Shabbat and Shofar: Initiation of Rabbinic Independence
Shabbat and Shofar: Initiation of Rabbinic Independence
Arthur L. Finkle
However, on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, usually the first new moon in September), the Priests sounded two Shofars and one Trumpet. (See Chofetz Chaim, Mishnah Berurah 586 et seq.) Another differing source indicates that, although normally the trumpet plays the long notes and a Shofar sounds the short notes. On Rosh Hashanah, however, the trumpet takes the short notes; the Shofar, long notes. See Rosh Hashanah 33b. Either way, the Shofar accompanied the special sacrifices on Rosh Hashanah, the holiday designated as "Yom Teruah" ("A day of blowing"; Num. 29:1). The Shofar also proclaimed the Jubilee Year on Yom Kippur (Lev. 25:9–10). The special year freed property to its original owners, forgave debts and gave freedom to slaves, among other things.
Indeed, the Temple service provided Shofar sounds on the Sabbath, itself. There was within the temple an inscription on the lintel of the wall at the top of the Temple that said, "To the house of the blowing of the trumpet (Shofar)". Each Sabbath 2 men with silver trumpets and a man with a Shofar made three trumpet blasts twice during the day. On Rosh haShanah, this was different. The Shofar is the primary trumpet. According to Leviticus 23:24 and Numbers 29, Rosh HaShanah is the day of the blowing of the trumpets. The original name is Yom (Day) Teruah (The staccato sound of the horn, which also means “Shout”). According to the Mishnah (Rosh HaShanah 16a, 3:3), the trumpet used for this purpose is the ram's horn, not trumpets made of metal as in Numbers 10. On Rosh HaShanah, a Shofar delivers the first blast, a silver trumpet the second, and then the Shofar the third.
http://www.Shofars.org/theShofararticle.htm. Accessed March 1, 2010.
Subsequent Rabbinic Prohibition of Sounding Shofar on the Sabbath
However, the Midshnah makes clear that , prior to the destruction of the Temple, the Shofar was sounded on Rosh Hashsnah from in the Temple. Rosh HaShanah Mishnah 4:1; 4:2
After the destruction of the Temple, Yochanan ben Zakkai substituted the Shofar to be played first in Jerusalem; then he enlarged to the area to Jerusalem and its environs; then in Jamnia (where the Rabbi’s were situated immediately after the Temple’s destruction. Thereafter the Rabbi’s enlarged the areas to cover those area on Judea that had Jewish courts, which bespoke a population at oeast 120 people. RH 4:1 and notes from Yad Avraham.
• As time passed, the further away from the rituals of the Temple practice and the predominance of the Rabbi’s, the practice came to be that the Shofar was not sounded on the Shabbat. It was later codified in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 588:5, Taz, Mishna Brurah 13; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 143:1 ; Ran to Tractate Rosh Hashana ch. 4; and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 135:14
Indeed, we look to the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch 588:4) and we see:
When the festival of Rosh HaShanah fall on Shabbos, the Shofar is not sounded. Sounding the Shofar is not a forbidden labor; it is forbidden [because ] it is considered mundane activity which can lead to a mundane assembly which is forbidden on the Sabbath.
The Rabbi Sholom Dovber ("Rebbe Rashab" -1860-1920) clears this up when he staters athat the ban of sounding is Rabbinic; not Biblical. But the ban is due to Rabbah’s Decree. In another Chasidic interpretation is that the Sabbath takes on a spiritual glory and does not need another spiritual glory to carry the day. But, on other days, the Shofar sounds provide this spiritual glory; which otherwise is lost after the Sabbath.
After the Temple was destroyed, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai established that they would blow in every place in which there is a Rabbinic court." (Rosh Hashanah 4:1)
The first statement of the Mishnah is puzzling. If blowing Shofar is melakhah (the category of work forbidden on the Sabbath), then why is it not forbidden inside the Temple? And if blowing Shofar is not melakhah, why would it be forbidden outside of the Temple? Clearly, any solution to this problem will need some other kind of understanding of blowing Shofar.
Nevertheless, the Gemara (the commentary/interpretation of the Mishnah by the sages of the 3rd-6th centuries CE) continues:
"From where in the Torah does this law come? Said R. Levi bar Lachma said R. Hama bar Haninah: One verse says "a day of complete rest commemorated with the blowing of the Shofar"(Leviticus 23:24), and one verse says "it will be for you a day of blowing the Shofar"(Numbers 29:1). There is no problem. The [first] one is when the festival occurs on Shabbat. The [second] one is when the festival occurs on a weekday" (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 29b).
