Is That Shofar Kosher?

Shofars come in many different sizes and prices, and they can be bought in many different places. But is that shofar on sale at Amazon.com fit for use on Rosh Hashanah? And if a shofar does need a hechsher, what should that kashrus certificate cover?

Yossi had always hoped to follow the family tradition of becoming a baal tokei’ah. But even though he had spent many hours during the summer months practicing on his grandfather’s shofar, he couldn’t manage to produce anything more than a weak sound. Then one day he was walking through the Arab shuk in Yerushalayim and his eye was caught by a beautiful shofar.

“Try it,” said the Arab shopkeeper, thrusting the shofar into Yossi’s hands.

Yossi did try it – and to his amazement, the tekiyos not only sounded loud and clear, but they took almost no effort. After some haggling, the shofar didn’t cost that much, either. Yossi was so excited by his purchase that when he got home he immediately called his family to listen to a recital.

“I’m sure it’s a very beautiful shofar,” said his brother, “but are you sure it’s kosher?”

“A shofar has to be kosher? What could be the problem? I am not going to eat it!”

Soon enough, Yossi learned that the potential for problems is far from negligible. And although we can’t repeat every detail of such a discussion in this article, we can look at a few key factors that go into making a shofar not only beautiful, but also kosher.

Beyond the Minimum

Most shofaros sold today in frum stores are made in one of numerous small, family-operated factories scattered around Eretz Yisrael. While some shofaros have no hechsher, others have one that covers the minimal standard: It certifies that the shofar is manufactured from a ram’s horn. Since all halachic authorities rule that a ram’s horn is preferred and that a horn from a different, kosher, non-bovine animal may be used only when there is no alternative, there is some value to this minimal hechsher. In addition to the concern that the shofar might have been made from the horn of a cow or a bull, which is not acceptable, there are commercially available “shofaros” made of quality plastic that but look, feel, and blow like a shofar. Thus, the “minimum standard” hechsher should hopefully ensure that the shofar is a genuine ram’s horn.

By the way, here is a simple, non-scientific way to verify that a shofar is plastic. Look at many available on display in the Arab shuk. Carefully examine them and you will notice that they all have their “natural” markings in exactly the same place. Some are oriented to the left and others to the right, and the color varies from shofar to shofar, but it is quite clear that they were poured into the same mold.

Boiled, Buffed, and Beautiful

The majority of rams’ horns used to make shofaros are imported from abroad. When they arrive at the factory, they are not a pretty sight. Not only is the horn’s exterior rough and lacking a pleasing shine, but the bone is still inside.

Although it is perfectly kosher to use a shofar by drilling a hole through the bone on its inside, commercial manufacturers remove the bone. The first step, therefore, is to boil the horn for several hours to soften it and make it more malleable, allowing for easy removal of the bone.

A hechsher that guarantees only that the shofar was originally a ram’s horn does not address problems that occur to the shofar during the manufacturing process. (While those problems may not occur with great frequency, my opinion is that someone giving a hechsher should assume responsibility for the product’s complete kashrus.)

Returning to our description of the process: After the skull bone has been removed, the wider end of the horn is hollow, whereas the narrower side of the horn, that is attached to the head, is not hollow. Since the horn grew thick on this side, it must be drilled and cleaned out to create an empty “tunnel” that reaches the hollow part of the horn. In addition, a usable mouthpiece on the narrow part of the horn has to be fashioned. In order to accomplish all of this, the narrower section of the horn is straightened. This creates the difference in appearance between the complete shofar, which is straight at this end, and the natural ram’s horn, which is curved along its entire length. Take a look the next time you are this close to a ram.

As part of this process, the factory might shorten an over-long shofar or trim its sides. This does not invalidate the shofar, which, unlike an esrog, doesn’t have to be complete. However, a shofar cannot be lengthened, not even by using material from another kosher shofar.

Overlaying the mouthpiece with gold invalidates the shofar, because that puts an intervening substance between the mouth of the baal teki’ah[O1]   and the shofar, meaning that he is not blowing the shofar itself. Even an overlay, such as gold or silver, on the external surface of a shofar invalidates the shofar if it modifies its sound.

On the other hand, there is no halachic problem with shaping the mouthpiece to whichever shape is comfortable to blow, provided one reshapes the shofar’s natural horn material and doesn’t add other material to coat it. In fact, a shofar’s mouthpiece is always created by opening a hole where the horn is naturally closed.

Buff and polish

The next step in the processing of a shofar is to sand, buff, and polish the exterior of the shofar. Sometimes a lacquer is added to give it a nice sheen. According to all sources I spoke to, the lacquer doesn’t modify the sound in a discernible way, so it does not invalidate the shofar.

Still, a shofar can be rendered unkosher if a hole is created during the manufacturing process (other than the hole for the mouthpiece). When that happens, the status of the shofar becomes a whole new story.

Hold the Super Glue

This article is not long enough to cover all the details of opinions concerning a shofar that is cracked or has a hole. Instead, I will summarize briefly those opinions:

  • The most stringent opinion contends that any lengthwise crack in the shofar requires repair.
  • The moderate opinion rules that any crack more than half the shofar’s length requires repair.
  • The most lenient opinion states that one may ignore a crack that is less than the full length of the shofar.

Assuming that a cracked shofar is invalid until it is mended, does it make a difference how the crack is repaired?

There is a dispute among early authorities as to whether the shofar will be kosher if repaired by gluing it together. Some, such as the Ramban, contend that since coating the inside of the shofar with foreign material invalidates it, gluing a hole in a shofar with a foreign substance also invalidates it. Those who advocate this approach contend that the only way to repair a cracked shofar is by heating the horn at the point of damage until the horn is welded together.

The Rosh disagrees with this approach, contending that there is a difference between plating a shofar with foreign material — which means that one is in essence combining a non-shofar material with the shofar — and glue, which becomes totally inconspicuous in the finished product. Although the halachah follows this last opinion, one should rely on this only if the crack did not affect the sound of the shofar and if the crack is not so big that the glue is obvious. Otherwise, one will be required to weld the horn as described above, so that the shofar is repaired with shofar material.

Herein then lies an issue. If we need to be concerned about the possibility that the shofar was cracked, do we need a guarantee that it was repaired by welding and not by gluing?

If we do, we have a problem. There is no reason to assume that a non-Jewish, nonobservant, or unknowledgeable shofar crafter would repair itby welding. To compound the concern, shofaros made for sale are always polished to provide the beautiful, but unnatural, sheen that the customer expects to see on his shofar. This polish may mask any damage and repair that was made when the shofar developed a crack; only a highly trained expert might be able to notice such a repair.

Unfortunately, few shofar crafters are that halachically concerned. The assumption is, therefore, that most shofar makers would simply take an acrylic or similar glue and fill the hole. Therefore, enter the potential need for a more reliable hechsher. We will return to this question later.

Holey Shofaros!

Another potential problem is if a hole was inadvertently made in the shofar during the drilling process. The Mishnah states: If a shofar has a hole in it that was subsequently plugged, if “it” affects the sound, then the shofar is invalid, and if not, the shofar is valid.

There are three critical questions here that impact on our discussion:

  • Does the Mishnah mean that the shofar is invalid because it has a hole? Or is the shofar invalid because the hole was plugged, but the hole itself is not a concern?
  • Does it make any difference what material is used to plug the hole?
  • What is the “it” that affects the sound? Does the Mishnah mean that the hole changed the sound of the shofar, or that the plugging changed the sound?

