We spend much of Rosh Hashanah in prayer. Davening is long and intensive, and in many communities people come out of Shul as late as 2 or 3 pm, or even later. Naturally, and despite the religious intensity of the time—or perhaps because of it—many are likely to get quite hungry before davening is over.
This raises the question of eating after Shacharis but before Mussaf—a reasonable option to alleviate hunger and its potential distraction.
In general, such as on a regular Shabbos, it is permitted to make Kiddush and eat before Mussaf. Although there is a general prohibition against eating before davening, which applies on both weekdays and on Shabbos and festival days (Shulchan Aruch 89:3), this prohibition applies to Shacharis, the morning prayer, and not to the Mussaf prayer.
What, however, is the halacha for Rosh Hashanah, when eating before Mussaf means eating before fulfilling the Torah mitzvah of sounding the Shofar? Is it permitted to eat before blowing the Shofar, and is there a difference between the first and second days of Rosh Hashanah? Might this depend on how much a person eats? What is the corresponding halachah for women?
These questions, among others, are discussed below.
Eating before Performing a Mitzvah
In several instances Chazal forbade eating before fulfilling mitzvos.
The Mishnah (Shabbos 9b) forbids eating a meal, among other activities, every day before davening Mincha in the afternoon. Although there is a debate among Rishonim and later authorities concerning the details and parameters of this prohibition, the basic principle, as explained by Rashi, is that we are afraid the person will get carried away with what he is doing and forget to daven before it’s too late.
A second example of the prohibition is eating before reading the Megillah on Purim night. This prohibition is mentioned in the Tosefta (Shabbos 1:4).
Even concerning Torah mitzvos (the examples above refer to rabbinic mitzvos) we find in the Mishnah (Sukkah 38a) that one must interrupt a meal for shaking the Lulav (which is a Torah mitzvah on the first day of Sukkos), and of course one must not begin a meal before the mitzvah is performed. The same principle is applied to the mitzvah of Keriyas Shema (Berachos 4).
These rulings are cited by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 232:2 concerning Mincha; 235:2 concerning Keriyas Shema; 652:2 concerning Lulav; 692 concerning Megillah), and it is therefore clear that one must refrain from beginning a meal before a time-bound mitzvah is performed.
Does the same idea apply to the mitzvah of the Shofar? Although one can fulfill the mitzvah of Shofar during the entire day, this is also true for the mitzvah of Lulav, and the halachah nonetheless applies. Thus, the Ritva (Sukkah 38a) writes that one must not begin to eat before hearing the Shofar, and one must even stop one’s meal in the middle for the sake of performing the mitzvah. Moreover, the above-mentioned Tosefta puts together the mitzvos of Lulav, Shofar and Megillah, indicating that one must stop one’s meal for any one of them.
Yet, it is noteworthy that other Rishonim do not mention the prohibition, and even the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema (as the Mishnah and Gemara) are silent concerning the issue. There is thus room to further investigate the principles of eating before the Tekiyos.
Eating a Meal before the Tekiyos
Based on the silence of earlier sources, the Kaf HaChaim (585:26) tentatively suggests that perhaps the prohibition indeed does not apply to Shofar—though he does not give this as an actual halachic ruling.
Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Moadim Uzmanim 1:4), in defense of those who eat before Shofar, suggests that perhaps Shofar is different than Lulav: The mitzvah of Lulav is fulfilled in one moment by picking up the four species. However, sounding the Shofar requires an extended amount of time, and we do not fully complete the mitzvah (with the customary number of soundings) until after Mussaf. This can be several hours after the mitzvah was begun. It is therefore possible that for such an extended mitzvah, the Sages did not prohibit eating before fulfillment.
Shut Hisorerus Teshuvah (no. 225) also notes the omission of the matter by early authorities, and writes that this might be because on Yom HaDin, when we are fearful of Hashem’s judgment, we are not concerned that anyone will forget to blow Shofar, and therefore it is permitted to eat before Shofar. This is all the more the case since Shofar is not only the day’s basic mitzvah, but it is also our means of achieving a positive judgment.
However, the great majority of later authorities, beginning with the Magen Avraham (692:7), rule that the prohibition of eating before mitzvos applies to Shofar. Although it is not mentioned by the Sages, it is far from being the only mitzvah to go unmentioned, and Chazal did not see it necessary to list all the mitzvos before which one may not eat.
As we will see below, the main discussion among authorities is therefore the question of “tasting”—or eating a small amount of food—before Shofar, while it is generally assumed that one may not consume a full meal before performing the mitzvah.
Snacking Before Mitzvos
As noted above, the halachah is that one may not begin a meal before performing a time related mitzvah. What, though, is the halachah concerning eating a small amount of food (known as te’imah, tasting or snacking) before the mitzvah is performed? Is this forbidden too?
The rationale behind the prohibition of eating a meal is that a person might become engrossed in the meal and forget to perform the mitzvah. Based on this reasoning, it seems the prohibition will apply specifically to a full meal, and not to a small amount of food.
The Gemara (Berachos 28b) states in this vein that we do not rule in accordance with Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who says that it is prohibited to “taste” anything before davening Mussaf or Mincha (by contrast with Shacharis). Based on this passage, the Tur and Beis Yosef (232:3) rule that it is permitted to eat a small amount of food (see below for the definition) before Mincha.
Some authorities defer this leniency (see Terumas HaDeshen 109), but the Shulchan Aruch (232:3) rules that tasting is permitted before Mincha, and the Mishnah Berurah (235:16) extends the ruling to eating a small amount of food before Maariv.
A Small Amount
What is considered a small amount of food?
