Sounding the Shofar at the Western Wall in 1967

Below is a transcript of a live broadcast on Voice of Israel Radio, June 7th, 1967, as IDF forces liberate the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. The recording is now housed in the archives of the Avi Yaffe Recording Studio in Jerusalem.

In addition to the sounds of gunfire, commands, singing and weeping, the shofar was sounded, first by Lt.- Col. Uzi Eilam and later by Rabbi Shlomo Goren. Until then, during the Ottoman and the British occupation of Jerusalem, Jews were not allowed to sound the shofar at the Western Wall. The dramatic moment when Rabbi Goren blew the shofar inspired Israeli poetess and song-writerlyricist Naomi Shemer to add a line to her famous song, Jerusalem of Gold, that reads, “A Shofar calls out from the Temple Mount in the Old City.”

Colonel Motta Gur [on loudspeaker]: All company commanders, we’re sitting right now on the ridge and we’re seeing the Old City. Shortly we’re going to go in to the Old City of Jerusalem, that all generations have dreamed about. We will be the first to enter the Old City. Eitan’s tanks will advance on the left and will enter the Lion’s Gate. The final rendezvous will be on the open square above.

Yossi Ronen: We are now walking on one of the main streets of Jerusalem towards the Old City. The head of the force is about to enter the Old City. [Gunfire.] There is still shooting from all directions; we’re advancing towards the entrance of the Old City. [Sound of gunfire and soldiers’ footsteps; yelling of commands to soldiers; more soldiers’ footsteps.] The soldiers are keeping a distance of approximately 5 meters between them. It’s still dangerous to walk around here; there is still sniper fire here and there. [Gunfire.]

We’re all told to stop; we’re advancing towards the mountainside; on our left is the Mount of Olives; we’re now in the Old City opposite the Russian Church. I’m right now lowering my head; we’re running next to the mountainside. We can see the stone walls. They’re still shooting at us.

The Israeli tanks are at the entrance to the Old City, and ahead we go, through the Lion’s Gate. I’m with the first unit to break through into the Old City. There is a Jordanian bus next to me, totally burnt; it is very hot here. We’re about to enter the Old City itself. We’re standing below the Lion’s Gate, the Gate is about to come crashing down, probably because of the previous shelling. Soldiers are taking cover next to the palm trees; I’m also staying close to one of the trees. We’re getting further and further into the City. [Gunfire.]

Colonel Motta Gur announces on the army wireless: The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat, the Temple Mount is in our hands! All forces, stop firing! This is the David Operations Room. All forces, stop firing! I repeat, all forces, stop firing! Over.

Commander eight-nine here, is this Motta (Gur) talking? Over.

[Inaudible response on the army wireless by Motta Gur.]

Uzi Narkiss: Motta, there’s nobody like you. You’re next to the Mosque of Omar.

Yossi Ronen: I’m driving fast through the Lion’s Gate all the way inside the Old City. Command on the army wireless: Search the area, make sure to enter every single house, but do not touch anything. Especially in holy places.

[Lt.- Col. Uzi Eilam blows the Shofar. Soldiers are singing ‘Jerusalem of Gold’.]

Uzi Narkiss: Tell me, where is the Western Wall? How do we get there? Yossi Ronen: I’m walking right now down the steps towards the Western Wall. I’m not a religious man, I never have been, but this is the Western Wall and I’m touching the stones of the Western Wall.

Soldiers: [reciting the ‘Shehechianu’ blessing]: Baruch ata Hashem, elokeinu melech haolam, she-hechianu ve-kiemanu ve-hegianu la-zman ha-zeh. [Translation: Blessed art Thou Lord God King of the Universe who has sustained us and kept us and has brought us to this day]

Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Baruch ata Hashem, menachem tsion u-voneh Yerushalayim. [Translation: Blessed are thou, who comforts Zion and bulids Jerusalem] Soldiers: Amen! [Soldiers sing ‘Hatikva’ next to the Western Wall.]

Rabbi Goren: We’re now going to recite the prayer for the fallen soldiers of this war against all of the enemies of Israel: [Soldiers weeping; Rabbi Goren sounds the shofar.] El male rahamim, shohen ba-meromim. Hamtse menuha nahona al kanfei hashina, be-maalot kedoshim, giborim ve-tehorim, kezohar harakiya meirim u-mazhirim. Ve-nishmot halalei tsava hagana le-yisrael, she-naflu be-maaraha zot, neged oievei yisrael, ve-shnaflu al kedushat Hashem ha-am ve-ha’arets, ve-shichrur Beit Hamikdash, Har Habayit, Hakotel ha-ma’aravi veyerushalayim ir ha-elokim. Be-gan eden tehe menuhatam. Lahen ba’al ha-rahamim, yastirem beseter knafav le-olamim. Ve-yitsror be-tsror ha-hayim et nishmatam adoshem hu nahlatam, ve-yanuhu be-shalom al mishkavam [soldiers weeping loud]ve-ya’amdu le-goralam le-kets ha- yamim ve-nomar amen!

