A Baker Tries to Uncover the Lost Recipe of the Temple’s Sacred Bread

As described in Exodus 25 (read in synagogues last Saturday) and Leviticus 24, twelve loaves of bread were supposed to be placed on a special table in the inner sanctum of the Temple every Friday, which would then be eaten by the priests on the Sabbath of the following week. Les Saidel, a South African-born Israeli baker, has been working to recreate these loaves—known as the leḥem ha-panim or “showbread”—according to talmudic specifications. Alan Rosenbaum describes Saidel’s efforts:

The loaves had an unusual shape, and even though they remained on the golden table for a full week, they stayed fresh. They had to be prepared and baked quickly because they were unleavened, like matzah. Each loaf was quite substantial, weighing about seven or eight pounds according to some opinions, and as much as fifteen pounds according to others.

According to tradition, the Garmu family managed the baking process, ensuring that the bread was prepared properly. The work of baking, preparing, and removing the showbread from the ovens required great skill, and the Garmu clan kept their trade secrets within the family. . . .

[There is a] debate between talmudic authorities as to the exact shape of this mysterious bread. One authority said it was shaped like an open box; another rabbi maintained that it had the shape of a “dancing ship.” Based on the design found on coins minted by Mattathias Antigonus II, the last of the Hasmonean kings, in 42 BCE, which depict the golden table with the showbreads stacked on it, Saidel feels that the shape was similar to that of a U-shaped “dancing ship” with a curved bottom, rather than that of a V-shaped frame with a pointed bottom.

“The freshness question depends on two things,” Saidel explains. “If you use the same flour that we use today—soft wheat—it becomes stale much quicker. If you use the ancient, hard wheat—durum wheat—it has a much longer shelf life.”

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Hebrew Bible, Religion & Holidays, Talmud, Temple

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood