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The Shofar as a Symbol of the Jewish People in Modern Times

by Adam Echad

The shofar has a central place in the Jewish religion and is symbolic of the Jewish People as a whole. Never was this truer than during the birth of Modern Israel…

The shofar as symbol of the Jewish People

The shofar is emblematic in the minds of most Jews – and even many non-Jews – of Judaism and Jewish Ritual. Biblical precepts prescribed the sounding of the shofar both during times of war and also to announce the arrival of the festivals (Psalms 81:4) and the Jubilee year (Lev. 25:9). To this day, the practice of sounding of the shofar during the month of Elul and the High Holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is based on detailed instructions formulated by the Talmudic Sages, based on the Biblical verse about the “day of blowing” (Num. 29) and other verses.

The shofar’s place at the center of much of Jewish ritual and practice gave it a symbolic presence in the minds of the Jewish people. Some of the oldest Jewish artifacts depict the emblematic image of the shofar, for instance a synagogue screen discovered in Ashkelon and a Jewish tombstone discovered in Caesarea (both dating from the 4th–7th centuries CE). The iconic status of the shofar has persisted to the modern day, and a particularly interesting example is as a symbol of national liberation during the creation of Modern Israel.

A shofar-sounding of thanksgiving

It was absolutely forbidden to sound the shofar at the Kotel, the Western Wall, during both the Ottoman rule of Jerusalem and during the British Mandate which succeeded it. During the Jordanian occupation of the Temple Mount, the most sacred site in Judaism, Jews were not even allowed to approach the wall. This state of affairs came to a sudden end with the near-miraculous events of the Six Day War, when, for the first time in over 2,000 years, the Western Wall was returned to Jewish sovereignty. The moment this occurred, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, founder of the IDF Chaplaincy, broadcast a “Prayer of Thanksgiving” that was heard around the country, and shortly afterwards sounded the shofar at the wall.

The shofar in “Jerusalem of Gold”

One of the many people who heard and was moved by the broadcast was Naomi Shemer, a musician and songwriter whose career was just getting started. She had written the song “Jerusalem of Gold” for the 1967 Israeli Music Festival, but the original composition was basically a melancholy dirge, lamenting the still unfulfilled Jewish yearning for Jerusalem, after 2,000 years of foreign occupation. The capture of the Old City, the sounding of the shofar, and the fact that the paratroopers who liberated the ancient sites were heard singing “Jerusalem of Gold” at the Kotel, inspired Shemer to radically alter the song. The newer version celebrated the fact that Jews could once again return to the Kotel, and included the line “a shofar calls out on the Temple Mount,” a tribute to the actual events of June 7th.

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