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The Mitzvah of Teki'at Shofar

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Sep 13, 2006
One of the central themes of Rosh HaShanah is the mitzvah of teki'at shofar. This article will give an overview of the mitzvah and explain the function of the various shofar blasts throughout the Rosh HaShanah liturgy.

The One-Hundred Shofar Blasts
The Torah mentions the word "teru'ah" three times in the context of Rosh HaShanah (Vayikra 23:24, 25:9, and Bamidbar 29:1). The Beraita (cited in Rosh HaShanah 33b) derives from these verses that the mitzvah of teki'at shofar requires that there are three sets of teru'ah blasts. The Beraita then derives from the root "avar," to pass (v'ha'avarta and ta'aviru), mentioned twice in reference to the teru'ah, that each teru'ah is accompanied by a teki'ah prior to it and a teki'ah subsequent to it. Therefore the biblical requirement is fulfilled by blowing three sets of teki'ah-teru'ah-teki'ah.

However, the Gemara notes that there are two traditions among the Tannaim as to what a teru'ah sound like. One opinion is that it is three truncated blasts, what is commonly known as shevarim. Another opinion is that it is nine staccato blasts, what is commonly known as teru'ah. The Gemara, 34a, then states that since there is a doubt as to whether one fulfills the requirement by blowing teki'ah-shevarim-teki'ah, or teki'ah-teru'ah-teki'ah, or teki'ah-shevarim-teru'ah-teki'ah, R. Avahu instituted that one should blow all three sets three times. This accounts for the first thirty shofar blasts.

The next set of shofar blasts is part of the Amidah of the Mussaf prayer. The Gemara, Rosh HaShanah 16a, states that these teki'ot were instituted in addition to the first set "in order to confuse the Satan." The original institution was to blow one set of teki'ah-teru'ah-teki'ah in each of the three berachot that are added to the Amidah of Mussaf (Malchiyot, Zichronot and Shofarot).

At the time of the original institution, there was, ostensibly, only one tradition regarding the sound of the teru'ah. However, now that teki'ah-teru'ah-teki'ah translates into teki'ah-shevarim-teki'ah, teki'ah-teru'ah-teki'ah, and teki'ah-shevarim-teru'ah-teki'ah for the teki'ot that fulfill the biblical requirement, one can question whether the same should apply to the teki'ot of the Amidah which are only rabbinic in nature.

There are three basic opinions in the Rishonim regarding this question. First, Rif, Rosh HaShana 10b, and Rambam, Hilchot Shofar 3:10-12, are of the opinion that for Malchiyot, one blows teki'ah-shevarim-teru'ah-teki'ah, for Zichronotteki'ah-shevarim-teki'ah and for Shofarotteki'ah-teru'ah-teki'ah. They explain that in principle, one should blow all three sets for each of the berachot. However, since the biblical mitzvah is already fulfilled, there is no need to overburden the congregation with additional shofar blasts. Rif notes that this has been common practice for many years. Second, Aruch, Erech Arav, rules that teki'ah-shevarim-teki'ah, teki'ah-teru'ah-teki'ah, and teki'ah-shevarim-teru'ah-teki'ah are blown for each of the three berachot. Third, Rabbeinu Tam (cited in Tosafot, Rosh HaShanah 33b, s.v. Shiur) states that the opinion of Rif and Rambam cannot be correct because by blowing a different set of teki'ot for each beracha, one is guaranteed not to fulfill mitzvah properly according to any opinion. However, Rabbeinu Tam was reluctant to drastically change the ancient minhag. He therefore instituted that teki'ah-shevarim-teru'ah-teki'ah is blown for each of the berachot since it encompasses all three sets. [The Gemara explicitly states that one cannot merely blow teki'ah-shevarim-teru'ah-teki'ah and have that encompass all three. Rabbeinu Tam asserts that one may do this for the rabbinically instituted teki'ot.]

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 692:1, follows the opinion of Rambam and Rif. However, instead of one set of teki'ah-shevarim-teru'ah-teki'ah for Malchiyot, he rules to do three sets of teki'ah-shevarim-teru'ah-teki'ah. He also rules that the teki'ah-shevarim-teki'ah for Zichronot should be repeated three times and the same for Shofarot. Rama, Orach Chaim, ad loc., notes that common practice in Ashkenazi circles is to follow the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam. However, R. Efraim Z. Margulies Mateh Efraim 692:11, states that common practice is to follow the opinion of Aruch and blow a set each for each of the berachot. He adds that after the conclusion of chazarat hashatz, Kaddish is recited until Titkabel, where three additional sets of each are blown. After the conclusion of Kaddish, another set of each is blown in order that the total number of blasts equals one-hundred.

