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!




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.