The Shofar On Shabbos
‘Rosh Hashanah That Fell on Shabbos’
(Rosh Hashanah 29b)
According to Torah law, shofar must be blown even when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbos. However, fearing that a person might accidentally carry if he had to blow shofar on Shabbos, our Sages decreed that it should not be blown on that day.
The Gemara suggests that, even according to Torah law, shofar should not be blown on Shabbos. Although our Gemara rejects this suggestion, the Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashanah 4:1) and Toras Kohanim seem to accept it.
In the Beis Hamikdash a shofar was blown even when Rosh Hashanah occurred on Shabbos. After the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai instituted that shofar be blown in every beis din on Shabbos. The Sages of the beis din would ensure that the shofar not be carried.
Beis Din: The Unbroken Chain
The Rambam (Hilchos Shofar 2:9) writes that shofar is blown on Shabbos only in a beis din consisting of Sages that received their ordination in an unbroken chain from Moshe Rabbeinu. But this semicha was discontinued long ago. (Today’s semicha is simply a document in which a rabbi certifies that someone is knowledgeable in halacha and capable of offering halachic rulings.) According to the Rambam, therefore, shofar should not be blown on Shabbos in contemporary batei din.
Beis Din: Supremely Prominent
The Rif, on the other hand, maintained that any beis din “which is supremely prominent in its generation” should have shofar blown in its precincts on RoshHashanah that falls on Shabbos. The Rishonim note that the Rif himself had shofar blown in his own beis midrash on Shabbos since he was unquestionably the preeminent Torah authority of his times (see introduction to Milchamos Hashem, by the Ramban). However, even the Rif’s closest students did not accept their teacher’s ruling (Rosh 1). The Ritva writes: “We have not seen this practice followed in any community of Israel.”
Raising A Storm: A Controversial Ruling
Yet, Rabbeinu Mano’ach (Shofar 2:3) writes that in Damascus this practice was followed. Rabbi Akiva Yosef Shlezinger, zt”l (1838-1922), author of Lev Ha’Ivri, lived in Yerushalayim and raised a storm of controversy when he ruled that shofar should be blown on Shabbos in Yerushalayim (Mikra’ei Kodesh, Yomim Noraim 32).
He based this ruling on a number of points. First, the Rif maintains that the preeminent beis din should have the shofar blown in its precincts on Shabbos. Second, some Rishonim believe that the shofar should be blown in Yerushalayim even outside of beis din (see Tosafos, s.v. Aval; Acharonim, however, interpret Tosefos differently). Third, he cites the Rambam’s opinion that, although the chain of semicha from Moshe Rabbeinu was broken, it can be reinstated if all the Sages of Eretz Yisroel gather to appoint a beis din. In total, he cites 15 different points to support his conclusion that shofar can be blown in a prestigious beis din in Yerushalayim, even today.
In the year 1870, when Rabbi Shlezinger arrived in Yerushalayim, he presented his opinion before Rabbi Meir Auerbach of Kalish zt”l (1815-1878), author of Imrei Bina, who firmly rejected it. Years later, he again presented his ruling, this time before the Maharil Diskin zt”l (1818-1898), who also rejected it. The Maharil Diskin explained that in our times, we do not have a beis din with the same renown as that of the Rif. Therefore, even the Rif would forbid blowing shofar on Shabbos.
In 1905 and 1906, RoshHashanah occurred on Shabbos, and Rabbi Shlezinger published several halachic essays and treatises, attempting to advance his proposition. He engaged in halachic discussions with the author of the Aderes and the author of Yisa Beracha, but he was unsuccessful in convincing the community to accept his ruling.
About the Author: RABBI YAAKOV KLASS, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. RABBI GERSHON TANNENBAUM, rav of Congregation Bnai Israel of Linden Heights, Boro Park, Brooklyn, is the Director of Igud HaRabbanim – The Rabbinical Alliance of America.
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