Masechet Rosh Hashanah 24a-30b

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28 Dec 2006

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

This month’s Steinsaltz Daf Yomi is sponsored by Dr. and Mrs. Alan Harris, the Lewy Family Foundation, and Marilyn and Edward Kaplan

Rosh Hashana 24a-b

When witnesses come to Jerusalem to testify that they have seen the new moon, the judges interview them in order to ascertain that they have, in fact, seen the beginning of a new lunar cycle (which looks like this) and not just the end of the previous one (which looks like this). These shapes are what the moon looks like in Israel at the beginning and end of each lunar month. The closer one gets to the equator, the flatter the crescent of the moon becomes, until it can look like this.

Someone who does not pay close attention to the position of the moon may very well walk into court and describe a situation that is physically impossible. To assist the witnesses in their testimony, the Mishnah on our daf tells of models that Rabban Gamliel had in his study, which he would show to the people coming to testify. In this way, situations that might be difficult to describe verbally could be discussed with the help of visual aids.

(For a series of multimedia presentations on the moon and lunar months, see

The Gemara questions how Rabban Gamliel was allowed to fashion these devices, when the baraita interprets the passage (Shemot 20:20) that forbids the creation of idols and graven images to refer specifically to heavenly objects like the sun, moon, stars and constellations. The answer offered by the Gemara is a difficult one – that  Rabban Gamliel did not make the models himself; they were made by others. Tosafot and other rishonim argue that it is forbidden for Jews to have non-Jews perform tasks for them that are Biblically forbidden, which would seem to be the case here. A number of explanations are offered:

Rosh Hashana 25a-b

Today’s Daf Yomi is dedicated in honor of the yahrzeit of Henrietta Dubinsky (9 Tevet).

The last Mishnah in our perek relates the famous story of Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua, who disagreed one year about when Rosh Hashana fell out. Witnesses came to testify, claiming that they had seen the new moon on the 30th day (which would have made Elul 29 days long), but that the moon did not appear on the next night. Rabban Gamliel accepted their testimony, but Rabbi Yehoshua agreed with Rabbi Dosa ben Hycanus that their testimony could not be accepted, as it had to be false.

Rabban Gamliel’s position is explained by the Rambam as being based on the fact that the first testimony of the witnesses was acceptable, and that the testimony about the next day was irrelevant since there probably was a cloud, fog or some other factor that kept the witnesses from seeing the moon. Rav Zerachya ha-Levi suggests that Rabban Gamliel was mistaken in his ruling, and that the witnesses, in fact, were unreliable. Nevertheless, Rabban Gamliel felt that for a variety of reasons he could not rescind his original ruling.

In any case, when Rabban Gamliel heard that Rabbi Yehoshua disagreed with him, he ordered him to appear carrying his walking stick and satchel on the day that Yom Kippur would fall according to his (Rabbi Yehoshua’s) figuring. Rabbi Akiva, who saw the distress suffered by Rabbi Yehoshua, consoled him by offering a teaching in support of the finality of Rabban Gamliel’s ruling. The passage (Vayikra 23:4) is understood to mean that the holidays are established based on the decisions of the court, even if that decision is incorrect because of error, because the court was misled, or even if they purposefully made the wrong ruling.

The baraita records that Rabbi Yehoshua thanks Rabbi Akiva for his insight, saying “you have consoled me, you have consoled me.” This double expression of consolation is understood to refer both to Rabban Gamliel’s error and to the fact that Rabbi Yehoshua will be obligated to violate Yom Kippur, according to his own beliefs.

Our perek concludes with the story of Rabbi Yehoshua appearing before Rabban Gamliel on the day that he (Rabbi Yehoshua) believed was Yom Kippur, carrying his walking stick and satchel as requested. Rabban Gamliel kissed him, calling him his teacher, for the Torah that he had learned from him, and his student, for having accepted his ruling.

Rosh Hashana 26a-b

The focus of the third perek of Masechet Rosh Hashana is the mitzvah of sounding the shofar on the holiday. The commandment is mentioned twice in the Torah (see Vayikra 23:24 and Bamidbar 29:1), but only in the most general terms. This perek offers the details that are essential to fulfilling the mitzvah properly, including such questions as:

The other central question is:

The Mishnah teaches that all shofarot can be used on Rosh Hashana, except for that of a cow, since a cow has a keren – horn – rather than a shofar. Rabbi Yossi permits the use of a cow’s horn, arguing that all shofarot are referred to as keren (see Yehoshua 6:5).