If the Mishnah means “because” the hole was plugged, the Mishnah is teaching that a shofar with a hole is kosher, and the plugging of the hole creates the problem.

But why might this be true? It seems counterintuitive that the hole in the shofar does not present a problem, but plugging it does.

The answer is that this opinion contends that any natural shofar sound is kosher — even if the shofar has a hole (Rosh, Tur). Although the air escaping through the hole may affect the sound the shofar produces, the sound produced is from the shofar and not from anything else. However, when the shofar’s hole is plugged, the sound is now partially produced by the plug. Therefore, this opinion rules that a plugged shofar is no longer kosher if it produces a different sound from what it produced before the shofar was plugged.

As a matter of fact, this is the way the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 586:7) actually rules. Following his approach, if a shofar develops a hole, it is best to do nothing to the shofar, since the unplugged hole allows the shofar to be perfectly kosher.

Although this solution is halachically acceptable according to many authorities, it does not provide us with a practical solution. A shofar manufacturer will not leave a hole in a shofar because customers won’t purchase such a shofar. In other words, customers want a holy shofar, not a holey one.

In addition, not all authorities accept this understanding of the Mishnah. The Rambam, in his Commentary to the Mishnah, rules that a shofar with a hole is not kosher; the Biur Halachah (586:7 s.v. Sh’ein) notes several other rishonim who agree with this conclusion. The Rema (Orach Chayim 586:7) concludes that one should not use such a shofar unless he has no other.

At this point, we should address a second question: The Mishnah states that a shofar with a plugged hole is not kosher. Does it make a difference which material plugs the hole?

The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 27b) quotes a dispute between the Tanna Kamma and Rabbi Nosson whether the Mishnah’s plugged shofar is invalid regardless of what one used to plug it, or only if it was plugged with non-shofar material. Rabbi Nosson contends that a shofar repaired with shofar material remains kosher even though its sound changed. The Tanna Kamma disagrees, contending that regardless of whether the hole was plugged with shofar material or with non-shofar material, the shofar is invalid if its sound changed. Most rishonim rule according to Rabbi Nosson, which means that a “holey” shofar subsequently plugged with pieces of shofar is kosher.

We’ve now come to a third question: Does the Mishnah mean that the hole changed the sound of the shofar, or that the plugging changed the sound? According to the Rambam (Hilchos Shofar 1:5), a shofar with a plugged hole is kosher only if it sounds the same after the repair as it did before the hole developed and was repaired. If the shofar sounds different after the repair, the shofar is invalid. It is also invalid if the repair was with non-shofar material, even when the repaired shofar sounds identical to how it sounded before the damage. The Rosh, on the other hand, rules that the shofar is kosher if it sounds the same after the repair, even if it was repaired with non-shofar material. It is also kosher if it was repaired with shofar material, even if the sound changed as a result.

This dispute is mentioned in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 586:7), who rules, like the Rambam, that one may not use a shofar plugged with non-shofar material, unless there is no other shofar available.

Do We Need To Worry?

Halachah makes a general assumption that there is no need to be concerned about a problem that is unusual. Do shofar cracks fall into this category? Just how frequently does a shofar develop a hole during its production?

Since no one has conducted a survey on the subject, and it would be almost impossible to perform one, we cannot answer this question definitively. A friend of mine who has attempted to visit shofar factories tells me that they usually do not allow visitors, and are probably not likely to reveal the type of information we are asking. We certainly do not know the track records of the Arab craftsmen, nor those of the shofaros made in China.

Despite this lack of information, I think we can assume that, since the people making shofaros are indeed craftsmen, and since it is highly disadvantageous to drill an extra hole while cleaning out the horn, the majority of shofaros are made without creating unwanted holes during the processing.

Thus, technically speaking, a shofar might not require a hechsher to guarantee that a hole did not develop in the shofar during its manufacture. However, is there a simple way to ascertain that the shofar you purchase was not damaged during the manufacturing process?

Some rabbanim do provide a “hechsher” for the manufacturer, stating that he is a halachah-abiding Jew who would not sell a shofar that has developed a crack or hole in the course of production.

What might the concerned manufacturer do when a shofar develops a hole? I asked this question of a particular manufacturer, and was told that he sells the damaged, rough shofar to a non-Jewish manufacturer. Many shofaros are sold to non-Jews who have a Biblical interest in blowing them. (I had hoped that the plastic variety mentioned above is also marketed exclusively to the same audience. However, I subsequently discovered otherwise, much to my chagrin.)

Unfortunately, most shofar manufacturers do not meet this standard. Although the person who began the business usually was an observant Jew, who may have been knowledgeable enough to merit this hechsher, often, the current business operators are not very observant. Therefore, a hechsher on the manufacture may have limited value, unless it is issued by a well-known rav.

There is yet another kind of hechsher, which has a different standard. In this case, the distributor or store interested in selling a particular shofar has it checked by a highly skilled rav or mashgiach who knows how to check a shofar for signs of damage or repair. A shofar that shows such signs is rejected.

Does a hechsher add significantly to the price of the shofar? The answer is that it does not. In some instances, the hechsher adds a small, non-significant premium to the price of the shofar — but the price is almost always primarily linked to its size and the particular retailer’s markup.

So what would I do if I wanted to buy a shofar for Rosh Hashanah? I would either ask for a hechsher that meets the last standard mentioned or, alternatively, ask for a letter from a known rav verifying that he knows that the manufacturer of this shofar is a halachah-abiding and knowledgeable Jew.

Outwitting the Satan

The shofar is blown to remind us of many things, including a wakeup call to do teshuvah and/or to herald Moshiach.The Gemara explains that the repeated blowing of the shofar — that is, both before the Shemoneh Esrei and then again afterward — is in order to confuse the Satan and to prevent him from prosecuting us (Rosh Hashanah 16b). This is surprising. Is the Satan so easily fooled? Most of us have firsthand experience with the Satan, and have found him to be extremely clever. Does he not remember that we pulled the same prank on him in previous years, when we blew the shofar twice?

Tosafos explains the Gemara on a deeper level. The Satan is constantly afraid that Mashiach will come and put him out of business. Therefore, every time the shofar blows, the Satan leaps up, terrified that Mashiach has come, and forgets to prosecute us! Then he realizes, too late, that it is just Rosh Hashanah again. By that time, Hashem has reached our verdict without the Satan’s input.

How nice it would be if we would sit on the edge of our chairs waiting for Mashiach with the same intensity as the Satan!


 Is this not to’kai’ah?

When Tekias Shofar Goes Wrong

Photo by elboim from FreeImages

Every year before Rosh Hashanah, Rav Goldberg reviews the halachos of shofar blowing with the shul’s baal tekiah (shofar blower/master blaster). This year the baal tekiah, Reb Muttel, had more questions than usual.

“I have been a baal tekiah for several years now,” began Reb Muttel. “Each year I feel a stronger sense of responsibility and privilege. Privilege, because it is through my shofar blowing that our shul joins Jews around the world in the coronation of Hashem as King. Also, the shofar is a wake-up call to teshuva and reminds us of many historical events in our history, including Matan Torah and Akeidas Yitzchak. At the same time, it is an awesome responsibility to blow the shofar correctly, so that everyone fulfills his obligation of hearing tekiahs shofar according to halacha.”

