Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Shofar Delusion

Stone Age ram figurine (Yael Yolovitch/Israel Antiquities Authority)
There was a time I would have described the shofar as a spiritual "technology" of sorts, that simply the sound of it reverberating in our ears produces a corrective change within. Kind of like Draino for the neshama - it clears the system, washes away the gunk that's built up over the past year, restoring "flow." So no, you can't use a trumpet, or a non-kosher shofar, or listen to an audio recording of a shofar - not because these things are inherently "bad" but because they don't "work."

There was a time I would have been concerned when I missed one of the hundred shofar blasts - if say I had to leave the room or if the Baal Tokea wasn't blowing properly. Again, it wasn't out of a concern over "aveira (sin)" - it was that this special yearly "treatment" was being compromised.

For me, it was never about Hashem scrutinizing my every move to see if I was listening to the shofar, that somehow I'd be in the celestial doghouse if I failed to comply with Halacha. My conception of Halacha was as a how-to guide for maintaining/repairing our "energies," albeit on subtle, hard-to-detect level. (Indeed, extremely subtle. So subtle as to perhaps be... pure self-suggestion!) I saw Halacha as the physical instruction and Kabbalah as the explanation. All the stuff about the shofar "confounding the Satan" in order to arouse the "compassion of the King," so as to give us a good "judgement" - I never bought into that. It always struck me as a mashal, a metaphor for certain mysterious, nonphysical processes at work, ones which are particularly "active" at the time of Rosh Hashana.

And I reveled in the idea that Judaism possessed such a technology, that for millennia it has known the "secrets" of life and inner workings of the universe, and that some day - after we reached a degree of maturity, understanding and tikkun, when we were "ready" - this system would be fully "revealed" so that all of humanity could benefit.

All very beautiful and exciting, yes - but also, as I woke up to eventually, completely and utterly deluded. Sure, if you had to pick between a delusion that's creative, forward thinking and benevolent, and a delusion (like say, on the part of "ISIS") that's barbaric, psychopathic and destructive, you'd certainly choose the former. However, all things being equal, why not be benevolent and non-deluded? That's my earnest goal, at any rate.

So this morning I heard someone blowing the shofar in a nearby house. And it struck me - wow, what a crude and almost prehistoric custom, blowing through a ram's horn. It's basically a throwback to an ancient world rife with tribal genocide, witchcraft medicine, animal smells everywhere, and a notable lack of plumbing. We're talking about an instrument used to assemble the masses, march the men off to war, etc. Why the heck are we doing this now? Why is this so "precious" to us? Because it ain't a "technology." And it ain't, by any stretch of reason, the "will of God."

And I thought: Yes, all that is true. Yes it's all rather crude. But it's our bit of crudeness. It's our weirdness. It's strange and out of place - but in a kind of quirky, meaningful, distinctly "Jewish" way. It's part of our national memory. It's part of our personal memory. It's one of many pieces in the fabric of our identities as Jews. It's something the kids look forward to on Rosh Hashana. It's a "live performance" that by nature has some excitement and drama to it, since it doesn't always go as planned, and everyone is there quietly "rooting" for it to go well. And there are of course some interesting and even useful associations we can attach to hearing the sound of the shofar, such as:
  • The idea of being jarred from the quasi-slumber of day-to-day existence, pausing for a moment to focus on those things that truly matter to us, reflecting on what we're doing with our lives and recommitting ourselves to the path we think we ought to take.
  • The fact that life is short, unpredictable, and to a large extent outside our control, and that we stand in awe, trepidation and hope at what the year to come may bring.
  • The notion that we have certain feelings and experiences that are impossible to fully express in words, and which in an odd way we feel we can give some sort of voice to in this unique and wordless "sound."

And that's all the shofar needs to be, all it needs to "do." Which is plenty. I think it's a shame when we're made to believe it's not, that our human experience and Jewish experience are somehow lacking, deficient, even worthless, unless we see them as also doing something of "mystical" or "cosmic" significance.

To me, this is a type of "spiritual sensationalism," getting people hooked on the idea that if it's not "magical," it's boring. If it's not "larger than life," it's all kind of "meh." That's why I prefer more of a humanistic approach. Whatever is going on "out there," in some otherworldly sense, is an interesting subject to ponder over a beverage, but back here on the planet Earth it's about people - us and our experiences together.

To quote yesterday's parsha, "It is not in the heavens... neither is it beyond the sea... for the matter is very close to you."

And with that, I wish everyone a Shana Tova.


  1. Thank you. It's good to try to get out of every experience good things.

    Shana Tova to you and all your readers.

  2. Very deep and beautiful thoughts, thank you. We need a lot of this kind of translation between the old, childish, superstitious Judaism to newer, godless, interpretations. Our challenge is to build and apply these sort of interpretations without creating a new "religious movement". Any comments on that?

