Masechet Menachot 93a-99b

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16 Jun 2011

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

Menachot 93a-b: The place of women in the Temple

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, semikha – laying of hands on the sacrifice – is one of the essential activities associated with individual korbanot. The Mishna on today’s daf teaches that all who bring a sacrifice must perform the act of semikha, with certain exceptions. Among those listed as an exception are women.

The source quoted by the Gemara for this ruling appears together with sources limiting a servant or an agent performing semikha on behalf of someone else, which, in the case of a woman, would be her husband. Based on this, most commentaries understand the Mishna as limiting women from performing semikha on her husband’s sacrifice; with regard to her own sacrifice the source that frees a woman from the obligation to perform semikha appears in Vayikra 1:2 (see Kiddushin 36b), although Rabbi Yossi permits them to do so (see Eruvin 96b).

Tosafot ask why there is a need for the Torah to free women from the obligation to perform semikha, since it is a mitzvat asei she-hazeman grama – it is a positive, time-bound commandment, which women are generally not obligated to perform – since semikha is performed only during the day and not at night. Many answers are offered in response to this question.

Menachot 94a-b: Shaping the Showbread in the Temple

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

These two offerings differ from all other menachot 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 leham 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 lechem ha-panim, and we find a disagreement between Rabbi Chanina who says that they were shaped like a teivah prutzah – an open box – and Rabbi Yochanan who says that they were shaped like a sefinah rokedet – a boat dancing on the waves.

The Chazon Ish argues that the disagreement between Rabbi Chanina and Rabbi Yochanan was not what the requirement was for the lechem 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.

Menachot 95a-b: Where was the Showbread prepared?

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, many of the rules of Shetei ha-lechem – the two loaves brought on Shavuot, celebrating the new wheat harvest (see Vayikra 23:17) – and the Lechem ha-panim – the 12 loaves places on the table in the Temple on a weekly basis (see Vayikra 24:5-8) – are similar to each other. The Mishna on today’s daf discusses where these offerings must be prepared.

The source for these different opinion stems from how the tanna’im viewed the sanctification of the offerings. According to the Tanna Kamma, they do not become holy until they are baked, so there is no reason for the preparatory activities like kneading and arranging the loaves to be done on the Temple grounds. Rabbi Yehuda views the shetei ha-lechem and the lechem ha-panim as standard meal-offerings, which become sanctified from the moment that the ingredients are measured out in a keli sharet – a Temple vessel. As such, from that moment they must be in the Temple. Rabbi Shimon permits even the baking to be done outside of the Temple, since he believes that the shetei ha-lechem on Shavuot only becomes sanctified with the slaughter of the accompanying sacrifices, while the lechem ha-panim become sanctified when they are placed on the table in the Temple.

It should be noted that earlier in the tractate we learned the opinion of Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Shimon who rules that the sanctification of the shetei ha-lechem does not occur until after the sacrifices are brought and their blood is sprinkled on the altar (see daf 47a).

Menachot 96a-b: Showing off the furniture

As we have learned, the table in the Temple served to hold the 12 loaves of the lechem ha-panim – the Showbread. On today’s daf Reish Lakish teaches that the table, together with its loaves, served a unique purpose in the Temple.

Reish Lakish teaches that when the Torah talks about the “pure” table in the Temple (see Vayikra 24:6), it implies that the table could become ritually defiled. This demands explanation, since vessels that cannot be moved are not subject to the laws of ritual purity. He explains that the table was, in fact, moved, since the priests would take the table out of the Temple to show it to the pilgrims who came bringing sacrifices during the holidays. The table was shown to them based on Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi‘s teaching that the table showed God’s direct love of the Children of Israel inasmuch as it represented an ongoing miracle – the loaves that were placed on the table at the beginning of the week remained warm and fresh when they were removed and eaten at the end of the week.

From the story that is told it appears that the kohanim actually removed the table from the Temple and took it out – together with the loaves that were on it – to show to the pilgrims. The aharonim explain that although the throngs of people could not have seen and felt the loaves themselves, the miracle was described to them by the kohanim who accompanied the public presentation, and their description was accepted by the people as true. Some suggest that the warmth of the loaves gave off a little bit of steam, which was, in fact, visible to the pilgrims.

The Sefat Emet adds that God’s love of the Jewish people was connected to the 12 loaves in particular, as these 12 loaves, representative of the 12 Tribes, were removed and eaten on Shabbat, the day that invests the entire workweek with Divine blessings.

