Sunday, August 15, 2010

Shofar:  Demonic Defense or Rabbinic Call to Repentance?
Arthur L. Finkle
Sol B. Finesinger made the argument that, although the shofar is currently used in the religious service and is supported by Rabbinic materials, the shofar was also used to chase demons away during the early history of the Jewish People (up  to the end of the second Temple (70 CE).
He posits his investigation by tracing the mention of the shofar and chatzotrot (trumpets) in the Scriptures. It is gainsaid that the trumpets sounded during most of the Temple ceremonies. The shofar was specifically mentioned to announce the Jubilee Year on the Day of Atonement.
He traces the development of the Hebrew calendar by citing Morgenstern that the New Year began at apx the vernal equinox (on the tenth of the month).  However, the new moon celebration (Rosh Hashanah) developed to become the beginning of the New Year. The use of the shofar thereby gravitated from Yom Kippur to Rosh Hashanah.
Citing the transition of this calendar fact, he cites R. Chisda in Shabbat 36a: “The following three groups of words had their meaning interchanged after the destruction of the (first) Temple. What was formerly called hatzosrot was called shofar and what was formerly called shofar became hotzotzrot” From this quotation, Finesinger infers that as a consequence of the destruction of the Temple, the hasotzrot, only sounded inside the Temple now made way for the people-popular shofar. Indeed, he cites RH, iii. 1`, 58d that cites a baraita (legal decision not incorporated into the Mishnah, the codified law. (Compiled in 200 CE).
Finesinger then cites the transition from the Sadducees (Priests) to the Pharisees, subsequent to the destruction of the Temple. Indeed, the folk tradition was transformed from defending demons to calls for individual and communal repentance as cited in the Mishnha and Talmud, both formulated in the age of the Rabbi’s.
For example, in the Scriptures, there is ample evidence of the demonic influence and the fear it engendered upon the people. Ps 47:6 and Ps. 98:6 provide the kingship of God. It pictures the king’s ascending the throne to the sound of the shofar to ward off the demonic spirits.
Jeremiah 4:19 associates the sound of the shofar with war and the tremendous fear of the people.
Ezekiel 33:3-6 warns of war when the people heard the sound of the shofar.
Hosea 5:8 warns the people that danger is near. Zach 1:16 warns the people with shofar sounds at the coming of God. Am. 3:6 assumes the people are terrified at the sound of the shofar. In Am 2:2, the shofar sounds at the destruction of Moab’s distress.
Then there is the famous shofar accompaniment WHEN Moses ascends Mount Sinai as a warning for the people to keep a distance (Ex. 19:16; 19; 20:8)
Gideon’s attack of the Midianite camp was accompanied by the shofar. Jud. 7:16; 18-22)
The famous story of the shofars at Jericho is intended to terrify the people of Jericho either as psychological warfare or of dispossessing resident demons. See Jos. 6:4-9.
In tractate Rosh Hashanah 34a, THE Rabbi’s give Ps. 81:4 by clarifying the use of trumpets and shofars by citing Ps. 81:

‘Blow on the shofar at the new moon, at thee covering, for the day of our festival.’  Now which festival is it in which the new moon is covered? It can be none other than Rosh Hashanah, and in connection to with it, God says, ‘shofar.’

Further he cites Rosh Hashsanh 16a, when the Rabbi’s cannot come up with a satisfactory explanation of why we sound the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah; the Rabbi’s declare that it is a Divine Command. In other words, they have not explanation because he feels that the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the 1ast of the month of Tishrei and the 10th) were flip-flopped, the folkways of the people of sounding shofar persisted. But the Rabbi’s wanted to dignify the rationale for sounding the shofar.
Even if we accept that the Rabbi’s formulated a rationale for sounding Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, there are citations in Hebrew literature wherein the demon defense persists. For example, in RH 16a:

Why do they sound the tekia and the treua when the people stand? In order t confound S. R. Isaac also said in any year at the beginning of which they do not sound the tekia, they have to sound the terua at the end. Why? Because Satan was not confounded [with the tekia alone].
Further the the Shulchan Aruch, or a th16 century codification of Jewish Law, written in the 16th century.
He shall swallow up Death for ever (Is. 25:9) and it is written (Is. 27:3):’And it shall be on that day a blast will be blown on a big shofar.’ etc.’ And when Satan hears the sound of the shofar, the first time, he becomes anxious. But when it happens a second time, he says: ‘Indeed this is the shofar REFERREDTO IN THE VEWRSE (Is. 27:13): ‘A blast will be blown on the big shofar.’ The time to be swallowed up has come. He [Satan] stars back and is confounded . . .
An even more curious appearance of the demon defense is mentioned in
Tractate Moed Katan 27b in which a story R. Hammuna when he heard a shofar while he was traveling. He heard a shofar denoted the someone’s death... Generally, death and death ritual, even today, deal with evil spirits which surround the body until burial and after. Thus the reason for the Shomer (watchman of the deceased prior to burial); the circuitous path to the cemetery (7-circles); THE covering of mirrors at home. Finesinger infers that such noise from the shofar, although might be to announce a death, more probably dealt with the demon defense to ward off evil spirits.
Excommunication, while not used much today, had the connotation of noise (sound of the shofar) warding off evil spirits associated with a non-believer. Indeed, the legend in the name of Ulla: Barak excommunicated Meroz with 400 shofars. See Shavuot 36a.
Moreover, in Taanit I, 6, we find reference fasting for a week, when a drought occurs. Ostensibly, to encourage rain, by the second week, we fast and sound the shofar to ward off the demons presumably causing the drought.
Finally (although there are other example too numerous to recite), Hullin 105b provides the story of the jug that broke wherein R. Mar bar R. Ashi sounded a shofar to drive out the demons that destroyed the jug.
There may be merit in Finesinger’s hypothesis that the role of shofar may indeed have changed over the long period of Jewish history. That the recitation of secular shofar soundings outside the Temple and trumpet sounding inside the Temple cited in Scripture is gainsaid. The fact that Jewish ritual developed over the centuries, particularly when the Rabbi’s took over leadership form the Priests, is conceivable. And the inconsistencies in Jewish literature regarding the Rabbinic call to repentance and the People’s ‘demon defense’ become more understandable in this light.


Finesinger, Sol B.,  "The Shofar," HUCA, VII–IX (1931-32), 193-228
HUCA=Hebrew Union College Annual
Morgenstern, “The Three Calendars of Ancient Israel, HUCA vol. I, pp13-38; the additional notes in HUCA, vol iii, pp. 77-107; the Gates of Righteousness, HUCA, vol vi, especially pp. 18-19. 32, 35, 37
Julian Morgenstern (1900-1974), President of the Hebrew Union College from 1922-1947.

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