Rosh Hashannah

Summarized and Explained by
Jonathan Wolf

This is the last chapter in our tractate. We have learned about the calendar and the laws of the shofar in the first three chapters. Now, we will learn a little about the procedures of the shofar blowing which occurs during the musaf service. The daily services centered around specific sacrifices (korbanot) which ocurred during Temple times. On Shabbos, an extra (musaf) offering was made and was eventually transformed into the musaf service we know today. On the festivals, even if they occur during the week, a musaf service is included. This is true for the day of Rosh Chodesh also!

Chapter 4

Mishnah 1:

When the holiday of the New Year fell on the Sabbath, they used to sound in the Temple, but not in the provinces. After the Temple was destroyed, Rabban Yochannen ben Zakkai ordained that they should sound wherever there was a court. Rabbi Eliezer said, "Rabban Yochannen ben Zakkai only instituted this for Yavneh itself." They (the Sages) replied to him, "It was all one whether it was in Yavneh or any other place where the court was."


Mishnah 2:

And further, Jerusalem surpassed Yavneh in this respect, that every town that could see and hear, or was near, or could come, was permitted to sound (on the Sabbath); whereas in Yavneh, they used to sound only before the court (on the Sabbath).


We follow the Rambam for guidance here. He writes:

"If Rosh Hashanah occurs on a Sabbath, the shofar may not be sounded anywhere. Why should the hsofar not be sounded? It is a preventative law, lest someone will pick up a shofar and take it to another person to sound it on his behalf and in doing so...transgress the Sabbath limit."

"When the Sages prohibited the sounding of the shofar on the Sabbath, they did so only in regard to places devoid of courts. As long as the Temple was in existence, the Great Court was in Jerusalem, and everyone in Jerusalem was permitted to sound shofar on the sabbath whenever the court was in session."

"Why was the shofar sounded on the Sabbath in the presence of the court? Because a court is scrupulous, and those who sound the shofar in its presence are not likely to carry it through a public domain, because the court keeps warning and informing the public."

"At the present time, when we observe the festival for two days in the diaspora, the shofar is sounded on the second day of Rosh Hashanah just as on the first day. If the first day coincides with the Sabbath, the shofar is sounded on the second day only."

I would only add a few more ideas to the Rambam's comments. This year (5760), Rosh Hashanah coincides with Shabbos and we will not be sounding the shofar in synagogue. Addtionally, the ceremony known as "Tashlich", in which our sins are symbolically cast away by throwing bread into a large body of water, will occur only on Sunday , which is the second day of Rosh Hashanah.


Mishnah 3:

Before, the lulav was used in the Temple for seven days, and in the provinces for one day. After the Temple was destroyed, Rabban Yochannen ben Zakkai ordained that the lulav should be used for seven days in the provinces, in remembrance of the Temple; and on the whole of the "Day of the Waving", it should be altogether forbidden.


Mishnah 4:

Before, they used to accept evidence about the new moon throughout the day. On one ocassion, the witnesses tarried in coming and the Levites were mislead in the Pslam. They (the Sages) then ordained that they should not admit witnesses after the minchah period. And if witnesses came after minchah, they used to observe that day as holy and the next day as holy. After the Temple was destroyed, Rabban Yochannen ben Zakkai ordained that they should accept evidence about the new moon all day long. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha said, "And this also did Rabban Yochannen ben Zakkai establish, that wherever the head of the court might be, the witnesses were to go only to the meeting place."



These two mishnayot provide examples of rules established by Rabban Yochannen ben Zakkai when he was the head of the Sanhedrin. They also procide examples of what the customs were before and after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. In mishnah 3, we see that the lulav was carried in the temple all seven days based on the Torah verse(Vayikra 23:40):

"...rejoice all seven days before the Lord..." The reference to the "Day of the Waving" concerns the omer of grain which was brought to the Temple on the second day of pesach. This was waved in recognition of the blessing over the wheat and brought as a "wave offering". We commemorate this act with a blessing during the second seder and then count 49 days until the celebration of Shavuot.

In mishnah 4, the Sages are discussing the acceptance of witnesses on the first of Tishrei, which is Rosh Hashanah. The minchah offering was the afternoon korban and on Rosh Chodesh, there was the additional musaf offering as well (after shacharit). If the witnesses tarried, then the Levites, who were responsible for singing the appropriate Pslam for the day, might be mislead into singing the ordinary weekday Pslam instead of the festival Pslam. In our time, this is no longer a problem since with the fixed calendar, Elul always has 29 days and we hence we know when Rosh Hashanah occurs! It is interesting that mishnah 3 in this tractate, is the same as mishnah 12 in chapter 3 of tractate Sukkah.


