Sep. 25, 2003 - Shofar2004-03-11 12:02:08
By Mark Mietkiewicz
It is perhaps the most moving moment of Rosh Hashanah. A hush and then the sounding of the shofar. The shofar is one of Judaism's most famous symbols and is responsible for some of the religion's most profound writings. Today, some insights into the shofar from the Jewish Highway.
Rav Saadiah Gaon gives ten reasons for blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah http://www.ohr.org.il/special/roshhash/shofar.htm. Among them: "Rosh Hashanah is the day that commemorates the creation of the world and it is described as the 'coronation' of G-d. As it is customary to sound a trumpet at a king's coronation so we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. By blowing the shofar we recognize the 'purpose' of the creation."
Sue Levi Elwell, editor of The Jewish Women's Study Guide, says listening to the shofar can teach us something about how to treat each other. http://126.96.36.199/vjholidays/rosh/. For more thoughts on the symbolism of the shofar, see Rabbi Harold Kushner http://www.jewishsf.com/bk000922/sfcyberlinks.shtml Rabbi Harold Schulweis http://www.vbs.org/rabbi/hshulw/shofar.htm and Aish HaTorah http://aish.com/holidays/the_high_holidays/last/shofar.htm.
Virtual Jerusalem has a wonderful mini-site devoted to the shofar http://188.8.131.52/vjholidays/rosh/shofar.htm. There's a survey of the OTHER times the shofar is sounded such as introducing the Jubilee year. During the Middle Ages, Jews blew the shofar to mark the beginning of the Sabbath or to announce deaths, fasts and even excommunications. And in more recent times, the shofar has been used in Israel at the inauguration of each new president.
For the Jew, the need to hear the shofar can be extremely powerful. Rabbi Eli Hecht tells the heartbreaking story of how a rabbi risked his life to sound a shofar in Auschwitz for hundreds of doomed children http://www.shamash.org/listarchives/jewish-music/940831. And the there's the story of how some Conversos, Spanish Jews who officially converted to Christianity, were able to listen to the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah without provoking the ire of the Inquisition http://sephardiconnect.com/Rosh.htm.
I was impressed by a page created by David Bar-Tzur who has tried to represent the sounding of the shofar for people who are deaf http://www.rit.edu/~dabdis/jush/rh/shofar.html. "The way I represent the sounding of the shofar is to first fingerspell the type of shofar blast that is called out then sign SHOFAR, that is the two S hands are held at the mouth. For the Tekiah, I bow my head at the beginning of the blast and raise it again as the blast ends."
Everyone knows that a shofar is made from a ram's horn. But horns of some other animals can also be make into shofars Take a look at the horns of an antelope, ibex, cow and oryx and find out which ones are kosher. http://184.108.40.206/vjholidays/rosh/shofkosh.htm. Over at the Torahtots site, you can find a Shofar-based puzzle and drawings which you can print out and colour http://www.torahtots.com/holidays/rosh/roshclr.htm
It's not quite like hearing it live but there are many sites where you can listen to experts sound the shofar on the net such as at 613.org http://www.613.org/roshyomkippursuccot.html, Berkeley's Judah L. Magnes Museum http://www.jfed.org/magnes/shofar.htm and JCN http://www.jcn18.com/shof0001.htm.
If you've ever struggled in vain to get a melodious tone out of shofar, you may need an expert's advice. If you're in the Boston area, a one-day course is offered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on How to Blow a Shofar http://web.mit.edu/iap/www/search/IAP-904.html. Sorry, you get no credit for taking this course.
Well, no earthly credit, that is.
May you and your family have a Shana Tova U'metuka, a Good and Sweet New Year.
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Mark Mietkiewicz is a Toronto-based television producer who writes, lectures and teaches about the Jewish Internet. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.