Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rosh Hashana According to the Sephardic Tradition of the Turkish Jews


This is a beautiful document, collected and edited by my friend Shelomo Alfassa. It presents the traditions of the Turkish Jews for Rosh Ashana.


Rosh Ashaná
Edited by Shelomo Alfassa

Our Tradition Our Culture™ Education Sheets, based on the Sephardic religious traditions as practiced in the Ottoman Empire, those which had been handed
down to us from Castile, Spain.

The guidelines for the Our Tradition Our Culture™ series were developed by Prof. Nissim Behar zt"l of Istanbul, in his Ladino work, La Práctica del Judaísmo, based on the Shulhan Aruh.

The information provided here is authentic, and has been endorsed by the Hahambashi (Chief Rabbi of Turkey) HaRav Raphael E. Saban zt"l, and has been endorsed by the Beit Din (Jewish Court) of Turkey.


Note: Please handle/dispose of this document appropriately as it contains sacred material.

Introduction to Rosh Ashaná: The Tradition as We Know it from Turkey, Handed Down from Spain

The Hebrew year begins with the two days of Rosh Ashaná – the 1st and 2nd of Tishri (days of Divine Judgment, which begin the ten days of awe (Yamim Nora’im) through Yom Kippur. On Rosh Ashaná, the King sits on His throne as a judge, certainly, but also as a merciful Father – who desires that we repent and do teshuva. All creatures pass before Him, “like a flock of sheep”. The verdict will not only determine the material situation of everyone during the whole year, but also the spiritual level which one will attain – as a results of the efforts one has made towards that goal during the month of Elul. We implore God to “inscribe us in the book of life”. On the other hand, because He is the King of all creatures, we have to commit ourselves to accept His Will – as it is expressed in the Commandments of the Torá.

On Rosh Ashaná, we pray essentially for the effective revelation of God’s reign in this world, and for the rehabilitation of all humanity by agreeing to be God fearing. It is in proportion to the extent of subjecting oneself to the reign of God – by practicing His Commandments __ that His Kingdom becomes ever more evident.

It is the sounding of the Shofar, which we are duty bound to hear on Rosh Ashaná, that sets our soul in motion to adhere more closely to the Torá. As Maimonides said, the blowing of the Shofar is an appeal to our conscience, to rouse those who have fallen asleep in life – to awaken them to realize their vain pursuit after ephemeral shadows, which conceal the truth of Torá and make us forget our Creator. “The sounding of the Shofar confuses Satan” because Satan is the embodiment of the evil inclination, which we subdue by waking up to the real truth.

“God is your shadow.” As the shadow follows a person, God behaves with us the way we behave with Him. When we wake up from slumber and are mindful of Him, He is mindful of us and deals with us accordingly and mercifully.


1. On the night of Rosh Ashaná, one should pray Arvit with great concentration, as the Day of Judgment begins then.

2. If Rosh Ashaná falls on Shabbat, one says the Beracha of “Me’en Sheva after the Amida of Arvit, saying “Hamelech Hakadosh” instead of “Hakel Hakadosh”, and ending the Beracha with “Mekadesh Hashabbat” only. If by mistake one said “Hakel Hakadosh” and already finished the Beracha, there is no need to repeat it.

3. If Rosh Ashaná falls in the middle of the week, we say “Yom Terua Mikra Kodesh” in the Amidot and in Kiddush, but if it falls on Shabbat, we say “Zichron Terua Mikra Kodesh”. If by mistake one said “Yom Terua” on Shabbat, or “Zichron Terua” on a weekday, there is no need to repeat the Tefilla.

4. Upon returning home after Arvit, the table should be set and the candles lit, just as on any other Yom-Tov. Kiddush is recited, mentioning “Sheheheyanu” on both nights of Rosh Ashaná. As it is doubtful whether “Sheheheyanu” should be repeated on the second night of Rosh Ashaná, it is preferable to have a new fruit on the table when reciting Kiddush, so that the Beracha should apply to the fruit too. In any case, the Beracha of “Sheheheyanu” is said.

5. On the night of Rosh Ashaná, we eat certain fruits and vegetables over which we recite a special “Yehi Ratzon”, praying for a good year.

Kiddush is recited, followed by “Netilat Yadayim” (blessing after washing the hands) and “Hamotzi”. Instead of dipping the bread in salt, we dip it in sugar or honey. After this, we eat an apple with honey, and, among other things, leek, spinach, dates, the head of a fish or a ram. According to one opinion, we first recite the “Yehi Ratzon”, and then the Beracha, after which we eat the food, according to another opinion, however, one should first say the Beracha, taste some of the food, then say the “Yehi Ratzon” and eat the rest. It is preferable to say the Beracha of “Ha’etz” over any fruit such as grapes and eat some, intending to include the apple in the Beracha too. Later, one recites “Ha’adama” over any vegetable, having in mind all the special vegetables of that night. After this, one can say the “Yehi Ratzon” and eat everything without a Beracha.


