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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Straight and Twisted Shofarot (Rosh Hashanah 26b)

Are rituals -- and the objects we use to practice them -- symbolic of the prevailing spiritual mood? Or do we choose ritual objects to cultivate in ourselves an attitude or mood appropriate to the occasion? The mishnah on Rosh Hashanah 26b concerning shofar discusses the source, shape, and embellishment of the horns used on Rosh Hashanah, fast days (declared in the case of drought or disaster) and to announce the Yovel (Jubilee) year at the end of Yom Kippur. )

The shofar of Rosh Hashanah is of a wild goat that is a straight [horn] and its mouth is plated with gold, and two trumpets [are blown] at its sides. The shofar [blasts] long and the trumpets [blow] short, because the commandment of the day concerns a shofar. On fast days: [we blow] with [horns of] males, bent, and their mouths are plated with silver, and two trumpets [are blown] in between them. The shofar [blows] short and the trumpets [blow] long, because the commandment of the day is with trumpets. The Yovel (Jubilee) year: is identical to Rosh Hashanah [with respect to] the blowing and the blessings. R. Yehudah says: On Rosh Hashanah we blast with [horns of] males and on the Yovel (Jubilee) years with [horns of] wild goats.

If that’s a lot to take in on first glance, I’ve prepared the text in an outline form with the hope that it makes the structure easier to follow:

A. The shofar of Rosh Hashanah:
a. is of a wild goat that is a straight [horn]
b. and its mouth is plated with gold,
c. and two trumpets [are blown] at its sides.
d. The shofar [blasts] long and the trumpets [blow] short, because the commandment of the day concerns a shofar.

B. On fast days:
a. [we blow] with [horns of] males,
b. bent,
c. and their mouths are plated with silver,
d. and two trumpets [are blown] in between them.
e. The shofar [blows] short and the trumpets [blow] long, because the commandment of the day is with trumpets.

C. The Yovel year: is identical to Rosh Hashanah [with respect to] the blowing and the blessings.

D. R. Yehudah says:
a. On Rosh Hashanah we blast with [horns of] males
b. and on the Yovel years with [horns of] wild goats.

What strikes me first and foremost is the concern with the shape of the horn. For Rosh Hashanah and to announce the Yovel (Jubilee year) we are to use a straight horn, but for fast days, a bent or twisted horn is prescribed.

(Time out for Jewish “trivia”: The Jubilee year occurs every 50th year at the end of seven cycles of shemittah (sabbatical years) and its announcement is made at the close of Yom Kippur by blowing a shofar. Leviticus 25: 8-16 explains the requirement to blow the shofar on the tenth day of the seventh month and to observe the Yovel as a sabbatical year. This is why shofar is blown in synagogues at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. No doubt you’re now thinking: but we blow the shofar every year following Yom Kippur. Yes, this is true, and that is because we have lost track of when the Jubilee year falls. Therefore we blow the shofar each year in case that year is the Yovel.)

(Second time out for background on fast days: Talmud, in masechet Ta’anit, prescribes special fasts and prayers in the case of severe drought and actual or imminent disaster. Blowing a shofar is covered in chapter 2.)

In the case of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we are engaged in the process of teshuvah (repentance), confident that if our repentance is sincere and thorough, God will forgive and our atonement will cleanse. Many people mistakenly think Yom Kippur is a somber day akin to a day of mourning, Not so. While it is certainly a serious occasion, Yom Kippur is a joyous day because we are assured that sincere teshuvah (repentance) brings forgiveness. Hence we – like the shofar -- stand straight: confident and joyful that our relationships with God and people in our lives can be repaired, reconciled, and renewed. Similarly, the Jubilee is a joyous occasion and the straight shofar announces rest for the land and release from debts.

On fast days, however, there was a sense of fear in the air in ancient times because the theology held that drought and disaster resulted from the people’s sins. Fasts – with their accompanying prayers and shofar blasts – were intended to remediate the situation and inspire repentance. People were encouraged by the bent shofar to bend themselves in repentance, but there is no sure confidence that their efforts will be successful.

