– Author: Rav Joel Kenigsberg

According to the Torah, only nine kolot (blasts) of the shofar are required to be sounded on the day of Rosh Hashana. However, the Gemara in Rosh Hashana describes how, due to uncertainty as to the precise nature of the shofar blasts required by the Torah, the Sages enacted blowing a minimum of thirty blasts. At a later point in history, various other kolot were added until our present day custom of one hundred or 101 tekiot was established.

This addition of tekiot above and beyond those required by the Torah raises a halachic dilemma. Why do these additional blasts not contravene the prohibition of bal tosif – the prohibition to add on to the Torah’s commands? In this essay we will explore several classical approaches of resolving this issue, which will also shed light on the nature of the bal tosif prohibition.

The Prohibition of Bal Tosif

Twice in Chumash Devarim, the Torah prohibits us from adding on to its commands. The prohibition first appears in Parshat Va’etchanan:

לֹא תֹסִפוּ עַל הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם וְלֹא תִגְרְעוּ מִמֶּנּוּ לִשְׁמֹר אֶת מִצְוֹת ה’ אֱלֹקֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם:[1]

“You shall not add to the matter that I command you, and you shall not detract from it, to observe the mitzvot of Hashem your God that I command you.”

It is repeated again in Parshat Re’eh:

אֵת כָּל הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם אֹתוֹ תִשְׁמְרוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת לֹא תֹסֵף עָלָיו וְלֹא תִגְרַע מִמֶּנּוּ:[2]

“Everything that I command you, you should observe it, do not add to it, and do not detract from it.”

However, this prohibition appears to contradict another explicit verse in the Torah. In Parshat Shoftim we are told:

עַל פִּי הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר יוֹרוּךָ וְעַל הַמִּשְׁפָּט אֲשֶׁר יֹאמְרוּ לְךָ תַּעֲשֶׂה לֹא תָסוּר מִן הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יַגִּידוּ לְךָ יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל:[3]

“According to the Torah that they instruct you, and for the judgment that they tell you to do, do not deviate from what they tell you right or left.”

This verse serves as the source for the authority of the Sanhedrin to enact new decrees and safeguards[4] over and above that which is explicitly written in the Torah. Yet this authority stands in direct contradiction to the aforementioned prohibition of bal tosif. The Rishonim struggle to resolve this seeming paradox. The Rambam, for example, writes as follows:

הואיל ויש לבית דין לגזור ולאסור דבר המותר ויעמוד איסורו לדורות וכן יש להן להתיר איסורי תורה לפי שעה מהו זה שהזהירה תורה לא תוסיף עליו ולא תגרע ממנו, שלא להוסיף על דברי תורה ולא לגרוע מהן ולקבוע הדבר לעולם בדבר שהוא מן התורה בין בתורה שבכתב בין בתורה שבעל פה, כיצד הרי כתוב בתורה לא תבשל גדי בחלב אמו מפי השמועה למדו שזה הכתוב אסר לבשל ולאכול בשר בחלב, בין בשר בהמה בין בשר חיה אבל בשר העוף מותר בחלב מן התורה, אם יבוא בית דין ויתיר בשר חיה בחלב הרי זה גורע, ואם יאסור בשר העוף ויאמר שהוא בכלל הגדי והוא אסור מן התורה הרי זה מוסיף, אבל אם אמר בשר העוף מותר מן התורה ואנו נאסור אותו ונודיע לעם שהוא גזרה שלא יבא מן הדבר חובה ויאמרו העוף מותר מפני שלא נתפרש כך החיה מותרת שהרי לא נתפרשה, ויבא אחר לומר אף בשר בהמה מותרת חוץ מן העז, ויבא אחר לומר אף בשר העז מותר בחלב פרה או הכבשה שלא נאמר אלא אמו שהיא מינו, ויבא אחר לומר אף בחלב העז שאינה אמו מותר שלא נאמר אלא אמו, לפיכך נאסור כל בשר בחלב אפילו בשר עוף, אין זה מוסיף אלא עושה סייג לתורה וכן כל כיוצא בזה.[5]

According to the Rambam, the prohibition for the beit din to add to the Torah’s commands applies only if they add new laws and claim that their source originates in the Torah itself. However, new decrees that are rabbinic in nature are permissible so long as that point is made clear – that these are additional enactments made by the Sages. Thus, Chazal had the authority to ban the consumption of chicken along with milk, since they did not present that prohibition as being from the Torah (which includes only consuming meat and milk), but rather they presented it as being forbidden by rabbinic law.

