Off the Beaten Track: Shofar, so good

The shofar is a High Holy Days highlight; expert Joe Yudin explains the best place to hear the "Jewish trumpet."

By JOE YUDIN
September 6, 2012 13:15
3 minute read.
Jew blows shofar at Kotel

Jew blows shofar at Kotel 390. (photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)

 
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Joe Yudin owns Touring Israel, a company that specializes in “Lifestyle” tours of Israel.

Nothing is more synonymous with Rosh Hashana, than the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn) in synagogues all over the world. The highlight of the High Holy Days for many is the blowing of the shofar.

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There are many places around Israel to see, hear and contemplate this ancient ritual, but first it’s important to understand why Jews around the world do this?

The instrument makes its very first appearance in Jewish tradition in none other than the book of Exodus as the children of Israel are camped out at the foot of Mount Sinai before the receiving of the Law.

Throughout the Hebrew Bible the shofar is used to announce God’s presence sometimes before a conquest of a city or people, sometimes before the holidays and during musical celebrations. However Rosh Hashana, which is the Jewish New Year, is not called Rosh Hashanah in the Torah, it has a different name: Yom Teru'ah or the Day of the Trumpeting.

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During the time in exile after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and then during the Second Temple period and thereafter, Rosh Hashana and the days following developed into what it is today “the Days of Reckoning.”

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All over the country it’s possible to see examples of how the shofar was used and is used today especially during the High Holy Days. A popular choice is at the Four Sephardic Synagogues in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem on the northeastern side of the main Jewish Quarter parking lot. On a shelf of the southern wall high above the bema in the Ben Zaki Synagogue lays a shofar and a jug of olive oil. This 500 year old synagogue boasts a tradition that when the Messiah will show himself, the prophet Elijah will blow this shofar to announce his arrival before anointing him with the oil.

From there it’s worth walking down to the entrance of the Western Wall Plaza but turn south at the security checkpoint and instead enter the Davidson Center.

During the tour at the southwestern point of the Temple Mount lies a stone, part of it is a replica, where archaeologists found the inscription in Hebrew “to the trumpeting place to announce.” Apparently, high above at each corner of the Temple Mount, when the Second Temple was still standing, the priests would blow the shofars just before and after Shabbat to differentiate the day of rest from the rest of the week. The inscription has been separated from the rest of the ruins and may be seen at the Israel Museum.

If you go to the Western Wall on Rosh Hodesh or a Monday or Thursday morning, processions of families all decked out in their best attire can be seen at the Western Wall or Davidson Center by drummers and shofar blowers on the way to Bar and Bat Mitzva ceremonies. Often members of the processions will be singing, dancing and throwing candies under the blasts of the shofar players.

From there a walk through the Jewish Cardo or Arab markets, amongst the stalls and shops to find thousands of shofars, cheap and expensive, long and short as well as straight and twisted.

Joe Yudin became a licensed tour guide in 1999. He completed his Master’s degree at the University of Haifa in the Land  of Israel Studies and is currently studying toward a PhD.

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