Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Nine



The final mishnah of Rosh Hashanah deals with the order of the shofar blasts.  In the commentary on this mishnah I will note some of the ways in which the halakhah has developed over the centuries.


Mishnah Nine

1)      The order of the blasts:  three sets of three each.

2)      The length of a teki’ah is equal to three teru’ahs, and the length of a teru’ah is equal to three yevavot.

3)      If one prolonged the first teki’ah so that it went directly into the second, it counts only as one.

4)      One who has blessed [recited the Amidah] and then a shofar is given to him, he sounds a teki’ah teru’ah teki’ah three times.

5)      Just as the shaliah tzibbur is obligated, so every single individual is obligated.

a)      Rabban Gamaliel says:  the shaliah tzibbur (communal prayer leader) causes the whole congregation to fulfill their obligation.



Section one:  There are nine core blasts of the shofar during the Mussaf  Amidah—three during each section, malkhuyot, zikhronot and shofarot.  Each set consists of one tekiah, one teruah, followed by another tekiah.  A set therefore consists of a teruah, preceded by and followed by a tekiah.

Section two:  A tekiah is a longer blast than a teruah and a teruah is a longer blast that a yevavah, which is a short staccato blast.

In the Talmud there is a doubt about whether a teruah consists of a few medium length notes or a greater number of staccato notes.  Today we call the few medium length notes “shevarim” and we call the shorter notes “teruah.”  Since it is unclear which we should do, we do both (Jews love to compromise).  We also do one set that is “shevarim-teruah” because a teruah may include both the shevarim and the teruah.  This doubt concerning the doubt about how the blasts are to be done is the main way in which the original nine blasts have been expanded.  The service also includes sets of shofar blasts that are not done throughout Mussaf.

Section three:  At the end of one set of blasts is a tekiah. There is also a tekiah at the beginning of another set. If the shofar blower starts a tekiah at the end of one set and continues to blow long enough that it could have counted for the tekiah at the beginning of the next set, then it only counts as one tekiah.  Each shofar blast must be integral and a doubly long blast counts only as one.

Section four: As we stated above, the shofar blasts are integrated into the Amidah. However, the obligation to blow the shofar is independent of the obligation to recite the Mussaf prayer.  Therefore, if one does not have a shofar while reciting the Amidah, and then gets one later on, he should blow the shofar even though he has already recited the Amidah.

Section five: The final section contains an extremely important debate concerning the function of the shaliach tzibbur, literally translated as “the agent of the community.”  According to the first opinion, every person is individually obligated to recite the entire Amidah.  The Talmud comments that according to this opinion, the function of the shaliach tzibbur is to fulfill the obligation for a person who doesn’t know how to recite the Amidah.  One who knows how to recite the Amidah cannot have his obligation fulfilled on his behalf by the shaliah tzibbur.

According to Rabban Gamaliel the shaliach tzibbur’s recitation of the Amidah fulfills the obligation of the entire community. The question then must be asked—why should the other members of the community even bother reciting the Amidah?  The answer given is that while the rest of the community recites the Amidah, the shaliah tzibbur has time to prepare to recite the Amidah.


Congratulations!  We have finished Rosh Hashanah.

It is a tradition at this point to thank God for helping us finish learning the tractate and to commit ourselves to going back and relearning it, so that we may not forget it and so that its lessons will stay with us for all of our lives.

Mishnah Rosh Hashanah had two main sections, one about the sanctification of the new month, Rosh Hodesh, and the other about Rosh Hashanah itself.  The Jewish calendar and its connection to the moon should remain an important way in which we connect ourselves to the cycles of nature, to the waxing and the waning of the new moon.  In modern times, women have reclaimed Rosh Hodesh as a woman’s holiday.  I hope that learning this mishnah has aided in these celebrations and as a reminder to everyone that Rosh Hodesh is not just the recitation of Hallel but is a monthly renewal of our calendar.

Rosh Hashanah remains one of the central holidays in the Jewish calendar.  I hope that by learning the Mishnah we can help return to the holidays roots which are a reminder of God’s kingship and God’s salvation.

And again, as always, congratulations on learning another tractate of Mishnah.  We are getting close to having finished half of the Mishnah.  May you have the strength and time to keep on learning more!

Tomorrow we begin Taanit.