The Ra’avad, in his comments to the Rambam, disagrees. According to the Ra’avad, since there is an obligation to safeguard the Torah’s laws by enacting rabbinic decrees, any additional decrees would be permitted, even if it was implied that they are of Torah origin. The only way in which one would transgress the prohibition of bal tosif, says the Ra’avad, would be by altering a positive commandment such as lulav, tefillin or tzitzit.[6] The Rambam and Ra’avad thus argue whether bal tosif could apply to the enactment of rabbinic decrees and the extension of negative commandments in some cases, or merely to the fulfillment of positive commandments. Some have suggested that the argument is broader and relates to the very nature of the subject of this prohibition – according to the Rambam, the prohibition is addressed to the beit din, while according to the Ra’avad it would be addressed to the individual.[7]

Bal Tosif as it Applies to Tekiat Shofar

Two of the major Rishonim address the glaring difficulty as to why the additional shofar blasts enacted throughout the ages would not be a violation of bal tosif.

Tosafot in two places in masechet Rosh Hashana[8] explain that bal tosif applies only when one adds additional elements to an existing mitzvah, such as adding an additional species to the lulav bundle on Sukkot, but performing the same mitzvah twice would not constitute a violation. Thus, one may shake a lulav several times on the day of Sukkot, consume matzah multiple times on the night of Pesach, and blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana even beyond the minimum amount of blasts required by the Torah. According to this approach, our current practice would constitute the repetition of the mitzvah rather than signifying an addition to the Torah’s command.[9]

The Rashba takes a different approach. In his commentary to the Gemara,[10] he quotes Tosafot’s question and answer but responds that, in fact, the question does not even arise in the first place. According to the Rashba, bal Tosif is a prohibition that applies solely to an individual who adds additional commandments or elements to existing commands out of his own volition. When it comes to enactments by our Sages, however, they were given the authority to add on to the Torah’s laws by virtue of the verse in Parshat Shoftim. The additional shofar blasts are an established practice dating back to the Gemara and thus do not constitute a prohibition.

At first glance there would seem to be a major disagreement between the Rashba and Tosafot. The Rashba implies that our extra shofar blasts do constitute an additional element to the Torah’s command, but are nevertheless permitted, as they were enacted by the Sages. According to Tosafot, though, such is not the case. Rather, we are dealing with the repetition of a mitzvah, which is permitted in any event. What is the basis for the argument between these two great authorities?

One might surmise that the argument between Tosafot and the Rashba is similar to the argument between the Rambam and the Ra’avad. The Rashba seems to be following the Ra’avad’s premise that the prohibition of bal tosif applies not to the beit din, but only to an individual. Thus, by following the Sages’ enactment of tekiot d’me’umad,[11] there can perforce be no prohibition. Tosafot, by contrast, hold (as does the Rambam) that the beit din could theoretically transgress bal tosif, and thus they need to explain differently – that in this case we are dealing with the double performance of the unaltered mitzvah.

