Sunday, February 13, 2011

The chi on the temple breads

At the end of Tetzaveh there is a short discussion of the temple breads and their preparation. According to the verses, they are to be anointed, that is decorated with some oil after baking. The Mishnah says Temple wafers were decorated with the Greek letter chi, that is the priest-baker dabbed some oil on the finished pastry in the shape of a chi. (Tangent: Rishonim argue about what the chi looked like and Rashi, himself, in different spots in his commentary seems to describe it as having different shapes. But it seems obvious that the chi is the chi, namely the Greek letter that looks like an X and is, in fact, called chi.)

On the spot, Rashi says the desert breads were likewise decorated with a chi. Points to ponder after the jump

It seems to be Rashi's view that the way in which the breads were decorated only coincidentally corresponds with the chi. For some reason, not stated, the breads were anointed this way even in the desert, and on through history, and though the bread decoration looks like a chi, really the two marks have nothing to do with each other.

But are there any coincidences?

I have to wonder if rashi would have taken this view if he spoke Greek and knew that chi is the first letter in the word "anointed." Then again, even without Greek, he had to have known that Christ means anointed and begins with a chi.

So what do the rest of you think? And before you answer, bear in mind there are several Talmudic examples of Greek being treated as if it was co-holy. R. Yishmael darshans Halacha from Greek words, and other temple article such as the collection boxes had Greek writing on them. It doesn't at all seem far fetched that second temple priests may have started anointing the wafers with a chi to indicate that the wafers had been sanctified, and that centuries later the Mishnah was merely describing the practice; if so Rashi's remark about the desert breads is historically inaccurate.

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