Curtains in Tabernacle.

An adjustable drapery, usually hung before a window or passageway to insure privacy. In Ex. xxvi. and xxxvi., containing the directions for the making and a description of the erection of the Tabernacle, the Hebrew term "yeri'ah" () occurs forty-four times. In the English versions it is rendered "curtain." A more correct translation, however, would be "rug" or "tent-cloth." The rugs described in Exodus were of costly material and of elaborate workmanship. According to rabbinical explanation (Rashi to Ex. xxvi. 1) the thread was composed of four strands, of the four different materials of varied colors mentioned in verse 1. The thread was then six-folded, so that it was actually 6 X 4 = 24-ply. Inwoven on both sides, not embroidered or sewed on, were pictures of the cherubim, showing on each side different figures, a lion, for instance, on one side, and an eagle on the other. Ten of these rugs were sewed (Rashi, "with a needle") or fastened together, in two sets of five each, and were used to screen off the Holy Place. The end rugs of each set were provided with equidistant loops, the loops in one rug having corresponding loops in the other. Each rug had a length of twenty-eight cubits and a breadth of four cubits; so that the five sewed together were twenty cubits in breadth.

In Middot detailed calculations of the dimensions of the Tabernacle and the adjustment of the curtains are given; but on some points the descriptions of the covering of the pillars on the morning side of the tent (see Shab. 98a) vary, and it is not possible to arrive at an accurate estimate of the proportions and the arrangement which the author of Exodus had in mind. Hooks were provided by which the corresponding loops were joined. Other rugs or pieces of cloth, eleven in number, woven of goat-hair, were used to cover the tent. The Hebrews had, at a comparatively early stage of their development, perhaps under Egyptian influence, attained considerable proficiency in the art of weaving such rugs (Nowack, "Lehrbuch der Hebräischen Archäologie," i. 241).

The Arabs were also adepts in this craft, many specimens remaining to show their skill in weaving figures and other ornaments into cloth (Le Bon, "La Civilisation Arabe," pp. 515, 517, 519). The style of these primitive Hebrew rugs is, perhaps, reproduced in the "kiswah" or covering of the "ka'bah" (a coarse fabric of mixed silk and cotton), which serves to confirm Rashi's statement that the yeri'ah was of mixed thread. That the original meaning of the term "yeri'ah" is "rug," or "tent-cloth," is made plain by Jer. xlix. 29; Isa. liv. 2; Jer. iv. 20, x. 20; and Hab. iii. 7, where it is used as equivalent to "tent." The later rabbinical use of the word for parchment, or writing material, of certain dimensions, supports the theory that originally it stood for pieces of cloth or hide cut into various lengths, ready to be fastened or sewed together (Men. 30a, b).

The rendering of "cloth," or "rug," is also sustained by Ps. civ. 2. The use of in a parallel passage (Isa. xl. 22) points to the same conclusion; for the word translated "curtain" stands for a thin, gauze-like material.

"Paroket." Curtain for the Ark of the Law, from a Synagogue at Smyrna.(In the United States National Museum, Washington, D. C.)

In Num. iii. 26 is rendered "curtain." It is more properly a portière, at the gate of the court; and, in fact, it occurs in conjunction with another Hebrew word, "paroket" (), which is derived from a root, still extant in Assyrian, meaning "to shut off," and is found in Ex. xxvi. 31, and elsewhere, as the designation of the curtain that divides the Holy of Holies from other parts of the Tabernacle. In Assyrian "parraku," by metonymy, signifies the apartment and shrine which are "shut off"; while the Hebrew has retained the active sense, and denotes the means used for "shutting off." This curtain was made of the same material and in the same manner as the rug. It corresponds to the "burḳa'" (veil) in the ka'bah, which suggests what the paroket may have been in the ancient days of Israel. Talmudic tradition states that such curtains were hung in front of the various gates and doors in the Temple. In fact, thirteen are enumerated with their respective assignments (Ket. 106a). A special officer had charge of them (Shek. v. 1), and women are mentioned as engaged in weaving them (Yoma 51b). That curtains were also used for secular ornaments is learned from Pirḳe R. El. 41, where mention is made of a canopy ornamented with black curtains.

The Targumim translate "paroket" by "pargod" (Targ. Yer. to Ex. xxvi. 31, 33, 35; xxxix. 34 et seq.; Pirḳe R. El. iv.), a word of doubtful etymology, which, however, is rendered also a "coat," or "cloak," made of richly ornamented material and trimmed with fur (Gen. R. lxxxiv.). Curtains made of similar material might easily have been known by the same name (see Kelim xxix. 1). "Pargod" in the Talmud designates a curtain supposed to divide the inner or higher court of the heavens from the outer and more accessible celestial precincts. From behind this curtain or screen were heard voices that imparted information to the suppliant (Mek. to Ex. xix. 9). It is often contrasted with the direct communication on the part of an earthly ruler, or his secretary and ambassador (see Yoma 77a; Ber.18b). This pargod is identical with or similar to the "velon" (= Lat. "velum"), a term which also connotes cloth and curtains made of the cloth (Kelim xx. 6; Beẓah 14b), and which is used in Num. R. iv. 13 in explanation of the Biblical (paroket). In its figurative application "Velon" ( = ) is the name of the seventh heaven, the Pargod (Ḥag. 12b; Ber. 58b, etc.).

The name is still in use among the Jews to designate the curtains hung in front of the Ark in the synagogue. Though the European Sephardic Jews do not use them, this may be due to the need of concealment in Inquisition days; and it is very doubtful if they were used in the earlier forms of the Ark of the Law. The earliest examples are without curtains (see Jacobs in "Jew. Quart. Rev." xiv. 737 et seq). The assumption that the curtains now attached to arks are intended to represent the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the Tabernacle or Temple seems to be disproved by these representations. Very often these curtains were of costly material, velvet, brocade, and silk of various colors, though red and blue seem to have been the more common. They were provided with gold borders, fringes, and tassels, and were often embroidered in gold with inscriptions commemorating the pious donors and the event which occasioned the gift. Others display in artistic execution verses and quotations from the Bible; while symbols, such as crowns, or the letters = ("crown of the Torah"), or lions, the emblem of Judah, are not infrequently woven into them or embroidered upon them. On the "awful days" (Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom ha-kippurim) hangings made of white fabric are used.

Curtain for the Ark of the Law, Probably from Asia Minor.(In the United States National Museum, Washington, D. C.)Curtains in the Synagogue. Italian Curtain for the Ark of the Law, Seventeenth Century.(In the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington.)

Suggestive symbolical significances and allusions have been read into the colors as well as into the dimensions of the curtains prescribed for the Tabernacle. According to Philo, the four colors which appeared in the thread indicated the four elements out of which the universe was created. Baehr, one of the more modern speculators on the symbolism of the Mosaic system, contends that the number seven in the dimensions is fundamental, and represents holiness in its various degrees. He also holds the four colors to have been of profound significance (Philo, "De Vita Moysis," iii. 6; Baehr, "Symbolik des Mosaischen Kultus," i. 207, 303).

J. E. G. H.