Monday, May 09, 2005

Jubilee throng

This week in Masechet Rosh Hashanah:
From the middle of 26b to the middle of 27b.

We resume the discussion of the shofar. Even though the shofar could be the horn of any animal, we know which animal it really is. Except that we don't agree. There are several opinions about whether the shofar of Rosh Hashanah is a twisted ram's horn or a straight goat's horn, and likewise for the shofar blown on Yom Kippur of the yovel (jubilee) year, and the shofar blown to accompany the silver trumpets on public fast days. (We still haven't seen an explicit gezeirah shavah between Rosh Hashanah and yovel, but Rashi keeps dancing around it! I don't know if I can handle the tension. Is the Gemara ever going to come out and say it, or do we have to go to Sifra for that?) The shape of the shofar for each occasion is taken to represent our state of mind. In the yovel, when liberty is proclaimed throughout the land, we are standing upright, so the straight horn is most appropriate, whereas on Rosh Hashanah we are bent over in contrition. Or is it that we're standing up straight on Rosh Hashanah and we're bent over on fast days? Or is it all about the gezeirah shavah that dare not speak its name (so that Rosh Hashanah and yovel have to be the same horn, whichever it is)?

Back in the day, the shofar would be accompanied by two trumpets on Rosh Hashanah, and the trumpets on fast days would be accompanied by shofarot. However, this shofar-trumpet combo was only in the Temple. The prooftext is "bachatzotz'rot v'kol shofar hari'u lifnei hamelech Adonai" (Psalm 98) -- with trumpets and the sound of the shofar sound out, [but only when you are] in the presence of the sovereign God [understood as the Temple]. So in our day, the shofar plays solo.

The phrase "zeh hayom t'chilat ma'asecha, zikaron l'yom rishon" ("this is the day of the beginning of your creation, a remembrance of the first day") only appears in the Rosh Hashanah prayers (in the zichronot section) if you follow Rabbi Eliezer, who said that the world was created on 1 Tishrei. I guess we do. What does it mean metaphorically to say that the world was created in Tishrei rather than Nisan?

We also come to a discussion of a halachic principle that comes up a lot in "pluralism discussions" -- whether or not t'rei kalei are misht'ma'ei (whether two voices can be discerned). I've seen it come up in discussions of kol isha (whether some people's prohibition of listening to a woman's voice can be neutralized if multiple people are singing), birkat hamazon (whether more than one person can lead zimmun together), and Torah reading (whether it's a problem if people in the congregation start singing along with shirat hayam), so it was good to see one of the plural-of-locus-classicus. The idea that two voices can't be discerned is tied to the statement immortalized in Lecha Dodi: Zachor v'shamor b'dibur echad ne'emru. "Remember" and "Keep" were said in a single utterance: something that the human mouth can't say and the human ear can't hear!

The question of t'rei kalei came up apropos of the aforementioned shofar-trumpet duet: if the commandment is to hear the shofar and two simultaneous sounds can't be discerned, then how can you fulfill your obligation if there's a trumpet playing at the same time? The solution is that the shofar holds the note longer, so you can hear a solo shofar after the trumpet has stopped playing the note. But wait a second, the principle of t'rei kalei only applies when people aren't listening so carefully (like the translation of the Torah reading); in less-common things like megillah reading and hallel, people listen more carefully and therefore it's ok to have multiple voices together, and shofar (only once a year!) is definitely in this category. But in that case, why have the trumpet cut out early? To remind everyone that the mitzvah is to hear the shofar.

We got started on the next mishnah, which starts hitting actual laws of shofar. The Ein Mishpat goes nuts. A shofar that is cracked and glued back together: sorry, it goes to the rummage sale. But if it's just punctured and stopped up, it's kosher if this doesn't interfere with the sound. You have to hear the shofar itself, not an echo, but I don't know how anyone can ensure that if they're in a room with non-foam walls. And you have to have the intention to hear the shofar. Modifications to the shofar are permitted iff they don't change the sound. A shofar inside a shofar: the inner one is kosher but not the outer one (reminiscent of a sukkah on top of a sukkah!).

Chapter 3 will be finished soon. Keeping me awake at night: Before the tractate is out, will we see the thing about Hillel II sanctifying all future new moons in the Gemara itself, or is that from some other source?

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