Masechet Rosh Hashanah 31a-35a

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04 Jan 2007

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 HaShanah 31a-b

At the time of the destruction of the Temple, the Jewish people were sent into exile. Rav Yehuda bar Idi quotes Rabbi Yochanan as teaching that part of the exile included a parallel self-exile of God’s presence – the Shekinah – which took place in ten stages (all of them hinted to in psukim, or verses, in Tanach), beginning with a gradual withdrawal from the Holy of Holies, from the Temple Mount and from the city of Jerusalem.

At the same time that God was removing His presence from the Temple, the Sanhedrin was gradually removing itself from its offices on the Temple Mount, as well, making its way to the Galilee (see map), where most of the remaining Jews were to live under Roman rule.

The Sanhedrin’s first stop after leaving Jerusalem was the city of Yavneh, which was established as a center of Torah study by Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, and became most famous under the direction of Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh. Throughout its continuing travels, the Sanhedrin was headed by descendants of the family of Hillel.

It appears that the Sanhedrin was moved to Usha in the aftermath of the Bar-Kokhba revolt, where a series of Rabbinic enactments – called takanot Usha – were established. Under the leadership of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel there was an unsuccessful attempt to return the Sanhedrin to Yavneh, but due to the overwhelming devastation in the southern part of the country, they returned to the Galilee, first to Usha and then to Shefar’am.

Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi first sat in Bet She’arim together with the Sanhedrin, but he was forced to move to Tzippori, which was on a higher altitude, for reasons of health. His son, Rabban Gamliel, settled in Teverya, and the Sanhedrin remained in that city until it was finally dissolved.

Rosh HaShanah 32a-b

The daily Amida prayer, which contains 19 blessings (and is popularly called shmoneh esrei, referring to the original 18 blessings, to which one was later added), is made up of three introductory blessings, 13 requests, and three concluding blessings. On Shabbat and holidays, the requests are removed and the amidah contains the introductory and closing blessings, with a single blessing in the middle that focuses on the holiness of the day.

The amidah prayer of mussaf on Rosh HaShanah is unique in that it had three blessings between the introductory and concluding berakhot. These three blessings – referred to by the Gemara as malchuyot, zichronot and shofarot (blessings over God’s monarchy, His remembrances and the shofar), make up the longest amidah of the year. Our Mishnah teaches that aside from the closing blessing itself, each of these additional berakhot is made up of ten passages from the Tanakh. The passages serve to illustrate these three concepts.

Several sources are brought to explain the need for collecting pesukim to illustrate God’s monarchy.

Finding Rabbi Yochanan’s ten statements of va-yomer (“and He said”) is a challenge to many of the commentaries. While some statements in Bereshit very clearly are statements of creation, with others it is more difficult to determine whether they are statements, blessings, suggestions, etc.

Once sources for ten psukim about malkhiyot are suggested, our Gemara makes no attempt to locate sources for zikhronot or shofarot. The Rashba suggests that once we find acceptable sources for malkhiyot, the reasoning works for the others, as well. The Talmud Yerushalmi does make other suggestions, however. According to the Yerushalmi, ten zikronot are suggested by the ten expressions of repentance in the first perek of Yeshayahu (1:16-18), and ten shofarot commemorate the sacrifices brought during mussaf of Rosh HaShanah in the Temple, each of which was accompanied by the sounding of the shofar.

Rosh HaShanah 33a-b

Although playing a musical instrument on Shabbat or Yom Tov is ordinarily forbidden by the Sages shema yetaken klei shir – lest someone fix the instrument – nevertheless, blowing a shofar on Rosh HaShanah is a mitzvah that must be fulfilled. Can someone who is not obligated in the mitzvah of shofar blow it on Rosh HaShanah?

The Mishnah (32b) teaches that children are permitted to try out the shofar and that adults can even help them practice blowing it. The Gemara on our daf argues that by specifically permitting children to blow the shofar, the Mishnah is implicitly teaching that women are not allowed to do so. This stands in apparent contradiction to a baraita that permits both women and children to blow the shofar on the holiday. Abayye explains that this is not a contradiction; it is simply a difference of opinion. Our Mishnah is the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda; the baraita is the opinion of Rabbi Yossi and Rabbi Shimon.

