Go Back Blog: The Sound of the Shofar Will Be Heard in Silence
Louis Wald
Image of Labayit magazine article

Image of Labayit magazine article


A recent article by Hava Borstal in LaBayit, an Israeli, Hebrew language magazine for religious Jews, presented an unusual perspective on the Memorial to the Six Million monument: how it sounds the shofar in silence in a manner similar to contemporary artworks on the same subject made by and for deaf and blind people. In addition, the prominence of the image of the giant handheld shofars in a magazine that has a minimal number of images of men and zero of women also raises interesting questions about current attitudes to representations of the human form in Judaism. What follows below is the article translated into English by Pamela Weissman, daughter of Herman Wald. (This is a link to a pdf of the original article in Hebrew)

LaBayit Cover

LaBayit Cover


The Sound of the Shofar Will Be Heard in Silence

If the shofar was blown in the city, would people not be in awe? The sound of the shofar brings closeness to God, reconciliation between men and contemplation about man's purpose in the world. It tells us the story of sin and repentance, of the end of the year and its beginning.

'The sound of the shofar grew increasingly stronger ...' (Exodus 19:19). Perhaps it becomes so strong and so yearned for, that Jews upon hearing it, even though afraid, are aroused to repentance, reawakening and unity in these days of awe.

What however, can a Jew who wishes to hear the sound of the shofar, and despite making an enormous effort, cannot because he is deaf, do? The heart that so wishes to join the community in these great moments searches for and sometimes finds creative solutions. We encountered some of these solutions intended to connect the silent world with the experience of the blowing of the shofar.

Deaf Rabbi Joshua Sodkof's approach to the shofar

Joshua Sodkof was born deaf in Los Angeles 26 years ago. When he reached bar mitzvah age he joined Chabad Hassidism and is today, an ordained rabbi. Rabbi Sodkof lived in New York for 5 years before emigrating recently to Israel.

It seems that every Jew, even if he is not observant, knows that the blowing of the shofar is a religious duty, but because the mitzvah is dependent on the ability to hear, the deaf are exempt from it. This exemption, however, does not prevent Rabbi Sodkof from attempting to do something about it. “Although I am deaf, I ask the shofar blower to blow straight into my ear. Although I can hardly hear the sounds I can make them out and distinguish one from another". He insists on using the designation “deaf” and not “physically challenged”. “It’s not a disgrace to be deaf” he says. On the contrary, he is proud to carry out the mission for which the Almighty created for him. “If I weren't deaf, I wouldn’t have had the privilege of doing so many things. To be deaf is to receive a unique calling that few people experience".

Rabbi Sodkof tries to bring the experience of (hearing the shofar) blowing to others who are deaf and he does this in different ways.


He asks the deaf person to hold the shofar while it is being blown. The vibrations on the shofar caused by the sound waves are experienced as a blast which spreads over one's entire being. “Instead of hearing the the blasts, you feel them and are induced to repentance". says Rabbi Sodkof. "The vibrating shofar in one’s hands arouses repentance, much like an alarm clock arouses consciousness".

Rabbi Sodkof uses another idea: In the synagogue where he organizes prayers for the deaf, he asks people to hold inflated balloons and stand close to the shofar blower. Again, the shofar sound waves cause the balloons to vibrate, allowing the tones to be “perceived”.

“Try it at home!” says Rabbi Sodkof. He stresses that there is considerable variation in how deaf people perceive sound , and there are those who don’t hear at all. Some use hearing aids and others, the “Cochlear” ear implant. Amplification is also a possibility. “Clearly”, he says, “everyone needs to ask his advisor".

Deaf mosaic artist Ariel Hirschfeld

"Ear" by Ariel Hirschfield

"Ear" by Ariel Hirschfield

There is a big difference between the shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah and that on Yom Kippur, says Inbar Hirschfeld, who is blind. “On Rosh Hashanah, the blasts are part of the prayers whereas on Yom Kippur they are at the end of the prayers. I admit it took me a good few years until I managed to tell the difference between the types of blasts (“tekiya”,“shvarim”, “truah” ). This may be related to my hearing ability, getting used to the sound of the shofar as well as the timbre variations in different instruments. When I hear the sound of the shofar, or at least try to internalise it, I feel a sense of power, of tremendous excitement, of calling to the Almighty and the gates of Heaven, of hope and joy. I sense the place of “shechiyanu vekimanu vehigianu lazman hazeh”’!

