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August 31, 2015 | 16th Elul 5775

  1. Since Rosh Hashanah falls over Shabbat this year, some congregations will be asking the question, "Do we blow the shofar on Shabbat?" [There are CCAR responsa on this question.] They provide text sources and Reform history and should be helpful in guiding your congregation's conversation about this.

    [The CCAR Responsa [are] at Click on "Documents and Positions." On the Responsa Page, enter keyword "shofar."]

    Rabbi Sue Ann Wasserman, Director
    Dept. of Worship, Music and Religious Living
    Union for Reform Judaism

  2. Oct 2007 Digest 191

    [Our congregation has]…about a dozen shofar blowers who sound off each Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. For RH we establish ourselves all around the sanctuary and in the balcony and blow in unison (when opened up for the HHD we seat 2,500). We have tried the choral echo, but that requires that everyone show up for rehearsal at the same time and practice the timing. It has not worked out in recent years so we stay with unison.

    For YK N’ilah Service we are fewer, as is the congregation, and for the one blast we line up on the bimah. This year I think we were about six or eight shofarot for that service.

    The congregation seems to like this very much and everyone gets to hear the shofar (the mitzvah) without intervention of electronics.

    I should add that we time the Tekiah Gadolah so we all finish together. Our "conductor" has determined that seventeen seconds is the perfect count, long enough to satisfy everyone while avoiding the giggles that start when it gets longer and it permits most of our blowers to hang in and finish together. He does it by moving the end of his long antelope horn shofar up and down as he reached the count.

    about 1200 family members

  3. Oct 2007 Digest 191

    At our shul, we too are lucky to have great shofar blowers--so during the shofar service all of them stand on the bimah and blow as the rabbi chants the calls. It is an extremely powerful moment as this huge wall of sound of shofrot is heard.

    Tekiyah g'dolah is something that all blowers start and when he/she runs out of breath they just stop and hold their shofar at their side. This year we're lucky to have two outstanding horn blowers (one is in high school; the other in college) with iron lungs--so as everyone else pooped out, their shofrot were in unison in this very rich low tone, and it reminded me of the verse " after the great shofar is blown a still small voice is heard"--all cacophony had ended and then this ribbon of pure sound remaining. Truly amazing.

    1100 families

  4. Oct 2007 Digest 191
    …I find the long plaintive wail of the single shofar, especially at N'ilah at the end of Yom Kippur, especially moving. Multiple blowers have been used at N'ilah in the two synagogues to which I have belonged in the past several years, and I truly miss the drama of that single note marking the end of our prayers for forgiveness.
    150 families

  5. Oct 2007 Digest 191
    This year Rabbi invited anyone who wished to do so to bring their shofar to N’ilah and join in a Tekiah Gedolah. There were only a couple of us, non professional shofar blowers who made a creditable effort the first time. Rabbi gave us a second chance and halfway through, my shofar shifted to the lower register, truly awesome.
    400 member units

  6. Oct 2007 Digest 191

    …The Saadiah Gaon gave ten reasons for the sounding of the Shofar:

    1. accepting the kingship of God

    2. announcing the beginning of the period of repentance

    3. reminder of the covenant at Sinai

    4. reminding us of the prophets warning (Ezekiel)

    5. reminding us of the destruction of the Temple

    6. reminding us of the binding of Issac

    7. causing us to tremble and do the will of God

    8. remind us of the great day of judgment

    9. reminding us of the ingathering of the exiles

    10. reminding us of the revival of the dead Many of these I am sure we find theologically troubling today.

    It was Maimonides that suggested the blowing of the Shofar was intended not for God but for human beings. It is a wake up call to "abandon evil ways and wicked thoughts."

    The awesomeness and the solemnity of the ritual have been lost in modern Judaism.


  7. Oct 2007 Digest 191

    The first UPB, vol. II (1894) includes the direction that "the shofar is sounded"--and my sense is that things were hardly monolithic from the outset (this holds true, BTW, for all areas of liturgical custom and practice--there was much more variation among congregations in the early decades of the movement than most folks realize).

    Yes, HHD discussion in the CCAR Yearbook in those years includes talk about using an organ-stop or a trumpet instead of a shofar, but I'm fairly certain that there were congregations in the movement even then that used shofarot.

    A significant move to re-introduce more traditional customs across the board was already taking place in the 1930's, as eastern European Jews begin to figure more prominently in the movement (the Union's Committee on Ceremonies, which ultimately became today's Joint Commission on Worship, Music and Religious Living, began in 1936). This accelerated in the post-WWII years, and then was further abetted in the 60's and 70's by the "rediscovery" of Israel, post-1967, and the "return to one's roots" movement (Black Power, Jewish Power) in that same period…

    Rick Sarason
    HUC-JIR, Cincinnati

  8. Oct 2007 Digest 191
    We also have an excellent shofar blower. It was his suggestion to have at least three other shofar blowers besides him. He stands on the bimah and as the calls are said, he blows first with the other shofar blowers echoing him in unison. When it comes to tikah g'dolah, he begins and then each shofar is staggered. So after he blows, the one to left is next, then the one in the back of the sanctuary next and then the one on the right. Each one ending when they can no longer hold the call anymore. It usually ends up that the first shofar sounded is the last to finish. He is a trumpet player with great lungs! Hope that doesn't sound too confusing. We have been doing this for four years now, and it always gets positive feedback.
    250 Families

  9. Oct 2007 Digest 191

    According to Maimonides, in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, on Rosh HaShanah, a shofar was used, flanked by two trumpets. The shofar sounding a longer note and the trumpets a short note. This is based on Psalms 98:6, which reads "With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout praise before the King the Lord." So the precedent for trumpets and the precedent for multiple instruments exists. Unfortunately, he goes on to say: "Elsewhere, only a shofar must be used on Rosh HaShanah."

