Monday, September 06, 2010

Echoes of a Shofar in Jerusalem

80 years ago, at the end of Yom Kippur's Neilah (closing) service at the Kotel, 26 year old Moshe Segal blew the shofar. He was promptly arrested and taken to jail, still fasting. He was only released when Rav Kook, the Chief Rabbi, interceded later that night.

What was his crime?

In the aftermath of the Arab riots throughout Palestine in 1929, the British convened a commission of inquiry to investigate the cause of the unrest. The Shaw Commission's recommendations granted the Arabs absolute ownership of the Western Wall and adjacent property. Jews were forbidden to bring Torah scrolls to the Kotel, to pray loudly, or to blow the Shofar, so as not to offend the Arab population.

Despite this restriction, for the next seventeen years, the shofar was sounded at the Kotel every Yom Kippur. Shofars were smuggled in to the Kotel where brave teenagers defiantly blew them at the conclusion of the fast. Some managed to get away - others were captured and sent to jail for up to six months.

Six of these men are still alive.

Two weeks ago, these six men returned to the scene of their "crime". Armed with shofars, they recounted their individual stories and blew shofar again at the Kotel.

Their powerful and inspiring story is told in Echoes of a Shofar, the first installment in the "Eyewitness 1948" short film series produced by Toldot Yisrael and the History Channel. It is the centerpiece of an educational pilot program being developed with The iCenter and made possible through the generous support of the Jim Joseph Foundation.

Toldot Yisrael is a Jerusalem based nonprofit dedicated to recording and sharing the firsthand testimonies of the men and women who helped found the State of Israel. Over 300 video interviews have been conducted with those who were involved during the pre-State struggle and the momentous events of 1948. Our aim is to conduct hundreds more over the next several years – while it is still possible. The Eyewitness 1948 series will present stories that address the heroism of the era as well as the complex moral dilemmas confronted as the young nation battled for its existence. Toldot Yisrael’s footage will serve as primary source materials for the Israel Education curriculum, bringing to life the founding of the State of Israel for today’s young Jews.

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Leah Goodman said...

ank you for sharing. This made me cry.

keren said...

One of these shofars and the story about it is exhibited in the Etsel museum in Jaffa (border of Tel Aviv Jaffa).

Nachum said...

What a moving video.

There's a nice story in "A Tzadik in Our Time." R' Aryeh Levin had come to daven with the prisoners on Yom Kippur, and they told him he should go home to Nachlaot before Neilah, so he wouldn't have to wait before breaking the fast afterwards. (He wouldn't have been able to eat in the prison.) But he stuck around, and quietly said to one of the prisoners, "We're going to have a new 'guest' tonight." Sure enough, the shofar blower for that year, a Beitar member, was brought in after the fast- R' Aryeh had stuck around so he'd be able to bring word to the boy's family as to where he was. (No one else could get him to even give his name.)

Jewish Ideas Daily said...

This is a very well-done film and bodes well for the rest of the series. History told from the point of view of the individual can have a much greater impact than the traditional way of teaching history.

YMedad said...

a) all the shofar blowers were either members of Betar, Brit HaBiryonim or the Etzel. Or friends of them.

b) R'Moshe was incarerated in the Kishleh (the picture is wrong in the clip).

c) that British law as regards the shofar was only instituted after the 1929 riots although setting up a mechitza was a problem from the beginning of the Mandate with ups & downs, literally.

Rahel Jaskow said...

Sounds familiar. Only this time, it's Jewish women who can't blow the shofar at the Kotel on pain of imprisonment.

YMedad said...

True, but you still get arrested.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


my sister and other women who truly understand the importance and role of women in judaism are the ones that keep judaism and the family strong...not the women of the wall

way to spit upon the memory of truly brave men and women

afinkle221 said...

For more information about Shofar and other Holy Temple instruments, we have written extensively on the Shofar and have three websites

hearingshofar (dot) com
shofar221(dot) com
shofar-sounders(dot) com

afinkle221 said...

Video on How to Sound Shofar


Simon said...

For a different perspective from the time, here's an extract from "Tidings from Zion: Helen Bentwich's letters from Jerusalem, 1919-1931" edited by Jenifer Glynn

"12.10.29: ... There's more trouble about the blowing of the shofar at the Wailing Wall. How unutterably childish it all is! If it's going to lead to more massacres & bloodshed, for heaven's sake don't blow it, is my view. And personally, I'd give up the whole place rather than one Jew more should die. The government is so afraid still, it does nothing"

My cousin Helen Bentwich was the wife of Norman Bentwich, the British Mandate Attorney General. For perspective, note that's she's writing less than 2 months after the massacres of 1929 in Hebron, Tzefat and elsewhere. If I had been there at the time, I would probably have been on the side of the people blowing the Shofar, but it's interesting to see another point of view.

David said...

Thanks for posting this.

Where can you get a high res version to download or DVD of this? I'd like to show it to a youth group.


Toldot Yisrael said...

@David - If your computer is fast enough and you choose the 480 resolution on the YouTube page, you ought to be able to watch it full screen without a problem.

YMedad said...

To give background to Helen's letter, the Kotel affair began in 1928 when the mechitza was removed (read this) and then built up the entire year.

Also, you should read this article.

check Appendix X here for the November 1928 White Paper.

May All the heroes of the Irgun be blessed. said...

Some people speak with such a lack of self respect, it's almost impossible to believe. The Arabs made a national revolt and were massacring Jews left and right (And british!). It wasn't caused by blowing the shofar. It was a national conflict (and still is). They were murdering Jews, shofar or no shofar, western wall or no western wall; they did not want us there, and showing them they could intimidate us into fear of fulfilling our own national and religious obligations in submission to their terror would have convinced them that the terror worked to "undo" the Jewish aliyah and would have encouraged more attacks on Jews and more murders. The british enacting this draconian "law" was nothing more than arbitrary appeasement policy they wished to impose on the Jews in order to show the Arabs they could "keep us in check" and to convince the jews that they relied upon the british for defense against these hordes. Thank God for the heroes of the Jewish underground of Etzel and Lehi who defended the Jewish people and made a statement that we are not going anywhere, you cannot put us in fear, and if you attack us there will be violent response, british help or no british help. And the Kiddush Hashem that we proudly sounded the shofar and proclaimed the Jewish day of judgment, in essence elevating God above the political claims/needs/desires of these respective groups.

If only we had such heroic people as leaders today.

YMedad said...

Here's a picture Rav Moshe Segal, at bottom now.

Anonymous said...

How soon before our liberal Jewish brethren start calling the Kotel "Burquas wall"

YMedad said...

Nice play on Burak Wall.

But, Burkha? the niqab is already here. For men!

Nachum said...

"And personally, I'd give up the whole place rather than one Jew more should die."

With her not being a resident of Israel, they could have "given up" the whole country and it wouldn't have affected her. Those who live(d) here don't have the luxury.

"The government is so afraid still, it does nothing"

That sentence does not connect at all to the first. Does nothing regarding what? The Arabs? Why would they have to worry about that, if all that was needed was an end to shofar-blowing?

(I *hope* she meant the Arabs, but there were definitely British Jews back then who hoped the British would really crack down on the Jews.)

the sabra said...

O wow.
Wow wow wow!

Thanks for emailing this, Jameel. Worth having that pesky unread starred email in my inbox for so long ;)

Gill said...

It is 2 a.m and I am sitting here weeping.. what a beautiful story - THANK you
Gill K

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