The commentator Rashi on the verse detailing the components of the Showbread Table “And you shall make its pans, bowls, “kesot” and “menakiyot” …….. ועשית קערותיו וכפותיו וקשותיו ומנקיותיו” (Exodus 25:29) says – “Its ‘kesot’ – these are a kind of half hollow pipes split along their length, made of gold and were arranged that 3 would sit on the top of each loaf, so that each loaf would rest on these pipes, which separated between the breads so that the air may flow between them and they will not become moldy”.
Rashi continues, “Its ‘Menakiyot’ – these are also referred to in the Mechilta as ‘snipim’, like golden spikes resting on the ground and reaching up above the Table surface, to the top of the height of the breads and there are 6 sets of ‘forked’ divisions (the Re’em says 5), one set above the other, such that the pipes between the breads may rest on these ‘forks’ and be supported by them so that the upper breads may not place an inordinate weight on the lower breads and they will not break”.
Finally Rashi concludes – “And I do not know how the Mechilta links the word ‘menakiyot’ to the word ‘snipim’ and some of the sages say (Menahot 96) [the reverse] that the ‘kesot’ are the ‘snipim’ קשותיו from the root of the word קשה that they are solid and support it that they do not break, and the ‘menakiyot’ are the pipes, מנקיות from the root נקי clean, that the pipes keep the bread mold free and clean. But Onkelos (the famous translator of the Torah) in translating the Mechilta reads it according to the opinion that the ‘menakiyot’ are the ‘snipim’".
We are going to go with Rashi’s first opinion that the ‘kesot’ are the ’kanim’ (pipes) and that the ‘menakiyot’ are the ‘snipim’, the spike “uprights”, that are on the side of the Table, which support the pipes.
The functional purpose of the snipim (uprights) and the kanim (pipes) is support and ventilation.
Bread after it is baked undergoes a process of staling which includes the escape of moisture from the interior of the bread outwards and also a change in the structure of the starch (amylopectin) from a flexible thread like state to a crystalline state. As a result of these changes, the bread hardens and its shape deforms.
The large amount of moisture escaping out of the bread serves as a growth medium for numerous microorganisms, including mold and bacteria.
The first purpose of the “snipim” (uprights) and the “kanim” (pipes) is to support the breads in their complex shape so that they do not deform or break, thereby rendering them unfit for use.
Similarly, it is essential that is air flow between the breads so that moisture does not accumulate on the outer surface of the bread and attract mold. Accumulation of moisture on the surface of the bread is a function of the surface area (of any object that touches the bread and reduces its exposure to air flow) and time. The larger the surface area of the foreign object touching the bread preventing airflow and the longer the time moisture accumulates, the higher the probability of mold.
The fact that the Showbread remained fresh for seven days (and in some circumstances, when festivals coincided with a weekend – eleven days) is attributed to an unprecedented Divine miracle. There is a concept in the Torah that although miracles happen, one should not rely on a miracle but should do whatever is in their power to facilitate that miracle. It is clearly apparent therefore that the structure of these components of the Shulchan (Table) represented the maximum possible human effort to preserve the freshness. This included – choosing the appropriate ingredients for the Showbread that maximized its shelf life (strain of wheat, natural preservatives etc.) and also attaining a perfect balance of ventilation and support so that the breads would not deform or break or dry out or go moldy. The precise location and structure of the kanim (pipes) and snipim (uprights) provided this perfect balance.
In the Showbread Institute we conduct endless experiments with different configurations of these two components trying to achieve this perfect balance between sufficient airflow to prevent mold and too much airflow that will dry out the bread. So far we have succeeded in preventing mold in the breads for 11 days, but have not yet succeeded in keeping the bread soft and fresh as the day it was baked. It may not be humanly possible, or if it is, it may change the commonly accepted concept of how the Showbread rested on the Table. According to the simple understanding of the sources, they rested on the Table exposed. If however you enclose the bread in a plastic bag (or golden pan) with precise perforation, allowing optimal airflow to prevent staling (like those used in the modern baking industry), you can probably keep the bread fresh for the required time span. This however is a radical shift in mindset and conflicts with the common belief that the lower bread in the stack rested directly on the Table with no division of any kind. Currently we are examining the hypothesis that the breads rested on the table while still in the third pan (the gold cooling pan) and trying to reconcile this with the sources. This is the topic of a different article.