[Translation: Merciful God in heaven, may the heroes and the pure, be under thy Divine wings, among the holy and the pure who shine bright as the sky, and the souls of soldiers of the Israeli army who fell in this war against the enemies of Israel, who fell for their loyalty to God and the land of Israel, who fell for the liberation of the Temple, the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and Jerusalem the city of the Lord. May their place of rest be in paradise. Merciful One, O keep their souls forever alive under Thy protective wings. The Lord being their heritage, may they rest in peace, for they shalt rest and stand up for their allotted portion at the end of the days, and let us say, Amen.]

[Soldiers are weeping. Rabbi Goren sounds the shofar. Sound of gunfire in the background.]

Rabbi Goren: Le-shana HA-ZOT be-Yerushalayim ha-b’nuya, be-yerushalayim ha-atika! [Translation: This year in a rebuilt Jerusalem! In the Jerusalem of old!]

The shofar in the Holy Temple

The shofar is the only Jewish musical instrument to have survived two millennia in its original form. The sound of the shofar, wrote Rabbi Saadia Gaon,  struck awe in the hearts and souls of the people. According to the Rambam, the sounding of the shofar served as a reminder to mankind of its obligations toward God, while the Holy Zohar notes that the sound of the shofar awakens the aspect of Higher Mercy.

The shofar is the musical instrument most frequently mentioned in the Tanach (72 times). It played a role both in the religious and secular lives the Jewish people. Only Kohanim (priests) Levites were permitted to sound the Shofar in the Jewish Commonwealth.

The shofar is first mentioned in Shemos 19:16, at the theophany on Sinai. It was also used to proclaim the Jubilee Year (Yovel) and the proclamation of “freedom throughout the land” (Bamidbar 25:9-10). It was sounded on Rosh Hashana, which is designated as Yom Terua (“A day of blowing” Bamidbar 29:1), and was sometimes used in processionals (Joshua 6:4),  as accompaniment for other musical instruments (Tehillim 98:6), as a signal (Shmuel II 15:10, Joshua 6:12), as a clarion call to war (Shoftim 3:27) and to instill fear (Amos 3:6).

When used in the Temple, the shofar was generally sounded in conjunction with the trumpet (chatzotzra).

The shofar had several religious roles recorded in the Tanach, such as the transfer of the Ark of the Covenant (2 Shmuel 6:15, Chronicles 15:28), notification of a New Moon (Psalms 81:4); the start of the new year (Numbers 29:1), the Yom Kippur (Vayikra 25:9), the procession preparatory to Sukkot (Mishnah Chullin 1:7), the libation ceremony (Mishnah  Rosh Hashana 4:9) and the Havdalah ceremony marking the end of a festival (Mishnah Chullin 1:7).

The shofar also served several secular roles, such as coronating a king (Shmuel II 5:10;  Kings I 1:34, Kings II 1:13) and for signaling in time of war to rally troops for an offensive, to pursue enemy soldiers and to proclaim victory (Bemidbar 10:9; Judges 6:4; Jeremiah 4:5 and Ezekiel 33:3-6).

On Rosh Hashana and other full holidays (i.e. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and the three pilgrimage fesitvals, Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos) a single priest performed two sacrifices in honor of the day.

On Rosh Hashana, something special occurred during the Mussaf sacrifice. According to one opinion, two shofar sounders played the long notes and one trumpet player played the short note. Rosh Hashana, therefore, is referred to as Yom Teruah (the Day of the Blast). Otherwise, the trumpets had “top billing.” Rosh Hashanah 27a, supports this claim: “Said Raba, or perhaps Rav Yehoshua Ben Levi: What is the scriptural source for this? It is written, ‘With trumpets and the sound of the shofar shout ye before the King in the Temple,’ therefore we require trumpets and the sound of the shofar, elsewhere not.”

