Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 15 September 2012 / 27 Elul 5772

(Not) To Eat Meat On Rosh Hashana

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

There is a well-known halacha that one is not allowed to fast on Rosh Hashana (barring certain specific circumstances). Although it is a Day of Judgment, nevertheless Rosh Hashana is also a festive Yom Tov and one must honor it properly[1]. One of the foods that are most commonly eaten to honor the holiday are fine meaty delicacies[2], as it is written in the Book of Nechemia[3] about Rosh Hashana that everyone should “Eat fatty foods and drink sweet drinks…for this day is holy”.

Interestingly, there are various customs related to the permissibility of partaking of meat on Rosh Hashana, although it is considered to be the most distinguished of foods, and therefore seemingly the most appropriate with which to honor the holiday.

Where’s the Beef?

The famed Magen Avraham[4] cites an interesting minhag based on a sefer called “Maggid Meisharim” that says not to eat meat or drink wine[5] on Rosh Hashana. While that alone does not seem too noteworthy, as everyone can say “to each his own, he’ll follow his custom and I will follow mine”, it’s the author of the sefer that demands our attention. The author of the “Maggid Meisharim” is none other than Rav Yosef Karo, codifier extraordinaire and author of the Shulchan Aruch! Moreover, this sefer is a compilation of the halachos that he personally learned from a Malach from Shamayim; in other words, from an angel! This means, that according to the Heavenly spheres, one should refrain from eating meat on Rosh Hashana!

But if so, how do we reconcile the words of Ezra (cited in the book of Nechemia) about “eating fatty foods”? This surely refers to eating meat. Furthermore, there are several Mishnayos referencing that one should eat meat on Rosh Hashana[6]! Additionally, the Shulchan Aruch himself cites the minhag to eat a Rosh Kevess (a lamb’s head) on Rosh Hashana night[7] as a siman or good omen. What is the proper ruling[8]?

There seem to be several different views on how to resolve this glaring contradiction. One answer is that the “Maggid” was only referring to refraining from eating meat on Rosh Hashana day. On Rosh Hashana night, when most people do the “Yehi Ratzons”, the good omens[9] beneficial for starting the year off on the right foot, meat is permitted. Therefore, one may still have his lamb’s head (as one of the simanim) and eat it too[10]. Another possible solution is that the Maggid’s proscription was only meant for certain specific individuals who attained a high degree of spirituality (Yechidei Segulah), and was never meant for the general populace[11].

Heaven on Earth?!

However, the most widely accepted resolution is similar to that of the Gemara Bava Metzia 59b - in an analogous debate regarding the great R’ Eliezer who brought proof for his minority opinion from open miracles he performed. The Gemara nevertheless concludes “Torah Lo BaShamayim Hee[12], meaning we do not base our halachic rulings on how the relevant issue is viewed in the Heavenly realms. Likewise, many authorities categorically reject this prohibitive view with nary a mention of it, and allow eating meat on Rosh Hashana, with some claiming it is an outright obligation to do so in order to properly commemorate Rosh Hashana. Several authorities point out that had the Shulchan Aruch meant for his Maggid’s words to be authoritative psak, he would have codified the Maggid’s rulings as part of his Shulchan Aruch and not in a separate sefer[13].

Eating meat on Rosh Hashana has since become the common minhag, as many Rishonim including Rashi, Rabbeinu Gershom, the Meiri, R’ Yehuda HaChassid and Rabbeinu Efraim[14], as well as the vast majority of Acharonim from across the Jewish spectrum, including the Rema, Levush, Noda B’Yehuda, Ya’avetz, Chayei Adam, Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Ben Ish Chai, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Aruch Hashulchan, and Kaf Hachaim[15], all write that the proper minhag is that one should eat bassar shamein on Rosh Hashana.

The Kaf Hachaim actually concludes that even “Yechidei Segulah” do not have to follow the Maggid’s words, and accordingly should eat meat on Rosh Hashana.

In the final analysis, we mere mortals, apparently unlike angels[16], can and should properly celebrate the holiday of Rosh Hashana in style, including by eating meat delicacies. Enjoy your Yom Tov roast!

Much of this article is based on Rabbi Eliezer Brodt’s Likutei Eliezer (Ch. 4, pp. 90 - 118).

[1]See Tur / Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Berura (O.C. 597, 1).

[2]Obviously not together - see previous article “The Lox and Cream Cheese Dilemma part I”.

[3]Nechemia (Ch. 8, verse 10).

[4]Magen Avraham (beg. O.C. 597), Maggid Meisharim (end Parshas Nitzavim).

