Eating Before Tekiyot

  • Harav Yehuda Amital
VBM Torah Studies - Special Holiday Shiur

The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Special Holiday Shiur by the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion


              Eating Before Hearing the Shofar
          Based on a shiur by Harav Yehuda Amital
                Translated by Zev Jacobson

	In many communities there is a custom to make kiddush and 
have something to eat before hearing teki'at shofar (the 
blowing of the shofar) on Rosh Ha-shana. In this article we 
will discuss the above practice and its permissibility.

	In Shut Hitorerut Teshuva, R. Shimon Sofer (the Av Beit 
Din of Erlau and son of the Ketav Sofer) discusses whether it 
is permitted to eat at all before hearing teki'at shofar on 
Rosh Ha-shana. He notes that many people are lenient in this 
regard despite the fact that on Sukkot, for example, it is 
forbidden to eat until the mitzva of taking the four species 
has been fulfilled (see Sukka 38a and Shulchan Arukh OC 
652:2). He concludes that there is no suggestion whatsoever in 
either the gemara or the later halakhic authorities to forbid 
such a practice, though the prohibition does apply in relation 
to eating before taking the lulav on Sukkot, davening mincha, 
saying the Shema (Shabbat 9b; Shulchan Arukh OC 231), reading 
the Megilla on Purim, lighting the Chanuka candles, etc. 

	Why is there a difference between teki'at shofar, where 
it is permitted to eat before performing the mitzva, and all 
the other examples mentioned above, where it is forbidden? R. 
Sofer suggests two possible reasons:
1. In general it is forbidden to eat before performing a time-
bound commandment, since we are concerned that one will become 
so involved in his meal that he will inadvertently miss out on 
the mitzva. However, this concern does not exist on Rosh Ha-
shana because a Jew is overcome by the awe and fear of the Day 
of Judgment (eimat ha-din) and he will certainly not forget to 
fulfill his obligation of teki'at shofar. (Based on this 
reasoning, it should be permitted to read by the light of a 
candle on Yom Kippur. Even though one is forbidden from doing 
so on Shabbat, out of fear that he will tilt the candle and 
cause it to burn brighter, on Yom Kippur when one is suffused 
with eimat ha-din, he will not inadvertently transgress the 
prohibition.)
2. In the times when Rosh Chodesh was proclaimed by the 
Sanhedrin based on the sighting of the new moon, they would 
wait until the witnesses' testimony had been accepted and Rosh 
Ha-shana proclaimed before blowing the shofar. According to 
the gemara (Rosh Ha-shana 30b), this once occurred very late 
in the afternoon, and in fact, very often, they would wait 
most of the day before the shofar was blown. This being the 
case, it is understandable why it was not forbidden to eat 
before hearing the teki'ot. Surely the people could not be 
expected to fast an entire day before fulfilling the mitzva of 
hearing the shofar. Thus, even today when this problem does 
not exist, we are still permitted to eat before teki'at 
shofar.

	The second reason is somewhat forced. However, there 
appears to be a basis for the first reason (eimat ha-din) as 
will be explained presently.

	Contrary to the opinion of R. Sofer, there indeed seems 
to be a basis to forbid eating before hearing teki'at ha-
shofar on Rosh Ha-shana. The Magen Avraham (OC 692:7) quotes a 
Tosefta (Shabbat 1:4) which states: "Just as one must 
interrupt his meal in order to say Keri'at Shema (MAFSIKIM le-
Keri'at Shema), so too he must interrupt for the mitzva of 
reading the Megilla ... for teki'at shofar, netillat lulav and 
all the mitzvot which are mentioned in the Torah." The Tosefta 
does not differentiate between netillat lulav and teki'at 
shofar with regard to interrupting the meal in order to 
fulfill one's obligations. How much more so should it be 
forbidden to actually BEGIN a meal when one has not yet 
fulfilled the mitzvot of the day!

