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In Shmuel I, chapter 21, David requests provisions for his men from the priest Ahimelech, who agrees to give him the showbread on the condition that his men have kept themselves from women. Was this lawful?

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The Talmud (M'nachos 96a) explains that David and his coterie were in mortal danger of starving at the time, which legally supersedes the prohibition against them eating showbread.

Another approach, mentioned by the Radak (ad loc.), is that the loaves were loaves from a korban todah (thanksgiving offering) that a non-priest could consume while in a state of purity (see also Malbim, ad loc., who suggests that the loaves were pseudo-t'ruma of todah loaves).

  • Does the second possibility mean that it wasn't ordinary showbread? – Mr. Bultitude Mar 1 '15 at 14:05
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    @Mr.Bultitude, yes it would mean that. – J. C. Salomon Mar 1 '15 at 14:23
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Context / background: This is a red herring used in the New Testament by Yoske in a logically flawed argument to excuse his followers from their desecration of Shabbos.

The showbread belonged entirely to the priests. It was not an offering, so it does not need to be treated in the same manner as their portion of the animals brought in the temple. They were entitled to use the bread as they saw fit, PROVIDED that it was respectful of its holy status.

In this story, they asked David if he and his men were ritually clean Shmuel I, 21:5. They responded in the affirmative. Thus, the priest was able to feed them with his portions of showbread from the Mishkan (tabernacle).

  • Sorry for the spelling errors and lack of direct sourcing. I'm at a hotel on my phone. – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 1 '15 at 6:37
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    I think sources would improve this answer. – Mr. Bultitude Mar 1 '15 at 13:31
  • @mrbultitude the other answer to this question is pretty well sourced and says much the same thing. :) Feel free to use his. – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 1 '15 at 13:37
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    It seems to me the two answers are very different. That one implies that showbread would normally be forbidden for David to eat but gives two possible ways for David to get around it: 1) his hunger, or 2) this bread was from a thank offering. Your answer, on the other hand, says it was not an offering and it was lawful for the priests to give to whomever they wished. Seems like entirely different approaches to me. – Mr. Bultitude Mar 1 '15 at 14:08

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