Symphony of the Soul

Question #1: Trumpets

“Can there be a mitzvah in the Torah of blowing trumpets if this instrument was not invented until relatively recently?”

Question #2: Bugles

“Someone told me that the correct translation of chatzotzeres is “bugle.” Can that possibly be true?”

Introduction:

The association between music and Torah is not usually explored in halachic articles, which is an oversight, since several mitzvos demonstrate this relationship. Among those mitzvos are the singing of select chapters of Tehillim by the levi’im that accompanies the korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash, and the rendition of Hallel on joyous days and occasions. There are also the mitzvos of blowing shofar and of blowing the chatzotzeros, which will be the focus of this week’s article.

The Sefer Hachinuch counts five mitzvos in parshas Beha’alos’cha, Mitzvos #380–384, four of them related to the offering of the korban Pesach on Pesach sheini. The offering of korban Pesach was accompanied with a joyous rendition of Hallel. The fifth mitzvah mentioned by the Sefer Hachinuch is that of blowing trumpets, and can function as a commentary on the following verses:

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, ‘Make for yourself two trumpets of silver; make them (out of silver) by hammering them. And their purpose shall be for calling the community and having the camps embark on their journey. When they are blown a continuous blast, all the community shall gather to the entrance of the ohel mo’eid. But if one trumpet is sounded, then the leaders, the heads of the thousands of Yisraelites, shall gather to you. Upon blowing a staccato sound, then the camps that are easternmost shall embark. Upon blowing a second staccato sound, then the southernmost camps shall begin the journey. They shall blow a staccato sound to begin their journey. And when you gather the congregation, blow a continuous sound and not a staccato one. The sons of Aharon, the kohanim, shall blow the horns, and this should be for them a law for all generations. Furthermore, when you enter into a war in your land against an oppressor who afflicts you, you shall blow a staccato sound on the trumpets. Thereby, you will be remembered before Hashem, your G-d, and you will be saved from your enemies. And on the days that you celebrate — your festivals and your new moons — you shall blow a continuous sound on the trumpets upon your ascent offerings and your peace offerings and it will be a remembrance for you before your G-d, for I am Hashem, your G-d” (Bamidbar 10 1-10).

What does the Torah mean in the last verse we quoted: “You shall blow a continuous sound on the trumpets upon your ascent offerings and your peace offerings?” This means that when these korbanos are offered, they are accompanied by the tekiah blasts (the continuous sounds) of the two silver trumpets.

The Sifrei adds that, when the staccato teruah was sounded, it was accompanied by a tekiah sound before and after, and that this is done three times, similar to the order that we blow on Rosh Hashanah. (We blow more than nine sounds on Rosh Hashanah, but that is not the topic of this article.) However, this is only when blowing the teruah sounds that announce the traveling of the camps. When the trumpet blows a tekiah to beckon the elders or the people to come, it is sounded alone (Sifrei).

Horn or trumpet?

Above, I translated the word chatzotzeres as trumpet, as does every translator that I have seen, although it is not fully accurate. The modern trumpet contains valves that allow it a range of pitch which the chatzotzeres does not have. The modern instrument that resembles the chatzotzeres most closely is probably a bugle, which has no keys or valves. However, since most people associate the bugle with such melodious pieces as taps and reveille, neither of which has halachic significance, translating chatzotzeres as bugle will raise a lot of eyebrows. Instead, I decided to use the word trumpet, and we will assume that we are referring to the ancient version of this instrument, not its modern update.

At this point, let us spend a few minutes discussing some of the technical halachos of this mitzvah of blowing trumpets.

Identical

Although I have found no halacha describing the size or the appearance of the trumpets, the halacha is that the two trumpets should be manufactured in such a way that they appear identical – they should have the same exterior form, size, height, and beauty (Sifrei).

Hammered from silver

The mitzvah of the Torah is that each chatzotzeres be hammered from a solid piece of silver. It may not be manufactured the easy way – by melting the silver and pouring it into a mold – which would also make it quite easy to have identical instruments. By comparison, no two handcrafted Stradivarius violins are identical, whereas standard, commercially-made instruments, including the Chinese-made, full-sized, plastic shofaros ubiquitously sold in the Arab shuk in Yerushalayim in Elul, are identical, down to their natural-looking scratch marks, except for their color and whether they are curved towards the right or towards the left.

