SALT - Wednesday, 27 Elul 5780 - September 16, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Yesterday, we noted the Gemara’s ruling that if the shofar is plated with gold on the area where one’s mouth is placed for blowing, the shofar is disqualified for use for the mitzva.  If the gold plating is done somewhere else on the shofar, then the shofar is valid (as long as the plating does not alter the sound of the shofar blast).
            Meiri explains that gold plating on the part where the mouth is placed disqualifies the shofar “because this is not the sound of the shofar, but rather the sound of the gold, since the sound passes by way of [the gold].”  According to Meiri, when somebody blows such a shofar, the sound is produced by the gold plating, and not by the shofar itself, and therefore, the mitzva is not fulfilled.  The Ritva, however, seems to explain this halakha differently.  He writes that such a shofar is invalid because the plating constitutes a chatzitza – “obstruction” – between the person’s mouth and the shofar, and the person’s mouth must directly touch the surface of the shofar.
            Rav Asher Weiss posits that the Ritva and Meiri apparently had different understandings of the case addressed here by the Gemara.  According to Meiri, it stands to reason that the Gemara deals with gold plating inside the mouthpiece of the shofar, such that the sound is produced by the gold.  The Ritva, by contrast, likely understood the Gemara as referring to a gold plating around the exterior of the mouthpiece, such that it constitutes a chatzitza between the person’s mouth and the shofar.
            Rav Weiss proceeds to suggest that there might also be a third possible explanation of the Gemara.  The Maharil (Hilkhot Shofar, 4), surprisingly, wrote that no gold should be placed on the shofar, as this violates the principle of “ein kateigor na’asa saneigor” (“a prosecutor cannot become a defender”).  As we saw yesterday, the Gemara in Masekhet Rosh Hashanah (26a) comments that the kohen gadol does not wear his usual gold garments when ministering in the inner sanctum of the Beit Ha-mikdash, because gold brings to mind the sin of the golden calf.  As the kohen gadol endeavors to earn atonement on behalf of the people, it would be inappropriate to evoke the inauspicious memory of this grave national failure.  By the same token, the Gemara explains why, according to the majority view among the Tanna’im, a cow’s horn may not be used for the mitzva of shofar – because this, too, brings to mind the golden calf.  The Maharil asserts that likewise, no gold plating should be present on the shofar.  Many Acharonim noted that the Maharil’s ruling directly contradicts the Gemara, which states explicitly that gold plating is allowed anywhere on the shofar except the area where the mouth blows.
            Rav Weiss boldly suggests that the Maharil indeed refers only to the area where the mouth blows the shofar, and that the Maharil explains why the Gemara forbids gold on that area – because gold brings to mind the memory of the golden calf.  The Maharil perhaps understood that gold plating on areas other than the mouthpiece does not violate the rule of “ein kateigor na’asa saneigor,” because it has no connection at all to the shofar blowing.  It is only when gold is placed either inside or on the mouthpiece that it “participates” in the sounding of the shofar, such that we view the gold as serving as our “defender,” which is inappropriate.  If so, Rav Weiss asserts, then the Maharil would disqualify the shofar regardless of whether the gold is inside the mouthpiece or on top of the mouthpiece – because either way, it is involved in the shofar blowing process, in violation of the principle of “ein kateigor na’asa saneigor.”