Shabbat Parashat Nitzavim| 5766
Ask the Rabbi
Question: As a ba’al tokeiah (shofar blower), I amasked to go to sick people’s homes to blow for them. It can be very difficult to make it to everyone. Must I go to everyone, including women, who are not obligated in the mitzva of shofar?
Answer: There are points in this matter that are difficult to quantify or find clear halachic guidelines. We will try to put the matter in proper, halachic perspective.
The mitzva tohearthe shofar on Rosh Hashana is a personal one, even though it is usually performed publicly. If one cannot go to shul, he is responsible to arrange to hear it elsewhere, assuming he is well enough to do so, and should be willing to spend money to facilitate it. (See Eretz Hemdah I, 1:7 and Moadim U’zmanim I, 4 regarding how much money/toil one is required to put out in order to fulfill a mitzva. In the final analysis, this is a somewhat subjective determination).
In order to perform a mitzva on another’s behalf, the one who performs it must be obligated in the mitzva. Yet, even if one already fulfilled the mitzva,the fact that his friend is obligated in the mitzva makes him obligated enough to perform the mitzva on his friend’s behalf (Rosh Hashana 29a). This is based on the concept of arvut (responsibility to help one’s counterpart with his halachic obligations) (Rashi, ad loc.). The practical parameters of this obligation are unclear. However, “conventional halachic wisdom” is that one does not have to expend as much to ensure his friend’s fulfillment of a mitzva as his own. The question of these parameters applies not only to money, but, as in this case, to toil and curtailing the enjoyment and mitzva of a festive meal after a long day in shul,as well. In theory, a ba’al tokeiah can demand monetary compensation for the toil of making such “house calls.” We suggested this concept to a mohel who was asked to spend Shabbat away from home under difficult conditions in order to perform a Shabbat brit (B’mareh Habazak I, 32). In practice, we assume that under normal circumstances, one would agree to blow shofar for free on Rosh Hashana even if it is inconvenient.
So, while one who is capable of blowing shofar for the homebound has a responsibility to do so, it is hard to determine how much he has to extend himself, at least for free, to do so. Another pertinent factor is that a community is likely to have more than one person who is capable of blowing. If so, this lowers the responsibility on any given ba’al tokeiah, especially if he has already done his share (see B’mareh Habazak, ibid.). Even less talented ba’alei tokeiah can and shouldshare the task of going to hospitals and house-to-house if they can do a valid job.
The Torah indeed exempts women from the mitzva of shofar (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 589:3). Consequently, although we assume that there is arvut between men and women, there is none where the woman is not obligated herself (see Shut R. Akiva Eiger I, 7). However, the minhag has been for centuries that women make every effort to fulfill the mitzva of shofar. (See Shulchan Aruch ibid.:6 regarding the beracha.) There are discussions over whether the fact that women regularly practice this mitzva obligates them to continue doing so, as a form of neder (vow) (see Magen Avraham 489:1 regarding the counting of the omer). If it does, others would be required to help fulfill this new obligation. However, a woman’s possible obligation is less likely in a case where illness makes it difficult to fulfill the mitzva. Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer, II, OC 30) rules that at least if the situation is temporary, a sick woman is exempt during her incapacitation without requiring a special hatarat nedarim (absolution of vows).
In most cases, though, the ba’al tokeiah is not practically “off the hook” from helping a sick woman hear shofar blowing. To the contrary, even if she is exempt, she has a right to ask for a chesed to enable her to continue her lifelong practice. If for no other reason, one must normally accommodate her with such a visit because of the mitzva of bikur cholim (visiting the sick).
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