The Chagim - Shuls and blowing the shofar


The Shofar holds great significance in the Jewish community. Every year during the holidays, Jews gather around and hear the shofar being blown. This has been done for thousands of years and it is an ancient tradition. This year will go down in history as the year of changing traditions for the health and safety of the community. Due to the global pandemic, many things, including blowing the shofar, are going to change.

New Regulations

For one, people need to wear masks, keep to social distancing regulations and shuls(synagogues) can only hold a certain amount of people at a time. Speaking in a mask, in the hot outdoors, is hard enough as it is, but singing and praying in a mask can be a much bigger challenge. Sweating in a mask for too long makes the mask invalid, since sweat and heat breaks down a chemical barrier that is on the inside of the mask, which makes it unable to protect you against catching the Coronavirus.

Another big challenge that people are facing is the limited amount of people that are allowed in a shul. The ministry of health only allows 20 people to attend shul at the same time (or 30 outside) and they need to all be wearing masks, have good ventilation and stay at least 2 meters away from one another. This means that many people will have to look for alternative minyanim for the holidays.

Blowing the Shofar

Under normal circumstances blowing the Shofar is an innocent activity but due to the current situation – blowing the shofar is actually quite dangerous. By blowing the shofar, the ba'al tokeh is releasing all of his respiratory droplets and spraying them all over the shul (onto people). The OU released the following guidelines for blowing the Shofar safely during the coronavirus:

  • A mask can be put over the wider end of the shofar, as this does not appear to alter the sound, but not between the mouth and the shofar; You may point the shofar out a window or door, towards the front wall or Aron Kodesh away from the congregation; A single shofar should not be used by multiple people
  • The Ba'al Koreh should take all the aliyot, while all those called up should stand at a significant distance during the reading, or a plexiglass shield can separate them
  • Crowding must be avoided, especially at entrances and exits

Other Options

Communities should consider having shofar blowing in big outdoor parks around the community. People can join in on the streets and social distance from one another. This will allow people who live near the park to hear the shofar being blown while lowering the risk of getting Coronavirus.

The Israeli government is attempting to conduct an initiative in which they are gathering a list of volunteers to blow at street corners across the country. In this way not only will there be less crowds in Shuls during the times when the Shofar is blown and woman and children come, but blowing in an outdoor environment will create a safer situation.

During this time of the year, people are repenting for their sins of this year. It is important to remember that not following the rules is putting others at risk and is a big sin. But if we follow the rules during the holidays we can have a meaningful holiday and not risk anyone's life. 

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