Question: Our shul makes a kiddush before tekias shofar. Isn’t it best to wait to eat until after hearing the shofar?
Answer: The Shulchan Aruch (OC 652:2) writes that one mustn’t eat a meal before shaking the lulav on sukkos as we are worried that they may forget to perform the mitzva (See Sukka 38a). The Magen Avraham (OC 692:7) and Mishna Berura (652:7) write that in case of great need, one may eat a small amount of food beforehand. This includes fruit and a small piece of cake, etc. (See Shulchan Aruch OC 232:3).
Thus, R’ Betzalel Stern (Betzel Hachachma 4:147) writes that one shouldn’t eat before hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashana unless one is sick.
Others, such as the Mateh Ephraim (588:2) allow one to eat (something small) if they wouldn’t be able to concentrate properly without eating. Similarly, the Kaf Hachaim (OC 585:26; 588:11) writes that as the Gemara only mentioned this halacha with regards to lulav and not shofar, one who is hungry and feels that he won’t be able to daven as well without eating may be lenient and eat (See Shulchan Aruch OC 89:4).
Nonetheless, many poskim justify the practice of everyone eating beforehand. R’ Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 6:7:2) writes that according to the Shulchan Aruch (OC 288:1; 597:1) and Magen Avraham (OC 652:4) it is assur to fast until chatzos on Rosh Hashana (See Mishna Berura (597:2). R’ Moshe Sternbuch (Moadim Uzemanim 1:4) writes that because one mustn’t fast, it can be considered a case of ‘great need.’ Nor do we need to be worried that one in shul will forget to listen to the shofar. Additionally, there is a difference between performing the mitzva of lulav which one can be yotzei in a few seconds, and shofar, which carries on until the end of mussaf. Lastly, he argues that there is a mitzva to be happy on Rosh Hashana. This is most difficult if one isn’t allowed to eat until after listening to the shofar. Based on these reasons, he allows one to eat even a few pieces of cake.
R’ Sternbuch concludes, however, that when one is in a shul that doesn’t stop for a kiddush, one mustn’t publicly recite kiddush and eat as there are good reasons to wait.In conclusion, while it is ideal not to eat before hearing the shofar, it is also problematic to fast until chatzos. Especially if it will help one to daven better, one may eat first.