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1930s Kotel Crooks: Western Wall shofar blowers put behind bars

In the late 1920s, the Arabs had begun to gripe that sounding the shofar at the Wailing Wall was an affront to Islam. During the British Mandate in Palestine, the British Mandatory Government made every effort to appease the Arabs, often at the expense of Jewish residents.

The Arabs objected to the blowing of the shofar at the Western Wall as a “provocation.” In fact, the British claimed that the Arab riots of 1929, which left 135 Jews dead, were triggered by shofar blowing. In 1930 the British acquiesced and banned shofar-blowing from the Kotel area.
Shofar Blown at Wailing Wall 1934
In 1931 the King’s Order in Council (the legislative authority of the Mandatory government) stipulated that the Moslems’ ownership rights to the Temple Mount also encompassed the Western Wall area. As a result, Jews were banned from blowing the shofar at the Kotel, even as part of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prayer services.

The ban deeply offended Jews, and the Irgun decided to act. After the imposition of the ban, Irgun and Betar members “smuggled” a shofar into the Western Wall area every Yom Kippur. There a volunteer was waiting to blow the Tekia Gedola, the blast which marks the end of the fast. This was not easily done, since large numbers of British policemen were stationed along the routes to the Wall where they would conduct careful searches of the belongings of the Jews visiting the Wall.

British soldiers patrolled the Western Wall area every year during Yom Kippur prayers to prevent the shofar-blowing. When a smuggled shofar inevitably sounded the British soldiers pounced on the young man and arrested him — some of the boys who were caught were routinely sentenced to six months in jail for the “crime” of blowing the shofar at the Kotel. Yet each year new volunteers took up the challenge to ensure that the shofar could be sounded at the Kotel.

In one famous incident in 1931, a man named Moshe Segal blew the shofar at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. As the prayers at the Western Wall were coming to an end, Rabbi Orenstein, the rabbi of the Western Wall, revealed to Moshe where the shofar was hidden and Moshe blew it loud and clear.

In his memoirs, Moshe Segal wrote, how could “we possibly forego the sounding of the shofar that accompanies our proclamation of the sovereignty of G-d? Would we forego the sounding of the shofar, which symbolizes the redemption of Israel?”

The British promptly descended and arrested him. Though Segal had fasted for the previous 25 hours, the British detained him without food or water until midnight, when he was released. It was later reported that the release came about when then-Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook informed the commander that he himself would not eat until Segal was released.

The blowing of the shofar at the Western Wall at the end of Yom Kippur was not only a religious ceremony, but also boosted national pride throughout the country. At the end of Yom Kippur 5703 (September 1942), Menachem Begin visited the Western Wall, where he witnessed British policemen charging out of the Kishleh, the police building in the Old City, in search of the Betar member who had blown the shofar. (The building is still standing and is now used by the Israeli police).

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