Jewish New Year: 'Releasing the voice of God'

The sound of  Rosh Hashanah
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Story highlights

  • The shofar is "an instrument that releases, symbolically, God's voice," says an expert
  • The instrument dates back thousands of years to the time of Abraham and Isaac
  • Made from the horn of a kosher animal, the preferred shofar is a ram's horn
  • Customers at Eli Ribak's shop in Tel Aviv test each one, trying to find that perfect pitch
It's been described as the symbolic voice of God.
You can hear it trumpeting across Israel and Jewish communities everywhere during the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, which begins at sundown on September 24.
Crafted from the horn of a kosher animal, the shofar is "an instrument that releases, symbolically, God's voice," according to shofar expert Robert Weinger. "We are waking up our spirituality. To return to god to actually cleanse ourselves."
Weinger, an American, worked in the food and beverage industry for over 20 years before he found his calling. Now, he imports shofars to the United States from Israel.
Aside from importing shofars, Weinger also plays it for people and at synagogues. But when he does, he says it's not about him.
"I don't strike a pose and have the focus on me," says Weinger. "The focus is on the breath of God, which is being released through me."
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The instrument is almost as old as Judaism, dating back thousands of years to the time of Abraham and Isaac.
"First, during Rosh Hashanah, we sound the shofar to coronate God as the king," says Rabbi Meir Schweiger of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. "The second, is that the shofar is seen as an alarm, a kind of wake-up call. Take stock of what you've done over the past year."
The Jewish calendar enters the year 5775. Rosh Hashanah marks the time Jews believe God created man. "It also marks the day when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil," says Schweiger says.
But first, this alarm needs to be created.
In a nondescript workshop in Tel Aviv, Eli Ribak grinds down the rough edges of a ram's horn. Surrounding him are sacks of raw horns fill every corner, rising to the ceiling.
Ribak's family has been crafting shofars for three generations -- and his partner's family since the 14th century. Their company, Shofarot-Israel, is one of the biggest producers of shofars in the world.
Around the Jewish New Year, the horn blasts fill his small showroom. Boxes of all types of shofars line the walls. There are some made out of long and spiral antelope horns, curved rams horns and buffalo horns. But not every horn can be turned into a shofar.
"According to Jewish law, the shofar has to be something that is actually hallow inside," Schweiger says. "You can't have the shofar of a cow and in fact the preferred shofar is a ram's horn."
Customers at Ribak's shop test each one trying to find that perfect pitch.
"We need to select the right shofar to the person," says Ribak. "If a good shofar works for you. It won't necessarily be a good shofar for someone else."
If a customer doesn't know how to play the instrument, Ribak can teach them. Much like the trumpet "you have to ensure that no air escapes from a very tiny hole in your lips," says Ribak. "Straight and fast, that is how you blow a shofar."
For Weinger, he is listening for a specific sound.
"I am listening for the heart of god. I am listening for that pure sound that is in complete harmony."