The chatzotzeres could not be made of copper, brass (a copper-zinc alloy often used for the manufacture of musical instruments), or any other metal, but only of silver (Menachos 28a). If fashioned from any metal other than silver, it is not kosher for fulfilling the mitzvah.

How many trumpets?

In addition to the function of the trumpets mentioned in this week’s parsha, they were also played as part of the orchestra that joined the levi’im’s singing when korbanos were offered. The Mishnah (Arachin 13a) teaches that this orchestra had many instruments, including at least two trumpets, but it could have as many as 120 trumpets. Based on the report (Divrei Hayamim II 5:12) that when Shelomoh Hamelech dedicated the Beis Hamikdash, the orchestra included 120 chatzotzeros as well as many other instruments, the Gemara (Arachin 13b) rules that the orchestra performing with the levi’im singing the shira could add as desired, as many as 120 trumpets! Tosafos (Arachin 13a) discusses whether one could actually have more, but that the Gemara means that once one’s orchestra has 120, there is no need to seek more.

However, germane to the mitzvah of blowing the chatzotzeros, the Sifrei writes explicitly that one may use only two trumpets.

Who blows?

The posuk that we quoted above states explicitly that “the sons of Aharon, the kohanim, shall blow the horns” and this point is noted by several authorities (Sefer Hachinuch; Turei Even, Rosh Hashanah 26b s.v. ushetei; Maharam Shik Mitzvah #385). The Rambam (Hilchos Klei Hamikdash 3:4-5, as explained by Sefer Hachinuch) draws a distinction between the blowing of the trumpets that was a special mitzvah performed on the festivals, when they were blown only by kohanim, and the orchestra that accompanied the daily korbanos, when the trumpets were blown by levi’im.

The tana’im dispute whether a kohein who is a baal mum, blemished and therefore not permitted to perform the avodah in the Beis Hamikdash, may blow the chatzotzeres when it is required to be blown by a kohein. Rabbi Akiva rules that he may not, and that it must be blown by a kohein who may perform the avodah, whereas Rabbi Tarfon permits it (Sifrei).

A master blaster

In this context, the Sifrei quotes an interesting anecdote. After Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva each demonstrated the halachic source for his position, Rabbi Tarfon exclaimed: “I can no longer take this! You keep gathering and creating new laws! I know that I saw my mother’s brother, Shimon, who was a kohein with a severe blemish in his leg, blow the chatzotzeres in the Beis Hamikdash!” To this Rabbi Akiva calmly answered, “Perhaps he was blowing the trumpet on Rosh Hashanah or on Yom Kippur of the yoveil year,” when the blowing of the trumpet could be performed even by a Yisroel and certainly by a blemished kohein. Rabbi Tarfon then replied, “You are correct! How fortunate are you, Avraham Avinu, that you produced a descendant, Akiva! Tarfon sees things and misunderstands them, whereas Akiva figures out what is the correct halacha! One who separates himself from you, Akiva, is separating himself from life!”

(Although Rabbi Akiva’s father was a geir tzedek, he was descended from Avraham Avinu on his mother’s side, since she was born of a Jewish family.)

Two mitzvos of shofar

Thus far we have been discussing the mitzvah of blowing the trumpets. There is also a different mitzvah of the Torah, or actually two, to blow the shofar, which is, of course, an animal horn. Most people are surprised to discover that the 613 mitzvos include two mitzvos of shofar. In addition to blowing shofar on Rosh Hashanah, there is a mitzvah to blow the shofar on Yom Kippur of the yoveil year, the fiftieth year of the calendar cycle. This is to fulfill what the Torah teaches in parshas Behar, Veha’avarta shofar teruah bachodesh hashevi’i be’asor lachodesh beyom hakippurim, “And you shall blow a staccato sound on the shofar in the seventh month on the tenth of the month – on Yom Kippur” (Vayikra 25:9).

