there, but as his hands were "bloodied", he was forbidden to do so himself. The task was left to his son Solomon, who completed the Temple in c. 950 BCE.

The Mishnah in tractate Yoma [28] mentions a stone situated in the Holy of Holies that was called Shetiya and had been revealed by the early prophets (i.e. David and Samuel. [29]

An early Christian source noting Jewish attachment to the rock may be found in the Itinerarium Burdigalense , written between 333–334 CE when Jerusalem was under Roman rule, which describes a "perforated stone to which the Jews come every year and anoint it, bewail themselves with groans, rend their garments, and so depart." [30]

Role in the Temple

Situated inside the Holy of Holies, this was the rock upon which the Ark of the Covenant was placed in Solomon's Temple. [31] During the Second Temple period when the Ark of the Covenant was not present, the stone was used by the High Priest who offered up the incense and sprinkled the blood of the sacrifices on it during the Yom Kippur service.

Commemoration in Jewish law

The Jerusalem Talmud states:

Women are accustomed not to prepare or attach warp threads to a weaving loom from Rosh Chodesh Av onwards (till after Tisha B'Av), because during the month of Av the Foundation Stone [and the Temple] was destroyed. [32]

Citing this, the Mishnah Berurah [33] rules that not only are women not to prepare or attach warp threads to a weaving loom, but it is forbidden for anyone to make, buy or wear new clothes or shoes from the beginning of the week in which Tisha B'Av falls until after the fast, and that people should ideally not do so from the beginning of Av. This period is known as The Nine Days.

In further commemoration of the Foundation Stone, it is also forbidden to eat meat or drink wine from the beginning of the week in which Tisha B'av falls until after the fast. Some have the custom to refrain from these foodstuffs from Rosh Chodesh Av, while others do so from the Seventeenth of Tammuz. [34]

Liturgical references

In the days when Selichot are recited, in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, the supplications include the following references:

טענתנו גפי קרת נתונים, ישבתנו שן סלע איתנים

You carried us and placed us on the [Holy] City’s height, You settled us on the Patriarch’s rocky peak. [35]

רבוצה עליו אבן שתית חטובים ...שמה בתוך לפני מזיב מאשנבים

Upon it lying the stone from which the foundation was hewn… Who gives ear from which the waters flow [i.e. the foundation stone "from which flow all the waters of the world"]. [36]

During Sukkot, the following references to the Foundation Stone are mentioned in the Hoshanot recital:

הושענא! – אבן שתיה – הושענא

Please save! – Foundation Stone – Please save!

הושענא! – תאדרנו באבן תלולה – הושענא

Please save! – Adorn us with the elevated Stone – Please save!

Islamic significance

The Temple Mount, where the Foundation Stone is located, is thought by commentators of the Quran to be the place from which Muhammad began his Night Journey. [37] [38] Although the Quran does not specifically mention Jerusalem in name as the ascension site, labelling the site as the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Hadith, the recorded sayings of Muhammad, specify that the site is indeed the Foundation Stone in Jerusalem. [39] According to Islamic belief, angels visited the site 2,000 years before the creation of Adam. It is also thought to be the place where Israfil, the angel of the trumpet, will sound his horn on Resurrection Day.

Beneath the Foundation Stone is a cavern known as the Well of Souls. It is sometimes thought of as the traditional hiding place of the Ark of the Covenant.

See also

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  1. 1 2 Tanhuma Kedoshim 10
  2. Yoma 54b:2
  3. Sanhedrin 26b:5
  4. Mishnah Kelim 1:6-9
  5. Friedlander, Gerald, Pirkê de rabbi Eliezer, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & co. Ltd., London, 1916, p.221
  6. Radbaz, Responsa 691.
  7. A. Benisch, Travels of Petachia of Ratisbon (with English translation), London 1856.
  8. The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Travels in the Middle Ages; (English translation originally published by Joseph Simon/Pangloss Press in 1993, ISBN   0-934710-07-4).
  9. Avraham Ya'ari, Igrot Eretz Yisrael, Ramat Gan 1971.
  10. Rav Ishtori Haparchi (14th Century), Kaftor VeFerach, Provence, France.
  11. Emek HaMelech, Preface, paragraph 9.
  12. Maharsha, end of Makkot.
  13. 1 2 "Fig. 6. The Southern System (237 K)". Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  14. Immanuel Hai Ricchi, Aderet Eliyahu
  15. 1 2 "Fig. 5. The Northern System (63K)". Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  16. "The Hidden Secrets of the Temple Mount". Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  17. "Fig 4 The Middle System (124 K)". Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  18. "Fig. 3. The Central System (42 K)". Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  19. Ritmeyer, Leen, The Quest (2006), pp. 263–268.
  20. Tractate Middot 4.7
  21. Exodus 25:10
  22. Mishnah, Yoma 5:3
  23. Radbaz, Responsa 639
  24. Tractate Yoma 54b.
  25. Vayechi 1:231.
  26. Rashi, Genesis 28:11
  27. 1 Chronicles 21:25, and 2 Samuel 24:18-25.
  28. Tractate Yoma 5:2.
  29. Tractate Sotah 48b.
  30. "Bordeaux Pilgrim - Text: 7a. Jerusalem (first part)". Archived from the original on 4 February 2007. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  31. Zohar Vayechi 1:231; Midrash Tanchuma Acharei Ch.3 (see Etz Yosef commentary); Maimonides, Beis HaBechirah 4:1.
  32. Jerusalem Talmud, Pesachim 4:1. Aramaic text: "נשייא דנהגן דלא למי שתייה עמרא מן דאב עליל מנהג – שבו פסקה אבן שתייה".
  33. Mishnah Berurah, 551:7,8
  34. This is derived from the fact that another version of the same piece of Talmud reads: "למישתייה חמרא" “(to refrain) from drinking wine”. This follows the version recorded by Hai Gaon. It is brought down by the Kolbo, Halakha Tisha B'Av , and Machzor Vitri 263.
  35. ArtScroll Selichot, Second day, Selicha 5.
  36. ArtScroll Selichot, Fast of Gedalia, Selicha 46.
  37. M. Anwarul Islam and Zaid F. Al-hamad (2007). "The Dome of the Rock: Origin of its octagonal plan". Palestine Exploration Quarterly. 139 (2): 109–128.
  38. Nasser Rabbat (1989). "The meaning of the Umayyad Dome of the Rock". Muqarnas. 6: 12–21.
  39. "Sahih Bukhari Hadith Volume 5, Book 58, Number 226:". Archived from the original on 2017-04-25. Retrieved 2013-10-08.

Coordinates: 31°46′41″N35°14′07″E / 31.7780°N 35.2354°E / 31.7780; 35.2354