The Shulchan Aruch writes that up to (and not including) one kebeitzah of bread is not considered a meal, but only a small amount of food. Moreover, a person may eat fruit and other foods even in large amounts, without the eating constituting a meal.
Concerning a kebeitzah of foods whose beracha is mezonos (such as cake, cookies, and so on, as traditionally served at a Kiddush), the Pri Megadim (Eshel Avraham 431:4) writes that the same rules and limitations apply as for bread. However, the Mishnah Berurah (232:34) quotes the Divrei Chaim, who claims that one may eat cakes or pastries (pas haba be-kisanim) up to the amount of a full meal (kevius seudah). This implies a far greater amount than one beitzah. The precise amount involves a dispute among authorities; some maintain that one must eat less than four beitzim, and one should certainly be wary of eating one’s fill.
This allowance for eating small amounts is applied by many authorities to other mitzvah contexts, such as eating before searching for Chametz (Magen Avraham 431:4; Mishnah Berurah 431:6), for taking the Lulav (Magen Avraham 652:4; Mishnah Berurah 652:7), and reading the Megillah (Magen Avraham 692:7, and other authorities).
Yet, the Magen Avraham and Mishnah Berurah (692:14) add that eating a small amount before performing a mitzvah is only permitted for a great need, citing the stringency from the Terumas HaDeshen (109). Although the reasoning noted by the Terumas HaDeshen is local for the issue of reading the Megillah, the stringency is extended by the Mishnah Berurah (652:7) to the area of eating before taking the Lulav.
What is the halacha concerning the Shofar?
Eating (a little) before Tekiyos
Based on the rationale mentioned above, some authorities have written that it is permitted to eat a little before the Shofar.
Rav Moshe Sternbuch is lenient on this point (Mo’adim Uzmanim, Rosh Hashanah 4), and Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (Shut Tzitz Eliezer Vol. 6, no. 7) adds that there is greater room for leniency concerning Shofar than there is concerning Lulav: the mitzvah of Shofar is performed communally, so that there is less chance of forgetting to perform the mitzvah. This is particularly true where Kiddush is made in shul, and everybody proceeds from Kiddush to Mussaf and the sounding of the Shofar.
An additional reason for leniency is suggested by Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos, Vol. 2, Chap. 52, note 52, and Milu’im ibid.), who notes that the mitzvah of Shofar has a “fixed time” because it is performed as part of the prayer order. Because of this there is less chance of forgetting to perform a mitzvah, and the prohibition does not apply. Another point is raised by Shut Hitorerus Teshuvah (no. 374; see also no. 225), who mentions that on Rosh Hashanah the chance of forgetting the mitzvah is slim, due to the fear of the day’s judgment.
According to these (and other) authorities (see Mikraei Kodesh, p. 290), it is permitted for somebody who is hungry to eat before the Tekiyos (see also Kaf HaChaim 585:26; 588:11). This will certainly be true for somebody whose hunger might cause him to be distracted from his davening,
Some even mention the prohibition of fasting until midday on a Yom Tov as a reason to permit eating before Shofar—though the Mishnah Berurah (597:2) writes that it is permitted to daven through midday on Rosh Hashanah. According to some opinions, it is even permitted to fast for the entire day of Rosh Hashanah, though this is not our custom.
However, other authorities are less lenient, and only permit eating before the Shofar for a “great need” (tzorech gadol). The Mishnah Berurah (692:15) groups Shofar together with Lulav and Megillah concerning this issue, indicating that eating a small amount before the Shofar is only permitted for a real necessity such as an ill or elderly person whose health may be damaged by not eating. A similar approach is taken by Rabbi Akiva Eger (who was wary of permitted eating before Shofar even at the time of a cholera epidemic, and recommended eating between the first set of Shofar blasts and the later set), Shut Maharsham (1:1), and others.
Many of these authorities argue that even if strictly speaking it is permitted to taste a little, this is not appropriate for Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment on which we stand in awe and fear before Hashem.
Others, such as the Mateh Efraim (588:2), write that although stringency should be preferred, one can rely on the general custom to eat before the Tekiyos. Rav Elyashiv zt”l (Kovetz Teshuvos Vol. 3) took a similar approach, mentioning that the general custom is to make Kiddush before the Shofar (certainly in yeshiva), but writing that the practice remains far from recommended.
Women Eating before Shofar
According to the Gemara and the Shulchan Aruch, women are not obligated to perform the mitzvah of Shofar, since it is a time-bound positive mitzvah from which women are exempt. Yet, Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Shut Rabbi Akiva Eiger no. 1) writes that women today have unanimously accepted upon themselves to fulfill the mitzvah of Shofar. Does this custom of acceptance place them in the same category as men concerning the prohibition against eating before Shofar, or is this customary obligation set aside from the full obligation of men, so that women may eat before hearing the Shofar?
The Chayei Adam (141:7) essentially follows the second approach, arguing that although women have accepted the obligation upon themselves, one can say that weak, nursing and pregnant women did not, and they may be lenient and eat as much as they feel they need. This can also be extended to healthy women who feel they will lose their strength should they refrain from eating.
Other authorities who adopt a similarly lenient approach are noted by Piskei Teshuvos (589:4).
In conclusion, we have seen that there are a number of different approaches taken by the Poskim concerning making Kiddush and eating before the Shofar.
Certainly, one should avoid eating bread (though strictly speaking a small amount might be permitted), and one should likewise be wary of consuming much mezonos (cakes and pastries). One may be more liberal with fruit and other foods. The custom in many places is to make a communal Kiddush before the Shofar. In other places, however, the custom is to refrain from doing so.
Whichever custom we adopt, let us ensure that our deeds on this holy day be for the sake of Heaven. May the sound of the Shofar be clearly heard both in our world and Above, and may we all merit a Shana Tova Umesuka.