    But we can pick and choose from our buffet, and if we choose to have multiple blowers, and animal horns as well brass instruments, who is to say we cannot?

    Personally, I prefer the animal horn to a metal instrument. What I object to, however, is the loss of focus on what the sounding of the shofar represents. It is not a piece of theater to be choreographed as part of the show which the service has become, and it is not a contest to see who in the congregation can best meter out his or her breath. I would rather know that the person sounding the shofar is doing it with its religious purpose in mind. Is that really possible with dozens of shofar blowers and a cacophony of sound? Or is it better accomplished by one person, focused fully on the ritual and the mitzvah he or she is performing on behalf of the congregation? I submit that the spirit of the thing is better captured by the latter.

  10. Oct 2007 Digest 192

    Although our usual practice has been to have one shofar (in a congregation our size to find even one competent shofar bower is already a miracle), one year we were blessed with two! We had one shofar on the bimah--and then the second in the back acting as an echo--sounding more softly. I had heard this done with a particular (non-Jewish) brass piece in the mid east, with a player on either side of an amphitheater. It is eerily like the sound of a shofar blown on a mountain and echoed on to the neighboring mountain. I'd love to do this again--but alas--two (oy vey) shofarists, it would take. Maybe when we grow a little more.

    This is multiple--but not with brass instruments and in no way a "performance" for an audience, rather an awe for the congregation. Your larger temples could so easily accommodate this--it you had a higher spot in the back for the second sound--so much the better.

    75 member units

  11. Oct 2007 Digest 192

    …The shofar has become a jolly high point of the day. It's almost a relief to focus on the shofar, what will it sound like this year, how will our Ba'al Tekiah do, does he have a new shofar, oh bring in the kids!

    This is all very good. These are feelings of celebration and community and continuity that I don't want my congregation to lose. Flip side, where is the awe?

    Making the awe happen is largely about the choices that one makes in terms of sacred drama. You can have one shofar, a bunch of shofarot around the room, whatever, but the shofar service must be handled in a way that directs that awe.

    While we have a fabulous Ba'al Tekiah, and a wonderful feeling of community, I think that those of us on the bimah dropped the ball on that. What we need is lots more coordination and choreography with all participants. I know when we plan services, the Shofar Service sometimes gets short shrift because it is really so simple. Bracha, call, blow, areshet, hayom harat, rinse, repeat.

    Once you get someone who can really make the shofar work, (and it has to be someone who can make it work in some way) then the responsibility for awe is on the shoulders of your service leadership.

    At Mifgash Musicale this year, we talked about a tradition of having a person blow shofar who has suffered terribly during the past year, as his/her prayers will be particularly plaintive and moving to God, and as he will truly use "his last breath." Now this may not be the way to get the best blast, but it could be a means to a more awesome moment. If anyone has ideas about mixing the two I am thinking about this as well.

    90 member units

  12. Oct 2007 Digest 192

    A rhetorical question: Is it an awesome sound we seek, or the sound (sense, feeling) of awe?...

    (1) Not everything a congregation does should have a primary focus on celebration and continuity. Sometimes, those are secondary or tertiary considerations and not good enough reasons to weight a decision one way or the other. Educational value, ritual importance, sacred vs. profane and even local minhag can and should take precedence, particularly when it comes to a High Holy Day service.

    (2) This is a perfect indication of the problem! The Rosh HaShanah shofar service is not about awe, it is about emphasizing the points of and the distinction between the prayers. This setting and presentation occurs together at no other time in our annual ritual cycle. When the focus turns to the number of people blowing, and how long they can hold a note, what does that say about the holiness of the day? Whether it is one Bal T'kiah or many, I want the notes to sound clearly, distinctly and confidently. I want them called in the right order, and I want them sounded in the right manner. I want my rabbi or the person charged with leading the service to frame each set of notes for me with inspirational messages and an impassioned reading of the prayers. I want to be able to focus on the holiness of the day, the holiness of the moment. Maybe next weekend I will go to the symphony and hear awesome sounds, but will not worry about that on Rosh HaShanah or Yom Kippur.


  13. Oct 2007 Digest 192

    We've been doing this for years and no one giggles. Rather, they love it and wouldn't have it any other way. An older congregant, blows from the bimah, a middle-aged one, from the spot between the sanctuary and the social hall, and a young person from the very back of the social hall (one female and two males). Our goal is to symbolically hear the sounding of the shofar from mountaintop to mountaintop, ushering in the calls of the New Year.

    For the Tikiah Gedolah, each one takes up blowing right before the previous person is "spent" and out of air. We practice it, so they have some sense regarding how long each one will go. In this way no one really notices when one ends or the other begins, so it's not a contest. Each shofar has its own unique quality, which makes it very appealing (almost harmonic).

    Our young "player" also plays for our Young Family Service. It's wonderful.



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