An Analysis of the Opinions
R. Ovadia Yosef, Yabia Omer, Orach Chaim 1:36, suggests that the dispute between Rif and Rabbeinu Tam (and Aruch) is contingent on a comment of R. Hai Gaon (cited in Rabbeinu Asher, Rosh HaShanah 4:10). R. Hai Gaon states that the teki'ah-shevarim-teki'ah, the teki'ah-teru'ah-teki'ah, and the teki'ah-shevarim-teru'ah-teki'ah are not the result of a bona-fide doubt as to what is the authentic teru'ah mentioned in the Torah. Rather, each one is a valid representation of the teru'ah and one can fulfill the mitzvah with any of them. Over time, these three versions became widespread and R. Avahu felt that it is important to maintain uniformity. For this reason he instituted that all three versions should be blown when fulfilling the mitzvah of teki'at shofar.

R. Yosef notes that R. Hai Gaon's statement can explain the opinion of Rif who rules to blow a different set for each of the berachot. According to R. Hai Gaon, this is justifiable as each of the versions is correct. However, Rabbeinu Tam (and Aruch) disagrees with R. Hai Gaon and maintains that each of the versions is a result of a bona-fide doubt. Accordingly, Rabbeinu Tam asserts that if one follows the opinion of Rif, he is assured not to fulfill the mitzvah properly.

R. Yosef notes that the question of whether each version is correct or whether the three versions are a result of doubt is relevant to the question of whether it is permissible to recite the "yehi ratzon" prayer between the sets of the main teki'ot. As a general rule, if one recites a beracha on performance of a mitzvah and then speaks about something that is not directly related to the performance of the mitzvah, it is considered a hefsek (an interruption) and he must recite a new beracha. If he already started the mitzvah but did not complete it, it is not considered a hefsek (see Rif, Rosh HaShanah 11a). The prayer of "yehi ratzon" is not necessary for the fulfillment of the mitzvah of teki'at shofar. Therefore, if one considers each version a correct version, one may recite the prayer of "yehi ratzon" between the set of teki'ah-shevarim-teru'ah-teki'ah and the set of teki'ah-shevarim-teki'ah, as the mitzvah is considered to have commenced. However, if the three versions are a function of doubt, it is possible that after the entire set of teki'ah-shevarim-teru'ah-teki'ah, one has not yet fulfilled the mitzvah and the recitation of the "yehi ratzon" prayer would constitute a hefsek. R. Yosef concludes that since common practice is to follow the opinion of Aruch and to blow one set of each for all three of the berachot of the Mussaf Amidah, it is clear that we consider the three versions to be the function of a doubt and the recitation of "yehi ratzon" should be considered a hefsek.

The publication of R. Yosef's responsum prompted a series of exchanges between R. Yosef and R. Yosef S. Elyashiv (these letters can be found in Yabia Omer, Orach Chaim 3:32-34). R. Elyashiv claims even if one accepts that the three versions are the function of a doubt, one should not consider the "yehi ratzon" a hefsek for three reasons. First, R. Moshe Ben Yosef Trani (Mabit), Kiryat Sefer, Hilchot Shofar 3:2, suggests that on a biblical level, teki'ah-shevarim-teru'ah-teki'ah can encompass all three versions. The rule that one must blow all three sets is only rabbinic in nature. As such, after the set of teki'ah-shevarim-teru'ah-teki'ah, one is considered to have started the mitzvah. Second, Ritva, Rosh HaShana 34a, s.v. Od Katav Rabbeinu, states that there is no issue of hefsek after blowing one teki'ah. Accordingly, even if the shevarim-teru'ah does not accurately represent the Torah's teru'ah, the teki'ah (at least the final one) should count as the initial teki'ah and there is no longer a concern for hefsek. Third, once R. Avahu instituted that all three versions should be blown, all three versions should be considered part of one elongated mitzvah which begins with teki'ah-shevarim-teru'ah-teki'ah. If one speaks after teki'ah-shevarim-teru'ah-teki'ah, it is not considered a hefsek. R. Elyashiv notes that he personally does not recite the "yehi ratzon," but its recitation is certainly justifiable.


References: Rosh Hashana: 33b 

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