Even Shetiyyah

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EVEN SHETIYYAH (Heb. אֶבֶן שְׁתִיָּה), tannaitic term which was understood in two ways in talmudic times: "the rock from which the world was woven, and "the foundation rock." Both meanings presuppose the belief that the world was created from the rock which, placed at the center of the world in the Holy of Holies (Devir) of the Temple in Jerusalem, constitutes the focal point of the world. The Holy Ark was placed upon this rock, and during the Second Temple period the high priest rested the fire-pan on it when he entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. The Mishnah (Yoma 5:2) states that the rock had been at the site of the Devir since "the time of the early prophets" (i.e., David and Solomon); that it was three finger breadths higher than the ground; and that it was called shetiyyah. However, R. *Yose b. Halafta (Tosef., Yoma 3:6) explains the term as having cosmogonic significance and the subsequent Midrash is based on this view. The Mishnah clearly dates the placing of the stone to the time of the Temple's construction and ignores the mythological dimension; other tannaitic views similarly deny that the creation was initiated at Zion (Yoma 54b). The mishnaic source may have antedated the cosmogonic belief; it may have postdated it and rejected it; or it may have assumed that it was the cosmogenetic rock that was brought to the Temple site. The later Midrash states that the entire Temple was founded upon the rock, and that the stone was possessed of magical properties.

The relationship of the even shetiyyah to the rock presently housed under the Dome of the Rock (the "Mosque of Omar") built on the Temple Mount is not fully clear. Muslim tradition identifies the two, and this is the view most widely held today. The major difficulty here is the size: the rock housed in the Dome of the Rock measures approximately 58 by 51 feet, an area larger than the entire Holy of Holies in which the even shetiyyah was found. The later Midrash does state, though, that the entire Temple was based on this rock, which, it implies, merely broke through in the Holy of Holies. In medieval times it was thought that the ground around the rock had been worn away by violence and the erosion of centuries, revealing it in its present magnitude (cf. Radbaz, Responsa, 2 (1882), nos. 639, 691). A second theory states that the rock under the Dome is not the even shetiyyah but the foundation-rock of the great altar of holocausts; the cave under the rock would then have served to collect ashes and other sacrificial refuse. In that case, the Holy of Holies would have stood to the west of the present Dome of the Rock, which presents architectural and topographical difficulties.


Ginzberg, Legends, 5 (1925), 14–16; H. Albeck, Shishah Sidrei Mishnah, 2 (1958), 469; S. Lieberman, Toseftaki-Feshutah, 4 (1962), 772–3; de Vaux, Anc Isr, 318–9; H.H. Rowley, Worship in the Bible (1967), 76n. (bibl.); D. Noy, in: G. Elkoshi et al. (eds.), Ve-li-Yrushalayim (1968), 360–94.

[Gerald Y. Blidstein]