Topical Torah Essays and Weekly Parsha

The Ninth of Av: The Unearned Shofar

Jul 13th, 2010 | By | Category: E-geress 3rd Article, Tisha B'Av

by Rabbi Yisrael Rutman

In some Jewish communities in Algeria and Galitzia there was once a custom to
blow shofar at the end of the fast of Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av). We are familiar only with the shofar blown on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur but not on
Tisha B’av.

A custom, by definition, is not something written in the Torah or handed down by the sages of the Talmud, but rather something that emerged from Jewish experience in various times and places. Not all customs took hold. Those lacking a firm basis in Jewish law and thought—especially those discovered to be based on error or superstition—were sooner or later cast aside. But any custom that stood the scrutiny of Torah scholars and the test of time were recorded, and many are observed to this day.

So the custom of shofar on Tisha B’av, however obscure, presumably had legitimacy conferred upon it by the leaders of those communities. But why should the shofar be blown at the end of the fast of mourning over the destruction of the Temple and the beginning of the exile?

I would like to suggest the following reason: The fast is not an end in itself, but a process through which we can come to a realization about what is missing in our lives spiritually. The blowing of the shofar is an expression of hope for the future, that the day’s long and painful meditation over two thousand years of exile has brought the end of that exile that much closer. That God has heard our prayers and felt our pain over the situation in which we find ourselves—the in-gathering of the exiles as yet incomplete, the Temple still in ruins, the messianic era still longed-for, and the hatred of the nations against the Jewish people as strong as it has ever been.

Why didn’t the custom catch on? Perhaps because, as the years passed, 9th of Av after 9th of Av, and the exile continued, the blowing of the shofar seemed altogether too presumptive. We had not succeeded in a attaining the spiritual heights for which the day was designed; that in fact each generation found the spiritual glory ancient Judaism ever more remote, and the feeling of loss ever more difficult to attain. As many have admitted, nothing is so hard as to shed a tear on the Ninth of Av. In other words, we have not earned the shofar. Perhaps in those places in Algeria and Galitzia their spiritual achievements deserved a shofar; that it was not a pretention but fitting expression for their experience. That which was not so anywhere else in the Diaspora.

The custom is now nearly forgotten, a curious footnote to Jewish history. Yet, all is not lost. If the thought of our spiritual selves being so shriveled and puny as not to merit a shofar blowing, then that itself is something to mourn over. Perhaps by focusing on that, we can come to feel how bereft we are of a living connection with the roots of our Jewishness. Then we will have something to cry over. And then perhaps we will merit the ultimate shofar blowing, of the great shofar that will herald the ultimate redemption.

Sources: Mishpacha, Kulmus (Av 5770), quoting Zeh Hashulchan, Dinei Tisha B’Av, Siman 70, Page 156).

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