Photo Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90
Eli Ribak blows a shofar at the BarSheshet-Ribak Shofarot factory, in south Tel Aviv, on Sunday. The factory produces about 5,000 shofars a year, half of which are sold ahead of Rosh HaShana. A family business, the Shofarot Israel factory has been operating in the same building in South Tel Aviv since 1925.

At the dawn of the new year of 5784, the Jewish people in general and the State of Israel in particular are in the midst of one of the greatest internal challenges since the State’s founding.

After five years of inconclusive elections, Israel finally had a decisive result – a right-wing government of 64 mandates. For the first time in Israel’s history, the entire government is made up of right-wing and religious parties. With many in Israel still reeling from the results, on January 3, 2023, Minister of Justice Yair Levin embarked on his systematic plan for judicial reform. Israel has not been the same since.


On the one hand, there is general consensus, almost across the board in Israel, for a need for change to the far-reaching and perhaps unparalleled powers of Israel’s judiciary. Balance needs to be restored between the Supreme Court and the government – between the judicial and legislative/executive branches of the Israeli political system. On the other hand, Levin’s plan has become one of the most divisive political initiatives in Israel’s history.

Introduced as an overarching plan with long-term, systematic, structural changes, these changes seem to many revolutionary, rather than evolutionary: highly controversial, as opposed to consensual. Many see them as a threat to democracy and fear a potential dictatorial power grab by the Right. Yet others believe that the current powers of Israel’s Supreme Court and the plethora of legal advisers to the government constitute a no less extreme and imbalanced power play. The fissures in Israeli society between left and right, between democratic and Jewish, between universal and progressive versus religious and conservative have emerged to roil Israeli and Jewish society to the core.

After such a divisive year, we are in deep need of a paradigm shift for a new Jewish covenant and conviction of unity. In my opinion, the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashana are the exact antidote to the challenge and the very cure to the curse of divisiveness.


A Mitzvah to Listen

The shofar is the only Torah-mandated commandment of the day. In fact, it is the very definition of the day which is called in the Torah “Yom Teruah” (Bamidbar 29:1) – a day of the blowing of the shofar. The translation of the word teruah, as rendered by the ancient commentary of the Targum, Onkelos, is yevavah, meaning a cry. The shofar is a heartfelt crying call that must be heard. Critically, the commandment of the shofar is fulfilled not by the blowing but by listening to the crying sounds. As the blessing on the shofar clearly states: “lishmo’ah kol shofar” – to hear the sound of the shofar (Shulchan Aruch, O.C 585:2).

I always found it quite incredible that the first mitzvah that we are called upon to do as Jews at the beginning of the year is to listen. To pay attention to exactly what it is that Jewish destiny is about. The shofar beckons us first and foremost to hear and listen carefully to that which Hashem expects of us.

The truth is that truly listening and empathizing is not only the key to our relationship with Hashem; it is the key to all successful relationships. We cannot have meaningful and lasting relationships if we are unable to hear what others are saying and feeling – their cries and concerns, needs and expectations.

A Call For Unity

On both sides of the current internal conflict, there are genuine cries and concerns. Cries from the right of endemic injustices in the selection process of Israel’s judges and decades of judicial activism and overreach making many in Israel feel disempowered, disparaged, and unrepresented. Cries and fears from others about the potential judicial overhaul and revolution which instead of restoring balance may create unbridled and unchecked governmental power, simply putting the shoe on the other foot. (What de Tocqueville called the “tyranny of the majority.”)

No healing can happen until both cries are empathetically heard – where the frustrations and fears of both sides are genuinely heard by the other. Only then can camaraderie and the covenant at the heart of Jewish peoplehood begin to be healed and restored.


A Call for Unity

Secondly, what is fascinating about the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashana is how all communities across the Jewish world have uniformly accepted exactly the same custom. This is not self-evident at all, as there could be at least three different interpretations of what the Torah means by the word teruah and hence three different acceptable customs.

The Sages (Rosh Hashana 33b) establish that the teruah is a broken crying sound, while the tekiah is a smooth unbroken sound, and that before and after each teruah there needs to be a tekiah. Since the term teruah appears three times in the context of Rosh Hashana (and the Yovel/Jubilee year on Yom Kippur) and each one must be preceded and followed by a tekiah, one must blow three sets of tekiah, teruah, tekiah (nine sounds) to fulfill the biblical obligation of hearing the shofar, or nine sounds (Rambam, Hilchot Shofar 3:1; Shulchan Aruch, OC 590:1).

While the sound of the tekiah is relatively self-evident – smooth and flat – the broken sound of the teruah is unclear. The Sages mention three different interpretations: either a medium, tremolo blast – what we call shevarim (breaks); a short staccato blast – what we call teruah; or perhaps a combination of both (shevarim teruah). All three variations are acceptable according to Jewish law and any could be done to fulfill the mitzvah (Rav Hai Gaon, Otzar HaGeonim, Rosh Hashana, Siman 117).

The Gemara (Rosh Hashana 34) records that Rabbi Abahu of Caesarea ruled that one should blow all three different possible variations, resulting in 30 blasts. Remarkably, Rabbi Abahu’s opinion has been accepted by all of Israel. Incredibly, all communities blow the shofar in the same way, ensuring that all three variations are given expression. All interpretations are included as all may be true. We start the year with a spiritual act of unity – giving expression to all potential ways of fulfilling the mitzvah of shofar.

Just as we start the year with the twin transformative values of empathic listening and unity in diversity, so too may 5784 be a year where we listen carefully to each other’s heartfelt concerns and find a unified way to charter our future forward together.

Share this article on WhatsApp:

Previous articleThe High Court Rejected in 1948 Israel’s Declaration of Independence as Constitution
Next articleThe High Court Hearing: Where Do We Go from Here?
Rabbi Doron Perez is the executive chairman of World Mizrachi.