The shape and structure of the kanim (pipes) and snipim (uprights) is a function of the shape of the bread. According to the Talmud (Tractate Menahot 94b) there were two possible shapes, the Teiva Perutza (open box), a rectangular folded shape and the Sfina Rokedet (dancing ship), a curved folded shape. We will address each option separately.
The Teiva Perutza (open box) shape –
There were two vertical stacks of Showbread on the Table, 6 breads per stack. According to Rashi (above) the height of the snipim (uprights) was from the floor to the top of the breads. There were a total of 4 snipim (uprights) - two for each stack of breads, one upright on the left side of the stack and one upright on the right side of the stack, opposite each other, adjacent to the side of the length of the Table (2 amot). You ultimately had two snipim (uprights) on each side (length) of the Table, each adjacent to a stack of breads, so that the stacks were enclosed and supported from the sides by the snipim (uprights).
To calculate the height of the snipim (uprights), we will use the method of Rebi Meir (1 amah/cubit = 6 tefachim/handbreadths), which according to Maimonides is the Halacha Lema’aseh (final ruling).
The height of the Table (from the floor) is given in the Torah, 1.5 amot/cubits high. This is equivalent (according to R.Meir’s method) to 9 tefachim/handbreadths.
On the Table there were two stacks of breads, six breads in each stack. Each bread was 2 tefachim/handbreadths high, giving the stack a total height of 12 tefachim/handbreadths.
Therefore the total height of the snipim (uprights) from the floor to the top of the stack of breads was 9 + 12 = 21 tefachim/handbreadths. The width of the snipim (uprights) was most likely the width of the stack of breads, 5 tefachim/handbreadths.
The shape of the forked divisions of the snipim (uprights) according to Rashi (Menahot 94b) was – “Snipim, also called ‘forches’ (in ancient French)”. In other words, they were a kind of a fork or pitchfork. How many prongs this pitchfork configuration had is not clear, but most likely it was a central upright stem/spike, with a prong radiating out to the left of the stem and another prong opposite it radiating out from the stem to the right. So that at each division set (there were 6 or 5 sets of divisions – see Rashi above) there were three prongs, one on the left, one on the right and the central stem (which was like the third prong of the fork). This allowed place for each of the 3 kanim (pipes) under each bread, to rest. This is how I picture the snipim (uprights) to be -
But there are other, different interpretations, like this –
And even like this –
Ultimately I believe that the only importance regarding the shape of the forks is their functionality and how they performed in terms of providing support and ventilation. The only characteristic I have found that has symbolic meaning is the fact that the “menakiyot”, snipim (uprights) were – upright and straight. The Sefer Hachinuch, trying to find meaning in the names of the components by tying them to the symbolism of the Shulchan (Table) and Showbread – which was livelihood and wealth - says that the reason they were called “menakiyot” (from the root of the Hebrew word נקי clean), hints that when a person conducts his/her business dealings, he/she should endeavor be “clean” and “straight” and honest.
There is one interpretation that the snipim (uprights) were solid boards , like these –
This is most likely incorrect as the solid boards do not stand up to the practical requirements for ventilation, as determined in our Institute.
Rashi in fact holds of the opinion (in the debate on the shape of the Showbread) according to Rebi Hanina, the Teiva Perutza (open-box) shape and it is therefore not surprising that he describes the snipim (uprights) from the floor up to the top of the stack of breads, as it says in the Talmud (Menahot 94b) “According to the opinion the shape was like a Teiva Perutza, the snipim rested on the ground”.
In the case of the Teiva Perutza (open-box) shaped bread which was rectangular and had a flat, straight base - the ends of the straight pipes under the bread stuck out from the sides of the bread and rested on the forks of the snipim (uprights) where they were supported.
The kanim (pipes) were straight, hollow pipes cut in half along their length as follows –
There were a total of 28 kanim (pipes), 14 for each stack of Showbreads. Under bread #1, the lowest bread in the stack, there were no pipes and the bread rested directly on the Shulchan (Table). For breads #2, #3, #4 and #5 there were 3 kanim (pipes) under each bread. Under bread #6 there were only 2 kanim (pipes) and supposedly did not need 3 because it never had any breads above it, resting on it. This reasoning in the Talmud (Menahot 97a) regarding only two kanim (pipes) for the upper bread requires further investigation, because in fact all the pipes were supported by the snipim (uprights) from the side and the effect of the weight of one bread on that below was irrelevant.
