Rav Moshe Twersky Hy”d On Hefsekim (Interruptions) During Tekias Shofar: An In-depth Shiur, Part II



By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

What Occurred and the Variant Opinions

The Rosh mentions that in the town of Magentza (Mainz, Germany), in the year 4995 (1145) the following occurred during tekias shofar: in the third set of the tekiah-shevarim/teruah-tekiah group, the shofar blower accidentally started blowing the teruah after only two shevarim blasts. He realized his mistake and stopped the teruah in the middle and did not complete it. There was a machlokes amongst the people there. Some insisted that he needs to go back to the beginning of the entire group (meaning, start the group all over again with the first set of tekiah-shevarim/teruah-tekiah). Others, though, said that accidentally beginning to blow the teruah (of the shevarim/teruah) before completing the shevarim is not a problem, and he should just pick right up with where he left off, and blow the third blast of the shevarim, continue with the teruah, and complete it with the tekiah. As if nothing happened.

When the shofar blower got to the tekiah-shevarim-tekiah group, he made yet another mistake that aroused differing halachik opinions! What happened this time? He blew the first two sets of tekiah-shevarim-tekiah just fine, but in the third set, he accidentally blew an extra shevarim blast! Instead of three blasts – as it is supposed to be – he blew four. Those that had insisted re-doing the entire group in the previous incident once again insisted that the entire group be re-done. All three sets of tekiah-shevarim-tekiah need to be re-blown from the beginning, they insisted. At this point, Rabbeinu Elyakim bar Yosef expressed his dissatisfaction with their repeated insistences that the entire group of three sets be re-done, and he made his opinion be known that it was entirely unnecessary and incorrect to do so. His son in law, the Raavan concurred.

The Reasoning of Those that Disqualified

It is important to understand that there are two issues at hand in these incidents. Number one is the issue of whether or not any disqualifying interruption mandates repeating the entire group (of three sets) or not. As mentioned, there is the opinion of Rabbeinu Yoel that any disqualifying interruption not only invalidates a set, but the entire group of sets (see last week’s Vayigdal Moshe here).

Clearly, those in the shul that maintained that the errors constituted an invalidation – and insisted that the entire group had to be repeated (and not just that one set) – were in concurrence with the opinion of Rabbeinu Yoel. That is why, in both cases of error, they insisted that it would not suffice to re-do that particular set but that it was necessary to repeat the entire group. Parenthetically, I have never heard of anyone who conducted himself in accordance with this opinion (of re-doing the whole group instead of just the one set that was disqualified) other than Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin.

Then there is another issue which is whether or not these errors constituted an invalidation or not. Let’s begin with the first error of the partial teruah blown in between the first two shevarim blasts and the third one. There is a basic question about shevarim that we can ask: is it a conglomerate of three separate units of blasts – each one inherently constituting a “shofar sound” on its own, just that it has to be repeated three times – or do we view shevarim as one blast-unit that is comprised of three parts (each part on its own not being enough to be considered a “shofar-blast”)?

When it comes to tekiah, it is clear from the Gemara that you can elongate it as much as you like. Tosafos (Rosh HaShana 33b) says that, likewise, there is no problem with blowing extra blasts for teruah or shevarim (e.g. instead of nine for teruah and 3 for shevarim, he blew 16 for teruah and 7 for shevarim). All you’re doing is elongating the blast-unit, no different than tekiah. Regarding teruah, that seems to indeed be the consensus.

However, as we see from the Rosh, there are those that say that shevarim may not be elongated; that you must have only three blasts and that’s it. So what we can infer from this is: regarding teruah, everyone agrees that there is no problem with adding more blasts because we view the teruah as one unit comprised of multiple component-sounds. Each component-sound by itself is not enough to be classified as a “shofar-blast”; only altogether do they comprise a “shofar-blast” unit (in other words, it is one sound that sounds like multiple sounds). That is why you can add onto the number of component-sounds.  Just like by the shofar-blast unit of tekiah it is ok to elongate it, so too can you do so by the shofar-blast unit of teruah.

However, regarding shevarim, we see that it is a machlokes how we view it. The fact that those shul-members in Magentza (who clearly should be regarded as Rishonim) insisted that adding a fourth shever disqualified the shevarim makes it clear that they hold that we do not view shevarim as one shofar-blast unit comprised of three component-sounds. Rather, they hold that each one of the three shevarim sounds inherently constitutes a shofar-blast unit (kol). So, according to them, shevarim is different from tekiah and teruah in that it is a shofar-blast which is not one unit but a combination of three units. It must be that they view it this way, because if they viewed it the other way (that it’s one unit comprised of three parts) then they would not have had any reason to disqualify the set because of an extra shever!

It is important to recognize this because it obviates what we may have been inclined to suggest as an explanation for their opinion regarding the disqualification of the tekiah-shevarim/teruah-tekiah group when a partial teruah was blown before the third shever. What may we have been inclined to say? That they view shevarim as one unit comprised of three parts and that’s why a break in the middle completely ruins it. But, since we know – as we just got finished explaining – that they in fact must hold that we view shevarim as a composition of independent shofar-blast units that are repeated three times, we have to find an alternative way of understanding their reasoning for disqualifying the shevarim that was interrupted with a partial teruah.

But it is not difficult at all to understand. Namely, despite the fact that they view the shevarim as a composition of three independent shofar-blast units, they nevertheless hold that that composition cannot be interrupted! Even though each one of the “pieces” of the shevarim is sufficient – according to their opinion – to be considered an independent shofar-blast unit, they still all need to be connected in order to form the composition, and the partial-teruah interruption broke that connection.