1. On Rosh Ashaná we arise early, even if we are not accustomed to doing so during the rest of the year, in order to attend the services in the Synagogue from beginning to end.

2. In the first Beracha of the Amidot of Rosh Ashaná and Yom Kippur and all the days between them, we add “Zochrenu”. In the second Beracha of each Amida, we add “Mi Chamocha” [who is like You]. If one forgot to do so, the Amida is not repeated. We finish the third Beracha of these Amidot with the words “Hamelech Hakadosh” instead of “Hakel Hakadosh”. If one mistakenly said “Hakel Hakadosh”, or if one is in doubt as to whether one said “Hakel” or Hamelech”, the Amida must be repeated from the beginning.

3. After the Amida the prayer “Avinu Malkeinu” is said.


1. On the first day, two Sifrei Torá are taken out. From the first one we read “Va-A. Pakad Et Sara” until “Yamim Rabim”, calling up five people. If it falls on Shabbat, seven people are called up. If on regular Shabbatot more than seven people are called up, one may do so on Rosh Ashaná too. The Maftir is called up for the second Sefer Torá, reading “Ubachodesh Hashevi’I Be’echad”. Half Kaddish is recited, and we read the Haftara of “Vayehee Isch Echad”.

2. Two Sifrei Torá are also taken out on the second day of Rosh Ashaná. From the first one we read “Vayehi Achar” until “ve’et Ma’acha”, calling up five people. We say Half Kaddish, and the Maftir is read from the second Sefer Torá, as on the previous day. The Haftara is “Ko Amar A. Matza Chen”.

3. It is customary to call up the Tokea to the Torá. If the Tokea is paid for his job, this is not necessary.


The sound of the Shofar reminds us of a similar sound which was heard on Mount Sinai. We should hear the voice of the Shofar not only on Rosh Ashaná, but every day of the year. It should penetrate our hearts and reach the depths of our souls. This echo should continue to resound in the hearts of generations to come. We prepare ourselves for the great day on which the sound of Mashiah’s Shofar will be heard – on that day the Redemption will be complete, for all the nations of the earth. The Divine Sovereignty will be acknowledged by all to be the ultimate justice and truth, and peace will reign upon the entire world, as Yeshaya prophesied: “When the great Shofar will be sounded, all those gone astray in the land of Ashur and in Egypt will come and bow before the Lord on the holy mountain of Jerusalem”.


When hearing the sounds of the Shofar, every person should concentrate, and intend to fulfill the Mitsva of Shofar. On this awesome day, the Creator of the world sits on His Throne of Judgment, and all His creatures pass before Him like a flock of sheep. All a person’s deeds are mentioned and inscribed before Him in the Heavenly Books. Nobody knows when he is being judged. The sounds of the Shofar which every Jew is obliged to hear, move us to the depths of our hearts, and remind us that our only help is Teshuva. The Shofar lets the Divine Voice be heard in us, telling us: “Return to the Almighty, and He will surely have mercy on you on the Day of Judgment”.


1. The Shofar is the horn of an animal, preferably that of a ram. It must be bent. The horn of a she-goat or a deer may also be used, but one should obtain bent ones.

2. The horn of a cow or ox may not be used as a Shofar.

3. One may use the horn of an animal even if the animal was not slaughtered with Shechita and is therefore Terefa.

4. The minimum size of a Shofar is 10 cm. (3.9 inches), which is approximately the width of four thumbs of a hand. This is so that when one holds the Shofar with four fingers, at least some part of it is still visible beyond the hand, either on the wide side of the Shofar or on the narrow side. If the Shofar is shorter than this, it is Pasul (invalid).

5. Before Rosh Ashaná, one must check that the Shofar is in good condition, as it must not have any cracks either lengthwise or in the direction of its width, even if they are patched.

6. In a case of emergency, if no other Shofar is available and the lengthwise crack is small, it may be used, if thread or something similar is tied around the crack. If the crack is big, the Shofar may not be used.

7. If the Shofar is cracked in the direction of its width, and the crack is small, the Shofar is Kasher. If the crack is big, it is only fit for use if there are 10 cm. From the mouth of the Shofar to the crack.

8. A Shofar is not valid if at its mouth there are cracks, even if they are patched.

9. If a Shofar has a small hole and one wishes to repair it, the hole must be plugged with the same material from which the Shofar is made. It is then considered Kasher if most of it is not defective, and if the sound remains unchanged.

10. If only a defective Shofar is available, it should be shown to a Rabbinic authority to decide whether it is fit for use.


1. The Shofar is blown and its Beracha recited while standing. If this was done while sitting, the obligation is nevertheless fulfilled.