“Not every blast is perfect,” continued Reb Muttel, “and I’m curious to know when a blast is acceptable and when it must be repeated. I’d also like to know why sometimes I am told to repeat just a blast, and other times I am told to repeat several. I have also been in shuls where the entire series of nine or more blasts was repeated. In short, I would like a deeper understanding of the halachos.”

Rav Goldberg realized that it would take several sessions to teach Muttel all the details of shofar blowing. Before presenting a synopsis of their discussion, an introduction is in order.

THE TORAH’S MITZVAH OF SHOFAR

As in many other mitzvos, there is no clear command in the Written Torah to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. The Torah does refer to Rosh Hashanah as “Yom Teruah,” but this could be translated either as “a day of crying,” “a day of praying” or “a day of shofar blowing.” The Torah Shebe’al Peh teaches that there is a mitzvah min haTorah to blow shofar. The mitzvah is to blow three broken sounds called Teruos, each preceded and followed by a long straight sound called a Tekiah. These sounds add up to a total of nine blasts.

“How do we know that Teruah is a broken sound in the first place?” asked Reb Muttel.

Targum Onkelos translates the word Teruah as ‘yevavah,’ which means crying,” replied the Rav. “This teaches us that the Teruah is a broken, crying sound (Rosh Hashanah 33b). However, it is not clear from the Targum what type of crying sound ‘Teruah’ means.”

“How was this question resolved?”

The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 34a) reports that Rabbi Abahu was uncertain whether Teruah is a series of sobs (what we call Shevarim), or a staccato, panting cry (Teruah) or a combination of both, first sobbing and then panting (Shevarim-Teruah). To be certain that we fulfill the Torah’s obligation, he mandated blowing three different series, each with a different broken sound. Each broken sound is blown three times to fulfill the Torah mitzvah, and each one is preceded and followed by a Tekiah. Thus, Rabbi Abahu’s arrangement results in a total of thirty shofar sounds:

Tekiah, Shevarim-Teruah, Tekiah (TaSHRaT) three times

Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah (TaSHaT) three times

Tekiah, Teruah, Tekiah (TaRaT) three times

But why didn’t Rabbi Abahu institute a shorter procedure, and blow only Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, Tekiah (the TaSHRaT mentioned before) three times? This way a person would blow all three varieties of broken sound three times, and each would be surrounded by two teki’os.

The Gemara explains that if the mitzvah is to blow only a Shevarim, blowing a Teruah immediately after the Shevarim is an interruption that invalidates the mitzvah. Similarly, if the mitzvah is to blow only a Teruah, then a Shevarim preceding it interrupts between the Tekiah and the Teruah and invalidates the mitzvah. Thus, the only way to fulfill the mitzvah correctly is to blow three series, one with each type of broken sound (Shevarim, Teruah, and Shevarim-Teruah) in the middle.

“This last statement of the Gemara teaches us an important lesson. If one blows an inappropriate sound between the Tekiah and the correct broken sound, that series is invalid. Early poskim dispute how much of the series is invalid and must be blown again. The stringent opinion contends that one must begin the series he is blowing all over again. The lenient opinion rules that it suffices to return to the most recent Tekiah; the earlier sounds are kosher (Tur Orach Chayim end of 590). There is a very interesting story related to this dispute that we will discuss shortly.”

WHY DON’T WE BLOW A TERUAHSHEVARIM?

The Gemara points out that Rabbi Abahu omitted a fourth option — he did not require a Teruah followed by a Shevarim. The Gemara explains that Rabbi Abahu omitted this combination because the Torah’s Teruah is a broken sound that imitates human crying. Since it is unusual for a crying person to pant and then sob afterwards, this sound cannot be what the Torah commanded.

AN ALTERNATIVE INTERPRETATION

There is another explanation why Rabbi Abahu instituted three different Teruah sounds. Rav Hai Gaon contends that the mitzvah of tekias shofar is fulfilled with ANY broken sound. In his opinion, blowing three times either TaSHRaT or TaShaT or TaRaT or any combination of the three fulfills the Torah mitzvah. In Rav Hai’s opinion, Rabbi Abahu instituted the blowing of thirty shofar sounds for a different reason.

In Rabbi Abahu’s day, different communities blew the broken, crying sound in different ways. In some communities it was a Shevarim, others blew what we call Teruah (short, staccato sounds), while others blew Shevarim-Teruah. Rabbi Abahu was concerned that an unlearned person visiting different communities might conclude that there is a dispute how to blow shofar. To avoid even the appearance of conflict, Rabbi Abahu instituted that all Jews observe all three customs.

Thus, we have two different explanations why Rav Abahu instituted the blowing of thirty shofar sounds. The first opinion, which is held by most poskim, contends that blowing thirty sounds guarantees that we have fulfilled the Torah’s mitzvah. The second opinion maintains that we blow thirty sounds to avoid the appearance of a machlokes.

AN INTERESTING STORY AND ITS EXPLANATION

Almost nine hundred years ago, on Rosh Hashanah 4905/1144, the shofar blower of Mainz, a community with many Talmidei Chachomim, erred in the middle of the blowing. After blasting two kosher rounds of “TaSHRaT” he made a mistake in the third round. Instead of blowing a three-part Shevarim and then a Teruah, he mistakenly blew two parts of a Shevarim and then began blowing the Teruah. Immediately realizing his error, the baal tekiah stopped blowing the Teruah after only one stacatto beat. The question was how to continue.

A dispute ensued among the scholarly congregants. Some advocated that ALL the TaSHRaT soundings must be blown again. Apparently, they contended that ANY inappropriate sound blown in the middle of the shofar blowing invalidates the entire series. Since TaSHRaT is blown to fulfill one interpretation of the Torah’s mitzvah, any inappropriate blast blown in the middle invalidates that entire attempt and the series must begin again.

Other scholars were more lenient. They contended that the sounds already blown need not be repeated. In their opinion, only a sound that has halachic status invalidates a series, not a sound that is neither a Shevarim nor a Teruah. Furthermore, they felt that in a case where the sounds need to be repeated, such as where an unnecessary Teruah was blown in the middle, one need return only to the Tekiah preceding the errant broken sound. Thus, in a case where someone blew in the third TaSHRaT Tekiah, Shevarim-Teruah, Teruah, only the last Tekiah and Shevarim-Teruah need to be blown again but no earlier sounds.

In Mainz, 1144, the first group had its way, and the baal tekiah started blowing again from the the beginning of the TaShRaT series.

After Rosh Hashanah, the shaylah was referred to the gedolim,Rav Elyakim bar Yosef and the Raavan, both of whom ruled that the second group was correct. The Raavan also contended that the extra blasts blown desecrated Yom Tov since they were unnecessary and blowing shofar on Yom Tov is permitted only to perform the mitzvah (Rosh, Rosh Hashanah 4:11).

Returning to Muttel’s lessons with Rav Goldberg, the Rav pointed out that the ruling of Rav Elyakim bar Yosef and the Raavan — that nothing needs to be repeated if the errant sound is neither a Shevarim nor a Teruah — is true only when the baal tekiah blew one or two Teruah sounds. However, if he blew three Teruah sounds in the wrong place, such as before the Shevarim is completed, the Tekiah before it is invalidated, because a Teruah blown immediately before a Shevarim is an invalid sound.