    1. Hi Roberto - thanks for your kind words.

      What I do in "real life" in my Orthodox community is that whenever I'm called on to give "divrei Torah", I naturally offer rational/humanistic interpretations and stay away from God-talk. As long as I don't explicitly "deny" the supernatural, it works out fine. People resonate with it. So I can effectively be "humanistic" and "Orthodox".

      And when I really want to "let my hair down" and be fully intellectually open (which is often!), I have my close friends, private learning groups, and of course this blog. And I hope in a small way I can make a positive impact.

      In terms of making a wider impact, I'm open to ideas...

    2. AtheodoxJew In HAShem of the Holy one of Yshrl-Israel "AHaYAH" am I moved 2 offer this reply. I signed in as Anonymous because this comment is personal from my heart 2 U. It does not represent the group used 2 connect 2 this site. If U want my personal information let me know after U read this reply. I am a conscious original bloodline dna Yshralite (Israelite), not an Israeli, but an Yshrlite. PLZ DO NOT ASK ME HOW I KNOW THIS, "I just know it, without a doubt...Although the transliteration of the hebrew 2 english maybe incorrect, me and millions like me, believe we are the descents of who this day and age call Avrahem, Izaak, and Yacov. Many of us are awakened 2 our true identity, hallel-"AHaYAH". I feel your pain and frustration in your writing. I almost did not read it because the word DELUSION paired with a HIGH HOLY DAY MEMORIAL at first glance, turned me off. Now I am glad I read your Heart, not a Blog. U C what U are calling a delusion is due to [Yeremiyahu(Jeremiah)] 16:19. U have inherited lies from yr fathers, yr ancestors. They told U young people that U were "AHaYAH" chosen people, but that is not true...So whether U accept this or not, this is why u are delusional...(Isaiah 66:4). It is a punishment fromHaShem, as U call HIM. We are the true people of the book-scrolls. If U begin researching this and accepting this fact, U will find peace in yr soul. U will no longer claim 2 B an atheist. Because U will know there is a power greater than ourselves and HIS SHEM is "AHaYAH" at this moment and time. HE created all things, even the lies that have been fed 2 us. But todah 2 HIM, HE woke both of us up one day. After U research Who the real Yshrlites_Israelites are and can accept the TRUTH, contact me! (920) 471-5592, if U don't I must accept that. In my journey back 2 "AHaYAH", while doing my research, I read that most Jewish people were atheist. I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT! Just like I could NOT believe THAT MY ANCESTORS turned their backs on 'AHaYAH" and committed al the atroscities they agreed to in a mass covenant. How can anyone turn away from HIM or say HE_she does not exist? A LOVING, CARING, Compassionate DEITY-GOD_HASHEM. HE-she made everything...the first of yr family line, HE made. You did not put yourself on this earth AtheodoxJew and as U said, U can not control LIFE or DEATH (unless U R suicidal). U R giving up what my people are desparately seeking...a lifetime relationship with the creative force...the GOD who allowed yr people 2 take our place 4 a while and I am happy HE is about to return this way of life back to us IF THIS IS HOW ALL AHTEIST JEWS feel about HIM. It Is Time...SHALOM and Baruch ata "AHaYAH" . best time 2 call is 10PM eastern USA time zone.SHALOM and Shana Tova 2 U.

    3. Hi Anon,

      I understand that you're a Black Hebrew, affiliated with the "Kingdom of Yah". Readers can look at the wiki article for more info.

      From what I gather, you believe that I and other Jews are not the actual blood-descendants of the ancient Israelites, and that you're the true "chosen people."

      I don't mind that. There are all sorts of people with all sorts of beliefs in the world. The problem I have is with conspiratorial, hateful material like this which is on your website:



      This is not just craziness - it's dangerous, hateful, racist craziness. It's offensive, and a perfect example of where beliefs run amok can lead people. This is exactly why I've rejected fundamentalism.

      If I were God, I'd MUCH rather people were decent and reasoned-thinking atheists trying to understand the world and make life better for one another, than believers who preached racist or violent ideas in my name.

      I hope you'll consider that.

  3. Atheodox, you say you understand that Anon is a member of Kingdom of Yah. I don't see any suggestion of this in his or her comment; he or she may be, he or she may not be. The Wikipedia article you linked to says that the Southern Poverty Law Center says that "the extremist fringe of the Hebrew Israelite movement" is racist and that most Hebrew Israelites are not. Clearly, Kingdom of Yah is in this fringe. Why are you so certain that Anon is one of the racist fringers?

    1. Good question. I'm certain because I also got an email from this person coming from the address "thekingdomofhayahofhosts@gmail..." and where they specifically gave the "Kingdom of Yah" website, saying that this is "the group I represent".

  4. The Shofer - a very ancient custom - and could well have been linked the the (bull) God El as a totem custom. Compare to the 'split hoofs' of the Cohanim, tallis fringes, horny moshe... see

    1. Thanks for the link. Interesting and informative as always!

  5. I would like to repost The Shofar Delusion on Please write me at michael AT chusid DOT com.

  6. I would still like permission to repost.