2. Before Mussaf, 30 notes are blown, during which the Tokea stands while the Congregation may sit. These Takiot are termed “Tekiot of Sitting”. During Mussaf, the Shofar is sounded again, while everyone stands. These are termed “Tekiot of Standing”.

3. Before sounding the Shofar, the Tokea expresses his readiness to help everyone fulfill their obligation of listening to the Shofar, and the listeners must intend to fulfill their obligation.

4. When reciting the Beracha over the Shofar, the Tokea covers the Shofar with his Tallit, holding it in his hand.

5. The Shofar is held in the right hand, and before blowing, the following Beracha is said: “Baruch Ata A. E. Melech Ha’olam, Asher Kideshanu Bemitzvotav Vetzivanu Lishmoa Kol Shofar”. This is followed by the Beracha of “Sheheheyanu”.

6. If the Tokea begins to blow the Shofar and is unable to continue, another person may be substituted for him. There is then no need to repeat the Beracha or the series of Tekiot already blown by the first person. Even four or five people may substitute for one another for blowing the Tekiot, without having to repeat the Beracha.

7. If the Tokea does not manage to sound the Shofar after having recited the Beracha, another person may be substituted for him, who need not repeat the Beracha, but bases himself on the Tokea’s Beracha.

8. If the person who acts as a substitute did not hear the first Tokea reciting the Berahot, he should recite them quietly to himself, as the Kahal already heard them from the first Tokea.

9. If, after having recited the Berahot and sounding some Tekiot, it is realized that the Shofar is Pasul, the Beracha and Tekiot must be repeated. If one began to blow the Tekiot on a Shofar Kasher, and during the Tekiot the Shofar became Pasul, one should continue the Tekiot on a different Shofar which is Kasher, without repeating the Berahot.

10. If a Tokea blows the Shofar in several Synagogues, he repeats the Beracha with “Sheheheyanu” ateach place, with the intention to make each Kahal fulfill their obligation.

11. If a person was unable to attend the Service in the Synagogue, and a Tokea comes to blow the Shofar in his home, he should stand up while listening to the Tekiot.

12. One must be extremely careful not to interrupt the Tekiot with coughing, yawning, or talk, because all the Tekiot must be heard properly.

13. The Mitsva of Shofar is only fulfilled if the person listening intends to fulfill the Mitsva, and Tokea intends causing the Mitsva to be fulfilled. The intention of the Tokea should be to include anyone who is able to hear him, whether they are standing in the Synagogue or elsewhere.

14. Although women are exempt from fulfilling the Mitsva of Shofar, they have taken this Mitsva upon themselves, and it has thus become an obligation for them. Therefore, if a woman is unable to attend the Synagogue, a Tokea should come to her home and blow the Shofar for her there. However, he should not recite the Berahot.

15. If a Tokea talked between the Berahot and the Tekiot, he must repeat the Berahot, even if he spoke of subjects connected with Tefilla. If he spoke about something relevant to the Tekiot, the Berahot need not be repeated.


1. IT IS PERMISSIBLE to blow Shofar the whole day, from sunrise to sunset. If one blows the Shofar after daybreak, the obligation has been fulfilled, although it is really too early.

2. If Rosh Ashaná falls on Shabbat, the Shofar is not blown. It is forbidden to carry or touch a Shofar on Shabbat.

3. It is forbidden to eat before listening to the Shofar. However, a weak person who is unable to last without food until after the Tekiot, may recite Kiddush after the Shakharit prayer, and have some Mezonot with drink.

LAWS CONCERNING THE TOKEA (One who blows the shofar)

1. Women, children and deaf people are exempt from the Mitsva of Shofar, and may therefore not blow the Shofar. A blind person is obliged to hear the Shofar, and may in theory be a Tokea, but it is preferable to take a perfectly normal person for the job.

2. Three days before Rosh Ashaná, the Tokea must study and practice the laws of the Shofar, including the profound thoughts (Kavanot), which ought to fill his mind during the Tekiot. He must also purify his mind, and search his heart for any wrongdoing.

3. Women may blow the Shofar, although they are exempt, but it is preferable that a man should blow it for them.

4. A man blowing Shofar for women does not recite the Berahot, but they should recite them on their own, if they are able to do so.


1. When one leaves the Synagogue after the Morning Service, one should be in good spirits, confident that God has listened to our prayers and has accepted the sound of the Shofar. One should eat, drink and praise the Creator. The meal should include the study of Torá, keeping a serious atmosphere.

2. It is customary not to sleep on Rosh Ashaná during the day, but to devote one’s time to the recital of Tehillim or the study of Torá. If one is extremely tired, and would find it impossible to concentrate on the Minha prayer, one should rest for a short while, as long as this is after midday.