HOW LONG IS A TERUAH?

“I am confused,” protested Reb Muttel. “Why did you say that three short sounds is considered a Teruah? Doesn’t a Teruah have nine sounds!”

“Actually, not everyone agrees that a Teruah requires nine sounds,” the Rav replied patiently. “According to Rashi, a Teruah need be only three sounds. The Riva and Rivam disagree, contending that the Teruah must be at least nine sounds. Since everyone agrees that a Teruah may have extra sounds, we blow a Teruah of nine sounds, which is kosher according to all opinions.”

What happens if the shofar blower blew a Teruah shorter than nine sounds?

According to Rashi, one has fulfilled the mitzvah, provided the Teruah was at least three sounds. According to Riva and Rivam, one has not. The rav or posek in the shul will pasken whether to blow the Teruah again. The Mishnah Berurah (590:12) rules that it is unnecessary to repeat the Teruah. However, if the rav rules that the Teruah should be repeated, the Tekiah preceding the Teruah must also be repeated. Since, according to Rashi, the short Teruah is kosher, blowing another Teruah without repeating the Tekiah interrupts between the Teruah and the following Tekiah.

HOW LONG MUST THE SHEVARIM BE?

A Shevarim must be a minimum of three broken sounds, each called a shever. The shever should preferably be as long as three swift, staccato sounds (three “kochos”), making the entire Shevarim the length of nine staccato sounds (Mishnah Berurah 590:13).

However, there are opinions that each shever should be shorter than three staccato sounds, making the entire Shevarim about the length of six staccato sounds (Tosafos Rosh Hashanah 32b; first opinion quoted in Shulchan Aruch 590:3; Mateh Efrayim). In some communities, the practice is to blow some of the Shevarim according to this opinion.

ANOTHER STORY FROM ROSH HASHANAH, 1144.

“Is it kosher to blow a Shevarim of four or five sounds?” asked Muttel.

“To answer that, we must return to that memorable Rosh Hashanah almost nine hundred years ago in Mainz,” explained Rav Goldberg. “After blowing Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah, twice without incident, the baal tekiah blew a successful Tekiah and then a Shevarim that was four sounds instead of the usual three. The congregation considered this sound invalid and made him begin the blowing of TaSHaT from the beginning, repeating a total of eight sounds (the entire TaSHaT twice and a new Tekiah and Shevarim). Rabbi Elyakim bar Yosef took them to task for two different reasons. Even if there was a need to repeat the blowing, they did not need to blow the two previous TaSHaT blowings again, since those were successful blowings. (As we learned above, some scholars in Mainz held that a bad sound invalidates the entire series.) In addition, Rav Elyakim ruled that the Shevarim of four sounds is perfectly valid; there is nothing wrong with adding an extra shever to the Shevarim (Tosafos Rosh Hashanah 33b; Rosh). We rule, like Rav Elyakim, that an extra shever does not invalidate a Shevarim; however, it is preferable to blow a Shevarim that is exactly three sounds, out of deference to the scholars of Mainz who disagreed” (see Mishnah Berurah 590:11).

HOW IS THE SHEVARIM BLOWN?

Some poskim contend that each short shever sound should change pitch in the middle, either once or twice. Some people refer to these as “tu-U-tu” or “UU-tu” or “tu-UU” Shevarim sounds.

Others contend that the shever sound should be without change in pitch – and should sound exactly like a very short Tekiah. Each community should follow the ruling of its rav or its established custom.

HOW LONG MUST THE TEKIAH BE?

There are several opinions. Whereas Raavad’s opinion is that every Tekiah must be nine kochos, regardless which broken sound it accompanies (Hilchos Shofar 3:4), Tosafos and most rishonim contend that the Tekiah must be as long as the broken sound that it accompanies. Since the length of both the Shevarim and the Teruah are disputed, as mentioned above, the length of the Tekiah is also disputed. According to the Riva and Rivam, the combined length of a Shevarim-Teruah is about eighteen kochos, or perhaps a bit longer to accommodate the length of the pause in the middle. (Each “koach” is the length of a minimum beat. The entire Shevarim-Teruah can be blown in about three seconds.) Therefore, the Tekiah before and after the Shevarim-Teruah should also be that long (Mateh Efrayim; Mishnah Berurah 590:14,15).

According to Rashi’s opinion that the Teruah need be only three kochos and the Shevarim only six-to-nine kochos, the Tekiah accompanying the Shevarim-Teruah need be only nine-to-twelve kochos long.

Based on the above, poskim conclude that the Tekiah for TaSHRaT should preferably be a bit more than eighteen kochos long, whereas the Tekiah for TaSHaT and TaRaT need be only nine kochos long.

What if the Tekiah ended earlier? It is not unusual that the teki’os that accompany TaSHRaT are not eighteen kochos long. Again the rav will make the decision. (For example, the Mateh Efrayim rules that a Tekiah for TaSHRaT that was only nine kochos long is kosher b’dei’evid, after the fact.)

SHOULD THE BLOWER PAUSE BETWEEN THE SHEVARIM AND THE TERUAH?

This interesting question is an early dispute. According to most opinions, there should be only a slight interruption between the Shevarim and Teruah of the Shevarim-Teruah (most rishonim, as explained by the Mishnah Berurah 590:18.) It should be noted that according to the Chazon Ish 136:1 and Avnei Nezer #443 there should be no interruption whatsoever between the Shevarim and the Teruah. Some even contend that a significant interruption between the Shevarim and the Teruah invalidates the blowing (see Mishnah Berurah 590:16 and Shaar HaTziyun ad loc.). Rabbeinu Tam disagrees, maintaining that someone would not change from a sobbing cry to a panting cry without stopping for a breath in between. Therefore, he maintains that one should pause, although not extensively, between the Shevarim and the Teruah.

HOW DO WE RULE IN THIS ISSUE?

There are different customs. Some communities follow Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion and blow every Shevarim-Teruah with a brief pause in the middle (Rama 590:4). However, most congregations today follow the Chayei Adam’s recommendation that the Shevarim-Teruah of the first blowings (before Musaf) are blown without a pause, whereas the baal tekiah should pause between Shevarim and Teruah when blowing during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei.

Incidentally, the shofar soundings blown during Musaf should be treated with the same degree of importance as those blown earlier. According to many poskim, they are the main mitzvah of shofar blowing (see Tosafos, Pesachim 115a s.v. maskif; Mishnah Berurah.)

WHAT IF A WOMAN CANNOT BE IN SHUL FOR BOTH SETS OF SHOFAR BLOWINGS?

Shofar blowing is one of the time-bound positive mitzvos (mitzvas aseh she’hazman grama) from which women are exempt. Nevertheless, generations of women have been careful to hear shofar blowing, just as they are careful to shake the lulav and esrog on Sukos, another time-bound mitzvah from which they are exempt. Many poskim rule that since women have assumed responsibility to hear shofar blowing, they are now required to do so (Chayei Adam 141:7; on the other hand, see Shu’t Salmas Chayim #349). However, a woman does not need to hear more than thirty shofar sounds, although it is meritorious for her to hear the sounds blown during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei.