These positions stem from the disagreement between the tanna’im on the issue of semikhah – part of the sacrifice ceremony when the person bringing a korban in the Temple would put pressure on the animal’s head before it was slaughtered and brought to the altar. Rabbi Yossi and Rabbi Shimon rule that women can perform semikhah even though they are not obligated in it, from which we conclude that they generally permit women to perform mitzvot on a voluntary basis, even when they are not obligated in them. Rabbi Yehuda forbids women from doing semikha.

Our tradition follows the opinions of Rabbi Yossi and Rabbi Shimon, which allows people to perform mitzvot on a voluntary basis, even if they are not commanded in them. The main differences of opinion regarding this halakha relate to situations where performing the mitzvah voluntarily will involve a potential transgression, or the question of whether the blessing of asher kidshanu be-mitzvotav – which suggests that the mitzvah is commanded – can be recited.

Rosh HaShanah 34a-b

Anyone who has heard the shofar blown in the synagogue on Rosh HaShanah recognizes their unique sound – a single long blast (tekiah), followed by a series of broken notes, and a concluding single blast (tekiah). This cycle is repeated with variations in the broken notes:

This tradition developed from a takana – a Rabbinic ordinance – promulgated by Rabbi Abahu. The Gemara explains that Rabbi Abahu was unsure whether the proper teru’ah was genuhei ganah – a moaning sound, yelulei yalil – a crying sound, or a combination of the two. Thus we repeat the teki’ot a number of times in order to cover all possibilities.

Rabbi Abahu’s need to develop this system is difficult to understand. Was there not a tradition as to the proper sound of the teru’ah?

This question vexed the rishonim, who offer a number of different suggestions.

The Rambam argues that, in fact, this is an example of a tradition that was forgotten or became confused during the years of exile that followed the destruction of the Second Temple.

Rav Hai Gaon argues that according to Torah law, a broken sound would suffice to fulfill the definition of the teru’ah that was required. Over the course of time, two different traditions developed; some people always sounded genuhei ganah – a moaning sound, while others sounded yelulei yalil – a crying sound. Rabbi Abahu was concerned lest these different traditions would create dissention among people who did not realize that both were legitimate positions, so he chose to institute and combine them.

The Ritva suggests that the true requirement is to blow the shofar in a manner that inspires fear and trembling. As different generations related to musical sound in different ways, the sound that brought out those emotions changed, leading to a variety of traditions. Rabbi Abahu combined them in order to minimize potential strife.

Rosh HaShanah 35a

When recited in the synagogue, both Shacharit and Mincha (the morning and afternoon prayer services) include the amidah prayer, first recited by each individual congregant, and then followed by an out-loud repetition by the chazzan. This tradition has its source in the last Mishnah in Masechet Rosh HaShanah (33b) where the Mishnah teaches that both the individual and the chazzan are obligated to recite the prayer. Rabban Gamliel argues that the community can listen to the recitation of the chazzan, who represents the community (his title, in fact, is shaliach tzibbur – the congregation’s messenger), and fulfill their obligation without reciting it themselves.

According to the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 124:1), a person who is not familiar with the prayers can listen to the chazzan and fulfill his obligation on the condition that he remain silent throughout the repetition and pay close attention to every word recited from beginning to end. Such a person should treat this as he would his own amidah – he should take three steps back at the end, etc. The Shulchan Arukh ha-Rav rules that it is essential that he understand at least the first bracha; otherwise he would be better off saying the amidah in a language that he understands.

This is all true for someone who is not expert enough to pray on his own. If someone is a baki – an expert in the prayers – it is not clear whether we follow Rabban Gamliel’s ruling. The Magen Avraham, for example, rules that a baki cannot fulfill his obligation in prayer by simply listening to the repetition of the chazzan.

Although there are arguments as to whether we accept Rabban Gamliel’s position all year round, the clear conclusion of the Gemara is that on Rosh HaShanah we follow his opinion mishum de-avshi brachot – because the extra blessings in the Rosh HaShanah prayers are long and unfamiliar. The Rosh suggests that the expression mishum de-avshi berakhot refers to the noise in the synagogue during Rosh HaShanah prayers. Unlike regular days, when most people are familiar with the prayers and say them quietly, on Rosh HaShanah people are more likely to say them aloud, making it difficult to concentrate. Thus, on Rosh HaShanah everyone can fulfill the obligation of tefillah by listening to the chazzan.

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.