In the discussion in the Talmud (Menahot 96a) regarding the question of the height of the stack being 12 tefachim/handbreadths and how that was possible if the height of each of the 6 breads was 2 tefachim/handbreadths – where did the kanim (pipes) go? If you insert pipes under each bread it raises the total height to above 12 tefachim/handbreadths! The answer given there is that they inlaid the kanim (pipes) in grooves carved in (the underside of) the breads. This is not feasible as it defeats the purpose of the kanim (pipes) - to provide ventilation. More likely was that they carved these grooves on the top of the upright flanks (defanot) of the bread (see the article – “Kranot (corners) of the Showbread”).
The Sfina Rokedet (dancing-ship) shape –
According to the opinion of R. Yohanan the snipim, (uprights) were laid on and supported by the Shulchan (Table) and did not rest on the ground (Menahot 94b). According to this method, the height of the snipim was 12 tefachim/handbreadths.
Due to the curved base of the bread, the kanim (pipes) cannot be straight, they must also be curved to conform with the base of the bread.
The Talmud (Menahot 94b) raises a number of questions regarding the kanim (pipes) and snipim (uprights) for the Sfina Rokedet (dancing-ship) shape.
Question 1: The tips of the upright flanks (defanot) of the Showbread were tapered and at their highest point were sharp - had almost zero width (See article “What did the Dancing Ship look like?”). How is it possible to lay a pipe on such a thin, tapered edge without it breaking. The Talmud provides the answer – “They added an extra piece” which according to Rashi was a piece of dough stuck on the bread under the pipes, to support them.
Rashi’s explanation is problematic. The reason that the Sfina Rokedet shaped breads taper off on the top of their upright flanks is because if they did not, you would not be able to stack six breads of this shape one above the other and still remain within the height limit of R. Meir – 12 tefachim/handbreadths. By tapering the edges you allow the bread to interlock, overlapping slightly and fit into this height limitation. If however you stick an extra piece of dough on the top of the flank to strengthen the tapered point, you cannot then stack the six breads within the height limit. In fact the whole concept Rashi has of sticking pieces of dough, may work for the Two Loaves offering, but the Showbread, which has a precise, complex shape does not allow for “sticking pieces of dough” on it in different places. According to our research, the intricate shape of the breads was most likely achieved by designing the special baking pan to begin with, in that exact shape. If, according to Rashi they “stuck” pieces of dough on the bread, then why did they not design the pan in the first place to incorporate that extra piece of “stuck” dough?
Question 2: If the base of the Sfina Rokedet (dancing-ship) shape was curved below, how did the snipim (uprights) support the bread from the sides? Rashi there explains – “The flanks (defanot) rise at an angle, so how do the snipim (uprights) support them?” The uprights are vertical and the bread flanks are at an angle, so the bread is not supported fully up the height of the flank, on the sides. This is not an issue for the Teiva Perutz (open-box) shape, because its flanks are vertical. The answer in the Talmud – “They rounded it”. According to Rashi this means that the snipim (uprights) had a curved/rounded piece jutting out, to fully support the angled side of the breads. The question is how exactly does that work?
I would like to offer a possible solution to the above two dilemmas.
In Question 1, the solution is “They added an extra piece”. I would like to propose that unlike what Rashi says, that the extra piece was not a piece of dough stuck on the bread, but an extra piece of metal (gold) added to the snipim (uprights) as follows –
In this way, the kanim (pipes) do not rest directly on the snipim (uprights), but rather they rest on this extra piece extending from the snipim (uprights), as follows –
In this way the pipes are not resting on top of the sharp, tapered edge of the flank of the bread, but on this extra piece (shelf) attached to the snipim (uprights). The kanim (pipes) connect to this “shelf” in the space between the flanks of the bread, which also allows laying of the pipes without having to raise the breads and exceed the height limit.