These days, one is as likely to see a twisted shofar used on Rosh Hashanah as a straight one. The distinction made in the Mishnah is no longer observed in most communities.

Are rituals -- and the objects we use to practice them -- symbolic of the prevailing spiritual mood? Or do we choose ritual objects to cultivate in ourselves an attitude or mood appropriate to the occasion? Perhaps it both operating simultaneously.

© 2009 Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

6 comments:

afinkle221 said...

Great inof in a breazy way.

I believe you will find Shofar sounding in Taanit 16A ff.

Art Finkle

Simcha said...

Are rituals objects we use to practice them – (1) symbolic of the prevailing spiritual mood? Or (2) do we choose ritual objects to cultivate in ourselves an attitude or mood appropriate to the occasion? Perhaps it both operating simultaneously.=======================
It feels like you are asking: what comes first, the chicken or the egg?
Your question is rather a general question, not necessarily relating to the different kind of shofarot in discussion. It is common to think that cultures usually use artifacts from what is readily available to them in the environment they live in. So, people than insert their meaning of what they are looking for. They chose the artifact to cultivate the proper attitude. In the case where cultures have trading ability with remote nations, at times they can import the particular item to fit their spiritual meaning. Native Americans are the classic example of how they use nature and its gifts to create their spiritual artifacts. This means to relate to your (1) question.

Simcha said...

Are rituals objects we use to practice them – (1) symbolic of the prevailing spiritual mood? Or (2) do we choose ritual objects to cultivate in ourselves an attitude or mood appropriate to the occasion? Perhaps it both operating simultaneously.=======================
It feels like you are asking: what comes first, the chicken or the egg?
Your question is rather a general question, not necessarily relating to the different kind of shofarot in discussion. It is common to think that cultures usually use artifacts from what is readily available to them in the environment they live in. So, people than insert their meaning of what they are looking for. They chose the artifact to cultivate the proper attitude. In the case where cultures have trading ability with remote nations, at times they can import the particular item to fit their spiritual meaning. Native Americans are the classic example of how they use nature and its gifts to create their spiritual artifacts. This means to relate to your (1) question.

August 8, 2009 12:05 PM

Simcha said...

So sorry to post twice by mistake. Simcha

afinkle221 said...

What you quote from Mishnah is true.

The Rabbi's, however, argued the questiopn of whether to use a straight or bent shofar for Rosh Hashanah. The outcome appears in the Shulchan Aruch 1565 (glossed for Ashkenzic purposes) in 1597.

The
Chofetaz Chaim updated some of the books of the shulchan Areuch to early 20th century rulings:


Mishna Berurah-586

1. Shofar for RH – most desirable for mitzvah of shofar is
2. ram and
3. bent
GLOSS - (3) this serves as an indication that the people will bend their hearts to the Omnipresent.

4. Once, after the event, all shofars all valid, irrespective of whether they are bent or straight.
5. The mitzvah is better fulfilled with bent shofars rather than with straight shofars
Gloss: Tthe Shulchan Aruch means by this being bent is not only desireable in the case of a shofar from a ram, but even in the case of shofars from other animals, domestic or non-domestic, a bent shofar is also preferable to a straight one


Arthur L. Finkle, R.J.E.

Rabbi Amy Scheinerman said...

Thank you for your comment about the shofar in law codes. I appreciate your contribution. For my part, I find rabbinic discussion far more illuminating, and law codes far more limiting. I commend to you an article on the inherently problematic nature of law codes by Dr. Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo entitled, "The Future and the Spirit of Halacha." Cordoza argues that law codes (specifically Mishneh Torah and Shulchan Arukh) have stifled the halakhic process and reduced it to a set of rules concerning permitted/forbidden, emptying it of the process of thinking, analysis, and argumentation that keeps Judaism fresh and alive. While we might not agree with all his assumptions and conclusions, his argument is radical given the venue in which he makes it: the essay was published in the most recent edition of "Conversations," Marc Angel's modern Orthodox journal. If you would like a copy, please contact me. All the best for a shanah tovah u'metukah.