Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
The Mateh Ephraim (69) and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (128:63) direct that we should inspect our tefillin and mezuzos during the Hebrew month of Elul in preparation of the coming new year, so as to have checked them at least once a year. Sefer Yesod v’Shoresh Avodah, chapter 4 and page 310, advise that we should limit our speech, absolutely not to speak an unnecessary word, from Rosh Chodesh Elul until after Yom Kippur. The sefer notes that no better mechanism other than silence exists to purify our souls.
Rabbi Shimon Sofer, zt’l Hy’d (1881-1944), Erlau Rav and author of Hisorerus Teshuva (Responsum 373) echoes may other sefarim in directing that we do not eat nuts from the beginning of Selichos until after Hoshanah Rabbah. Beis Hayotzer 43; Yad Yitzchok 1:208; Ach Pri Tevuah, Parashas Vayechi; Siach Yitzchok on Erev Rosh Hashanah; and Kitzeh Hamateh 583:16 all advise the same timeframe in limiting the eating of nuts. The reason is that eating nuts causes one to cough, which would interfere with one’s tefillos and hearing of the shofar. This is especially so for one who will be a sheliach tzibbur, ba’al makreh, and ba’al tokeah. However, from Rosh Chodesh Elul until the beginning of Selichos, the prohibition of eating nuts, as suggested by other poskim, seems not applicable. Most likely, because Sephardim begin reciting Selichos from Rosh Chodesh Elul, limiting the ingestion of nuts from that time would be applicable only to Sephardim.
Nuts that are cooked in other foods and are not discernable would be permissible, since cooking and baking nullifies the taste and properties of the nuts. Nevertheless, some are strict in limiting their use until after Rosh Hashanah. Peanut butter and other nut butters are permissible because the properties of the nuts are lost in their processing.
During the Yamim Nora’im until after Hoshanah Rabbah, the custom has been accepted to use only round challos. Reasons given are that the round shape implies a continuum, without an end. So too, we pray for our lives to continue (Chasam Sofer, Toras Moshe, 4th edition, page 356). Interestingly, Minhag Beis Alik 174 describes the challos being used for the Yamim Nora’im until after Hoshanah Rabbah as being works of art. Of the two challos being used for lechem mishnah, one is in the shape of a ladder, so that our prayers ascend to Heaven. The second challah is made in the shape of a bird to convey that as birds fly, so too Heaven soars above us and protects us.
Eating before the blowing of the shofar has generated controversy throughout the ages. The Shulchan Aruch, from where we derive virtually all of our halachos and modes of behavior, does not prohibit eating before shofar-blowing. However, the Shulchan Aruch prohibits eating before the fulfillment of the mitzvah of esrog and lulav (652:2). Rabbi Yom Tov Asevilli, zt’l, (1250-1330), renowned as the Ritvah, interprets the same rule as applying to shofar. The Mateh Ephraim, 588:2, concurs. The Kitzeh Hamateh, ibid, bemoans the leniency that is practiced by the many who do eat before shofar.
Regardless, today’s almost universal practice is that many eat before shofar. Originally, only people who were weak were allowed to drink some water, tea, or coffee and to take a small bite of food. One doing so was advised to make kiddush for himself as well as for others who had to eat. The permission granted by hearing the kiddush seems to have spread, and healthy persons, having heard kiddush, also partook of what was on the table in front of them. Since Torah scholars did not respond negatively to the weak person making kiddush, others assumed that the kiddush applied to them too.
Some have offered a reasoning for the lenient practice. Ordinarily, we fear that if one begins eating, he will miss tefillah in its proper time. However, if one appoints someone to remind him to pray at the proper time, he may eat. A shamas who calls everyone to tefillah would be considered an acceptable agent. On Rosh Hashanah, before the blowing of shofar, many Poskim agree that the holiness of the day cannot be forgotten and one who begins eating will not forget the obligation to hear the shofar. This is similar to one who awaits delivery of an esrog and lulav and is permitted to eat since as soon as the esrog and lulav are brought, he will not ignore the mitzvah but will rather attend to it immediately (Chasam Sofer 652). The Mishnah Berurah, ibid, concurs. The Rema at 232:2 accepts a prescheduled calling by a shamas as an acceptable reminder. This is all very much so on Rosh Hashanah when we anticipate returning to shul for shofar and Mussaf.
Whether to make kiddush on the snack eaten before shofar is another topic of extensive discussion, since what is eaten before shofar is never a formal meal. Arguments for leniency also dwell on the obligation for kiddush at night being mi’d’Oraisa, while the obligation of kiddush during the day is mi’d’rabbanan. Thus, since we have proclaimed the holiness of the day during tefillas Shacharis, the kiddush obligation may have been obviated.
According to Rabbi Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam, zt’l, (1813-1898), Shiniva Rav and author of Divrei Yechezel, another reason for leniency is derived from the original timing of shofar-blowing having been in tefillas Shacharis. At different times in history, the blowing of shofar was suspected of being a signal to enemies to attack. Usually, military actions begin early in the day. So as to avoid such suspicions, the blowing of shofar has been rescheduled to after Shacharis.
According to Pri Migadim (286) and the Chayei Adam (32:7), a Kohen who made kiddush before shofar and drank most of a revi’es (3 to 4 liquid ounces) of wine is permitted to perform Birkas Kohanim.
If the second day of Rosh Hashanah is on a Friday, as it is this year, we complete our tefillos somewhat earlier in honor of the approaching Shabbos. The custom amongst Belzer Chassidim is to announce this out loud before chazaras haShatz so that the mitzvah of honoring Shabbos is included in our favorable balance of good deeds. v
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He can be contacted at email@example.com.