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A Shofar with a "Blemish"

  • Rav Moshe Taragin


Earlier shiurim have examined the disqualifications of nisdak and nikav, a cracked shofar ( and a shofar with a hole (  In the first instance, many Rishonim explain that the invalidation is due to the absence of a basic shofar structure.  In other words, a split shofar is no longer considered anatomically sound, and cannot be used to generate the kol shofar.  We suggested that according to Rabbenu Yonatan, who disqualified even a minor split, the pesul (disqualification) is based on the presence of a mum (deformity), rather than the complete absence of the shofar structure itself. 


In the instance of a hole, most Rishonim see the problem as stemming from the repair.  By repairing a certain type of hole, the native, pure shofar is becoming adulterated with an additional substance.  The Torah commanded that we blow with one shofar and not with a hybrid or a product of patches and repairs.  Most positions consider a non-repaired shofar as perfectly valid, since no additional substances were patched onto it.  Yet some positions (the Rosh in his Teshuvot and the Kolbo) claim that a shofar with a hole should not be used under any circumstances, suggesting that, beyond the issue of foreign patches, a hole poses a more fundamental problem - namely, it is a shofar with a mum.  This shiur will address a broader issue - can the concept of mum be applied to shofar?


            In general, the notion of mum applies under two conditions: the item in question is alive - animals for a korban (sacrifice), or Kohanim to serve in the Mikdash (Temple) - and the item is involved in a process connected to a Mikdash ceremony.  Applying mum to shofar would require the inspection of each of these two conditions. 


Clearly, the Mikdash or korban factor within shofar is the easier of the two to verify.  The gemara in Rosh Ha-shana (26a) deliberates the position of Chakhamim that a cow's horn cannot be used as a shofar.  According to one opinion, this is based on the principle of ein kateigor na'aseh saneigor – an element which catalyzed a sin (the golden calf) cannot then be employed in the process of absolution of sin (shofar blowing on Rosh Ha-shana).  The gemara objects that gold clothes are worn by the Kohen every day in his Mikdash ceremonies.  To this, the gemara responds that the principle of ein kateigor applies only to Mikdash/atonement services held inside the Kodesh Ha-kodashim (Holy of Holies).  This is the reason the Kohen Gadol entered the Kodesh Ha-kodashim on Yom Kippur in garments of fabric and not of gold.  The Gemara concludes that the principle of ein kateigor nevertheless applies to shofar: "Being that the purpose of shofar is to be remembered by God by blowing, we are considered as standing in the Kodesh Ha-kodashim."  This gemara firmly establishes shofar blowing as an element of the Mikdash service, and even as part of the service in the Kodesh Ha-kodashim.


Two additional sources likewise indicate the avoda (Temple service) component of shofar.  The gemara in Rosh Ha-shana (28a) disqualifies blowing with a shofar of hekdesh (Temple dedication) because, according to one opinion, blowing this would violate the prohibition of me'ila. This, in turn, would define the blowing as a mitzva ha-ba'a ba-aveira, a mitzva that comes about through the performance of a sin.  Several gemarot invalidate any mitzva that was performed through the violation of an aveira.  Yet, many Rishonim claim that the principle of mitzva ha-ba'a ba-aveira applies only to elements of korban (in which a higher standard is required).  Typical mitzvot would not be invalidated because of mitzva ha-ba'a ba-aveira (see especially Tosafot Rashba, Pesachim 35a).  According to these opinions, the application of mitzva ha-ba'a ba-aveira to shofar must yield the following conclusion: shofar is considered halakhically to be part of the Mikdash/korban experience, and therefore is subject to the same (higher) standards of mitzva ha-ba'a ba-aveira.


The Ramban provides an additional expression of this rule when he claims that only a shofar from a kosher animal may be used on Rosh Ha-shana.  The Ramban bases this ruling on the gemara in Shabbat (28) which claims that only kosher materials may be used in the construction of the Mikdash.  As the shofar is part of the Mikdash ceremony, it, too, may be taken only from kosher animals.  These three sources firmly establish the shofar not just as a mitzva, but as a component of the avodat ha-Mikdash.


