- Preparing the Ketores

Preparing the Ketores

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Preparing the Ketores

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קטֹרת : Preparing the Ketores / קטֹרת (part 1)  by Esther Livingstone 

 (HKHVB= Hilchos Klei HaMikdash Veha’ovdim Bo )

Preparing the קטֹרת / incense mixture fulfils a mitzvas aseh- “And you take spices...- קַח־לְךָ֣ סַמִּ֗ים נָטָ֤ף...

וּשְׁחֵ֙לֶת֙ וְחֶלְבְּנָ֔ה סַמִּ֖ים וּלְבֹנָ֣ה זַכָּ֑ה בַּ֥ד בְּבַ֖ד יִהְיֶֽה (Shemos 30:34). 

Four of the spices for the ketores are explicitly mentioned in the Torah, while the others are halacha leMoshe miSinai.



  1. How many spices are in the ketores; and how is this number derived from the pasuk in the Torah?

  2. Which 4 spices are explicitly mentioned in the Torah, and how much of each was used?

  3. What are the other 7 spices, and how much of each was used?

  4. How many grams/ounces are in one maneh; and how often was the ketores prepared?

  5. Was preparing the ketores an easy task?

  6. When each individual spice is being ground, what words are meant to be said, and why?

  7.  What 3 other things were added to the ketores?

  8. The galbanum/ חֶלְבְּנָה had a bad aroma.  What do Chazal learn from its inclusion in the ketores?

  9. What percentage of the ketores consisted of the galbanum?

  10. Finish off this passuk “You shall not make (incense) for yourselves .....”

  11. What particular ingredient is specifically mentioned in the Torah as disqualifying the ketores if added to it?

  12. What if one omitted any of the 11 spices, or used more or less than the prescribed amount?

  13. Due to its holiness, where must the ketores be prepared, and what was essential about its ingredients?

  14. Who made the ketores, and where was it stored during the year?

  15. What was the weight of the entire ketores mixture that was made yearly, and how much was burned daily?

  16. What was done with the 3 remaining maneh?

  17. Was anything else offered on the mizbei’ach hazahav/golden altar other than the ketores?

  18. When do we commemorate this service/say the pesukim relating to the ketores today?



  1. Eleven spices; spices/ סַמִיםis written plural =2 kinds; then 3 spices are named=5; then we again have the word סַמִים-implying the addition of another 5; then 1 more spice is mentioned=11 in total. (Shemos 30:34). (Kereisos 8b)

  2. Stacte (balsam)/ נָטָף , onycha/ שְׁחֵלֶת, galbanum / חֶלְבְּנָה, and frankincense/לְבֹנָה (Shemos 30: 34);  70 maneh of each was used.  (Kereisos 6a)

  3. Myrrh/ מוֹר, cassia/ קְצִיעָה, spikenard/ שִׁבֹּלֶת נֵרְדְ, saffron/  כַרְכֹּם-16 maneh of each;

 costus/ קֹשְׁטְ-12 maneh;   aromatic bark/ קִלוּפָה -3 maneh;  cinnamon/ קִנָמוֹן-9 maneh. (Kereisos 6a)

  1. There are approximately 423 grams /14.9 ounces in each maneh. (This measurement is Halacha L’Moshe M’Sinai). The ketores was prepared yearly, though it was allowed to make it in smaller quantities more often.  (HKHVB 2;1)

  1. No, as it all had to be weighed out; the onycha required rubbing (with vetch lye/ בּוֹרִית כַּרְשִׁינָה ) and soaking (in caper wine/Cyprus wine/ יֵין כַּפְרִיסִין); and each ingredient needed to be ground very finely alone, and only then mixed all together. (HKHVB 2:5)

  1. For the entire time of grinding, the words “grind thoroughly, grind thoroughly-” are meant to be said, because this chanting is said to improve the spices. (Kereisos 6b). (We grind it because the Torah says “You shall grind some of it finely/ וְשָֽׁחַקְתָּ֣ מִמֶּנָּה֮ הָדֵק֒  (Shemos 30:36) (HKHVB 2:5)

  2. Salt of Sodom/ מלח סדוֹמית, Jordanian amber/  כִפַּת הַיַרְדֵן, and a smoke raising herb/  מַעֲלֶה עָשָׁן- which produced a pillar of smoke that rose straight up rather than spreading out. (HKHVB 2:2)

  3. Chazal derive from here the duty of associating with and including transgressors with the community in our tefilla, and that they should be counted amongst us. (Rashi –Shemos 30:34/ Kereisos 6b). Thus the incense expresses the idea of unity-that everyone has a share in serving Hashem.

