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Hosha’noth is a Beautiful Minhag. So Why Not on the Sabbath?

October 14, 2014

Orah Hayim 660:3 mentions the opinion of the Tur and Rav Sherira Gaon concerning the omission of Hosha’noth on the Sabbath of Sukkoth, and that the standard practice is to perform Hosha’noth even on the Sabbath. The Rema (660:1) mentions that the ritual is modified for the Sabbath: The Torah scrolls remain in the ark, and worshippers do not not encircle the Torah-reading table, and as noted much earlier, no one is carrying a lulav, because the Babylonian sages long ago forbade the taking of the lulav on the Sabbath. The Vilna Gaon, however, endorses the opinion of Rav Sherira Gaon, and would advocate the complete omission of the Hosha’noth on the Sabbath, but not for the reasons other prayers are omitted. Earlier, we pointed out how the Vilna Gaon objected to the inclusion of any forms of tahanunim, supplications, in the Sabbath and Yom Tov services, but as Hosha’noth are just piyutim and not supplications, they may technically be said on Yom Tov and the Sabbath. In the case of the Hosha’noth, we have to understand the origins of the custom.

Orah Hayim 660:1 says that the custom developed as a commemoration of that which was done in the Temple, where the commandment of the Torah was to take the lulav for all seven days of the festival. Every day the assembled would march around the altar, lulavs in hand, and recite prayers reminiscent of psalms 118:25 and our modern-day piyutim. The Vilna Gaon endorses practices that commemorate that which was in the Temple, as they have high educational value, but rejects entirely novel practices, especially those that do not serve any educational purpose. The three seasonal examples we discussed earlier were tashlich, kapparois, and the recitation of Psalm 27 after the daily prayers, all of which were created without respect to the enactments of Hazal nor to what used to transpire in the Temple. On the contrary, they are all very foreign to the proper sacrificial service. On the other hand, we mentioned that the Psalm of the Day is a wonderful practice, because it teaches us about a critical component of the daily services in the Temple. We strive to do as much as we can the way things were done in the Temple, short of actual sacrifice, and therefore, Hosha’noth (and Simhath Beth Hashoeva) have a place in the synagogue service as non-sacrificial components of the Temple ritual.

However, nowadays we do not take the lulav on the Sabbath, and without the lulavim and the ceremonial precession around the Torah-reading table, which the Vilna Gaon claims represents the altar, the Hosha’noth do not do much to teach about that which took place in the Temple! All that remains in the modern practice is the recitation of the piyutim, which, due to their late authorship, are certainly not the ones that were recited in the Temple. Therefore, the Hosha’noth of the Sabbath are best omitted, like any other practice that lacks educational value, unless we were to somehow revert to the old Israeli custom of taking the lulav on the first day of Sukkoth even if it were on the Sabbath. It is for this reason that the Vilna Goan’s practice was to omit the Hosha’noth of the Sabbath.

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