DOES A WOMAN MAKE A BRACHA ON SHOFAR BLOWING?

The rishonim dispute whether one can recite a bracha on a mitzvah that one is not commanded to perform. Some contend that women should not recite the bracha because one cannot say “asher kideshanu be’mitzvosav ve’tzivanu,” “He who sanctified us in His mitzvos and commanded us,” when Hashem never commanded women to perform this mitzvah. Sefardim follow this opinion, and therefore Sefardic women do not recite a bracha on mitzvos such as shofar and lulav. Ashkenazim rule that one may recite ve’tzivanu even if one is not personally obligated, since Klal Yisrael collectively observes the mitzvos.

For the above reason, an Ashkenazic woman who did not hear the first blowings should recite the bracha before the shofar soundings during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei or at the end of davening.

WHY DO WE BLOW SHOFAR BOTH BEFORE AND DURING MUSAF?

The Gemara explains that we repeat the shofar blowings in order to confuse the Satan and prevent him from prosecuting us (Rosh Hashanah 16b). This is surprising. Is the Satan so easily fooled? Most of us have discovered the Satan to be extremely clever. Does he not remember that we pulled the same prank on him in previous years and blew the shofar twice?

Tosafos explains the Gemara more deeply. The Satan is constantly afraid that Moshiach will come and put him out of business. Therefore, every time the shofar blows, the Satan leaps up, terrified that Moshiach has come, and forgets to prosecute us! When it is blown the first time, he is petrified that it might be the advent of Moshiach. When it is blown the second time, he is absolutely certain, and is beside himself with shock and consternation. Then he realizes, too late, that it is just Rosh Hashanah again. By that time, Hashem has reached our verdict without Satan’s interference.

How nice it would be if we sat on the edge of our chairs waiting for the Moshiach with the same intensity as the Satan!

How to Eat before Hearing Shofar

There are several articles on the website germane to different of our observances of Rosh Hashanah, which can be located there under the search words Shofar, Rosh Hashanah or Tashlich. Wishing everyone a kesivah vachasimah tovah, and a happy and healthy year to you and your loved ones.

 

Question:

slice of cake“I find it extremely difficult not to eat until the completion of Rosh Hashanah davening, and I understand that many Yeshivos make kiddush before blowing shofar. May I introduce this practice in my shul?”

Answer:

Before we discuss whether one may eat before hearing the shofar blowing, we must first analyze the issue of eating before performing any other mitzvah.

Regarding someone who returns home after a long day at work, the Gemara states: Our Sages built a fence to protect their words, so that a person should not return from the field in the evening and say, ‘I’ll eat a little, drink a little, sleep a little, and then recite kerias shma and pray,’ because we are concerned that sleep will overtake him, resulting in his sleeping the entire night without fulfilling his mitzvos. Instead, someone returning in the evening from the field should enter the Beis HaKenesses. If he usually studies Tanach, he should do so. If he usually studies Mishnah, he should do so. Then he should read kerias shma and pray.” (Nowadays, we refer to “reading kerias shma and praying” as “davening maariv.”) Only then should he go home to eat supper (Brachos 4b).

It would appear that Chazal prohibited eating, drinking and sleeping before performing the mitzvos one is obliged to fulfill. To determine whether this is relevant to the mitzvah of shofar, we need to resolve a few questions:

All or nothing?

The Taz asks: The Gemara says that he should not say, “I’ll eat a little, drink a little and sleep a little,” before first davening maariv. Did our Sages prohibit only performing all three, or did they prohibit any one of the three? If they, indeed, prohibited only all three, the prohibition reported by this Gemara would not apply unless someone planned to nap, eat and drink before hearing the shofar. On the other hand, if they prohibited any of the three, one may not eat or even drink before davening maariv, and we will need to discuss the ramifications  of the prohibition to eat or drink before hearing the shofar.

The Taz concludes that the Gemara prohibited doing any one of these three activities before fulfilling the mitzvah. His reasoning is that one may certainly not sleep for even a few minutes without first davening maariv, lest he fall asleep for the night and not fulfill his mitzvos. Thus, sleeping even “a little” must be prohibited before reciting shma and davening. If so, this implies that it is also prohibited to “eat a little” even if one does not drink or sleep, or to “drink a little” even if one does not eat or sleep (Taz, Orach Chayim 235:3).

Furthermore, based on another discussion that is beyond the scope of this article, the Shulchan Aruch rules that one may not begin eating even a half hour before the time for davening maariv begins. If it is already a half hour before the time for davening maariv, one must wait until the time of maariv arrives, then daven, and only then is it permitted to eat (Orach Chayim 235:2). Although the Taz disagrees, the consensus of late authorities accepts the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (Mishnah Berurah 235:18.)

Despite the Shulchan Aruch’s conclusion that one may not eat prior to davening maariv, many authorities permit this, if one always davens maariv at a specific minyan or if someone is available to remind him to daven (see Magen Avraham 235:4; Mishnah Berurah 235:18). Others permit eating before davening maariv if one sets an alarm clock as a reminder.

Time for a good snack?

In a situation when one may not eat or drink before davening maariv, what eating or drinking is prohibited? Does this prohibition include even eating a snack, or does it only apply to a meal?

The wording of the Gemara, “a person should not return in the evening and say, ‘I’ll eat a little, drink a little,’” implies that even a small snack is prohibited, and this is indeed the opinion of some early authorities (Terumas HaDeshen #109). However, the consensus of later authorities is to follow the opinion of the Tur (Orach Chayim 235), who permits snacking before maariv, and prohibits only eating a meal (Magen Avraham 235:4).

One man’s snack is another’s meal

Now that we have distinguished between eating a snack, which is permitted, and eating a meal, which is not, we need to define our categories. At what point does the permitted snack become a forbidden meal?

To answer this question we will borrow from a related halachic discussion. The Mishnah rules that during Sukkos one is required to eat his meals in a sukkah, but casual (arai) eating and drinking is permitted outside the sukkah (Sukkah 25a). How does one define what is arai and what is not? The Mishnah and the Gemara conclude that eating up to a kebeitzah (the size of an egg) of bread or mezonos does not require a sukkah, but that one may not eat more than a kebeitzah of bread outside a sukkah (Sukkah 26b – 27a).

Since the Gemara holds that up to a kebeitzah of bread or mezonos is a snack that does not require a sukkah, the halachic authorities rule that this amount may be eaten before maariv (Mishnah Berurah 235:16; see also Shulchan Aruch 232:3).

The halachic authorities compare sukkah to maariv in yet another way. Just as one may eat an unlimited quantity of fruit or vegetables outside the sukkah, since this is always considered eating arai (Shulchan Aruch and Rama, Orach Chayim 639:2), one may eat an unlimited quantity of fruit or vegetables prior to davening maariv, since this qualifies as a snack and not a meal (see Magen Avraham 235:4).

BEVERAGE VERSUS FRUIT

This leads us to a basic question: If one may eat an unlimited quantity of fruit and vegetables outside the sukkah and before davening maariv, why is one limited in how much beverage one may drink before davening maariv? If halacha considers consuming fruits and vegetables as casual eating that is permitted before maariv, why should drinking be judged as any less casual?