However, closer inspection reveals that this is not the case. First, although the Rambam emphasizes the role of the beit din regarding bal tosif, it is explicit in several places in the Mishneh Torah that the Rambam holds that an individual as well can transgress bal tosif.[12] The Minchat Chinuch explains that the Rambam’s main discussion in the aforementioned passage is the verse of “לא תסור” and the authority of the beit din to enact new decrees. It is in this context that he relates to bal tosif, rather than aiming to give a broader definition of the scope of the prohibition, but in fact he agrees that an individual can transgress the prohibition.[13]

Furthermore, while the Rashba and Tosafot may have given different explanations as to how to resolve the question of tekiat shofar in regard to the prohibition of bal tosif, that does not necessarily indicate that they completely disagree on the nature of bal tosif. Several of the Acharonim suggest that Tosafot would certainly agree with the Rashba that following certain types of rabbinic decrees would not constitute a violation of bal tosif, yet they maintain that this reasoning alone is not sufficient to explain the case of tekiat shofar. For example, the Pnei Yehoshua argues that the authority of the Sages is limited to circumstantial change that could not have been relevant at the time of matan Torah (such as the miracles of Chanukah and Purim), but where nothing has changed, the Sages would be unable to make a new decree without violating bal tosif.[14] The reasoning behind the extra shofar blasts (“to confound the Satan”) is something which had always been relevant, and for this reason Tosafot had to find an alternate answer to the question of why bal tosif would not apply. The Aruch L’Ner though rejects this explanation,[15] since there are many examples of rabbinic enactments not resulting from circumstantial change.[16] He argues that the additional tekiot are not a bona fide rabbinic decree (as evidenced from the fact that no additional beracha is said) but rather an established custom. Thus, the rabbinic immunity from bal tosif is lacking.

This last point is echoed in the explanation provided by Rav Chaim Soloveitchik.[17] He begins with the basic premise that the Sages never enacted the blowing of additional shofar blasts. The enactment of Chazal was that those tekiot that are sounded on Rosh Hashana need to accompany the berachot of MussafMalchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot. Thus, in order to discharge one’s obligation on both a Torah and rabbinic level it would be sufficient to have one set of shofar blasts alone – the tekiot d’me’umad.[18] The prevalent custom to blow twice, in order to confound the Satan, is simply that – a custom. The Sages who enacted when the shofar has to be blown never enacted that it has to be blown additional times. That was a custom that developed independently.[19]

Accordingly, explains Rav Chaim, Tosafot could not have answered that there is no bal tosif because we are following a rabbinic enactment – because there is no rabbinic enactment to blow the shofar twice! The blowing of the tekiot d’meyushav discharges the Torah obligation to hear the shofar, while the tekiot d’me’umad blown together with the berachot of Mussaf discharges our rabbinic obligation too. Were it not for the reasoning given by the Gemara (“to confound the Satan”) one set of blasts would have been sufficient, even on a rabbinic level.

The Rashba, by contrast, explains that although there is no rabbinic requirement to blow the shofar twice, we have still not discharged our rabbinic obligation to hear the shofar along with the berachot following the first set of tekiot. Thus, we are still obligated on a rabbinic level to hear the shofar again. Nonetheless, according to both the Rashba and Tosafot, the decree was to hear the shofar along with the berachot, not to blow additional blasts.

A Third Approach

A third approach can be found in the commentaries of the Ramban and the Ritva. While not explicitly addressing the question of bal tosif, they suggest an alternate explanation of the tekiot d’me’umad that sheds light on our subject as well.

As mentioned previously, the original obligation of blowing nine shofar blasts mandated by the Torah were expanded to thirty tekiot due to uncertainty about the precise nature of the sound required by the Torah. It would follow that just as thirty blasts are required to discharge our obligation as part of tekiot d’meyushav, so too all thirty should be required to be blown as part of tekiot d’me’umad. However, this is not the case. The Rishonim provide several different customs as to how many blasts are to be blown along with Mussaf. The majority of the opinions brought do not require all thirty blasts, which would have alleviated all doubts as to the correct terua.[20]

Both the Ramban[21] and the Ritva[22] explain in their commentaries that the shofar blasts that accompany the berachot of Mussaf are of a different nature than the blasts before Mussaf. While the tekiot d’meyushav come to discharge our obligation of hearing the shofar, the tekiot d’me’umad come to discharge our obligation as part of prayer itself. It is less important what precise blast is blown; what is critical is that the prayer is accompanied by the cry of the shofar.[23]

We can now understand why these additional blasts constitute no violation of bal tosif. Rather than adding elements to the mitzvah of shofar, these blasts come to serve as part of a different mitzvah altogether.