  4. The galbanum was 19% of the total weight of the ketores.

  5. “You shall not make (incense) for yourselves according to its formula. בְּמַ֨תְכֻּנְתָּ֔הּ לֹ֥א תַעֲשׂ֖וּ לָכֶ֑ם (Shemos 30:38). This prohibits us from preparing this incense according to its proportions in the Torah for the sake of smelling it. (HKHVB 2:9)

  6. Honey or any sweet fruit juice, even though this would have improved its fragrance. (Vayikra 2:11 and Rashi)      (Hilchot Issurei Mizbei’ach 5:2/ HKHVB 2:8).  Sefer HaChinuch says that this prohibition conveys a moral lesson, and teaches us that we should not be obsessed by the pursuit of pleasures, as symbolized by the sweetness of honey.

  7. It is then considered an unauthorized/strange incense - קְטֹ֥רֶת זָרָ֖ה- and he would be liable for a heavenly death penalty. (HKHVB 2:8).

  8. It must be prepared in the azara/courtyard, and its ingredients were required to be consecrated. טָה֥וֹר קֹֽדֶשׁ (Shemos 30:35)  (HKHVB 2:8)

  9. The Family of Beis Avtinas prepared the ketores, as only they knew the secret herb ingredient -ma’aleh ashan- that caused the smoke to rise straight up in a column.  This knowledge was passed from person to person in their family. (HKHVB-2:2)

  1. 368 maneh was made yearly- which is 155.7 kilos/ 342.7 lbs yearly. One maneh was burned daily, ½ in the morning and ½ in the afternoon- 211.5 grams/ 7.45 oz each time.   (HKHVB 2:3)         

  2. They were ground again very finely on the day before Yom Kippur, and from this incense the Kohen Gadol would fill both of his hands, and it was used for the special Yom Kippur offering in the Kodesh HaKodoshim. (HKHVB 2:3)

  3. No, and this is a mitzvas lo ta’aseh, as the Torah says “You shall not offer upon it foreign incense, a burnt offering, or a meal offering...” ... לֹא־תַעֲל֥וּ עָלָ֛יו קְטֹ֥רֶת זָרָ֖ה וְעֹלָ֣ה וּמִנְחָ֑ה   (Shemos 30:9)

  4. We say them daily- in Shacharis and Mincha we read the pesukim from the Torah that deal with the ingredients and preparation of the ketores. This is in line with the pasuk “We will render (the prayer of) our lips in place of (the sacrifice of) bulls.” (Hoshea 14:3) (Thus many also say the pesukim pertaining to the various offerings daily.)

When davening, it is important to pronounce each of the ingredients and measurements of the ketores carefully and clearly, because our recitation of the ketores takes the place of the actual mixture, which had to be exact. (Rama)

 The fragrance of the ketores symbolizes our responsibility and desire to make all of our actions pleasing to Hashem. (Rav S.R. Hirsch)


*Sefer Ha’Avodah- Rambam- With commentary by Rav Eliyahu Touger- Pub-Moznaim -2007

*Sefer Avodah- Rambam- With comments. Editor- Yockai Makbili- Pub- Mishne Torah Project & Machon HaMikdash-2012

*Chumash & Rashi- Translated into English & Annotated- Rabbi A.M. Silbermann-1985- Pub by Silbermann Family/Feldheim

 *Complete Artscroll Siddur – Mesorah Pub-1987 –Rabbi Nosson Scherman

*Why Ketoret Incense in the Temple? (Article)- By Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin


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