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Bahaaloscha – Sounding the Trumpets

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This week’s Parashah includes the instruction to sound the trumpets at times of strife; similarly we are instructed to sound the trumpets in the Mikdash at festivals and during the sacrificial service:

When you go to wage war in your Land against an enemy who oppresses you, you shall sound short blasts of the trumpets, and you shall be recalled before Hashem, your G-d, and you shall be saved from your foes. On a day of your gladness, and on your festivals, and on your new moons, you shall sound the trumpets over your burnt-offerings and over your feast peace-offerings… (Bamidbar 1:9-10)

Contemporary Soundings

In accordance with the explicit command of the verse, Rambam writes in his Sefer Ha-Mitzvos (Asei 59) that it is a Torah mitzvah to sound the trumpets—and specifically trumpets—at times of strife. The same ruling is echoed in Yad Hachazakah (Laws of Fasts 1:1).

Shulchan Aruch, however, writes that at times of strife the shofar is sounded (Orach Chayim 576:1). This ruling requires scrutiny: Why does Shulchan Aruch depart from the explicit reference of the verse (and Rambam) to trumpets, and cite the mitzvah as sounding the shofar? Although the Gemara (Taanis 14a) writes that during fast days the shofar would be sounded—which appears to be the source of Shulchan Aruch—this itself is difficult: Why does the Gemara mandate sounding the shofar and not the trumpets?

Concerning the basic halachah of sounding trumpeting at times of strife, Magen Avraham (576:1) quotes Rambam’s ruling requiring the specific sounding of trumpets, and asks an obvious question: Why is it that we do not fulfill the explicit Torah mitzvah of sounding the trumpets at times of strife? Magen Avraham offers no answer to this question.

In order to reach possible solutions to this enigma, we first introduce the Talmudic sugya in Rosh Hashanah (27a), which discusses the laws of sounding [the trumpets] in times of strife.

Three Opinions of How to Sound

The Gemara relates that R. Papa b. Shmuel wished to sound the shofar and trumpets on fasts. According to Rashi, the conclusion reached by the Gemara is that outside the vicinity of the Mikdash one must sound specifically trumpets: “Outside the Mikdash, wherever there are trumpets, there is no shofar (meaning the shofar is not sounded).” This is also the opinion of Baal Ha-Meor (ibid.), who therefore questions the custom mentioned by Geonim to sound the shofar on fast days.

Ramban (Milchamos, ibid.), however, writes that the customary sounding of the shofar (mentioned by Geonim) is sourced in the Gemara in Taanis (14a), which explicitly mentions the sounding of shofaros. The Geonim ruled in favor of the Gemara in Taanis over the conclusion of the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah.

A third opinion of Rishonim is stated by Rashba, who understands the conclusion of the Gemara in a different light than Rashi. According to Rashba, the conclusion of the Gemara is that outside the Mikdash one may sound either the shofar or trumpets, but not both. Only in the Mikdash are both trumpets and shofarot sounded. The above-mentioned custom to sound shofaros is therefore proper, for shofaros are more common today, and their sounding is permitted provided trumpets are not present.

The ruling of Rambam is therefore in line with the first opinion (Rashi): only trumpets may be sounded. Shulchan Aruch, however, sides with Ramban, ruling that specifically shofaros should be sounded. According to Rashba, one may sound either the shofar or the trumpet.

No Trumpets?

We may now return to the question of Magen Avraham: Why is it not customary today to sound trumpets at times of strife?

Addressing the question, Iggros Moshe (Orach Chayim I:169) writes, based on the above ruling of Rambam, that the mitzvah applies to trumpets alone. Furthermore, he quotes from Ritva that the custom in France not to sound the call at times of strife is because we do not have trumpets. This, concludes Iggros Moshe, is also the reason for which we do not sound the trumpets in our days.

As to the question of creating our own trumpets for the purpose of fulfilling the mitzvah, Iggros Moshe adds that the mitzvah applies solely to trumpets that are used for sounding in the Mikdash—an assumption he bases on the words of Rambam, who records the sounding of trumpets at times of strife and the sounding in the Mikdash as a single mitzvah (a point questioned by Maggid Mishneh). By placing the two mitzvos together, Rambam teaches us that the only trumpets that may be used are those used in the Mikdash.

