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March 23, 2023

Religion: The Shofar’s Call at Rosh Hashanah—The Jewish New Year

When a soloist holds a note for a very long time, the audience is mesmerized. They guess how much longer the note will play and express excitement upon the conclusion.

One of the most recognizable symbols of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is the shofar (a horn from a kosher animal, usually a ram or antelope). The blast of the shofar is a loud sound—a wake up call. 

On Jan. 1, we engage in parties and revelry while blowing noise makers at midnight. In contrast, the Jewish New Year is observed with sweetness (dipping apples in honey for a sweet new year), with prayer in synagogue, and by engaging in the work of repentance and repair.

The shofar’s blast is a wakeup call for our weary souls—it is time to do the work. It’s traditional to begin hearing the shofar in the month leading up to the holiday and then hearing 100 blasts on Rosh Hashanah and a final long blast at the end of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

There are a few different shofar blasts. Tekiah is one long call. It gets our attention and wakes us up. Shevarim is three short blasts. Their broken sounds are like cries. Teruah is nine staccato blasts conveying the urgency of the moment. Tekiah Gedola is one very long call (until the one blowing runs out of air), letting us know we need to try as hard as we can to pay attention and not lose focus.

As a former French horn player, I enjoy blowing the shofar and seeing how long I can hold a Tekiah Gedola. However, the commandment for Jews is not to blow the shofar but rather to hear it. Hearing something means that we pay attention to it.

Driving on Highway 101 during the heatwave this September, while speaking with a congregant, we both suddenly heard a loud siren, a message letting us know to conserve energy to possibly avoid rolling blackouts (unfortunately many lost power anyway). We heard the siren and paid attention.

Just as the siren alerted us, on Rosh Hashanah, the shofar’s blast is exciting and profound. Its sound wakes us up (both spiritually and physically) to the opportunities of a new year. While it is the Jewish New Year, there are sirens, real and metaphorical, urging us to pay attention to improve ourselves, help others and make the world a better place. Tekiah Gedola!

Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz is the rabbi of Congregation Emeth. Located in Morgan Hill and serving all of South County, Congregation Emeth was founded 45 years ago and is the oldest Jewish community in South County. Rabbi Dantowitz can be contacted at [email protected].

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