The answer to this question lies in a terse comment of the Magen Avraham wherein he rules: One may drink as much as one wants outside the sukkah, but must be careful not to drink more than a kebeitzah of beverage before davening mincha, lest he drink too much and become intoxicated to the extent that he cannot daven (Magen Avraham 232:17). This ruling understands that the prohibition against drinking prior to davening is limited to intoxicating beverages (Mishnah Berurah 232:35). When the Gemara was concerned “that a person should not return from the field in the evening and say, ‘I’ll drink a little,’” the concern was only about alcoholic drinks.

Accordingly, once the time comes to perform a mitzvah (and perhaps even a half-hour before), one may not eat a meal or drink more than a kebeitzah of alcoholic beverage without first performing the mitzvah, but one may eat as much fruit and vegetables, and drink as much non-alcoholic beverages, as one desires. One may also snack on up to a kebeitzah of bread or mezonos, but no more.

NON-INTOXICATING EXCEPTION – KIDDUSH AND HAVDALAH

There are at least two mitzvos that stand as exceptions to the previous rule: The Shulchan Aruch prohibits all snacking and drinking before kiddush and havdalah, once the time to fulfill these mitzvos has arrived (Orach Chayim 271:4; 299:1).

Why is it prohibited to snack before kiddush and havdalah, whereas one may snack before one has davened maariv? The Magen Avraham explains that snacking is prohibited before reciting kiddush or havdalah because one is obligated to fulfill these mitzvos at the very beginning of the evening (Magen Avraham 235:4). I presume he means that Chazal prohibited snacking in order to guarantee that the mitzvah is performed immediately. However, regarding other mitzvos, where the concern is only that he might forget to perform the mitzvah altogether, it is sufficient to ban eating a meal or doing something that might result in not performing the mitzvah at all.

KIDDUSH VERSUS HAVDALAH

With this background, we can now explain the following curious difference between kiddush and havdalah. Prior to reciting kiddush, one is prohibited to drink anything, even water, whereas prior to reciting havdalah, although one may not snack or drink most beverages, one may drink water (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 271:4; 299:1). Why this distinction between kiddush and havdalah?

It seems that although both kiddush and havdalah should be fulfilled at the beginning of the evening, Chazal encouraged reciting kiddush early, in order to greet Shabbos as early as possible. On the other hand, although one should recite havdalah early in the night, one should not rush Shabbos out the door, but simply be certain to recite havdalah before engaging in after-Shabbos activities. Therefore, Chazal permitted drinking water before reciting havdalah, although they prohibited doing so before kiddush, to guarantee that people recite kiddush quickly.

For the same reason, there is another major difference between kiddush and havdalah. If someone began a meal early Friday afternoon and it extended into Shabbos, he must stop eating as soon as Shabbos arrives and recite kiddush. Although one may continue the meal after reciting kiddush and wait to daven maariv and recite shma after the meal is over, he may not continue the meal without first reciting kiddush.

However, if this happened when Shabbos ends, one has no requirement to recite havdalah until the meal is over. This is why we commonly extend seudah shlishis (in Yiddish called shalosh seudos) into the night, and bensch, daven maariv, and recite havdalah only when the meal is over.

DAY VERSUS NIGHT

So far, we have explained that once the time to perform a mitzvah arrives, one may not eat a meal or drink a significant quantity of intoxicating beverage before one has performed the mitzvah. We have also seen that some authorities prohibit even snacking. We have learned further that prior to reciting kiddush or havdalah, halacha prohibits any snacking or drinking at all, with the only exception that one may drink water prior to havdalah.

One possibility that we have not yet explored is whether there is a halachic difference between a mitzvah performed in the daytime and one performed at night. Perhaps there is less concern regarding a daytime mitzvah, and Chazal prohibited eating only prior to performing a nighttime mitzvah, lest eating after a hard day’s work cause one to fall asleep before performing the mitzvah. According to this suggestion, one could eat a meal before fulfilling the mitzvos of shofar, lulav or tefillin.

However, this distinction does not accord with the accepted halacha, as we find several instances where someone may not begin eating a meal before fulfilling a daytime mitzvah such as davening mincha (Mishnah Shabbos 9b), taking lulav (Sukkah 38a) or blowing shofar (Tosefta, Shabbos 1:4, as explained by Magen Avraham 235:4).

EARLY NIGHT SNACK

As mentioned above, although some authorities contend that prior to maariv one may not eat or drink anything, the consensus is to allow snacks, non-alcoholic beverages and small quantities of alcoholic drinks. Notwithstanding this decision, the Magen Avraham (692:7), after reaching this conclusion, makes the strange comment that one may eat a snack before the reading of the Megillah only in extenuating circumstances. This ruling is all the more confusing since it contradicts his own conclusion permitting snacking before fulfilling the Torah mitzvos of taking lulav and reciting shma (Magen Avraham 235:4; 652:4). Later authorities assume that only under extenuating circumstances did the Magen Avraham permit snacking before fulfilling any mitzvah (see Mateh Efrayim 588:2; Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #7 and others).

LET’S TALK ABOUT SHOFAR

Based on this Magen Avraham, many prominent authorities rule that someone who is weak or ill may recite kiddush and eat less than a kebeitzah of food prior to hearing the shofar, but emphasize that this should be done in private, so that other people will not assume that they may also be lenient (Mateh Efrayim 588:2). According to this position, snacking before shofar blowing is permitted only for the weak and the ill.

BEFORE SHOFAR OR AFTER?

If someone must eat before the end of Rosh Hashanah davening, is it better for him to eat before shofar blowing, or to hear shofar blowing first and then make kiddush and eat? On the one hand, as we have demonstrated, there is a prohibition against eating before fulfilling a required mitzvah, which would imply that he should first fulfill the mitzvah of shofar and only then eat. Although he would still eat before davening musaf, this is less of a concern than before shofar, since musaf is only miderabbanan and shofar is a Torah mitzvah.

On the other hand, one who eats before hearing the shofar thereby interrupts between the bracha recited over the shofar and the later shofar soundings.

FAMILY FEUD

It is curious to note a dispute between closely-related gedolim on this issue. Rabbi Akiva Eiger maintains that it is better not to eat before the shofar, but to hear shofar first and then eat, even though this results in the kiddush and the brachos on the food interrupting between the brachos of shofar and the later shofar blowing. He was more concerned about eating before fulfilling the mitzvah than he was about interrupting after the bracha.

On the other hand, his son-in-law, the Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Yoreh Deah #7, end) contends that someone ill who cannot wait to eat until the end of davening should discreetly make Kiddush and eat between shacharis and shofar blowing. He contends that it is better to eat before shofar than to interrupt between the bracha on shofar and the later soundings. (It is also noteworthy that the Chasam Sofer implies that someone who is ill may eat even a meal before shofar blowing.)

The above authorities all seem opposed to any eating before the shofar, except in extenuating circumstances. This places on a shaky footing the custom of making kiddush for the entire congregation before shofar.

However, the Sdei Chemed (vol. 8 pg 325 s.v. vishamati) cites several sources recording a practice in Ashkenazic communities to recite kiddush and eat a small snack before shofar blowing. The prevalent practice in Yeshivos reflects this approach, considering the long wait until davening is over as an extenuating circumstance. This became the subject of a major dispute among the great Torah leaders in America a generation ago, with Rav Henkin, zt”l, strongly opposed to the practice of eating before shofar blowing for anyone not clearly ill or weak, while Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l championed the practice of making kiddush before shofar.