1. After Ashrei, we say “Uva Letzion” and Half Kaddish. If Rosh Ashaná falls on Shabbat, a Sefer Torá is taken out for reading the Perasha. (Three people are called up, as on an ordinary Shabbat.) The same Amida is said as at Shakharit, with Chazara, followed by “Avinu Malkenu”. If it falls on Shabbat, we say “tzidkatecha”.

2. After the Minha prayer, we have the custom of reciting Seder Tashlich. We go near any gathering of water, such as the sea-shore, a river bank, a fountain, a spring or a well, and recite the verses of “Mi El Kamocha”, followed by a certain prayer printed in the Machazor of Rosh Ashaná.

3. If the first day of Rosh Ashaná falls on Shabbat, Tashlich is nevertheless recited on that day. According to others, Tashlich is postponed until after Minha of the second day.


1. On the third day of Tishri, the day following Rosh Ashaná, we are commanded to fast, i.e., men from the age of Bar Mitsva, and women from the age of 12 years.

2. If the third of Tishri falls on Shabbat, the fast is postponed until Sunday, as on Shabbat we may not fast, with the exception of Yom Kippur.

3. Sick people are exempt from fasting, even if they are not dangerously ill.


1. After a person’s verdict has been established by Heaven on Rosh Ashaná, a person is given a chance to reconsider his deeds and make amends in his behavior, purifying his soul and doing Teshuva – since on the day of Yom Kippur his verdict is finally sealed. There are ten days between Rosh Ashaná and Yom Kippur (including both), and these are called “The Ten Days of Teshuva”.

2. During these ten days, we include in each Amida “Zochrenu” and “Mi Kamocha”, and substitute “Hamelech Hakadosh” for “Hakel Hakadosh”. The Beracha of “Hashiva Shofetenu” is ended with the words “Hamelech Hamishpat” instead of “Melech Ohev Tzedaka Umishpat”. After Modim we add “Uchetov Lechayim Tovim” and “Ubesefer Chayim”.

3. During these ten days, we recite “avinu Malkenu” after the Amida of Shakharit and of Minha.

4. The Shabbat between Rosh Ashaná and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Teshuva, since we read the Haftara of “Shuva Yisrael” – “Return, O Israel, to your God”.


1. Man was created with a free will, and was given the possibility to choose between good and evil. It is wrong to believe that a person was predestined from birth to be good or bad. A Person has within himself two opposing forces, which enable him to be either as righteous as Moshe Rabbenu, or as wicked as King Yerovam. Thus, a sinner is held responsible for all his wrongdoings.

2. A person must try his utmost to abandon his sinful ways and correct his behavior. When doing Teshuva for some particular misdeed, he should confess it orally.

3. It may appear, that a person should have to repent only of wrongdoings such as theft, immoral acts, etc. However, just as Teshuva applies to evil deeds, so, too, must one repent of evil traits of character, such as hatred, jealously, mockery, anger, the seeking of honor or luxuries, etc.

4. Evil traits of character are even worse than evil deeds, because once a person has become spoiled by them, it is extremely difficult to rid himself of them.

5. A person in the process of Teshuva should not think that his sins have estranged him completely from the Sadikim: he should know that, owing to his Teshuva he is loved by his Creator, and considered as though he had never sinned. Moreover, the merit of one who does Teshuva is extremely great, since he was able to overcome his evil instinct after having “tasted” the sin. Thus our Sages have declared: “He who does Teshuva occupies a higher place than a complete Sadik”.

6. A person doing Teshuva must be humble and modest. If unscrupulous people insult him by reminding him of his previous wrongdoings, he should accept the offence silently, and be happy to be given an opportunity to suffer for them. The shame he feels for his sins will increase his merit.

7. These are the prerequisites for genuine Teshuva:
a. Repentance for the sins committed.
b. Taking upon oneself not to repeat the sin.
c. Confessing the sin orally.
d. A constant feeling of remorse and heart-break at the memory of the sin.
e. Doing acts of charity, in accordance with his means.

8. The most meritorious among those who do Teshuva is one who confesses his sins publicly, and expresses his sincere repentance.

9. The Teshuva of a haughty person who covers up his sins is insincere. It is not necessary to confess in public sins which did not involve other, i.e., they involved only one’s relationship with the Creator. A person who reveals such sins lacks a sense of shame.

10. Although sincere Teshuva is accepted at any time, it is most acceptable and welcome during the “Ten Days of Repentance”, between Rosh Ashaná and Yom Kippur.

11. Yom Kippur is the greatest day for Teshuva. On this day, the Jewish People’s sins are forgiven, both those of the community and those of the individual. Every person must therefore complete his Teshuva on that day, and confess his sins with “Viduy”.

12. Yom Kippur, with its Teshuva, atones solely for the sins between man and his Creator. If a person wronged his fellow-man, he must first beg the other’s forgiveness and correct his action before his Teshuva is accepted.

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