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!]

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What are the main shofar sounds?

Although it seems like the main mitzvah of hearing the shofar is the first set of 30 shofar blasts sounded in succession after the Shofar Blessing is recited, in fact the mitzvah is really to hear the shofar integrated with the Mussaf for Rosh Hashanah, therefore the central shofar blowing is actually the three breaks during Mussaf when the shofar is sounded.

This point is explained clearly in the Chayei Adam (142):

עיקר התקיעות הוא לתקוע על סדר הברכות כחוזר ה”ץ תפילת המוספים שתוקעים למלכיות ולזכרונות ולופרות ומדינא הוא לתקוע על כל ברכה תר”ת ולפי הספק שנסתפקו בתרועה היה לנו לתקוע על כל ברכה תר”ת פ”א ותש”ת פ”א ותר”ת פ”א וכן נוהגין במקצת מקומות אך כיון תקנו חז”ל לתקוע קודם מוסף והם נקראין תקיעות דמיושב ר”ל שעדיין הקהל יובין ולאעומדין בתפילה והטעם שתקנו כן לערבב השטן שלא יקטרג בתפילת המוספין ובתקיעותיהן

If we are required to hear Tekiah-Teruah-Tekiah repeated three times, it would seem that at each of these junctures we should hear all three possible variations, i.e. the same 30 sounds repeated three times during Mussaf — in conjunction with Malchuyos, Zichronos and Shofaros.

Yet the prevailing custom is to play only a single variation of Tekiah-Teruah-Tekiah each time. Why is that considered good enough?

Confounding Satan

First we have to understand the reason for the initial 30 shofar sounds, known as Tekios D’Meyushav. This custom is intended to confound Satan so that he cannot act as  a Prosecutor during Mussaf and the Mussaf shofar blasts. For Satan is alarmed by the sound of the shofar, which is a reminder of the Great Shofar to be heard in the future Redemption.

And it shall comes to pass on that day that  a Great Shofar shall be blown, nd they shall come who were lost in the land of Ashur, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord on the holy mountain of Jerusalem. (Yeshayahu 27:13)

Upon hearing the Great Shofar the Satan, i.e. death and the Evil Inclination, will be eradicated from the face of the Earth.

And He will destroy on this mountain, the covering that is cast over all the people, and the veil that is spread over all the nations. He iwll destroy death forever and the Lord G-d ill wipe away tears from all faces… (Yeshayahua 25:8).

Since in essence the congregation fulfills the mitzvah through those initial 30 blasts, Chazal did not want to impose an unnecessary burden on the congregation by requiring them to be played another three times.

Andy why was the “Shevarim-Teruah” variation chosen? Because in a way it is the safest bet. If the true Teruah is “Shevarim” you hear it; if the true Teruah is what we refer today as Teruah, you hear it. The only problem is that perhaps you are hearing an extra note, rather than the three notes in succession. But this is considered a minor enough concern that we avoid imposing a burden on the congregation.

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 tones and pitch

The Shulchan Aruch states that the pitch of a shofar can be high or low (586, 6). This ruling is derived from the Gemara (Rosh Hashana 27b), which states as follows:

היה קולו דק או עבה או צרור כשר שכל הקולות כשירין בשופר

Here we see that not only high- and low-pitched shofars can be used to fulfill the mitzvah, but even a “hoarse” tone, which Rashi describes as a “dry” tone.

Sometimes the pitch of a shofar will change midway. A tekiah starts high and then in the middle suddenly changes to a lower note. Or it may start as a clear tone and then suddenly shift to raspy. The custom is that the tekiah is acceptable, and does not have to be repeated.

There are two notable cases where the tekiah may have to be repeated:

  1. If there is a break that can be detected by the listeners
  2. If it trills

Note that if a shofar shound is not produced and air can be heard passing through the shofar, this is not considered קול שופר and therefore does not affect the order of the required shofar notes.

When looking at shofars for sale, keep in mind that you will find it easier to play it well if the sound is clear, not raspy, and the notes are easy to hit, without skipping up or down.

Yemenite shofars are typically able to produce a wider range of notes than rams horn shofars. Long kudu shofars may have an especially wide range.

Shofar playing tips: The mouthpiece

For 3 centuries horn instructors have advocated using a mouthpiece placement of two-thirds upper lip and one-third lower lip. Iin the case of a shofar I find this technique valid. The fleshy part of the upper lip is the area which determiness the quality of sound. Therefore this upper lip musculature should be developed. A large proportion of upper lip is also beneficial in playing the whole range of the shofar, which is typically two octaves (typically a kudu shofar has greater range); too little upper lip will not allow for the lowest notes on the horn.

Preferably you should blow the shofar from the right side, if possible, because the Talmud says the Satan sits on the right in a bid to condemn the shofar blower (Psalms 47:6).

There is no halachah on how to go about playing a shofar. By inference, if you find it uncomfortable to play the shofar from the right side of the mouth, then you should play on the left side (see Mishnah Berura, 585:6).

Some people play the shofar like they would play a brass instrument, from the center of their lips. While this is an unusual technique, it is permissible. However, the more conventional way to place the mouthpiece against the lips is to position it at one side of your mouth because it is smaller.

In the case of a Yemenite shofar, you will probably want to experiment with both straight and side mouth positioning.

Thanks to veteran shofar player Arthur Finkle for helping provide the material for this article.