This blowing of the shofar announces that the Jewish slave, the eved ivri, now goes free, and that the land returns to the ownership of its previous inhabitants. It is, of course, made famous to non-Jewish inhabitants of the United States by its use on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, where the end of this posuk in parshas Behar (Vayikra 25:10) is quoted, “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

The shofar is blown on Yom Kippur of the yoveil year the exact same way that it is blown on Rosh Hashanah (Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah Vayoveil 10:10-11). This mitzvah, which the Rambam counts as mitzvas aseih #137 and the Sefer Hachinuch counts as mitzvah #331, applies only when each sheivet of the Jewish people lives in Eretz Yisroel on its own land (Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah Vayoveil 10:8). The custom of blowing the shofar at the close of Yom Kippur is so that we remember the mitzvah of blowing shofar on Yom Kippur of the yoveil year.

Bell versus shofar

It is interesting that the founders of the American republic decided to proclaim liberty with a bell, albeit one that cracked the first time it was used, rather than with a shofar, as the Torah states. However, this does not mean that bells were never used in the Beis Hamikdash. As a matter of fact, a bell was used as part of the orchestra in the Beis Hamikdash (see Mishnah, Arachin 13a).

Trumpets with shofar

The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 26b) and Gemara (ibid. 27a) record that, in the Beis Hamikdash, the trumpets were accompanied by the shofar, and, vice versa, when there was a mitzvah to blow shofar, the trumpets accompanied the shofar. Whichever was the primary mitzvah on that day was blown in the middle, and the other instrument was blown alongside (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 26b). Thus, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur of the yoveil year, the shofar was in the middle with two trumpets, one on each side, whereas on a fast day, the trumpets were in the middle and two shofaros were blown, one on each side (Rashi ad locum).

This practice of blowing the shofar and the trumpets simultaneously is derived from the posuk in Tehillim (98:6): Bachatzotzaros vekol shofar heiri’u lifnei hamelech, Hashem, “With trumpets and the sound of the shofar, call out before The King, Hashem.” The Gemara explains that only “before The King,” that is, in the Beis Hamikdash, should one blow both trumpets and shofar at the same time. Outside the Beis Hamikdash, one should blow either a shofar or the trumpets, but they were never both blown on the same occasion (Rosh Hashanah 27a).

Celebration or fast?

All of this important discussion also serves as an introduction to the following. When the Rambam counts blowing the chatzotzeros as one of the 613 mitzvos, he includes as one mitzvah both blowing them on the festivals and blowing them during times of travail. Let me quote his words in the Sefer Hamitzvos:

Mitzvah #59 is that He commanded us to blow the trumpets in the Mikdash when we offer the korbanos on the festivals… Similarly, we are commanded to blow the trumpets during times of necessity and difficulty.” We see that the Rambam extends the Torah’s requirement to blow the trumpets when an enemy threatens to include any communal difficulty.

The Rambam explains the law at greater length in the Mishneh Torah, where he writes:

“One of the mitzvos of the Torah is to cry out and to blow the trumpets for any travail that comes on the community… whether it is drought, plague, locusts, or anything similar… This is one of the steps whereby one does teshuvah. When a difficulty occurs, they should cry out…. They must all realize that the difficulties are a result of their misdeeds… and that teshuvah is what will relieve the difficulty. However, should they not cry out nor blow the trumpets, and, instead, attribute the malady to happenstance and coincidence — this is a cruel way to live one’s life that causes one to entrench himself in his evil ways. This results in increased strife. This is precisely what the Torah describes when it refers to vahalachtem imi bakeri... The Rabbis extended this idea to include fasting on every malady that happens to the community, until Heaven has mercy. During these fast days, one cries out in prayer and beseeches and blows the trumpets. In the Beis Hamikdash, one also blows shofar… Blowing trumpets and shofar together take place only in the Beis Hamikdash…” (Rambam, Hilchos Taanis 1:1-4)

Thus, we see that the Rambam understands that the mitzvah of blowing trumpets is not simply a specific single act of blowing the horns, but it is a mitzvah used to create days which the community devotes to collective teshuvah.

Altogether, the Rambam counts three different mitzvos that involve sounding instruments: Blowing shofar on Rosh Hashanah, blowing shofar on yoveil, and blowing the trumpets on festivals and fast days.

The Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvos #137) explains why he counts the mitzvos of shofar as two separate mitzvos.  “It is known that this shofar blowing, which is in yoveil, is intended to publicize the freedom. It is a type of a declaration, as said, ‘And you shall call out freedom in the land to all the inhabitants of the designated land.’ And it is a different theme from the blowing on Rosh Hashanah, which is to provide a commemoration of ourselves before Hashem, whereas this one (of yoveil) is to free the slaves” (See Pri Megadim, Orach Chayim, Mishbetzos Zahav 576:2.)