The Reasoning of Rabbeinu Elyakim bar Yosef and the Raavan

The opinion of the Raavan (and his father in law) must be that shevarim is classified as a composite-repetition of three individual shofar-blast units. Each shever by itself is a shofar-blast sound, and we are simply repeating that sound three times to form the composite that we need. Why must it be that the Raavan holds this way? Because he was not bothered by the fact that there was a partial teruah before the third shever was blown. Think about it for a moment. Let’s say a partial teruah was blown in the middle of a tekiah. Is there anyone who would say that the tekiah is valid? Of course not! It’s no different than cutting an esrog in half and holding the two halves together with a pin. That’s not an esrog! So too, a tekiah – which by definition is one, uninterrupted unit of sound – which is broken in the middle is not a tekiah. And the same goes for any other blast which we view as one unit, irrespective of it being comprised of component parts. If a teruah – which everyone holds is considered one unit – would have an interruption in the middle (with a different sound) it too would be like an esrog cut in half. So, since the Raavan says that a partial teruah being blown before the third shever does not disqualify the shevarim, it cannot be that he holds that shevarim is one unit. It has to be that he holds that shevarim is a composite-repetition of three individual shofar-blast units. Only from such a vantage point is it possible to posit that a short interruption of a partial teruah does not disqualify it.

The Raavan explicitly says that the reason this partial teruah does not disqualify the tekiah-shevarim/teruah-tekiah is because it belongs here. A teruah, in the context of a tekiah-shevarim/teruah-tekiah certainly cannot be considered a “foreign element”. Just what, it was blown slightly prematurely. But that, according to the Raavan is not enough to make it into a disqualifying interruption. But what if such a thing would have happened in tekiah-shevarim-tekiah? The implication of the Raavan’s words is crystal clear that a partial teruah accidentally blown in the middle of a tekiah-shevarim-tekiah would indeed invalidate the set. Why? Becaue in the tekiah-shevarim-tekiah set a teruah sound is a “foreign element”. It does not belong there at all. It therefore constitutes a disqualifying interruption. It is not the disruption of shevarim-consecutiveness that is the disqualifier, but the simple fact that a foreign element was introduced into the set and thus interrupts and disqualifies it (this is like the opinion of the Ramban who holds that the issue of an extraneous sound is not the same as that of the general discussion of mitzvos being interrupted in the middle, but is a shofar-specific issue that the consecutiveness which defines the set is being disrupted).

Now what if a complete teruah would have been blown in between the first two sounds of the shevarim and the third one? What then? That, agrees the Raavan, would indeed invalidate it. Why? Not because of the interruption, per se, as the Raavan already made it clear that a teruah in the context of tekiah-shevarim/teruah-tekiah cannot be considered a disqualifying interruption since it is not a foreign element (even though it was blown a bit prematurely). So why is it in fact going to invalidate the set just because the teruah was complete? The answer is that a complete teruah breaks the shevarim into two (“teruah sheh’nechlekah l’shnayim). This is similar to the disqualification of taking a breath in between the shevarim (which practically all the Rishonim agree that all three sounds of the shevarim must be blown in one breath). Even if it was a very small, quick breath – that nobody could notice – it invalidates the shevarim. What is the reason for the breath-invalidation? Because a hefsek (interruption) was made? For sure not. It’s not a very long pause. It’s not a foreign element. You definitely cannot view a miniscule, quick breath as a hefsek in the general sense of the term. So why does it invalidate, then? Simple. Because the Torah says that it has to be blown in one breath! If you take a breath in the middle, then you haven’t blown the sound the way the Torah says to do it. It’s an independent invalidation (like a cracked shofar; which certainly is not invalid because of “interruption”, rather a crack in the shofar invalidates the shofar – in a not dissimilar sense, a breath in the middle of the sound invalidates the sound – ed. elaboration). Likewise, according to the Raavan, the disqualification of “teruah sheh’nechlekah l’shnayim” (one sound being broken into two parts) is not a function of hefsek, per se, but is an independent invalidating factor. A partial teruah is not enough to break the shevarim into two halves, but a full teruah is. So it becomes like an esrog cut into two halves.

And once the shevarim has been cut into two halves (by the complete teruah) and invalidated, that invalidated shevarim does now constitute a hefsek and it is necessary to go back to the beginning of that set and start with the tekiah again. You can’t just re-do the shevarim/teruah because it would no longer be immediately preceded by a tekiah since there was an invalid sound blown in between them.

The Opinion of the Rosh

The Rosh disagrees with the Raavan on two points. Number one, he holds that whether it’s a partial teruah or a complete teruah that was blown in between the shevarim sounds, it is invalidated. Number two, even though it is invalidated, it is not necessary to re-do the set (starting with the tekiah), rather it’s enough to just re-do the shevarim/teruah correctly.

One and Then Three versus Three and Then One

If the shofar-blower blew a shevarim properly, took a breath, and then accidentally blew a fourth shever, that, we pasken, is no good. It’s invalidated because of the addition of the extra shever. The way the Mishnah Brurah explains this is that it is because he was already done blowing shevarim. He finished it already, so now the fourth one doesn’t belong and causes a disqualification. But what about the other way around? What if he blew one shever, took a breath, and then blew a proper shevarim of three shever sounds? What then? It is clear from the way the Mishnah Brurah explains it that in this latter case of one-and-then-three that it remains valid. Because the extra shever was blown while he was still holding by blowing shevarim so it’s not out of place.

Now what would the Raavan say about such a case? Would the Raavan agree that the case of one and then three is ok? Possibly not. Why? Because it is possible that the Raavan would hold that the breath taken in between the one and the three makes into a “teruah sheh’nechlekah l’shnayim”, broken into two.

(Audio Recording)