[5]The Minchas Elazer (cited in Likutei Eliezer pg. 91, footnote 7) writes that obviously this prohibition of the Maggid’s does not include wine for Kiddush!

[6]Chullin Ch.5, Mishna 3 & 4; Gemara Avoda Zara 5b.

[7]Shulchan Aruch O.C. 583, 2. This minhag goes quite far back with reports of Rishonim including the Ravyah (vol. 2, Rosh Hashana beg. 547), Maharam M’Rottenberg (cited in Tashbatz 118), Ohr Zarua (vol. 2, Hilchos R”H beg. 257), Machzor Vitry (vol. 1, 323), AbuDraham (Seder Tefillas Rosh Hashana pg. 266), Mahari”l (Minhagim Hilchos R”H 8), Terumas HaDeshen (cited in Leket Yosher vol. 1, pg. 129) and the Tur (O.C. 583) partaking of a Rosh Kevess or Rosh Ayil on Rosh Hashana night, calling it a ‘minhag hakadmonim’.

[8]Many authorities ask these hard-hitting questions including Rav Chaim Volozhiner (cited by the Rada”l - Kidmos Sefer HaZohar, Anaf 5, 3, 2), the Mahar”i Assad (Shu”t Yehuda Ya’aleh O.C. 163), Rav R.N.Y. Falaj’i (Yafeh LaLev O.C. 597, 1), the Maharsham (Da’as Torah beg. O.C. 597), the Beis Meir (ad loc.), the Adnei Paz (as loc.), the Katzeh L’Matteh (on the Matteh Efraim 583, 7) and the Sdei Chemed (vol. 8, Ma’areches Rosh Hashana 2, 3). Although not the “pashut pshat” and in fact disputed by many authorities, the “Maggid Meisharim” writes that Nechemia’s “fatty foods” are really referring to fatty milk products, not meats.

[9]See Gemara Kerisus 6a, Horiyos 12a, and Tur/ Shulchan Aruch and relevant commentaries O.C. 583, 1.

[10]This solution is posited by several authorities including the Maharsh”a (Chiddushei Aggados to Beitzah 15b s.v. ba’alei), the Pnei Yehoshua (Kesuvos, Kuntress Acharon 5a), the Mishkenos HaRo’im (Shu”t vol. 1, 1), the Maharsham (Da’as Torah O.C. 597, 1), and the Orchos Chaim (Spinka ad loc. 1).

[11]The Rada”l (R’ David Luria - Kidmos Sefer HaZohar, Anaf 5, 3, 2), and the Ben Aryeh (Haghos Ben Aryeh to Shu”A O.C. 597, 1) are proponents of this resolution.

[12]Devarim (Parshas Nitzavim) Ch. 30, verse 12.

[13]See Likutei Eliezer (pg. 103 - 104).

[14]Rashi (Avoda Zarah 5b s.v. v’chein), Rabbeinu Gershom (Chulin 83a), the Meiri (Beis HaBechira to Chullin 83a), R’ Yehuda HaChassid (Sefer Gematriyos vol. 2, Parshas Masei 5), and Rabbeinu Efraim (Parshas Re’eh, pg. 181 & vol. 2 Beha’alosecha).

[15]Rema (O.C. 583, 1), Levush (Levush HaChur 583, 2), Noda B’Yehuda (Tzlach - glosses to Beitzah 20b s.v. Rashi), Ya’avetz (Siddur Sha’ar HaShamayim vol. 2, Sha’ar Shevi’i, Sha’ar HaTzon, Chodesh Elul 72), Chayei Adam (139, 6), Shulchan Aruch HaRav (O.C. 583, 4), Ben Ish Chai (Year 1, Nitzavim 5), Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (129, 9), Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 583, 2), and Kaf Hachaim (O.C. 597, 11).

[16]The Chacham Tzvi (cited by his son the Ya’avetz, Toras Hakinaos 8), Rav Chaim Volozhiner (ibid.), and the Chazon Ish (cited in Ma’aseh Ish vol. 1 pg. 119), among others, have an interesting and different viewpoint regarding the Shulchan Aruch’s “Maggid”. [I have also heard this view b’sheim noted mekubal Rav Yaakov Hillel shlit”a]. They understand that a “Maggid” does not rule with Heavenly authority; rather it uses the individual’s own merit and koach to present rulings. Meaning, although Rav Karo cites psakim from the “Maggid”, it is essentially utilizing his own personal hidden strengths to come out with these rulings. Therefore, concludes Rav Chaim, that in this instance it must be that Rav Karo must have personally made a mistake, and the outcome of that resulted in an erroneous conclusion being “taught by the Maggid”.

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.

L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda, and l'zchus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam and her children for a yeshua teikef u'miyad!

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