Menachot 97a-b: A modern replacement for the Temple?

As we learned on yesterday’s daf the shulchan or table in the Temple was considered to be a utensil that could contract ritual defilement because it was occasionally removed from the Temple and shown to the pilgrims. At least part of the reason that a utensil may or may not be subject to the laws of ritual defilement depend of what it is made of, and the Gemara on today’s daf discusses how the shulchan which was made of wood that was plated with gold, should be viewed.

To answer this question, the Gemara quotes a passage from the book of Yechezkel (41:22) where we find the following description:

“The altar, three cubits high, and the length thereof two cubits, was of wood, and so the corners thereof; the length thereof, and the walls thereof, were also of wood; and he said unto me: ‘This is the table that is before the LORD.'”

This is understood to clarify that the table was viewed as a wooden utensil, even though the wood was not visible.

Having quoted the passage from Sefer Yechezkel, the Gemara asks why he began his description by talking about the altar and then finished by talking about the table. In response, both Rabbi Yohanan and Rabbi Elazar suggest that this teaches that just as the altar served as the place of atonement when the Temple stood, so our tables serve that purpose today, after the destruction of the Temple.

Rashi explains this teaching as referring to hachnasat orchim – welcoming guests to your table – that such generosity and compassion offers atonement. According to the Maharsha, this should be understood as referring to someone who limits his food for the sake of Heaven (e.g. as a memorial to the destruction of the Temple). Some, basing themselves on the Mishna in Pirkei Avot (Chapter 3), suggest that the words of Torah shared at a meal turns the table into an altar that offers atonement.

Menachot 98a-b: The symbolism of the Shushan gate

During the Second Temple period, there were five gates leading to the Temple Mount, two on the Southern Wall and one each on the Western, Eastern and Northern walls. The Mishna in Masechet Middot (1:3) teaches that the gate on the Eastern side was called “The gate of Shushan” and it was decorated with an engraving of the Persian capital, Shushan.

Two opinions are offered in the Talmudic Sages on today’s daf to explain why Shushan appeared there. Rav Chisda and Rav Yitzhak bar Avdimi weighed in on this question. According to one it was so that the people would know from whence they came; according to the other it was so that the fear of the ruling government should be upon the people.

According to Rabbinic tradition, the Second Temple period began with the proclamation made by King Cyrus of Persia who permitted a return of Jews to the Land of Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple (see Sefer Ezra 1:1-11). Even after the rebuilding of the Temple, the Jewish community in Israel remained part of the Persian Empire, until its capture by Alexander the Great, an event that began the era of Greek rule.

With this in mind, Rashi explains the first suggestion as follows: The people were reminded that they were given permission to return to Israel by the Persian government, and that they should give thanks to that government for allowing them to do so. Rabbeinu Gershom suggests that the people were expected to give thanks to God for the miracle that he performed in directing history so that King Cyrus permitted a return to Israel and a rebuilding of the Temple. According to Rabbenu Hananel the point was to get the people to remember the sins of the previous generations that led to their exile to Babylonia, so that they would share this history with their children.

Menachot 99a-b: Torah study as a constant occupation

Every Shabbat the lechem ha-panim – the Showbread – would be switched, with the old bread taken and eaten and the new bread placed on the table. The Mishna on today’s daf describes how this was done, with one group of kohanim placing the new bread on the table as another group was removing the week-old – but still fresh – loaves. Replacement of the loaves in this manner was essential because the Torah commands that the loaves be placed before God tamid – “always” – (see Shemot 25:30). Rabbi Yossi disagrees with this understand of tamid, arguing that even if the loaves were removed in the morning and replaced in the evening, it would still fulfill the requirement of tamid, which should be understood as teaching that a night should not pass without Showbread on the table.

Rabbi Ammi infers from Rabbi Yossi’s teaching that the concept of tamid – “always” – need not be understood as requiring 24 hour vigilance, and applies it to other situations, as well. Specifically, he says that Torah study, which is a requirement “day and night” (see Yehoshua 1:8) can be fulfilled by studying a chapter in the morning and a chapter at night. This suggestion is supported by the ruling of Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who taught that a person fulfills his obligation to learn Torah according to the passage in Sefer Yehoshua even if he merely recites the Shema in the morning and in the evening, but that it is forbidden to teach this to unlearned people who will take advantage of it. Rava argued that it is a mitzvah to teach this law to people who are unlearned, so that they should understand how great the reward for serious Torah study might be.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.