Numbers 17:2-5 describes the covering that was made for the altar from the fire-pans of Korach's rebels:

[...] 4 And Eleazar the priest took the brazen fire-pans, which they that were burnt had offered; and they beat them out for a covering of the altar, 5 to be a memorial unto the children of Israel, to the end that no common man, that is not of the seed of Aaron, draw near to burn incense before the LORD; that he fare not as Korah, and as his company; as the LORD spoke unto him by the hand of Moses.

From v.5 it sounds like this was a covering for the incense altar, not the bigger one. From v.4 (and earlier) it sounds like the fire-pans were beaten flat and joined together somehow.

My questions:

  • Was this formed into one big sheet or was it individual plates joined (hinged? linked?) together?

  • Did this cover stay in place while incense was being offered, or was it just a cover during "off" times and it was removed when the altar was to be used?

  • Was it used only in the Tabernacle or was it brought into Israel and used in the Temples as well?

  • Can 250 fire-pans be turned into a cover of that size? (How big is a fire-pan, anyway?)

(This question arose out of today's parsha chat.)

  • "Was this formed into one big sheet or was it individual plates joined (hinged? linked?) together?" It seems from Rashi there that it was flattened, since he defines it as "מרודד," which translates (in my Hebrew-English dictionary) to "flattened."
    – b a
    Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 18:57
  • @ba, flattened and left as plates, or flattened and welded (?) together into one big rigid sheet? (I am not a metalsmith. Can you tell? :-) ) Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 19:04
  • Oh, I had assumed that "flattened" meant all welded together, but I didn't consider that they might have been flattened separately.
    – b a
    Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 19:20

1 Answer 1


Rashi says it was the outer, Copper Mizbeach that was covered. This makes sense to me, since it was supposed to be a sign to Bnei Yisroel, and only the Kohanim really see the Gold Mizbeach. However, this certainly raises the question 'how is coating the Copper Mizbeach with more copper is a sign?'

It seems like this was a permanent covering, but I can't find a source. In addition, if it was permanent, it would be a physical burden for the Kohatites charged with carrying the Mizbeach.

I don't know what weight of copper was used in each fire-pan, however I calculated the surface area of the Copper Mizbeach as 11,004 square tefachim, or 1,834 square amas (of 6 tefach amas), based on the specifications on Eruvin 4a & Menachos 98a (see diagram). This means each fire-pan would need to be hammered thin enough to cover about 7 and a third square amas.

I'm also not sure if the Copper alter was used as is, replaced, or modified for the Beit Hamikdash.

enter image description here

  • 1
    +1 for pictures! Do you just diagram sacred objects for fun? judaism.stackexchange.com/a/13841/759
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 17:29
  • Mostly for fun, but also as research/inspiration for future art projects.
    – zaq
    Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 17:50
  • This is a really cool answer, thanks! (And I apologize for my negligence in not saying so sooner; I thought I had until reminded of this question.) Do you have any thoughts on whether a Levitical firepan of the time could have been hammered into a sheet of that size? That seems awfully big but I don't know how big (and thick) a firepan was to begin with. And any sense of what that would weigh? (What did Korach et al do to the Kohatites' burden?) Thanks. Commented Jun 20, 2014 at 15:02
  • @zaq "I'm also not sure if the Copper alter was used as is, replaced, or modified for the Beit Hamikdash." it was replaced with one made of stones and some type of lime/cement. See Mishna Midos 1:5 for example (mechon-mamre.org/b/h/h5a.htm) Commented Jun 22, 2014 at 14:02

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