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The Case of the   Stolen Shofar?

27/08/20 12:03:25


For my piece this week, I’m reprinting the article I wrote a few years ago. Heard it before? Well, it’s like the shofar itself, hopefully worth hearing once more! 

The Case of the Stolen Shofar? 

It’s time to blow your horn again! Well almost, but it is the time of the year we start to sound the shofar at our morning service. Every morning during this month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashana we blow the basic notes: Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, Tekiah. Each morning those ancient, eerie notes hover in the air; each day we hope that their tremulous tones will enter into our hearts; pierce our habitual apathy, assail our indifference; make a small difference to the way we go about our business of living. In this sense the shofar is intensely personal, Cri de Coeur, a cry to take some time out, to look at our lives, to consider our achievements, to reflect on our relationships.  

The shofar is, however, also a public call to us as a community; a type of town crier, a reminder to look at our communal priorities. In rabbinic thinking the shofar is more than this. It’s nothing less than a siren call, a challenge to take action; it was blasted at war-time, it will be blown to herald a Messianic age for the world. It needs to be broadcast across the internet! 

At this morning’s shacharit service we almost did just that. As we readied to blow the shofar, I went to my office to get it and found it wasn’t there. I’ve always had it sitting on my bookshelf but only when I needed it, did I discover it was no longer there. Is it a case of things being removed in plain sight? I began to wonder: did someone borrow it, did I misplace it inadvertently, was it taken by some disgruntled cleaner as a memento? Nonetheless, with no time to waste and no shofar in sight David Zeimer pulled out his phone and downloaded the sounds of the shofar…Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah… 

Now this may not be too kosher and certainly isn’t kosher for Yom Tov and Rosh Hashana itself, but it was a cause for some mirth and musing. I mused about stolen shofars which the Halacha actually addresses; it’s called “shofar hagazul” or the case of the stolen shofar and focuses on whether you can fulfil your mitzvah of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashana with this item. (Blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashana is a חיוב or obligation as opposed to custom during the month of Elul). Surprisingly, it’s ok to hear the sounds from a stolen shofar (unlike using a stolen lulav or eating a “hot” matza…) because, as the Chafetz Chaim suggests, even though the object is illicit, the sound isn’t. He suggests that legally there’s no wrongdoing in hearing the sounds. Sound, he says, can’t be stolen. It’s a fine legal distinction and certainly as he goes on to say, something to be avoided at all costs! Nevertheless, it raises some intriguing scenarios and interesting questions about stealing sound, listening to illicitly recorded music and whether music online is strictly kosher. Of course, there’s a serious message here that even if it’s legally permitted, it’s morally reprehensible. So, if my shofar has been stolen, even though it emits some marvellously clear and crystal notes, beware of the corrupting influence of these sounds…  

More than this, it got me thinking about the things we take for granted, the people we take for granted, the assumptions that they’ll always be there for us. And then one day we reach for them only to find they are no longer there. It happens often during that first year of mourning when we begin to phone our deceased loved one to ask or tell them something. We need to look after our cherished relationships (and our precious things); keep our eyes on what really matters.  

If this applies on a personal level it certainly is relevant to our communal and global concerns. We’re living in dangerous and difficult times with demagoguery replacing diplomacy, with terror on the streets and fear in our hearts. At times like this we need to be vigilant in protecting our democratic institutions and cherished values, in ensuring that we look after people and look out for the things that matter. I’m going to do another search for my shofar and even if I can’t find it, I’m planning to be more conscious and aware of those around me. I ain’t going to take them for granted! And I’m going to let those plangent shofar sounds burrow deep down into my soul. 

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Ralph 

Sat, 17 April 2021 5 Iyyar 5781