Although the Mishnah very specifically teaches the reasoning behind the two opinions on the use of the horn of a cow, two Amoraim nevertheless suggest alternative explanations for the disagreement.

Abayye says that the basic position in the Mishnah stems from the Biblical requirement of a single shofar – not two or three shofarot. The horn of a cow is made up of several layers, so it cannot be used (Rabbi Yossi argues that we see the layers as making up a single shofar).

Ulla suggests that the basic position of the Mishnah is based on the rule en kategor na’aseh sanegor – a prosecuting attorney cannot become a defense attorney. Just like the High Priest cannot wear his gold garments into the Holy of Holies when performing the Yom Kippur service, similarly the horn of a cow cannot be used to call out in defense of the Jewish People. Rashi explains that the cow invokes the Golden Calf and therefore is considered a member of the prosecution. In general, gold is seen as representing vanity and a desire for material wealth, which do not seem appropriate for prayers of forgiveness.

Rosh Hashana 27a-b

The Mishnah (26b) teaches that the shofar blown in the Temple on Rosh Hashana was made from the horn of a ya’el (ibex) and its mouthpiece was covered with gold. When it was sounded it was accompanied by chatzotzrot – trumpets – on either side, although the sound of the trumpets was shorter than that of the shofar, since the mitzvah of the day was the shofar. On fast days the chatzotzrot were in the middle surrounded by shofarot, and in this case the sound of the shofar was shorter, since the mitzvah of the day was the trumpet.

The ya’el, whose horns were used to fashion shofarot, is identified as Capra ibex nubicum, an animal that lives in small herds mainly in mountainous areas and in the desert if there is water readily accessible (like in the area of the Dead Sea and nearby Ein Gedi).

The Temple chatzotzrot are readily viewed on the Arch of Titus in Rome, which depicts the Judean captives transporting the Temple vessels to Rome.

One of the concerns of our Gemara is how the mouthpiece could have been covered with gold. This question is understood differently by the various commentaries. Some explain that the assumption of the Gemara was that a band of gold was placed around the edge of the shofar (see diagram) and the problem stemmed from the rules of chatzitzah – that the person’s mouth was not directly in contact with the shofar when it was sounded. Others suggest that the case would have been where an additional mouthpiece was attached to the shofar (see diagram), so that the person blowing it was not directly in contact with the shofar, but rather he was blowing it through the use of a foreign object. In response to this objection, Abayye explains that we must be talking about a situation where the gold was placed as a decoration further up on the shofar, above the spot where the lips of the person blowing came into contact with the shofar (see diagram).

Rosh Hashana 28a-b

When performing a mitzvah, what is really important? Must we simply carry out the act of the mitzvah, or is it essential to have a level of intent – kavana – for the mitzvah? This is the issue discussed at some length on our daf, where a statement is presented to Shmuel‘s father – if someone is forced to eat matzah on Pesach he is considered to have fulfilled the commandment. Why should that be true?

Two possibilities are presented as to what forced the person to eat matzah:

Kefa’o shade is an expression that indicates that a person is “forced” to do something by an internal compunction that we would probably call “temporary insanity.” In such a case, the Gemara makes clear that during the time that the individual is under the influence of this compunction, he is not considered in control of his capacities and is therefore not obligated in mitzvot at that moment. Thus any act of mitzvah that is done “under the influence” will not be counted.

Rav Ashi therefore explains that we are discussing a case of Kefa’uhu Parsi’im, from which we can conclude that performing a mitzvah – even without intent – is counted, since the case of Kefa’uhu Parsi’im is one where the person performing the mitzvah had no intention of doing so.

In response to this ruling, the Gemara quotes a series of cases that seem to require kavana in order for the performance of the mitzvah to have significance. A number of the statements indicate specifically that kavana is essential for the mitzvah of shofar. For example, a person whose house is near a synagogue, or who finds himself near a synagogue on Rosh Hashana, can fulfill his obligation of shofar if he hears it – as long as he intends to fulfill the mitzvah. Similarly, the Gemara requires that both the person blowing the shofar and the person listening to it must have intention for the mitzvah in order for the listener to fulfill the mitzvah.