HOW MUCH IS A SNACK?

One should bear in mind that the dispute among these authorities is only whether one may eat a snack before shofar and musaf. The prevalent yeshiva custom to recite kiddush  prior to shofar blowing is intended only to permit people to eat up to a kebeitzah-sized piece of cake. Unfortunately, the average hungry person placed in front of a huge pile of cake has difficulty restricting himself to less than a kebeitzah.

Although the early sources do not countenance this, a contemporary authority quotes a basis to be lenient: since everyone returns to shul for the rest of davening immediately after reciting kiddush, people will clearly remind one another to not miss shofar blowing (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, Volume 2 52:14:52, quoting Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach). (I personally categorize this last line of reasoning as a limud zechus, a rationale to explain behavior that seems to run against halacha, rather than as a solid reason to justify the practice.)

PROPOSED SOLUTION

For those who find it difficult to eat less than a kebeitzah, and are uncomfortable relying on this last heter, which clearly runs counter to the approach of most early authorities, I suggest the following: Many foods, such as potatoes, yams, quinoa, corn and rice are highly filling, even though they technical qualify as vegetables for these halachos. In order to fulfill the requirement of kiddush bimkom seudah – the halachic requirement that one eat a “meal” when fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush – one should eat at least a kezayis (an olive-sized piece) of cake, crackers, pretzels, or some other grain product. In order to avoid eating more than a kebeitzah of these items, which most authorities forbid, one should be careful to eat less than a kebeitzah of items made from the five grains, and then eat a substantive “snack” of potatoes or some other satisfying vegetable. This requires less self-discipline than restricting oneself to a kebeitzah of cake. I also strongly suggest that any shul or yeshiva that has a kiddush before shofar should instruct people not to eat more than a kebeitzah of cake.

CONCLUSION

When we hear the shofar blow, we should remember that we, the Jewish people, are crowning Hashem as our King and the King of the universe. Studying the laws that pertain to this mitzvah is an important way in which we can show our acceptance of His kingship.

 

The Creation of the “Permanent” Calendar

calendar-1568148-639x424When the Torah commands us to create a calendar, it includes two different responsibilities: First, to have Rosh Chodesh and the length of each month determined on the basis of when the new moon appears, and, second, to have the holiday of Pesach fall in the spring and the holiday of Sukkos in the autumn (in the northern hemisphere). Thus, we have two separate and very different requirements, one of having the months determined by the moon, which is a little more than every 29½ days, and having years that coordinate with the seasons, which follow the solar year, which is a bit less than 365¼ days.

To accomplish that the dates and holidays should fall according to the seasons, the halacha is that some years have 12 months, or approximately 354 days, and others have 13 months, or approximately 384 days. This ensures that the holidays fall in their appropriate seasons. The mitzvah of the Torah is that the head of the Sanhedrin should be in charge, every month, to decide whether a month is 29 days long or 30, and of deciding whether a year should have an extra month. In the latter case, he appointed a special committee, comprised of members of the Sanhedrin, to review the relevant information and determine whether the year should be 13 months (a leap year) or only 12 (a common year).

By the way, after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, the main Beis Din was not located in Yerushalayim, but wherever the Nasi of the Jewish people resided, as long as it was in Eretz Yisrael. This included several communities at various times of Jewish history, including Teverya, Yavneh, and Shafraam.[i] Indeed, during this period, if the head of the Beis Din was in the Diaspora and there was no one of his stature remaining in Eretz Yisrael, the special Beis Din met outside the land of Israel.[ii]

Initially, all these decisions were made by the heads of the Sanhedrin, and, indeed, when Moshiach comes, we will again have this system. This was the system in place for thousands of years – from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu until about 250 years after the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash. At that time, the head of the Sanhedrin, Hillel Hanasi (not to be confused with his ancestor, Hillel Hazakein), realized that, because of Roman persecution, the Sanhedrin’s days were numbered and it would be necessary to switch to a different system for determining the calendar. Hillel Hanasi implemented a temporary Jewish calendar, which is the one that we currently use. Although many people refer to it as a “permanent calendar,” it will be in use only until we again have a Sanhedrin, which will then be in charge of the calendar.

Hillel’s calendar kept the same basic structure of 29- and 30-day months and 12- and 13-month years, but it is based purely on calculation and not on observation. The two major changes in this new calendar are:

  • A Leap of Fate

The leap years now occur following a regular pattern of seven leap years and 12 non-leap (usually called “common”) years in a 19 year cycle. The third, sixth, eighth, eleventh, fourteenth, seventeenth and nineteenth years of the cycle are always leap years, and the rest are common years. This year is the nineteenth year of the cycle, and thus is a leap year.

  • The Haves versus the Have-nots

The length of most months is now predetermined. Tishrei, Shvat, Adar Rishon (which exists only in a leap year), Nissan, Sivan and Av always have 30 days; whereas Teiveis, regular Adar (in a common, non-leap year), Adar Sheini (in a leap year), Iyar, Tamuz and Elul are always only 29 days long. The two months of Cheshvan[iii] and Kislev are the only months whose length varies, sometimes 29 days and sometimes 30.[iv] A year in which both Cheshvan and Kislev have only 29 days is called chaseirah, lacking or defective; one in which Cheshvan has 29 days and Kislev has 30 is called kesidrah, as expected or regular; and one in which both Cheshvan and Kislev have 30 days is called sheleimah, full or excessive.

The terms chaseirah, kesidrah, and sheleimah apply in both common and leap years.[v] Thus, in the new calendar, all common years are either 353 days (if both Cheshvan and Kislev have 29 days), 354 days (if Cheshvan has 29 days and Kislev has 30) or 355 days (if both Cheshvan and Kislev have 30 days); all leap years are either 383 days (if both Cheshvan and Kislev have 29 days), 384 days (if Cheshvan has 29 days and Kislev has 30) or 385 days (if both Cheshvan and Kislev have 30 days). Since Adar in a common year always has 29 days, Adar Rishon always has 30 days, and Adar Sheini always has 29 days, like the regular Adar, the addition of an extra month of Adar in a leap year always adds exactly thirty days.

(Because the nineteen-year cycle synchronizes the lunar calendar with the solar year, the Hebrew and English dates of births, anniversaries and other occasions usually coincide on the nineteenth anniversary of the event. If yours does not, but is off by a day or two, do not fret. Your record keeping is accurate, but the cycle of nineteen years only relates to whether it is a leap year, not to whether the years are of the exact same length. The lengths of Cheshvan and Kislev are determined by other factors, and this will affect whether your 19th, 38th or 57th birthday or anniversary exactly coincides with its Hebrew/secular counterpart, or whether it is slightly off.)

The new calendar bases itself on an estimate, an average time that it takes the moon to revolve around the Earth. This molad calculation is that each new moon appears 29 days, 12 hours, and 793 chalakim (singular: chelek) or 793/1080 of an hour after the previous new moon. Once one knows when the new moon, called the molad, occurred on the previous Rosh Hashanah, one could now add either 12 or 13 times the above figure and determine the time of the molad in the next year, which is the most important factor in determining the date of the next Rosh Hashanah. (The term chelek, used on Shabbos Mevorchim when announcing when the molad is, equals 1/1080 of an hour, or 3 and 1/3 seconds.)