In general, the connection between shofar and Mikdash has been greatly elaborated upon and is probably best evidenced by the Ra'avad in Sukka (in his comments to the Rif page 21a).  He claims that the mitzva to blow shofar is explicitly required only in the Mikdash.  Hence, Chazal were stricter regarding shofar blowing on Shabbat outside the Mikdash than they were about taking lulav on Shabbat outside the Mikdash.  In addition (as the Rav zt"l commented), the fact that the shofar - when blown in the Mikdash – was accompanied by chatzotzrot (trumpets; see Rosh Ha-shana 26b) indicates that the blowing is part of the Mikdash ceremony.  Shofar blowing which is unrelated to the Mikdash (such as the shofar blown on Yom Kippur of a yovel year) would not be accompanied by chatzotzrot.  Aligning shofar with the Avoda in the Mikdash is thus a relatively easy task.


The second condition for applying mum might be trickier.  We seldom (if ever) discover the category of mum applying to a non-living item.  One possible solution would be to adjust our concept: though the concept of mum in the classic sense might not apply to shofar, a more general but related issue might pertain.  Several gemarot invalidate "disgusting items" for use in korbanot based on the verse in Malakhi (1:8), "Hakrivehu na le-fechatekha ha-yirtzekha, Would you offer the likes of this to your governor as tribute - would he accept it?" This principle differs from mum in that it invalidates substances based on their physical repugnance (foul smelling items, water which might have been infected, etc.) and not on any physical deformity.  This notion is clearly applied to inanimate objects (water, wine, etc.) and would apply to a shofar.  However, we might question the pertinence of this notion to a shofar which isn't unappealing per se, but rather physically impaired (split down the middle or possessing a hole).  Can we extend the "Hakrivehu" principle to items which possess no physical repugnance?


If we do not resort to the Hakrivehu option (and the fact that neither the gemara in Rosh Hashana nor the Rishonim cite the verse, as so many gemarot do, further indicates that this is NOT the principle at play), we are left with questioning the relevance of classic mum to an inanimate shofar.  Interestingly enough, we do find a parallel to shofar in which the category of mum is clearly applied.  In discussing strangely shaped lulavs, the gemara in Sukka (31b-32a) invalidates a lulav whose leaves extend only along one side of the spine, for this is considered a mum.  This Gemara is a very powerful indication that mum applies even to inanimate items.  If mum may be applied to lulav, which was cut from a living source, maybe it can be applied to shofar, as well!


In truth, there might be room to distinguish between lulav and shofar.  A lulav is not just harvested from a living tree; it must also remain alive in order to be used for the mitzva.  The first mishna of the third chapter of Sukka invalidates a dry lulav.  The Yerushalmi explains that a dry lulav is a dead lulav, and dead items may not be used to praise God (lo ha-meitim yehalelu Kah).  Though a lulav is inanimate, it is still considered alive (by dint of its internal fluids, which create coloration and continue to conduct photosynthesis) and hence subject to mum considerations.  The same would not necessarily be true about a shofar, which, though harvested from an animal, no longer possesses any signs or functions of life.


Alternatively, one interesting feature of shofar might invite the application of mum.  The gemara in Rosh Hashana (27b) disallows the reversal of a shofar (widening the narrow end and narrowing the wider end), since this no longer represents the natural shape of the shofar.  The Torah commanded "ve-ha'avarta," demanding that we sustain derekh ha'avarato - the shofar's original form.  This gemara conveys an interesting notion, that the shofar must be blown in its natural manner to capture its state of being when it was still attached to the animal.  Interestingly, we detect a similar pattern in the case of lulav, which must be taken upright to capture "derekh gedeilatan" - the manner of its natural growth.  Shofar and lulav thus share an interesting common feature - the need to execute the mitzva in the manner in which the item grew when it was still alive.  Would this obligation make the application of mum more feasible to shofar?  Even though it is no longer alive, the shofar should be maintained as closely as possible to its original state, and any deformity might compromise that condition.