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Menahot 94a-b: Shaping the Shewbread

The eleventh perek of Massekhet Menaḥot begins on today’s daf and its focus is on two offerings –

  • Shetei ha-leḥem – the two loaves brought on Shavuot, celebrating the new wheat harvest (see 23:17)
  • Leḥem ha-panim – Shewbread, the 12 loaves placed on the table in the Temple on a weekly basis (see 24:5-8)

These two offerings differ from all other menaḥot inasmuch as they are baked in a pan that gives them a specific form and are eaten whole by the kohanim. The majority of the perek is dedicated to the leḥam ha-panim that has many details, both with regard to the loaves themselves as well as the table on which they are placed in the Temple. The Torah does not describe how they were to be kneaded and baked, nor does it specify what their actual shape should be. Although there is some description of the table, its details are unclear, and we have little information about the utensils that are attached to it.

The Gemara asks about the shape of the leḥem ha-panim, and we find a disagreement between Rabbi Ḥanina who says that they were shaped like a teiva prutza – an open box – and Rabbi Yoḥanan who says that they were shaped like a sefina rokedet – a boat rocking on the waves.

The Ḥazon Ish argues that the disagreement between Rabbi Ḥanina and Rabbi Yoḥanan was not what the requirement was for the leḥem ha-panim, rather what was the common practice in the Temple, since either method would be acceptable. In fact, the Gemara reaches no conclusion about this question, even though the volume of dough would be different depending on the shape that was used. This presents no problem since it is certainly possible to use a given amount of raw ingredients – which are enumerated in the Torah – and make a dough that is more solidly or loosely prepared.

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

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