There is one other factor: Sometimes Rosh Hashanah takes place not on the day of the molad, but the next day, because the molad occurred on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah and would not be visible in Eretz Yisrael until the next day. When Rosh Hashanah was determined by the observation of witnesses, this information was important not only in determining when Rosh Hashanah falls, but also for interrogating potential witnesses testifying to the appearance of the new moon. However, Hillel’s calendar is no longer dependent on witnesses, Rosh Hashanah is still not established on a day when the molad falls on its afternoon, but is postponed. Based on this information, one can determine which day should be Rosh Hashanah in the coming year.

Another major innovation

Did you ever notice that Yom Kippur never falls on Friday or Sunday? If it did, we would observe two consecutive days that both have the stringency of Shabbos. Indeed, when the calendar was based on observation, this could and did happen.[vi]

However, Hillel Hanasi’s calendar included some innovations that were not part of the earlier calendar. His calendar does not allow Yom Kippur to fall on either a Sunday or a Friday, thus avoiding the difficulty of having two Shabbos-like days fall consecutively. Hillel Hanasi’s calendar also does not allow Hoshana Rabbah to fall on Shabbos, which would cause the cancellation of the Hoshanos ceremony. As long as the calendar was determined on the basis of eyewitness testimony, it was halachically more important to have Rosh Chodesh fall on its correct day than to be concerned about difficulties created when certain holidays fall on or next to Shabbos.[vii] However, once we are fulfilling the mitzvah in a less-preferred way with Hillel’s “permanent” calendar, keeping Yom Kippur from falling on Friday or Sunday, and Hoshana Rabbah from falling on Shabbos, are factors to be included in establishing the calendar.

In order to accommodate these innovations, Rosh Hashanah could fall only on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Shabbos, since if it falls on Sunday, Hoshana Rabbah falls on Shabbos; if Rosh Hashanah falls on Wednesday, Yom Kippur falls on Friday; and if Rosh Hashanah falls on Friday, then Yom Kippur falls on Sunday. This would mean that when Rosh Hashanah in the coming year would naturally fall on Sunday, Wednesday or Friday, an extra day is added to the calendar to make sure that Rosh Hashanah falls on Monday, Thursday or Shabbos instead.[viii] This calendar concept of guaranteeing that Rosh Hashanah not fall on Sunday, Wednesday or Friday is called לא אד”ו ראש, lo adu rosh, meaning that the beginning of the year, Rosh Hashanah, does not fall on א, the first day of the week, Sunday; ד, Wednesday; or ו , Friday. It is predominantly for this reason that there was a need to have Cheshvan and Kislev sometimes 29 days and sometimes 30, in order to make the exact length of the years flexible.

Although the innovation of adding one day to the year so that Rosh Hashanah not fall on a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday seems relatively simple, it sometimes leads to more complex considerations. In some years, adjusting Rosh Hashanah to avoid Sunday, Wednesday and Friday creates a problem in the year before or the year after. Since Hillel Hanasi’s calendar did not allow a common year to be longer than 355 days and a leap year to be shorter than 383 days, the only way to avoid problems is to plan the calendar an additional year in advance and adjusting the calendar appropriately. In order to accomodate all these various calendar requirements, Hillel Hanasi established four rules, called dechiyos, which, together with the sod ha’ibur calculation and the 19 year leap year rotation, form the basis for determining our calendar.[ix]

To explain how this works, let us choose a sample year in which the molad calculation for Rosh Hashanah fell on Wednesday evening, and Rosh Hashanah therefore falls on Thursday, which is what we would expect. However, the next year’s molad for Rosh Hashanah falls on Tuesday less than two hours before the end of the day. Although the molad falls on Tuesday, it is too late in the day for this molad to be visible in Eretz Yisrael, and therefore, Rosh Hashanah cannot occur before Wednesday. However, since Rosh Hashanah cannot fall on a Wednesday because of the rule of lo adu rosh, it must be pushed off to Thursday, or two days after the molad. For this reason, that year must have an extra day. However, each year is limited how long it may be. In order to accommodate the proper dating of the second year, the year prior would have to have more days than the calendar allows. In order to resolve this, the year before is made longer than necessary. What is happening is that one Rosh Hashanah is postponed to allow that the next Rosh Hashanah should fall out in an acceptable way.

As I mentioned above, although the leap years follow an absolute nineteen-year cycle, whether the year is chaseirah, kesidrah, or sheleimah is determined by the other factors we have noted, and therefore does not follow the nineteen-year pattern. Rather, one first calculates when Rosh Hashanah should fall out based on the sod ha’ibur, checks the rules of the dechiyos to see what adjustments need to be made, and then determines on which day Rosh Hashanah should fall. As a result, whether the year in question needs to be chaseirah, kesidrah, or sheleimah requires calculating not only this year’s schedule, but also the coming year’s calendar requirements.

Based on all these calculations, there are seven prototype years for a common year and seven for a leap year that fulfill the calendar rules. Each of these fourteen prototype “years” is called by a three letter acronym in which the first letter identifies the day of the week of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the second letter denotes whether the year is chaseirah, kesidrah, or sheleimah, and the third letter identifies the day of the week of the first day of Pesach. No letter is used to denote whether the year is common or leap, because this is understood by knowing how many days of the week Pesach follows Rosh Hashanah. In a common year that is kesidrah, Pesach falls two days later in the week than Rosh Hashanah, and in a leap year, it falls four days later, the two additional days being the extra two days that the extra month of Adar Rishon, thirty days long, adds to the day of the week count. Of course, these calculations must be adjusted one day in either direction, if the year is chaseirah or sheleimah. Either way, calculating how many days are between Rosh Hashanah and Pesach tells us whether it is a common or leap year, so there is no need to include this in the acronym.

Thus, this year 5776 is known as בשז because Rosh Hashanah fell on Monday (ב), it is a sheleimah (ש) year in which both Cheshvan and Kislev contain 30 days, and the first day of Pesach falls on Shabbos (ז).

At this point, we have the basic information to figure out how our calendar operates. Although we may not realize it, we actually already have enough information at our fingertips that we could already calculate the calendars for the coming years – indefinitely.

Conclusion

We understand well why our calendar involves use of the solar year – after all, our seasons, and the appropriate times for our holidays, are based on the sun. But why did the Torah insist that our months follow the moon? It seems that we could live fine without months that are dependent on the moon’s rotation around the earth!

One answer to this question is that the waxing and waning of the moon is symbolic of our own our relationship with Hashem – which is sometimes better and sometimes less so. However, we know that we can always improve that relationship, just as the moon after its waning and almost disappearing always renews itself.

 

[i] Rosh Hashanah 31b

[ii] Berachos 63a; Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh 1:8

[iii] Although the correct name of the month is Marcheshvan, we will follow the colloquial use of calling it Cheshvan.

[iv] Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh 8:5

[v] By the way, because Kislev is sometimes 29 days and sometimes 30, the last day of Chanukah is sometimes on the second day of Teiveis, and sometimes on the third.

[vi] She’iltos of Rav Acha’ei Geon, #67; Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 5:21; Ha’emek She’eilah ad loc., Note 22.

[vii] Ha’emek She’ailah ibid; Gri”z, Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh

[viii] Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh 7:1.

[ix] Because these dechiyos are extremely technical, I did not explain all of them.

image_print