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Blowing Shofar on Shabbat

In Mishnah Rosh HaShannah 4:1 we read,

יום טוב שלראש השנה שחל להיות בשבת, במקדש היו תוקעים אבל לא במדינה. משחרב בית המקדש התקין רבן יוחנן בן זכאי שיהו תוקעין בכל מקום שיש בו בית דין. אמר רבי אלעזר: לא התקין רבן יוחנן בן זכאי אלא ביבנה בלבד. אמרו לו: אחד יבנה ואחד כל מקום שיש בו בית דין

The festival day of the New Year which coincided with the Sabbath-in the Temple they would sound the shofar, but not in the provinces. When the Temple was destroyed, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai made the rule that they should sound the shofar in every locale in which there was a court. Said R. Eleazar, “Rabban Yohanan b. Zakkai made that rule only in the case of Yabneh alone.” They said to him, “All the same are Yabneh and every locale in which there is a court.”
(Neusner trans.)From this mishnah one can see that originally if Rosh HaShannah fell on Shabbat, originally it was only in the Temple that the shofar would be blown, while eventually it spread to every place in which there was a court. The next mishnah points out a difference between Jerusalem and Yabneh,

“And in this regard also was Jerusalem ahead of Yabneh; in every town which is within sight and sound [of Jerusalem], and nearby and was able to come up to Jerusalem, they sound the shofar. But as to Yabneh, they sound the shofar only in the court alone.” (4:2)

The opinion found in the Jerusalem Talmud and the 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 (jRosh 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 (bRosh HaShannah 29b).

Very little is known about the blowing of the shofar on Shabbat during the Amoraic period, but there is much to say about the post-Talmudic period. First there is the well-known tradition that the Rif apparently took the statement of the Mishnah that the Shofar may be blown on Shabbat “in every locale in which there was a court” literally and at his court the shofar was blown if Rosh haShannah fell on Shabbat (see e.g. Ritba on RH 29b s.v. אמרו לו, Rosh 4:1, and Ran on the Rif at the beginning of chapter 4 s.v. ונראה). While this tradition of the Rif is well-known, there is little evidence that I know of that other sages during the late medieval period were also of this opinion. What has become clear since the discovery of the Cairo Geniza is that in Jerusalem at the בית הועד, which was the place of the central court, sometime during the classical period of piyyut (ending in the 8th c.), the shofar was blown if Rosh HaShannah fell on Shabbat. A number of piyyutim have been discovered which describe the blowing of the shofar on Shabbat at the בית הועד (see Herr, p. 78, n. 82). A number of years ago Ezra Fleischer published one of these piyyutim which was unique in that it described a peculiar way in which the shofar was blown on Shabbat. The relevant part reads,

מלך הזהיר בועד/ שיהוא תוקעים בבית הועד/בשבת וראש השנה
מלך חיזקם בלימוד/שיהא שופר קשור לעמוד/בשבת וראש השנה

מלך רחש שלא יימשך ביד/אבל ינתן פה בו והוא מגוייד/ בשבת וראש השנה

From this piyyut we can learn the following: 1. the shofar was blown at beit hava’ad; 2. the shofar was tied to a column, “שיהא שופר קשור לעמוד”; and 3. no one was allowed to touch the shofar with their hands, only with their mouth. Numerous interpretations of this strange way of blowing the shofar have been given with David Henshke of the opinion that the source of this peculiar arrangement came about because of an uncertainty regarding the status of the court at that time and whether its status was enough to permit the blowing of the shofar on Shabbat.In the modern period there was an attempt by R. Akiba Yosef Schlesinger to institute the blowing of the shofar in the Old City of Jerusalem if Rosh HaShannah fell on Shabbat. R. Schlesinger published a pamphlet in 1881 and a number of articles in the journal Tel Talpiot in 1904/5 arguing that it was permitted to blow the shofar on Shabbat in certain places in the Old City. There was some disagreement as to whether any of the leading rabbinic figures at the time agreed with his opinion and a story even circulated that R. Schlesinger closed the windows and doors of his house and blew the shofar on Shabbat (see Zevin and Tukichinsky for details of this very interesting episode). Updated bibliography thanks to Mordechai and Dan.

Shannah Tovah uMetukah.

Sources: Ezra Fleischer, “Piyyut al Sidrei haTekiyah beShofar beEretz Yisrael beRosh HaShannah veShabbat”, Tarbitz 54, 61-66; Avraham Goldberg, “Yomayim Rosh HaShannah beEI uBitul haTekiot behag sheHal beShabbat”, Mahanayyim 73 (here); David Henshke, “Tekiat Shofar beShabbat”, Sidra 8, 19-37; M.D. Herr, “Inyanei Halakhah beEretz Yisrael beMeah haShishit vehaShevi’it leSefirat haNotzrim”, Tarbitz 49, 62-80; Betzalel Landy, The Controversy About Blowing Shofar on Shabbat in Jerusalem, Yeshurun no. 1, 433-440; R. Shlomo Sprecher, Additions to the above article in Yeshurun, in the same vol., 441-443; Yosef Tabory, Moadei Yisrael BeTekufat haMishnah vehaTalmud, pp. 249-252, see literature cited in n. 129; Yehiel Michael Tukichinsky, Ir HaKodesh vehaMikdash, vol. 3, p. 283 ff. (thanks to here for this reference); Shlomo Yosef Zevin, HaMoadim BeHalakhah.

4 Responses to “Blowing Shofar on Shabbat”

  1. 1

    the shofar was tied to a column, “שיהא שופר קשור לעמוד”;

    is this brought anywhere else?

  2. 2
    Shofar on Shabbat Redux « Menachem Mendel:

    […] here for a previous post about blowing the Shofar on Shabbat and this post from Seforim and this article […]

  3. 3
    Menachem Mendel:


    I don’t know of anywhere else which mentions the shofar being tied to a column.

  4. 4
    Menachem Mendel:

    Very good post. But, you should add to your source list Betzalel Landy, The controversy about blowing Shofar on Shabbat in Jerusalem, Yeshurun no. 1 433-440; R. Shlomo Sprecher, Additions to the above article, in the same vol. 441-443 where he also discusses Fleischer’s publication. Again R. Fruend republished all this in his Mo’adim l’Simcha – some with attribution and some without.
    Dan Rabinowitz | Homepage | 09.15.06 – 8:22 am | #

    Yashar koach! Prof. Shnayer Leiman gave a shiur last shabbat about this topic and imagined how might have Rav Schlesinger acted had he known of the article which Prof. Fleischer would later publish. However, Prof. Leiman then mentioned that Ba’al ha-Maor to Mes. Rosh Hashanah (see ___) notes that the yoma arichta of Rosh Hashanah began in the 12th century… and the Fleischer article was from a 9th/11th century text….
    Menachem Butler | Homepage | 09.20.06 – 12:04 pm | #

    How did he see the role of yoma arichta in the whole question of blowing shofar on shabbat? Avraham Goldberg sees the question influenced by there being two days of RH in the Land of Israel.
    Menachem Mendel | Homepage | 09.20.06 – 8:15 pm | #

    Take a look at today’s Hebrew Haaretz. Apparently the shofar was sounded in Shabbat in the Old City by a group associated with Steinsaltz’s “sanhedrin”. Menachem, you always were a prophetic fellow.
    G’mar hatima tova.
    m | 09.27.06 – 2:08 pm | #




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