Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 20 September 2014 / 25 Elul 5774

(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, and there are shittos of the Gaonim that do permit one to fast, nevertheless the halacha is that Rosh Hashana is also a festive Yom Tov and we must honor it properly. In fact, the Yerushalmi mentions that we must eat, drink, and be mesamayach on Rosh Hashana[1]. This includes partaking of fine delicacies, as it is written in the Book of Nechemia[2] regarding 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.

Many readers are probably puzzled by the last paragraph, and might exclaim after rereading it: “What? How is that possible? Everyone eats meat on Rosh Hashana! In fact it is even widely used as one of the Simanim! How can something meant to properly usher in the New Year possibly be prohibited?”

Simana Milsa

The Gemara[3] recounts that Abaye exhorted us to eat certain specific foods on Rosh Hashana as symbolic omens for the upcoming year. This practice is even codified as halacha in the ShulchanAruch! According to the famed MaharalM’Prague and based on the Ramban, the purpose of doing these Simanim is that a physical action, small as it may be, serves as a conduit to actualize and channel a Divine decree[4].

And one of the foods that is commonly eaten as one of these Simanim is a Rosh Kevess,

the head of a ram, which is definitely a type of meat! So why would anyone not partake of meat on Rosh Hashana?

Where’s the Beef?

The famed Magen Avraham[5] cites an interesting minhag based on a sefer called “Maggid Meisharim” that says not to eat meat or drink wine[6] 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[7]! Additionally, as mentioned previously, the Shulchan Aruch himself cites the minhag to eat a Rosh Kevess (a lamb’s head) on Rosh Hashana night[8] as a Siman. What is the proper ruling[9]?

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[10] 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[11].

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[12].

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 Rabi Eliezer who brought proof for his minority opinion from open miracles he performed. The Gemara nevertheless concludes “Torah Lo BaShamayim Hee[13], 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[14].

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[15], 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, Matteh Efraim, Ben Ish Chai, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Aruch Hashulchan, and Kaf Hachaim[16], 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, can and should properly celebrate the holiday of Rosh Hashana in style, including by eating meat delicacies. Enjoy your Yom Tov roast!

Postscript:Many later authorities, including 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, share an interesting and different viewpoint regarding the Shulchan Aruch’s “Maggid”. [This author has also heard this view b’sheim noted mekubal Rav Yaakov Hillel shlit”a]. They understand that a “Maggid” does not actually 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 bring out these rulings. Therefore, concludes Rav Chaim Volozhiner, that in this instance it must be that notwithstanding how great he was, Rav Karo must have somehow personally made a mistake, and the outcome of that resulted in an erroneous conclusion being “taught by the Maggid”.

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



[1]See Tur / Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Berura (Orach Chaim 597, 1), Chayei Adam (vol. 2, 139, 11), Shu”t Sha’agas Aryeh (101), Shu”t Chasam Sofer (Orach Chaim 168), and mv”r Rav Yosef Yitzchok Lerner’s excellent and award-winning Shemiras HaGuf V’Hanefesh (vol. 2, Ch. 137) at length. Although there are shittos in the Gaonim that one may fast on Rosh Hashana [see Mordechai (Rosh Hashana Ch. 1, 708 at length, and Yoma Ch.1, 723), Rosh (at the very end of Maseches Rosh Hashana), Terumas HaDeshen (Shu”t 278), and Beis Yosef (Orach Chaim 597)], this is not the normative halacha. In fact, the Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashana Ch. 1, Halacha 3) mentions that we must eat, drink, and be mesamayach on Rosh Hashana. See also the Rogatchover Gaon’s Shu”t Tzafnas Pane’ach (in the Divrei Torah between volumes 2 & 3) for a fascinating and deep hesber to answer up the shittos of those Gaonim who maintain that one may indeed fast on Rosh Hashana.

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

[3]Gemara Horiyos 12a and Krisus 5b; Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 583, 1). See also Tosafos (Avodah Zara 5b s.v. Erev Yom Tov) and Ben Ish Chai (Year 1, Parshas Nitzavim 4) at length.

[4]Maharal in Be’er HaGolah (Be’er HaSheini s.v. b’perek gimmel; cited by the Mekor Chaim - Orach Chaim beg. 583) and Chidushei Aggados (to Horiyos 12a). This is also cited by the Chayei Adam (vol. 2, 139, 6), Elef HaMagen (583, 17) and Katzeh L’Matteh (583, 9) [both commentaries on the Matteh Efraim], among later authorities. This understanding of the Simanim is based on a Klal set by the Ramban (Parshas Lech Lecha, Ch. 12, 6) explaining many actions of our great forefathers. See at length Rabbi Eliezer Brodt’s ‘Minhag Achilas Simanim B’Leil Rosh Hashana V’Taamav’ (printed in Kovetz Datz”ah vol. 100, ppg. 4 -5).

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

[6]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!

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

[8]Shulchan Aruch O.C. 583, 2. This minhag is based on a pasuk in Parshas Ki Savo (Devarim Ch. 28, 13) and goes quite far back with reports of Rishonim including the Ravyah (vol. 2, Rosh Hashana beg. 547), Maharam M’Rottenberg (cited in Shu”t Tashbatz 118), Ohr Zarua (vol. 2, Hilchos Rosh Hashana beg. 257), Machzor Vitry (vol. 1, 323), AbuDraham (Seder Tefillas Rosh Hashana pg. 266), Mahari”l (Minhagim Hilchos Rosh Hashana 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’. However, the Ben Ish Chai (Year 1, Parshas Nitzavim 4 s.v. v’achar) stresses that one should not use a Rosh Aiz, the head of a goat.

[9]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 Beis Meir (ad loc.), the Maharsham (Da’as Torah beg. O.C. 597), 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” must really be referring to fatty milk products, not meats.

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

[11]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).

[12]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.

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

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

[15]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).

[16]Rema (O.C. 583, 1), Levush (Levush HaChur O.C. 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), Matteh Efraim (583, end 1), 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).


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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