One mitzvah or two?

A very basic question is raised by the primary commentary on the Rambam, the Magid Mishnah: Why does the Rambam count shofar as two mitzvos, one on Rosh Hashanah, and one in the yoveil year Yom Kippur, yet he counts the blowing of the trumpets for the festivals and for the fast days as one mitzvah? Several answers are provided to this question; I will share with you some of them:

Tooting a different mitzvah

The Maharam Shik, who wrote a book on the 613 mitzvos, explains that the Rambam, indeed, did not combine the two types of horn blowing as one mitzvah. Rather, the Rambam considered blowing trumpets as a detail that would be included as part of the laws of offering each korban. In other words, the offering of each type of korban is counted as a mitzvah of the Torah. However, the specific details and steps involved in offering each korban are not counted as separate mitzvos. Similarly, explains the Maharam Shik, blowing the trumpets to accompany the offerings is included as a detail in the offering of that particular korban, rather than as a separate mitzvah (Maharam Shik, Mitzvah #385).

A similar approach is suggested by a different commentary (Mirkeves Hamishneh, Hilchos Taanis 1:1), which explains that blowing the trumpet is not counted as a separate mitzvah but is included under the mitzvah that the levi is responsible for his tasks in the Mikdash, which includes also singing the psalms, guarding the Mikdash and opening the gates (see Rambam, Hilchos Klei Hamikdash 3:2).

These two approaches can be used to explain how a different rishon, the Semag, understood these mitzvos. When in parshas Beha’aloscha he quotes the mitzvah of blowing the trumpets, he limits it to the blowing that transpires when the offerings are brought on the festivals (Semag, Mitzvas Aseih #170). He counts as a separate mitzvah the levi’im carrying out their responsibility in the Mikdash, and includes the laws of their blowing of the trumpets there (Semag, Mitzvas Aseih #169). Furthermore, he counts a different mitzvas aseih (#17), which the Rambam does not, that might include the observance of days of public teshuvah. He defines mitzvas aseih #17 as a positive mitzvah of the Torah to recognize that everything that happens is divinely controlled, and to understand that when difficult situations arise it is Hashem’s admonition to us to return to Him. This would seemingly include the same mitzvah as the Rambam’s extended responsibility to the community that they cry out “rather than attribute the malady to happenstance and coincidence.”

Although we have rallied support for such an approach to the organization of these mitzvos, the Rambam himself did not explain the organization of the mitzvos this way, since he states very clearly that mitzvah #59 includes blowing the trumpets both for the festivals and for the fast days. Allow me to quote him again, “Mitzvah 59 is that He commanded us to blow the trumpets in the Mikdash when we offer the korbanos of the festivals… We are also commanded to blow the trumpets in times of difficulty and trouble, when we cry out to Hashem.” Thus, we see that the Rambam felt that these two aspects of trumpet blowing count as one mitzvah, notwithstanding his position that the two mitzvos of blowing shofar should be counted as two different mitzvos. Thus we revert to the Magid Mishnah’s question: Why did the Rambam count the two occasions that we blow shofar, Rosh Hashanah and yoveil, as two different mitzvos, yet he counted the two occasions that we blow the trumpets, for korbanos and in times of travail, as one?

Difference between shofar and trumpets

The Sefer Hachinuch explains that blowing the trumpets, whether to accompany the korbanos on the festivals or on the days of travail, has the same purpose: To get people to focus on why they are offering korbanos or fasting – they serve as a wake-up call.

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch explains that, notwithstanding the doubled letter tzadi, the root of the word chatzotzeres is the same as the word chatzeir, which means court or courtyard. The verb chatzeir means to form a court around oneself. The word chatzotzeres means an instrument whose purpose is to draw together people to form a court. Thus, the entire meaning of the Hebrew word for trumpet is its use to bring Klal Yisroel together. As we now understand, this function might be because it is a time of difficulty, but it might also be in a time of joy to celebrate as a community.  May Hashem help us come together to celebrate, as an entire community, ultimate happiness!

 

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.

 

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