	However, it is not self-evident that such a conclusion 
may be drawn and it behooves us to carefully examine the law 
of "mafsikim le-Keri'at Shema" which is applied by the Tosefta 
to the mitzva of teki'at shofar. Careful attention must be 
paid to the term "mafsikim" - WHICH activities must one 
interrupt? 

	The Mishna in Shabbat (9b) states: "One may not sit down 
to have a haircut when the time for Mincha is approaching; 
rather, he should pray first ... However, if he began [his 
haircut], he is not required to interrupt what he is doing in 
order to pray. One must interrupt [mafsikin] in order to say 
Keri'at Shema, but it is unnecessary to do so to pray the 
Amida." There is an apparent repetition in the mishna which is 
questioned by the gemara (11a). In the first part of the 
mishna (reisha), we are told that one need not interrupt his 
haircut in order to pray and in the second part (seifa), we 
are told the exact same halakha. The gemara explains that 
while the reisha relates to one who is taking a HAIRCUT, the 
seifa deals with a different case and refers to one who is 
engrossed in LEARNING when the time for Mincha approaches. He 
need not interrupt his studies to pray (and can say the Amida 
at a later time). 

	Thus, the mishna teaches that one who is involved in 
learning must, nevertheless, interrupt his studies in order to 
say the Shema. It would make sense that this halakha should 
apply to one who is eating or engaged in work. He, too, must 
interrupt his activities in order to fulfill the obligation of 
Keri'at Shema.

	However, the Rambam in his commentary on the mishna 
explains that although one is required to interrupt his 
studies in order to say the Shema, he may CONTINUE to take a 
haircut, bathe or eat - even though the time of Keri'at Shema 
has arrived. 

	The Ba'al Ha-maor interprets the mishna in a novel way 
and differentiates between a scenario when there is enough 
time to both complete what one is doing and fulfill the 
upcoming mitzva, and a case where one must choose between one 
or the other. In the former, one may continue what he is doing 
(be it learning or merely eating) and say the Amida when he 
has finished. In the latter, however, he may forfeit prayer in 
order to continue studying, but prayer takes priority over 
eating. 

	Thus, according to both the Rambam and the Ba'al Ha-maor, 
one may continue EATING if there is time to say Keri'at Shema 
afterwards. Nonetheless, he is required to interrupt his 
LEARNING in order to say the Shema - even though he will have 
ample opportunity to fulfill his obligation once he has 
completed his studies.

	In a similar vein, the gemara explains the mishna in 
Sukka (38a) that one is required to interrupt his meal in 
order to shake the lulav as applying ONLY if he will otherwise 
forfeit the mitzva. If, however, he will have time to take the 
arba minim AFTER he has completed the meal, he is entitled to 
continue eating.   

	Based on the explanations of the Rambam and the Ba'al Ha-
maor, the term "mafsikim" does not refer to interrupting one's 
MEAL, but rather to taking a break from one's STUDIES in order 
to perform another mitzva. Thus, the Tosefta quoted above 
takes on a new meaning: just as one is required to interrupt 
his LEARNING in order to say the Shema, so too he is required 
to interrupt his LEARNING in order to fulfill the mitzva of 
reading the Megilla, teki'at shofar, netillat lulav "and all 
the mitzvot which are mentioned in the Torah."  Nevertheless, 
one would not be required to interrupt EATING for these 
mitzvot (assuming that he will be able to properly discharge 
his obligations once he has completed the meal). Thus, one may 
continue his meal and blow the shofar thereafter.

	However, from the Tosefta we learn only that one need not 
INTERRUPT a meal that was previously begun in order to fulfill 
the mitzva of teki'at shofar. If one has not STARTED the meal 
yet, it should be FORBIDDEN to do so until he has heard the 
teki'ot, just as it is forbidden to BEGIN a meal if one has 
not yet shaken the lulav. Assuming, though, that one may not 
begin eating because we are concerned that he may forget 
entirely to perform the mitzva, we can distinguish between 
netillat lulav and teki'at shofar (based on R. Sofer's 
opinion): on Rosh Ha-shana, one is suffused with eimat ha-din 
and will not be negligent in hearing the shofar blasts; 
whereas on Sukkot there is a real concern that he will miss 
out on the mitzva altogether.

