Arrested for Blowing the Shofar

(Pre Yom Kippur Quickie) - Arrested for blowing the Shofar
Scott Gould, 12:20 PM

Under Turkish and then British rule, Jewish activity at the Western Wall – the last remaining remnant of the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and the holiest site of the Jewish people – was severely constrained. British law codified the restrictions on Jews who wanted to pray at the Wall: Jews were not allowed to recite prayers loudly, they could not bring a Torah to the Wall, and they were forbidden from sounding the Shofar.

On Yom Kippur, 1930, at the conclusion of the final Neila service, recited just before sundown, a sound rang out that had not been heard at the Western Wall in generations: the ringing blast of a Shofar. A young rabbi, Moshe Segal, had smuggled a Shofar to the Western Wall, and blew it at its traditional place at the end of the Yom Kippur service.

Rabbi Segal was soon arrested, but in the intervening years, other Jewish boys – all in their teens – took his place. Each year from 1930 to 1947, Jewish teenagers smuggled Shofars to the Wall, concealed them under their clothing, and blew them at the end of Yom Kippur. The boys worked in teams of three, aiming to blow the Shofar at each end of the Wall and in the middle. Abraham Caspi, who was 16 when he blew the Shofar at the Western Wall in 1947, remembers being told “You’ll be the first, and if you don’t succeed or are caught, someone else will do it.”

British soldiers arrested the boys who blew the shofar. Each one was tried and sentenced to prison for terms of up to six months. Still, the volunteers were undeterred. “We swore to give our lives for the resurrection of the Jewish people,” explains Jacob Sika Aharoni, who blew the Shofar at the Wall at age 16 in 1936.

When Jordan captured the Old City of Jerusalem, they forbade any Jew from setting foot near the Western Wall for 19 years. In 1967 Israel liberated the Wall, allowing all people – Jews, Muslims, and others, access – and the Shofar once again rang out. Abraham Elkayam, who was 13 when he blew the Shofar at the Western Wall in 1947, was fighting in the area, and quickly made his way to the Wall. An Israeli soldier was standing by the Wall, blowing a Shofar, and Abraham asked him if might have a turn as well. Abraham blew the Shofar, and a nearby soldier asked him why it was so important for him to sound this Shofar.

Abraham Elkayam explained he was one of the last people to sound the Shofar at the Western Wall, in 1947. The soldier then introduced himself, telling him that he was the first one to blow the Shofar. It was Rabbi Segal who started the yearly tradition back in 1930.