In summary, we have seen that the prohibition of bal tosif exists as an explicit ban on adding elements to the Torah’s commands. The mitzvah of shofar would seem to be a case in point where we do exactly that. The Rishonim provide several explanations as to why our additional tekiot do not constitute a violation:

  1. Tosfot explain that the prohibition is only to add elements to an existing mitzvah, but there is no prohibition to perform a mitzvah multiple times.[24]
  2. The Rashba explains that since the additional blasts stem from a rabbinic decree, they fall under the authority of the Sages to make new enactments and do not violate bal tosif.
  3. The Ramban and the Ritva understand the additional blasts to be a part of the mitzvah of prayer, rather than the mitzvah of shofar

[1] Devarim 4:2

[2] Devarim 13:1

[3] Devarim 17:11

[4] The Ramban (Hasagot of the Ramban to the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvot, shoresh 1), though, writes that the above pasuk only gives the Sages the authority to interpret the pesukim and explain halachot for which they have an explicit tradition, but does not include their authority to enact new rabbinic decrees. However, the question of how rabbinic decrees interact with the prohibition of bal tosif is certainly valid according to the Ramban as well.

[5] Rambam, Hilchot Mamrim 2:9

[6] See Rashi to Devarim 4:2 where he gives examples of the prohibition of bal tosif “such as five parshiyot in tefillin, five species of lulav [i.e., the lulav and four more], and five tzitzit.”

[7] See below where we bring further sources from the Rambam to reject this explanation.

[8] Rosh Hashana 16b and Rosh Hashana 28b

[9] This explanation ties in with the Gemara’s reasoning (Rosh Hashana 16b) for why we blow both tekiot d’meyushav before Mussaf and then tekiot d’me’umad again during Mussaf. The Gemara explains that this is in order to “confound the Satan”. As Rashi explains: כשישמע ישראל מחבבין את המצוות – מסתתמין דבריו. According to the explanation provided by Tosafot, the way we express our love of the mitzvah is simply by repeating it again and again, even once we have discharged our obligation!

[10] Rashba’s commentary to Rosh Hashana 16a

[11] The second set of tekiyot, which are blown as part of Mussaf, as opposed to tekiot d’meyushav, the first set of blasts, which are blown before Mussaf.

[12] See, for example, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Tefilla Ch. 14 and Hilchot Lulav Ch.7.

[13] Minchat Chinuch, Parshat Re’eh, Mitzvah 454

[14] Pnei Yehoshua, Rosh Hashana 16b

[15] Aruch L’Ner, Rosh Hashana 16b

[16] These include rabbinic prohibitions regarding Shabbat and forbidden relationships.

[17] Chiddushei HaGrach al HaShas, Rosh Hashana 28b

[18] This can be compared to the mitzvah of kiddush on Shabbat night. On a Torah level, it would be sufficient simply to say the words of kiddush. However, the Sages enacted that the kiddush should be said over wine.

[19] Rav Chaim proves this premise through a careful analysis of the wording of the Rambam. See Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Shofar Ch. 3. In Halacha 7, the Rambam states that the community is obligated to hear the tekiot along with the berachot of Mussaf. In Halacha 10, where he details the order of additional blasts, the Rambam begins with the words “the prevalent custom.” In addition, the Gemara (Rosh Hashana 16b) questions the reason for these additional blasts without providing a source for a rabbinic enactment.

[20] See Shulchan Aruch 592:1 and commentaries there

[21] Milchamot Hashem, Rosh Hashana 11a

[22] Ritva, Rosh Hashana 34a

[23] These Rishonim point to a similar idea found regarding the blowing of instruments on fast days.

[24] See also Levush (O.C. 585:3) who writes that, because the Torah used the term “יום תרועה”, the implication is that the mitzvah of blowing the shofar applies the entire day. Thus, even though the minimum amount of tekiot is stipulated by the Torah, one may continue blowing the shofar the entire day, and every additional blast would constitute the fulfillment of the mitzvah.

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