Eating Before Tekiyot
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.]