Although the Gemara has explanations for each of these cases (e.g. that the “intention” required was to know that it was actually a shofar and not a donkey braying), there is a very basic difference between eating matzah and hearing the shofar. The Talmud Yerushalmi distinguishes between a commandment that involves the need to perform a physical act (like eating) and a mitzvah that does not involve any activity at all (like listening to something). In the latter case, it could be argued that, without intent, absolutely nothing has taken place, and we cannot conceivably imagine that a mitzvah has taken place.

Rosh Hashana 29a-b

It is common knowledge that we do not sound the shofar on Rosh Hashana that coincides with Shabbat. The first Mishnah in the fourth perek teaches that this is only the case outside of the Mikdash. In the Temple the shofar was blown even on Shabbat. Following the destruction of the Temple, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai established a rule whereby the shofar was blown on Shabbat in places that had an established bet din. Rabbi Elazar argues with that tradition and says that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai established that rule only in Yavneh.

Yavneh is an ancient city that is mentioned in the navi. For a long time it was a Philistine city, near the Mediterranean coast, almost due west of Jerusalem. In the course of putting down the great rebellion, the Roman general Vespasian captured the city. At that time it apparently attracted many Sages who did not support the rebellion, and when Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai joined them after the fall of Jerusalem it became the spiritual center of the Jewish people, where the Sanhedrin sat for an extended period of time.

In searching for an explanation why the shofar is not sounded on Shabbat, our Gemara rejects the suggestion that this is a Biblical law based on the difference between the pasuk in Bamidbar (29:1), which calls Rosh Hashana a day of teruah (i.e. blowing the shofar), and the pasuk in Vayikra (23:24) that refers to it as a day of zichron teruah (when we remember the blowing of the shofar), the former referring to a regular year and the latter to Rosh Hashana falling on Shabbat. Instead, our Gemara suggests that it is a Rabbinic ordinance, quoting Rabbah as teaching that our concern lest the shofar be carried in a public place – which is forbidden on Shabbat – forced the Sages to suspend the mitzvah. In the Temple – or subsequently in the time of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai in Yavneh – where mitzvot were carried out with great care, there was no need for this Rabbinic ordinance, and blowing the shofar on Shabbat was permitted.

It is interesting to note that the Talmud Yerushalmi accepts the argument that it is a Biblical commandment to refrain from blowing the shofar on Shabbat.

Rosh Hashana 30a-b

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, following the destruction of the Temple, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai established Rabbinic ordinances whose purpose was to remember the Mikdash. The Mishnah on our daf discusses how his rulings affected the holiday of Sukkot.

The pasuk that commands us to take the arba minim on Sukkot (Vayikra 23:40) is enigmatic. It describes the mitzvah as commanding us to take the four species on “the first day [of the holiday]” and then continues that you should “rejoice before God for seven days.”

Which are we commanded to do – celebrate with the etrog and lulav for one day, or for seven?

The Mishnah teaches that originally the halakha was that the arba minim were taken one day in all places (medina), and seven days in the Bet ha-Mikdash (“before God”). There is a difference of opinion amongst the rishonim regarding the definition of mikdash in this case. Rashi, the Ritva and others explain that any place outside of the Temple – including the Old City of Jerusalem – is considered medina and the lulav is not taken there. The Rambam rules that the holiness of the Temple extends to the entire city and therefore all of Jerusalem is considered mikdash for this purpose. The Jerusalem Talmud is clear on this point, in agreement with the Rambam. Thus it is possible even today that there is a biblical obligation to take the arba minim when visiting the Old City of Jerusalem.

This rule was changed with the destruction of the Temple. At that time Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai instituted a Rabbinic decree obligating the lulav and etrog to be taken for all seven days of the holiday, zecher la-mikdash – as a remembrance of the Temple and its unique rule.

The Me’iri points out that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai did not actually establish the mitzvah for all seven days as in the Temple, since at least one of the days will fall out on Shabbat, when, nowadays, the lulav is not taken. Nevertheless the point is that the obligation, as it was practiced in the Bet ha-Mikdash, is remembered.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.