The Gemara asks a typical question: What is the biblical basis for the law that one does not blow the Shofar on Shabbat outside of the Temple? R. Hama bar Haninah is quoted, providing a clever reading of the Torah. Since the rabbis assume that the Torah is perfect, and perfection implies that no words are wasted, the two verses quoted above from Leviticus and Numbers, which appear to say the same thing, cannot, indeed, be saying the same thing. According to Hama bar Haninah, the verse from Leviticus which uses the language שבתון זכרון תרועה--shabbaton zikhron teru’ah (a day of complete rest commemorated with the blowing of the Shofar)--should be understood as “on the Shabbat, a remembrance of the blowing,” or as Rashi explains, “and not a real blowing; rather, they recite verses about the blowing of Shofar.” This is a very clever reading of the verse from Leviticus.
Basically, R. Hama bar Haninah’s approach is that, based on a midrash on the Torah, blowing Shofar is permitted on weekdays, but forbidden on the Sabbath. But, as the Gemara asks next:
“Said Rava: If it [i.e. the prohibition to blow Shofar on shabbat] is based on the Torah, how did we blow Shofar in the Temple?…”
Of course we knew this. At our first look at the Mishnah, we knew that any approach that argued that blowing Shofar was strictly forbidden on the Sabbath would not explain the Mishnah; if Shofar-blowing is forbidden on the Sabbath, how were they permitted to blow Shofar in the Temple. As clever as R. Hama bar Hanina’s reading is, it is inadequate to the task of explaining the Mishnah. So why did the Gemara even include his midrash if it was so plainly and obviously incorrect?
The answer to this question reveals one of the underlying truths of rabbinic Judaism. More important than the conclusion is the process. The message of the Gemara is not that a correct understanding is irrelevant, or that there aren’t correct (and incorrect) understandings; to the contrary, careful thinking and evidence-based argument are crucial. But they are not as important as allowing diverse views to be expressed. When we examine and discuss the logic of the Mishnah, we make sure that diverse opinions, divergent opinions, and even clearly false opinions are given voice. To shut off the creativity of a Hama bar Haninah in this case might indicate that all that matters is the final word. To indulge that creativity, even when it is clearly wrong, sets the opposite precedent, and encourages creative thinkers to take intellectual risks for the sake of Torah. If the conversation of Torah she’b’al peh--"Oral Law"--is to proceed, we must foster and encourage our risk-takers.
Rava does end up revealing how the Mishnah makes sense. Rava quotes his teacher Rabbah, who argues that the prohibition against blowing Shofar outside of the Temple was a rabbinic prohibition (and not a biblical prohibition, as Hama bar Haninah argued), which simply did not apply to the Temple.
The Talmud now turns to the second part of the Mishnah: “After the Temple was destroyed, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai established that they would blow in every place in which there is a Rabbinic court.” The Mishnah’s language “established” is bland and undramatic. The Talmud fills in the details:
Rabbah’s Decree includes three classic cases where Rabbah rules that a particular
mitzvah must be postponed or cancelled due to the concern that the mitzvah implement might be inadvertently carried on Shabbos.
• Taking a lulav on the first day of Sukkos,
• Blowing Shofar on the first day of Rosh Hashana (Rosh Hashana 29a)
• Reading of Megillas Esther (Megilla 4b).
In each case, the Gemara mentions that Rabbah made his ruling not only
in the case being discussed, but in the other two cases, as well.
The opinion found in the Jerusalem Talmud and the subsequent Sifra is that blowing a Shofar on Shabbat is a Biblical prohibition which received a special dispensation to be blown in the Temple on Shabbat (Rosh HaShannah 4:1) On the other hand, in the Babylonian Talmud blowing a Shofar is interpreted as only a rabbinic prohibition and outside of the Temple it was prohibited lest one carry it more than four amot in the public domain (Rosh HaShannah 29b).
Indeed, the Sages are empowered to "overrule" a Torah precept (if their instruction involves restraint from action, not a proactive violation of a biblical command).See See Talmud Yevamot 89b-90b. This authority is subject to many limitations. For example, the Sages can only use this power in order to preserve another Torah statute (as in our case, the Torah prohibition against carrying in the public domain on Shabbat.
Our obligation to follow such directives is implicit in the verse,8 "And you shall do according to the word they tell you, from the place that G d will choose, and you shall observe to do according to all they instruct you." Although, It should be noted that the Jerusalem Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 4:1) maintains that the original biblical command to sound the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah only applied to when Rosh Hashanah falls on a weekday
In a further emendation, the Alter Rebbe’s accents the prohibition of the mundane activity to buttress the argument that one should not carry rather than the other way around.
Halakhah (Jewish Law) rules that the Shofar may not be sounded on the Sabbath due to the potential that the Ba'al T'kiyah (Shofar Sounder) may inadvertently carry it, which is in a class of forbidden Sabbath work. (R.H. 29b)
One can not blow the Shofar on Shabbat because of temptation to carry more than four cubits in a public domain [thus, breaking the prohibition of carrying on the Sabbath.] Mishnah Berurah, 588:5
The historical explanation is that in ancient Israel, the Shofar was sounded in the Temple on the Sabbath as were other sacrifices and musical instruments.