Mishnah 5:

The order of the blessings are: one recites the "patriarchs", the "powers", the "holiness of God's name", and includes with them "sovereignty"; but one does not sound; the "holiness of the day", and one does sound; the "remembrances", and one does sound; the "shofarot" and one does sound, and he recites the "Temple service", and the "thanksgiving" and the "priestly blessing." This is the view of Rabban Yochannen ben Nuri. Rabbi Akiva said to him, if one does not sound after "sovereignty", why does he recite it? But, one recites the "patriarchs", the "powers", and the "holiness of His name", and combines "sovereignty" with the "holiness of the day", and sounds; the "remembrances", and sounds; the "shofarot", and sounds; and he recites the "Temple service", the "thanksgiving", and the "priestly blessing".


Mishnah 6:

They must not recite less than ten verses about "sovereignty", ten verses of 'remembrance", and ten verses on "shofarot". Rabban Yochannen ben Nuri says, If one recited three of each of them all, he has performed his obligation. They may not make mention of any verse of "sovereignty",

"remembrance", or "shofarot" which alludes to divine punishment. One begins with the Law and concludes with the prophets. rabbi Yose says, If one concluded with the law, he has fulfilled his obligation.


Mishnah 7:

Regarding the one who passes before the Ark on the holy day of the New Year, the second one orders the shofar to be sounded. When Hallel is to be recited, the first one reads the Hallel.


Mishnah 8:

For the sake of the shofar of the New Year, they must not go beyond the Sabbath limit, nor pull down a heap of stones, nor climb up a tree, nor ride an animal, nor swim in the water; and they must not cut, either with something whose use transgresses the "law of the Sabbath rest", or with something the use of which transgresses a negative commandment; but if one wish to pour water or wine into it, he may do so. They should not prevent children from sounding, and indeed they should occupy themselves with them until they learn. But one who is occupied in sounding for practice, does not fulfill his duty, and one who hears it from a man who is engaged in practicing does not fulfill his duty.


Mishnah 9:

The manner of sounding is three; three of each. The length of the sustained note (tekiah) is the same as three quavering notes (teruah). The length of the quavering note is equal to that of three wailing notes. If one sounded the first sustained note and then prolonged the second sustained note for as long as two, it counts only as one. Of one had already recited the benediction and then happened to blow the shofar, he should sound three times in a sustained note, a quavering note, and a sustained note. Just as the reader of the congregation is in duty, bound, so also is every individual bound. Rabban Gamliel said, The reader of the congregation fulfills his obligation on behalf of the many.

Mishnah Rosh Hashanah Concluded!



Mishnah 5 is a bit confusing since it deals with the Amidah during the Rosh Hashanah

musaf service. Consult a machzor for further details. The "patriarchs" corresponds to the phrase "magen avraham". The "powers" corresponds to the phrase "gevurot". The "Holiness of God's Name" corresponds to the phrase "kadosh, kadosh, kadosh..." during the "kedushah". The "sovereignty" corresponds to the phrase that mentions God's sovereignty over the Universe:"eloheinu veilohei avoteinu..." The "Holiness of the Day" corresponds to the phrase "atah b'chartanu..." The "remembrances" corresponds to the phrase "atah zocher...". The "shofarot" corresponds to the phrase "atah nig'latah..." The "Temple service" corresponds to the phrase "r'tzei..." and the "thanksgiving" corresponds to the phrase "modim..." Rabbi Akiva's version of the order is accepted as Halachah.

In mishnah 6, the ten verses are in remembrance of the ten "hilulim" or "laudations" recited in Pslam 150, the Ten Commandments, and the Ten Utterances with which the world was created. The ten verses include three from the Torah, three from the prophets, and three from the "writings". There is an additional concluding verse from the Torah. The verses cited for "remembrance" should make mention of the divine remembrance of the covenant and the value of teshuvah. On this day of supplication for mercy, it is not appropriate to cite verse that mention divine punishment. The opinion of Rabbi Yose in this mishnah is accepted.

In mishnah 7, the "person who passes before the ark", is the "shaliach tzibbur", the messenger of the congregation. In our day, this is commonly the "chazzan". The second one" referred to in the mishnah would be the "baal musaf" or any other person designated to recite prayers. This could be the rabbi but it is often the chazzan. In most services, the shofar is blown by a designated person, but it could also be the rabbi or chazzan.

Mishnah 8 stresses that people should not violate the Sabbath just to hear the shofar (even with proper intent). While it is permitted to violate the shabbos restrictions for travel and carrying to sanctify the new moon, it is not permitted to violate the Sabbath on Rosh Hashanah to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the shofar.

In the last mishnah of the tractate, we see that only two of the shofar notes we recognize are mentioned; tekiah and teruah. The commentaries write that there is a disagreement about the exact meaning of the word "teruah". Some believe that it means "broken note" and some believe it means "quavering note" (which was contained in the translation I used). The "shevarim" note, which is a rapid sounding broken note was added just to make sure the proper intent of the sages and Torah was fulfilled. Refer to a copy of the machzor for the ordering and procedures followed in your own service.