Indeed, on Yom Kippur, the shofar was blown to announce the Jubilee Year (every 50 years Jews were granted freedom, forgiveness of debts and sold lands reverted to their original ownership. The shofar is first mentioned in connection with the Yovel (Jubilee Year –  Vayikra 25:8-13). Indeed, in Rosh Hashana 33b, the sages ask why the shofar sounded in Jubilee year.  Further support is found in Rosh Hashana 29a, where the Talmud speaks of trumpets for sacrifices, but the shofar in the Jubilee Year does not apply to priests who are exempt from the obligations of the jubilee.

Otherwise, for all other special days, the shofar was sounded for a shorter duration and two special silver trumpets announced the sacrifice.

When the trumpets sound the signal, all the people who are within the sacrifice area prostate themselves, stretching out flat, face down toward the ground.

The shofar was blown at the Temple to usher in Shabbat every week. On the lintel of the wall at the top of the Temple an inscription read, “To the house of the blowing of the trumpet [ i.e. shofar]”.  Every Shabbat two men with silver trumpets and a man with a shofar sounded three trumpet blasts, twice during the day.

On Rosh Hashana, the procedure differed.  The shofar is the primary trumpet. According to Vayikra 23:24 and Bamidbar 29, Rosh Hashana is the day of the blowing of the trumpets.  The original name is Yom Terua (the staccato sound of the horn, which also means  “shout”).  According to the Mishna (Rosh Hashana 16a, Mishnah Rosh Hashana 3, 3), the trumpet used for this purpose is the ram’s horn, not trumpets made of metal, as in Bamidbar 10. On Rosh Hashana a shofar is used for the first blast, a silver trumpet the second, and then the shofar follows with the third.

Shofar: Biblical factory whistle

In the Babylonian Talmud we find that the shofar was blown every Friday, at the close of the day.

The academy of Rabbi Yishmael taught: On Friday afternoon we sound six shofar blasts announcing the arrival of the Sabbath.

Rabbi Yishmael was a Tanna from the third Tannaitic generation. His studied with Rabbi Akiva. After their deaths, the disciples of these two Torah giants continued their learning in the name of their famous teachers.

The Tanna (“repeaters” or “teachers”) were the Rabbinic sages whose views are recorded in the Mishnah, from approximately 10 CE-220 CE, a time span also referred to as the Mishnaic period, lasting about 210 years. The first shofar sound summoned those who are working in the outer fields to return to their homes to welcome the Sabbath. These distant workers would then meet the workers in the more proximate fields to enter the town together.

The second blast is an order for commerce  to cease to welcome the Sabbath. At home, hot water would be heating in pots.

The third blast instructed that the pots be removed from the fires and the food should be insulated for the next day’s meal.

After the third blast, the Baal Tekiah (shofar sounder) would wait the the amount of time needed to roast a small fish over a fire, or to attach bread dough to the oven walls.

As a final alarm, the shofar sounder (who is attached to the synagogue) ends his blasts with a Tekiah, Teruah and another Tekiah ushering in the Sabbath.

Thus we have six blasts paralleling the number of work days in the week. On the seventh you shall rest.

This article was based on material provided by Arthur Finkle

Shofar as a primal experience

Blowing the shofar is an intensely primal experience that connects you with earth and sky. There is a lot of sensory engagement in keeping mitzvahs, but the shofar takes this to a very high level. It’s a ram’s horn or a kudu horn, it smells like an animal horn.

“There’s something very primal and earthy and wild about it,” writes Jordia Gerson. “It has a similar smell to the smell that you get when you open a Torah scroll, since a kosher Torah scroll is made of animal skin. They both smell like animal…”

So many areas of our lives are unnaturally sanitized today. We live in closed, climate-controlled environments, with air filters and ionizers. In fact, some scientific research, the Hygiene Hypothesis, even suggests that our super clean and sanitized environments may actually be making us sick!

In high school and college, I used to go on three- and four-day backpacking trips. One summer a friend and I went into the Sierra Nevado Mountains for a 10-day jaunt. After about a week of zero exposure to cleaning solutions, car exhaust, air conditioners, etc. I started picking up subtle smells in the world around me. Not just pine needles and fields, but even tree bark and boulders from several feet away. The kinds of smells dogs and cats and horses are attuned to, but which escape the senses of modern man.

Perhaps the shofar is a hedge against becoming overly sanitized, something like working in the garden and getting dirt under your fingernails.

Blowing the shofar bonds you with nature. Arguably, the shofar is meant to be blown outdoors. All of the shofar blowing described in Tanach occurred in the open air. The shofar horn is a signaling device meant to be heard over long distances. There would be no need to sound it in the generally small rooms of Biblical-era structures.

What did the original shofars look like?

