Shofar Behind Bars

The Talmud discusses whether one can fulfill the obligation to hear the shofar while inside a cistern since the sound of the shofar must come directly, not as an echo.

Shofar blower Michael Chusid knows what the inside of a “cistern” looks like. For several years, on Rosh Hashana he took his shofar into the depths of the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Prison.

If this piece of Talmud is interpreted on a deeper level, that can be quite a challenge when blowing a shofar inside a concrete bunker at what is described as the “Largest Prison in the Free World,” because the walls echo with the sound of so many of society’s failings, plus the fears and uncertainty facing the woeful residents.

Yet all the Rosh Hashana messages about teshuva — that a genuine turnaround is really attainable — come into much greater focus when discussed with someone who has seen the darkness of violence, addiction, crime and incarceration.

Yossi Carron, a chaplain at the facility, used the themes of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to help the men understand that forgiveness is possible and that by taking responsibility for their actions, their future does not have to be determined by their pasts.

“The residents recognized that I was in the prison by choice,” said Chusid. “It was meaningful for them to know that they had not been forgotten by or completely severed from the outside world. Some had never heard a shofar before and were trying to reconnect with their Jewish heritage to help them have faith in their future.”

One inmate told Chusid the sound of shofar was seared into his heart, enabling him to tap into Rosh Hashana and the sound of the shofar throughout the year.

As the guards were preparing to strip search him before the brief visit, he told Chusid, “If I can keep hearing the shofar, it will remind me of what [Carron] told us. Then, maybe, this will be my last time in prison.”


Have Shofar, Will Travel

While most people have the privilege of hearing all 100 blasts of the shofar from the comfort of their shul seat, in every town there are also Jews who can’t make it to the synagogue — even on Rosh Hashana — because they are hospitalized, housebound or institutionalized.

Many shofar blowers view these hapless folk as an opportunity to take Rosh Hashana beyond the synagogue walls and to earn a double mitzva: visiting the sick (bikur cholim) or doing acts of kindness (chessed), and enabling others to fulfill the commandment to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashana.

In some cases these mitzvah-seekers may be organized into a “shofar corps,” making sure that if someone wants to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashana, a traveling shofar blower will come to them.

For several years, master shofar blower Michael Chusid of Tarzana, California participated in a monthly Shabbat service at a nursing home. Several members of the minyan were unable to speak and were locked in bodies they no longer controlled. “Yet somehow,” Chusid recalls, “I could sense that even their souls were moved when they heard the shofar at our Rosh Hashana gathering.”

Another member of the Shofar Corps run by his congregation, Makom Ohr Shalom, blew the shofar at a different nursing home. After he finished blowing the shofar an elderly gentleman approached him saying, “Young man, that’s the first sound I’ve heard in 30 years.”

According to another shofar blower who ventured with shofar in hand to a facility for people with impaired memory, “Just saying the word tekia triggered a couple of people’s memories, and they would light up like a happy kid. We led the Shehechiyanu and translated it, giving thanks for being right here, right now. These people are in the Right Now — each moment is a new day for many of them.”

“Hearing the shofar can be especially meaningful to those who are sick and live with the knowledge that their days may be numbered,” writes Chusid. “The call of the shofar may reassure them that, in sickness as in health, we each stand before God as the Holy One passes judgment. For the dying and their families, prayers of teshuva take on a special urgency, and hearing the shofar may provide them comfort.”

Go to Jericho Shofar>>


Shofar Ring Tones

With Elul already upon us and Rosh Hashana rapidly approaching, why not put a wake-up call for your soul on your cell-phone? Shofar ringtones can now be downloaded for free at Zedge. Other shofar ringtones are available at beeMP3 or try Daniel ben Yossef’s shofar ringtone at Audiko. Another shofar app, Shofar Hero by Yotam Gingold, features a 55-second tekia gedola.

Meanwhile, is offering an application that allows you to familiarize yourself with the various shofar sounds tekia, shevarim, terua, tekiah gedola for your iPhone or iPod Touch.

On a related note, you might enjoy a song by Ari Goldwag called “Finally Here.”


As he walked home from yeshiva,

a sound reached his ears

clear and majestic, unmistakably near

Joy filled his heart

He’s finally here, Moshiach’s finally here.

He ran all the way home

said to his dad,

“Did you hear it – the shofar

or am I going mad?”

“Not now, my son,

can it wait ’til later, when the business news is done.”


Where is our hope, our faith, our pride?

Where’s the desire, the love deep inside?

When we say we want Ben Dovid to come

We can’t fool ourselves or the Holy One.

She heard it, at first faintly

a note long and clear

steadily the sound grew

’til it was all she could hear

Joy filled her heart

He’s finally here, Moshiach’s finally here.

She rushed to the kitchen,

got on the phone.

“Sister, can you hear it

or is it me alone?”

“Can you call back tonight?

I’m facebooking now, so I hope it’s alright…”


When we finally hear the shofar

After all these many years

Our emotions can run deeply

moving us to tears

Joy will fill our hearts

When he’s finally here,

When Moshiach’s finally here.

We must strengthen our hope, our faith, our pride.

We can find the desire, the love deep inside.

When we say we want Ben Dovid to come

We can reconnect to the Holy One.

Yemenite Shofar Use in Secular Music

  • Featured in Edward Elgar’s oratorio “The Apostles” (usually other instruments, such as the flugelhorn, are usually used).
  • Featured in the last movement of Aaron Minsky’s Judaica Concert Suite, “Sound the Shofar.”
  • Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov includes shofar blasts in “Rocketekya,” “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind,” “Rose of the Winds” and “Tekya.”
  • Romanian composer Anghel Irinel uses a shofar in “Labryinthe” and “Images Flottantes.”
  • Isaac Sinwani, a Jew of Yemenite descent, opened his performance of Ofra Haza’s song Im Nin Alu at one of Madonna’s concerts with a shofar.
  • Film composer Jerry Goldsmith used shofar sounds in the soundtracks for Planet of the Apes and Aliens.
  • Salem (Israeli Mizrahi band) uses the shofar in their adaptation of a psalm.
  • Late trumpeter Lester Bowie played a shofar with the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
  • The former bassist for Phish is credited for playing the shofar In Joey Arkenstat’s album Bane.
  • David Haskell blew the shofar in the first act of the musical “Godspell.”
  • Israeli composer and singer Shlomo Gronich uses the Yemenite shofar to produce a very wide range of notes.

On YouTube you can hear Metropolitan Klezmer trumpeter Pam Fleming trying out her latest horn, a kudu Yemenite shofar.