In an interesting responsa on the subject, Harav Elyashiv shlita (Orach Chayim 33) asks that we can surely construct trumpets, and consecrate them for use in the Mikdash, thereby validating them for sounding in times of strife? To this question, he responds that the sounding of trumpets during the sacrificial service is part of the avodah. As an integral part of the sacrificial procedure, it follows that somebody who blows the trumpet for his own benefit (to play a tune) transgresses the Torah prohibition of me’ilah. On account of this danger, we do not construct trumpets in our times, and their sounding must await the Redemption and rebuilding of the Mikdash.

The Land of Israel

The answer above is only possible according to Rambam, who maintains that only trumpets may be sounded. According to Shulchan Aruch, who rules that the shofar is sounded, the question of sounding the shofar in the modern era remains. Why is the shofar not sounded in times of strife?

Mishnah Berurah (576:1), who mentions the decision of Maggid Mishnah that a shofar (and not only a trumpet) may also be sounded, addresses the issue. Citing from Nesiv Chayim, he writes that the mitzvah applies in the Land of Israel alone. This is based on the simple reading of the verse: “When you go to wage war in your land … you shall sound the trumpets” (Bamidbar 1:9).

However, this answer is not without difficulties. Although the verse mentions the land, the mitzvah of sounding the trumpets is incumbent on our body (guf), and is unrelated to the land itself. As a result, the mitzvah ought to apply universally (see Kiddushin 37a). Furthermore, we have already mentioned the custom of Geonim to sound the shofar on fast days, indicating that the mitzvah does apply outside the Land of Israel.

Notwithstanding these objections, Harav Moshe Sternbuch shlita (Teshuvos Ve-Hanhagos III:157) has written, based on the answer cited by Mishnah Berurah, that in the Land of Israel there is a full obligation to sound the trumpets. He continues to state that this, indeed, is the prevalent custom: “In Jerusalem it is customary to sound the shofar at communal gatherings for times of strife, at which selichos are recited. It would appear that this sounding fulfills the Torah precept.”

However, Mishnah Berurah adds (citing from Pri Megadim) that the mitzvah might apply only in the Temple Era. A similar idea is expressed by Aruch Hashulchan (576:3), who writes that the Torah mitzvah only applies in the Temple Era, while a rabbinic mitzvah applies in all times—which would explain the custom of Geonim to sound the shofar. Aruch Hashulchan (576:3) explains that the rabbinic enactment was made to sound the shofar (instead of the Torah trumpets) specifically in the special benedictions enacted for fast days.

He thus states that because these blessings are not recited outside of the Land of Israel, it is not customary to sound the trumpets today (at least outside of Israel).

Practical Conclusions

It is interesting to note that on one occasion, when the threat of war loomed heavily on the State of Israel, the Jerusalem badatz decreed trumpets should be sounded in line with the ruling of Rambam. Thus on 12 Iyar 5730, the last fast day of the behab series, specially fashioned silver trumpets were sounded as part of a special prayer service. In line with the ruling of Minchas Chinuch (384:2), the trumpets were blown by Kohanim.

The custom, however, both with regard to trumpets and even to shofaros, has not become commonplace, and we have highlighted a number of reasons for why this might be so. The following list summarizes these reasons, and adds some more suggested explanations:

  • The mitzvah can only be fulfilled with consecrated trumpets.
  • The mitzvah only applies in the Temple Era.
  • The mitzvah today is of rabbinic nature, and was instituted together with blessings that are not generally recited.
  • The mitzvah requires Kohanim, and today we cannot know who is a true Kohen (Mor U’Ketziah, Orach Chayim 576).
  • The mitzvah only applies to strife that threatens the entire nation (Pri Megadim, quoted in Mishnah Berurah 576:1—though today such threats might exist).

After a lengthy discourse, Tzitz Eliezer (XI:16) also concludes that it would be improper to renew the custom in our times. We await the time when it will be renewed—though not for times of strife, but for times of celebration.

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