Balaam saw that the tent openings of the Israelites do not face each other; rather each opening was behind the next one, so that no one would look in the house of his friend. (BT Bava Batra 60a)

I was looking at the encampment of the Israelite tribes around the tabernacle I wondered in which direction each of these tent entrances/openings would look out to.

Searching for a answer I came across a translation of Bamidbar 2:2 which read: "They shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side" and another reading: "afar off, opposite to it shall they encamp" and at last a more literal rendering: "over-against round about the tent of meeting they encamp".

But when I looked at the translation from the Mechon Mamre site it only read: "a good way off shall they pitch round about the tent of meeting". While the sefaria website translated it as: "they shall camp arount the Tent of Meeting at a distance".

From all of these it was clear that these tribes with their tents were pitched around the tent, but does this verse indeed says the entrances were pitched toward the Tent of Meeting? Were they facing it from every side?

  • You should (have) divide(d) what is exactly in BB, and what is the commentary as @DonielF said. Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 15:32

1 Answer 1


Rashi to Bamidbar 24:5 quotes this Gemara as follows. The Hebrew is the original, via Sefaria, and the English is the most literal translation I can muster that makes any sort of sense.

מה טבו אהליך. על שראה פתחיהם שאינן מכוונין זה מול זה (ב"ב ס, א):

“How goodly are your tents” - on that [Bilam] saw that their openings weren’t directly facing this one.

So they could have been facing toward each other, as long as it’s not a direct angle wherein they could see straight into each others’ tents.

I looked at the Gemara and it seems this is the Gemara’s intention as well. As above, the Hebrew is via Sefaria, and the English is as literal as I can make it. The square brackets are added for clarity, while the curly brackets are added based on Rashbam’s commentary.

מתני׳ לא יפתח אדם לחצר השותפין פתח כנגד פתח וחלון כנגד חלון ... גמ׳ מנהני מילי א"ר יוחנן דאמר קרא (במדבר כד, ב) וישא בלעם את עיניו וירא את ישראל שוכן לשבטיו מה ראה ראה שאין פתחי אהליהם מכוונין זה לזה אמר ראוין הללו שתשרה עליהם שכינה:

Mishnah: A man cannot open into a courtyard of partners a door facing a door and a window facing a window. ... Gemara: From where are these words [sourced]? Said R’ Yochanan, “[it’s] as the verse says, ‘And Bilam raised his eyes, and he saw Yisrael camping according to its tribes.’ What did he see? He saw that their tents were not directly facing each other {and therefore said ‘how goodly are your tents’}. He said, ‘It is fitting that these should have the Shechinah rest on them.’”

I don’t see any indication from this verse that they faced any particular direction. If anything, the fact that they faced each other, just not directly head-on, indicates that they faced in multiple directions.

TLDR: Wherever you got that original quote from is either wrong or misleading. It’s not that they didn’t face each other, but that they didn’t face directly at each other, so that they couldn’t see into the neighbors’ homes directly from their own.

  • Thanks DonielF, I like the idea that they faced in multiple directions, because it leaves room to think they faced the Mishkan from all directions.
    – Levi
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 15:01
  • @Levi It also means that not all of them faced the Mishkan, though. One would expect in such a layout that it was about 50/50.
    – DonielF
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 15:03
  • could you explain that to me? I mean the tribes surrounded the Mishkan correct? So while they (these tribes) would literally faced towards each other, the Mishkan would stand in the midst of it all. In such case the commentary of Rashi wouldn't loose any value: Rashi envisioned that Balaam noticed that their tents were not directly facing each other, indicating a degree of privacy for each home. So in the case I present the tents of a tribe wouldn't be facing each other, although as a tribe it would face another tribe but from far of, while the Mishkan stood in the midst of it all.
    – Levi
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 15:09
  • I don’t understand it as meaning the tribes faced each other (since though they obviously did), but rather that the individual tents faced each other. Something like rows of tents, each row facing each other, but at a skewed angle so that they can’t see inside the tents opposite them. After all, we learn from here that if partners share a courtyard, they can’t have doors and windows looking into each other’s houses.
    – DonielF
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 15:11
  • To me it appears illogical if all the tents would not face the Mishkan. THis is common to all cultures that align all the tents in one direction facing the Altar or whatever valuable object they have. Otherwise, it's unordered, insecure and offensive to the Mishkan.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 21:16

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