The Talmud  states that the trumpet was made of silver while the processed horn of one of the five animal species — antelope, gazelle, sheep, goat and mountain goat — was used to carry out the ritual commandment of the sounding of the shofar (Rosh Hashanah 27a).

It also notes that preferrably the shofar should be made of a rams horn or wild goat horn, because they are curved. Rabbi Judah says, “The shofar for Rosh Hashanah must be made of the horn of a ram, to indicate submission.”

Traditionally a ram’s horn is sounded on those days because of its association with the binding and near sacrifice of Isaac (the Akeidah), which serves as the Torah reading for the second day of the festival.

Conversely, a cow’s horn may not be used because of the incident of the golden Calf (Rosh Hashana 3:2). The shofar may not be painted, though it can be gilded or carved with artistic designs, as long as the mouthpiece remains natural.

A shofar with a hole in its side wall or a chip in its mouthpiece is deemed halachically unfit, though it may be used if no other one is available (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 586).

History of the Yemenite shofar

Is the kudu shofar a brand new development, or does it have roots in ancient tradition?

“On a social media site a user posed the following question: “Growing up I only saw short shofars that actually looked like horns from a ram. At some point these very long shofars showed up. Are they naturally from a ram?”

Jay Gurewitsch posted an interesting reply from a social-historical perspective:

The really long, curlicued shofarot (plural for shofar in Hebrew) are from the Kudu and is standard for the Yemenite Jewish community.

The fact that they “showed up” as you put it is actually quite a tale of religious intolerance being overcome. They became the “in” shofar in Israel in the 60s and 70s and their popularity has spread worldwide since then, I assume through Jewish tourists buying them and bringing them home. The Yemenite community was airlifted en masse to Israel in 1949 in a secret operation known as Operation Magic Carpet. After years of severe discrimination by the European born Jews in charge of religious and secular Israeli institutions, they eventually gained enough political power in Israel so that their traditions and community standards were accepted, and as with their shofar, even became popular with Jews worldwide who saw it as the cool, new thing. Personally, I love the fact that Ashkenazi Jews worldwide now use a Yemenite traditional shofar. Perhaps if more people knew the background of that shofar they might be more tolerant of differences within the Jewish community.

The problem with his answer is that it’s inaccurate to say that the kudu shofar is “standard” in the Yemenite Jewish community. Many Yemenite Jews rely predominantly on the Rambam in halachic matters, much like Sephardim rely primarily on the Shulchan Aruch and Ashkenazim rely on the Shulchan Aruch with the glosses of the Rema. And guess what? The Rambam holds that a shofar must be made from a ram’s horn, not a kudu horn. So it would seem the Yemenite shofar is not so Yemenite.

However, a large segment of Yemenite Jewry did not accept the Rambam as the main decisor of halacha, and they do have a custom to use a kudu horn on Rosh Hashana.

According to Rabbi Natan Slifkin, today the majority of Yemenites use a kudu horn, and he argues that ironically, since a significant segment of Yemenite Jewry adheres to the Rambam’s rulings, a kudu shofar is actually more kosher for use among Ashkenazi or Sephardic Jews (who follow the Shulchan Aruch) than for Yemenite Jews.

Kudu Horn

The greater kudu, Tragelaphus strepsiceros, a large antelope whose horns, with up to three full twists, are among the largest of any animal. Owing to their magnificent appearance, they are often used outside of the Yemenite Jewish community, but because they originated there, they are commonly referred to as “Yemenite shofars.”

The last chief rabbi of Yemen, Rabbi Amram Korach, writes that Yemenites were accustomed to blow a “long and twisted [shofar], two or three twists, and its sound was pure and eerie. Some said that it was from an animial that was similar to sheep. Therefore they did not concern themselves with [the Rambam’s] stringency that only sheep horns are kosher, since they saw that this shofar enhances the mitzvah in its stature and its sound was stronger than that of a sheep’s horn, and to the present day they blow the mitzvah blasts with this shofar, according to the rulings of the Geonim that all twisted shofars are undoubtedly kosher” (Sa’arat Teiman, Jerusalem 1954).

Rabbi Ovady Melamed argues that rams’ horns are easier to obtain than kudu horns, and this proves that there must have been an ancient Yemenite tradition that predated the Rambam, according to which kudu horns are acceptable, and perhaps even preferable because of the greater number of curves.

However, Rabbi Shlomo Muchrar, an elderly Yemenite who now lives in the Haifa area, says he recalls that the kudu horn was only used because in certain parts of Yemen sheep with usable horns were virtually non-existent.