As a segue from the ongoing discussion about circumcision, the Gemara turns its attention to the showbread in the Temple.
Four priests would enter the Sanctuary every to arrange the showbread, two of whom had two orders of six loaves each in their hands, and two had two bowls of frankincense in their hands. And four priests would precede them; two came to take the two orders of bread left on the table from the previous week, and two came to take the two bowls of frankincense. Next, those bringing the loaves and bowls into the Sanctuary would stand in the north of the Sanctuary, facing south, while those carrying the loaves and bowls out would stand in the south of the Sanctuary, facing north. These slide the old bread along the table, and these place the new bread on the table, and as a result, the handbreadth of this one would be alongside the handbreadth of that one, so that the requisite amount of bread would always be present on the table, as it is stated: “And you shall place on the table showbread before Me continuously” (Shemot 25:30).
Rabbi Yosei said: Even if these priests were first to take the old bread off the table entirely, and only afterward were these priests to place the new ones on the table, this too would fulfill the requirement that the showbread be on the table continuously. It is unnecessary to ensure the uninterrupted presence of the showbread on the table.
The showbread, which was placed on the sacred table in the Sanctuary (Shemot 25:23–30), was comprised of twelve loaves arranged on wooden slats in two stacks of six loaves each. Atop each stack or, according to another opinion, between them, were two bowls of frankincense. The showbread remained on the table from one to the next. Every the priests would remove the old bread and replace it with new bread. The old bread was divided among the priests and eaten. The dispute between Rabbi Yosei and the Sages is with regard to the proper interpretation of the word “always” (Shemot 25:30) with regard to the transition from the old loaves to the new ones.