Blowing Trumpets on A Fast Day: Prayer and Unity

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

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Yeshivat Har Etzion

Blowing Trumpets on a Fast Day:

Prayer and Unity

By Rav Moshe Taragin



The mishna (Rosh Hashana 26b) determines that in the Mikdash (Temple), a shofar was blown along with chatzotzrot (trumpets). This is derived from the verse, "With trumpets and a blast of the shofar raise a shout before the Lord, the King" (Tehillim 98:6). This exercise was performed on both Rosh Hashana (when the primary mitzva applies to shofar) and on public fasts (when the primary mitzva requires chatzotzrot). Outside the Mikdash, however, the gemara claims, "If there are chatzotzrot there is no shofar, and if there is a shofar there are no chatzotzrot." The simple reading of the gemara suggests that outside the Mikdash only a shofar was blown on Rosh Hashana, while only chatzotzrot were blown during a ta'anit (fast day). This is indeed Rashi's interpretation of the gemara and the Rambam's halakhic ruling (see Hilkhot Ta'anit 1:4 and Hilkhot Shofar 1:2).


Many Rishonim, however, question this ruling, based upon a gemara in Masekhet Ta'anit that implies otherwise. The gemara (14a) comments upon a statement in the mishna (12b) that "During severe fasts they cried out (matri'in)." According to one opinion in the gemara, they cried out with their mouths (reciting additional and unique prayers). According to a dissenting opinion, however, they cried out with a shofar! Ultimately, the gemara declares that both sides agree that they cried out with a shofar; the only debate surrounds whether they also cried out with their mouths. Doesn't this gemara suggest that a shofar (and not chatzotzrot) is blown during a ta'anit outside of the Mikdash?


The Ba'al Hama'or, in his comments to Rosh Hashana, poses a second question based upon the Geonic custom to actually blow a shofar during ta'anit. How does this fit with the gemara in Rosh Hashana?


Three primary answers are posed by the Rishonim; each will be analyzed separately.


The Ra'avad claims that sounds were blown at several different stages during the ta'anit. The mishna in Ta'anit (15a) describes the six extra blessings added to Shemoneh Esrei during a ta'anit, which were accompanied by the sound of chatzotzrot alone (without a shofar) outside the Mikdash. By contrast, the gemara in Ta'anit refers to a shofar that was blown during other parts of the prayer service (i.e. Mussaf) or even after the conclusion of prayer (at later stages of the ta'anit).


A crucial point emerges from the Ra'avad. The unique and exclusionary mitzva of chatzotzrot doesn't apply to the day proper. At different stages of the day, a shofar may be blown as well. Rather, the Torah teaches that a specific form of prayer during a ta'anit is to be accompanied by chatzotzrot (and, according to the mishna, by extra blessings as well). Though the Torah doesn't mention these extra blessings (and presumably they are of rabbinic origin), the Torah does mention chatzotzrot. According to the Ra'avad, these chatzotzrot must be accompanied by prayer, and hence the Torah mandates prayer as part of the experience of ta'anit.


This famous question - whether the Torah calls for prayer as part of the mitzva of ta'anit - is first discussed by the Behag when he lists the section in Ki Tisa containing the thirteen attributes of God (which is read on a ta'anit) as part of his list of "public mitzvot." According to the Ramban (in his commentary to shoresh 3 of the Rambam's Sefer Ha-mitzvot), this suggests that tefilla (prayer) on a fast day has Biblical roots. (Recall that the Ramban disagrees with the Rambam, who claimed that tefilla constitutes a Biblical requirement on a daily basis. Ramban held it to be a rabbinic mitzva, with the exception of times of distress.)


A similar notion emerges from the Rambam's formulation of the mitzva of ta'anit. Reading the section in Behaalotekha which defines ta'anit, we find a focus on the action of blowing chatzotzrot: "Ve-hareiotem," "And you shall blow" (Bemidbar 10:9). Yet when the Rambam defines the experience of ta'anit, he stresses two ideas: blowing (le-hariya) and praying (lizok). The Rambam effectively broadens the mitzva of ta'anit beyond formal blowing to include tefilla. Many suggest that this expansion is based upon the very next term in the verse: "Ve-nizkartem lifnei Hashem," "And you shall be remembered before the Lord" - a term which evokes the concept of tefilla. Whatever the Rambam's source, he, like the Ra'avad, recognizes an element of tefilla within a ta'anit.


INTERIM SUMMARY: The Ra'avad's answer indicates that prayer (and especially the added blessings in Shemoneh Esrei) comprises the primary framework for the blowing of chatzotzrot. This is reminiscent of the positions of both the Behag and the Rambam, each of whom incorporated prayer as part of the Biblical mitzva of ta'anit.


The Ramban (in three places: his commentary to Ta'anit, Milchamot Hashem to Rosh Hashana, and his derasha for Rosh Hashana) conveys a different idea. The mandate of chatzotzrot does not apply to ta'anit in general. Rather, it applies to the Mikdash, as well as to ta'aniyot based upon war. The experience of chatzotzrot applies to wartime situations (and, according to the Ramban in Ta'anit, perhaps only wars fought in Eretz Yisrael proper), since these conditions are defined as "kenufiya" – moments of assembly and gathering. As the Ran to Rosh Hashana elaborates, the chatzotzrot are aligned with the process of assembly by the Torah verses themselves, which assign to chatzotzrot the task of "calling the assembly and the journeying of the camps" (Bemidbar 10:2). Outside the Mikdash, during fast days in response to other forms of crisis, a shofar - and only a shofar - is to be blown (hence the formulation of the Gemara in Ta'anit).


The Ramban's analysis highlights a crucial feature of ta'anit. The mishna (Ta'anit 15a) describes the process of everyone gathering in the street to pray during a ta'anit. In addition, the gemara cites a verse from Yoel, "Kadeshu tzom kir'u atzara" – "Declare a fast and call an assembly," as a source for the prohibition of labor during a "severe" fast. Tzom (fast) is referred to as atzeret (assembly), and the prohibition of work facilitates the gathering. In fact, the gemara insists that work can be forbidden only during the day, when people would actually gather, and not during the evening (as is the case regarding the prohibition of work on holidays). The same gemara describes the phenomenon of "mitzafra kenufiya:" during the morning hours of a ta'anit the people would gather for personal interviews with their city's religious leaders to help pinpoint areas for improvement.


All these sources point to a salient element of a ta'anit: the gathering of the entire people to experience the fast together. According to the Ramban, the chatzotzrot were meant to underscore this assembly by playing, as the Ran says, their classic role in organizing the assembly. This classic form of assembly, though, can occur in only two settings: the Mikdash, which is the natural site of assembly, and the setting of war, which demands the formation of a "machaneh" (camp) unifying the Jewish people. Outside these circumstances, the ideal form of assembly does not exist, and hence chatzotzrot are not blown.


May we merit true Jewish unity, and may the Ribbono shel Olam grant us a speedy deliverance.

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