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The lechem hapanim had an unusual folded-over shape that would seem difficult to make. Is it allowed to try and see what would happen if you made bread shaped like that, or would that be considered too near of an imitation of the sacred objects of the Temple (lo ta'asun)? Would it matter if it was notably different in other ways, such as size or ingredients?

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The Talmud in Avoda Zara 43a-b brings an opinion that one may not make certain vessels or buildings that replicate the Mishkan or Temple vessels or buildings.

This is learned from the verse in Shmos 20:20 לֹא תַעֲשׂוּן אִתִּי - though shalt not make like mine.

This is brought down in halacha in the Rambam הלכות בית הבחירה - פרק שביעי:

י: וְאָסוּר לְאָדָם שֶׁיַּעֲשֶׂה בַּיִת תַּבְנִית הֵיכָל. אַכְסַדְרָא תַּבְנִית אוּלָם. חָצֵר כְּנֶגֶד הָעֲזָרָה. שֻׁלְחָן בְּצוּרַת שֻׁלְחָן. וּמְנוֹרָה בְּצוּרַת מְנוֹרָה. אֲבָל עוֹשֶׂה הוּא מְנוֹרָה שֶׁל חֲמִשָּׁה קָנִים אוֹ שֶׁל שְׁמוֹנָה קָנִים אוֹ מְנוֹרָה שֶׁאֵינָהּ שֶׁל מַתֶּכֶת אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁיֵּשׁ לָהּ שִׁבְעָה קָנִים:‏

A person make not make a house in the shape of the Heichal - the sanctuary of the Mikdash. Nor a porch in the shape of the entrance hall to the sanctuary. Nor a yard in the shape of the Temple yard. Nor a Menorah in the shape of the Menora; though he could make one of 5 or 8 branches, or even of 7 branches if it's not metal.

The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (168:5) explain shape to mean height + width + depth.

There are two other prohibitions relating to imitating temple items; the incense and the anointing oil. These are explicit prohibitions in the Torah. See Shmos 30 וְהַקְּטֹרֶת אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה בְּמַתְכֻּנְתָּהּ לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם and וּבְמַתְכֻּנְתּוֹ לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ כָּמֹהוּ respectively.

As the Kitzur states in 168:7

הָעושֶׁה שֶׁמֶן הַמִּשְׁחָה בְּמַעֲשֶׂה וּבְמִשְׁקָל הָאָמוּר בַּתּוֹרָה, חַיָב כָּרֵת. וּבְשׁוֹגֵג, חַיָּב חַטָּאת, וְהוּא שֶׁעוֹשֶׂה אוֹתוֹ כְּדֵי לְהִמָּשֵׁחַ. וְהָעוֹשֶׂה קְטֹרֶת מֵאַחַד עָשָׂר סַמְמָנִין שֶׁבַּתּוֹרָה לְפִי הַמִּשְׁקָל, אֲפִלּוּ לֹא עָשָׂה אֶלָּא חֶצְיָהּ אוֹ שְׁלִיֹשִיתָהּ, חַיָּב כָּרֵת. עָשָׂה לְהִתְלַמֵּד בָּהּ, פָּטוּר. ‏

But nowhere do we find any prohibition to imitate the Lechem haPanim.

Since nobody mentions it we can infer that you may make imitation Lechem haPanim any time for any reason. Just be careful not to sanctify it - for then you will not be able to eat it.

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    Every year around Vayikra time I always want to make imitation menachos of various kinds. I haven't gotten around to it yet. – Heshy Jun 13 '18 at 12:56

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