	However, there is another option to explain the 
difference between netillat lulav and teki'at shofar. The 
Shulchan Arukh (OC 652:2) rules that one may not eat before 
fulfilling the mitzva of arba minim. The Mishna Berura cites 
the Chayyei Adam who claims that it is forbidden only to eat a 
MEAL before shaking the lulav. According to the strict letter 
of the law, though, one is permitted to have a snack (te'ima 
be-alma). Nonetheless, one is prohibited from doing so other 
than in a case of great need (tzorekh gadol). Rav Sternbuch 
(Mo'adim u-Zemanim, 4) applies the principle of the Chayyei 
Adam in the following manner: since it is forbidden to fast on 
Rosh Ha-shana and one is required to eat before chatzot 
(halakhic noon), it is considered tzorekh gadol to have a 
snack before teki'ot (as Musaf usually finishes well after 
this time). Furthermore, there is a commandment of enjoyment 
(simchat Yom Tov) on Rosh Ha-shana (Shulchan Arukh OC 693:1), 
which precludes fasting for so long.

	It is possible that if one has not yet fulfilled the 
mitzva of netillat lulav, he is forbidden to eat only UNTIL 
chatzot. Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Mikra'ei Kodesh, Yamim 
HaNora'im, 29) quotes the ruling of the Hagahot Maimoniyot 
that if one does not have wine for kiddush on Shabbat morning, 
he should eat without making kiddush, since it is forbidden to 
fast past chatzot on Shabbat. Therefore, if one is unable to 
obtain a lulav BEFORE chatzot, he should nevertheless eat, as 
it is forbidden to fast on Yom Tov. The Sha'arei Teshuva (OC 
692:4) writes that since it is a relatively common occurrence 
to finish praying late on Rosh Ha-shana, if one does not have 
a shofar he should refrain from eating until just before 
chatzot. Rav Frank therefore concludes that there is room to 
be lenient with regards to eating before teki'at shofar, since 
we usually reach teki'at shofar long after chatzot.

	It seems clear then, that one is permitted to snack 
before teki'at shofar. What is the dividing line between a 
snack and a full-blown meal? The Shulchan Arukh rules with 
regards to the laws of berakhot that a meal (kevi'at se'uda) 
is 4 beitzim or more. Anything less than this amount is 
considered to be merely a snack. However, the Vilna Gaon (in 
Hilkhot Eiruvin) claims that we learn from the Omer offering 
that 43.2 beitzim constitute enough for two meals; thus, the 
amount required for a se'uda is quite large: over 21 beitzim.

	To summarize: the halakhic authorities do not mention 
that it is prohibited to eat prior to hearing the shofar. It 
is quite reasonable to distinguish between eating before lulav 
and eating before shofar on the basis of the idea that the awe 
of judgment will prevent one from forgetting to hear shofar. 
Although the Tosefta seems to imply that there is, in fact, a 
prohibition of eating before shofar, our understanding of the 
Tosefta depends on our understanding of the mishna in Shabbat 
(9b). In any case, even if one wants to draw a parallel 
between lulav and shofar and thereby to prohibit taking a meal 
prior to shofar blowing, it is reasonable to permit snacking 
so as to avoid fasting for more than half the day (and thereby 
marring our enjoyment of the holiday).

	Although many people rely on the ruling permitting eating 
before teki'ot on Rosh Ha-shana, there are those who are 
particular not even to snack before discharging their 
obligation. R. Akiva Eiger rules that if it is absolutely 
indispensable that people eat (e.g. in a time of plague), it 
is preferable to eat between the first set of teki'ot (teki'ot 
de-meyushav) and second set (teki'ot de-me'umad) rather than 
eating before hearing any teki'ot.

	[In our yeshiva, we make kiddush and eat a snack 
(mezonot) before blowing the shofar. Others take a drink of 
water before davening to alleviate the prohibition of fasting 
until midday. - M.F.]

[This shiur was delivered in Elul 5747.]




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