Obviously the kanim (pipes) are curved and conform to the curved base of the bread –
This solution of an extra piece/shelf added to the snipim (uprights) is hinted at by the Chezkuni (Exodus 25:29) “The top part(s) of the snipim (uprights) are connected to the [central] spike and the remaining part below was folded and curved under the bread until the base, as Rashi explained”. It is interesting that the Chezkuni seems to interpret Rashi the way I proposed the solution to be above , even though Rashi emphatically states – a piece of dough, not metal.
These extra pieces of metal/shelves added to the central spike, when looked at from the side, also resemble prongs of a fork, extending outwards. Regarding the Sfina Rokedet (dancing-ship) shape, it could very well be that Rashi’s description of a forked shape was referring to this, although it is also possible to add forks, the same way as in the Teiva Perutza (open-box) shape, when viewed head on. So whichever way you looked at the snipim (uprights), head on, or from the sides they looked like a pronged fork.
Also it is interesting to note that in a printed Talmud from Frankfurt , Germany 1708, the diagram follows the Chezkuni’s interpretation –
According to the Talmud (Menahot 94b) the snipim (uprights) for the Sfina Rokedet (dancing-ship) shape did not reach the ground, instead they rested on the table.
I believe the snipim (uprights) were an integral unit of shelves on which they placed the Showbread. In the Talmud (Menahot 96a) it says “Neither the removal or the assembly of the kanim (pipes) defer Shabbat, but on Shabbat eve, he [the Kohen/priest] would enter and remove them and place them alongside the Table”. In other words it was not permissible to play around with the kanim (pipes) on Shabat, but no mention is made of the snipim (uprights).
This concept solves numerous problems relating to the switching of the Showbread on the Table. The newly baked breads were placed on a table made of marble at the entrance to the Heichal (inner sanctum) on Friday until the following morning. After they are baked, these breads are very fragile. How is it possible to stack six of these breads, each weighing between 5-6kg, one on top of the other, unsupported, without them breaking? In addition, how is it possible for a Kohen (priest) to carry a stack of 6 of these heavy breads to the Shulchan (Table) and move them around as he carries them and switches them with the previous week’s breads on the table, unsupported, without them breaking?
If however the breads were stacked, not supported by their own weight, but rather by this integral unit of shelves - the snipim (uprights)- they could be stacked on the marble table and later on the Shulchan (Table) without fear of breaking, as they were constantly supported. The Kohen (priest ) could then carry in (or perhaps wheel in – a stack of breads weighs around 36kg) the newly baked bread, all neatly stacked in the snipim (uprights) shelving unit and slide the unit with the bread onto the Shulchan (Table), while the Kohen (priest) on the opposite side was sliding the snipim (uprights) unit already on the Table – with the previous week’s breads – off the Table and carrying (or wheeling) them back to the entrance to the Heichal (inner sactum) where they were distributed.
The kanim (pipes) had been removed from under the breads on Shabbat eve, by slightly raising each loaf and sliding the pipes out and placing them alongside the Table, while the stack of breads on the Table were still conforatbly supported by the snipim (uprights) shelf unit on the Table. After Shabbat, they would slightly lift each of the new breads and insert the kanim (pipes) under the breads.
Nowhere does it specify exactly how many snipim (uprights) there were. There could conceivably have been two sets of snipim (uprights), one for the new bread and the second for the previous week’s bread.
It is also possible that for the Teiva Perutza (open-box) shape there were two sets of snipim (uprights). However these were touching the ground and it is more difficult (but not impossible) to envision how they witched the stacks if the snipim (uprights) extended all the way to the ground.
This perhaps is another strengthening point for the opinion that the Sfina Rokedet (dancing-ship) shape was the result and conclusion of the debate. As the Chezkuni says (Exodus 26:29) says - “Most of the method above leans toward the Sfina Rokedet shape and also when they raised them (the Showbread) and presented them to the pilgrims [on the three festivals] and declared – ‘see how much you are loved by the L-rd’ and to lift such a thing up is very heavy if it is the opinion of the Teiva Perutza shape where the snipim (uprights) extended to the ground”.
Regarding the Sfina Rokedet (dancing-ship) the Talmud (Menahot 94b) states – "Rebi Yehuda says the bread support the snipim (uprights) and the snipim (uprights) support the bread”. R. Yehuda was probably referring to the counter forces exerted by the breads and the snipim (uprights). The breads exert a downward force on the shelves on the snipim (uprights), thus pulling them inwards.