Inbar sent me a picture of a three-dimensional mosaic, made by her husband, the mosaic artist, Ariel Hirschfeld who is deaf. The work is composed of coloured ceramic fragments surrounding a three dimensional shape made of an iron mesh, coated with brushed concrete. "In the picture you can see the outlines of an ear, which express the hearing of the prayer and the shofar as each one hears it personally, and even those who do not hear, find a way to hear it in his own way. Since the hearing of the deaf varies from one individual to another, it is difficult for us to explain exactly what we hear. Sometimes hearing is very much related to our inner gut feeling. We feel, hear from the stomach, from the emotion, from the intensity. The picture that describes the ear is, in my opinion, the key image in the recent exhibition of the artist's work".

"The ear shape in the middle of the work expresses my ear that does not hear." explains Ariel, who was born deaf. "The ear shape is without any colour, because it does not hear. In contrast, the coloured elements surrounding it represent the people around me who do hear the blasts and prayers. In the shape of the ear lies the hint that I was born deaf, as well as the cycle of life that is suggested by the curling shape that expresses my feeling: I was born deaf and also want to die deaf, because I am proud and happy".

Ariel and Inbar Hirschfeld have five hearing children. The family is optimistic and happy and shares the infinite creativity revealed by their father, the artist. "I am a religious person, and to be religious and deaf together, it's just like oil and water," says Ariel, smiling. He always smiles, but as someone who has a very high level of awareness, he is also candid and tells about his frustrations. "I do not hear the blowing of the shofar, nor the cantor, nor the melodies, and I do not know when to say 'Amen' ..."

"The Black Snail" by Ariel Hirschfield

"The Black Snail" by Ariel Hirschfield


As someone who was born deaf, Ariel did not know, as a boy, what he was missing. "I had wonderful experiences during the holidays, and I never felt disadvantaged through not hearing, nor the need to hear the blowing of the shofar. I saw the shofar and I that was enough to make me happy. I can even remember the special and exciting situation I experienced. My grandfather was a manager (gabai) of a small synagogue in Jerusalem, and when I stood next to him and he signaled to the shofar blower that he had to blow, I felt the significance of being his grandson and was mesmerized when I heard strange sounds coming out of the shofar. Only when I grew up, and realized that it is a duty to hear the blasts, did I suddenly feel as if my happy ears had been cut off. I realized that, in fact, I did not hear any of the other things related to faith and prayer. Although I was always optimistic, the conflict within me began to upset me. I wanted to hear the sound of the shofar, to participate in the prayers, to sing at a steady pace with the congregation without faking it and to know where to find the place they were reading from in the siddur. The conflicts intensified when the time came to educate my son, as I wanted to guide him during prayer. I felt very disappointed and agonised by my inability".

Ariel feels a strong connection to the Creator of the Universe, and does not complain, but also does not give in to deafness. His desire to experience the blowing of the shofar was expressed in his creating amazing mosaic works. In an exhibition he called "Shomeah Tefilah” (hearing the prayers), he presented his many works, including pictures that expressed his personal hearing of the blowing of the shofar.

" 'And all the people could see the sound...' (Exodus 20:15) But I am deaf and do not hear (the tekiyot and the teruah shofar blasts), so I created in my mind a picture in which I see the teruah." He explains of his mosaic: "The black snail/cochlear in the mosaic is the “teruah” in my spirit, an expression of my frustration as one who cannot hear the real sound. I created the work on a black background, but within the black I imagine colorful snails. The colourful snails overcome the black snail and cover it, and symbolize my “hearing” the “teruah".

Is it possible to say that in your 'hearing' of the 'teruah', you feel a sense of triumph in the face of the frustration and sorrow that you mentioned in relation to the conflict between observing the mitzvah of hearing the shofar sound and your inability to hear?

"People See the Voices" by Ariel Hirschfield

"People See the Voices" by Ariel Hirschfield

"The frustration I feel from the difficulties in participating in the prayers in the synagogue, in the minyan and in hearing shofar blasts, etc. – I have expressed in another work called 'People See the Voices.’ In this mosaic work – I dealt with the pain of challenging these conflicts. My general sense of inferiority was compounded by my inability to hear the shofar and the prayers. But as a believer, I understood that that this condition of inferiority was not real and even though I have works expressing anger and frustration, I also have works that show the importance of love and faith despite everything".

Ariel continues to describe his feelings: "I love the verse: 'And all the people could see the sound...' (Exodus 20:15) because here I was able to present a visual work, a description that belongs to the field of hearing. I tried to imagine the sounds, the lightning, the thunder and the sounds of the shofar at Mount Sinai. Perhaps the people did not hear the voices out of fear and if they saw the voices, they were exactly like me. I was glad that I was worthy among them, and here, everyone felt and identified with how I live every day”. Ariel jokes, and continues to use his creative thinking:

"Instead of me being only a deaf individual, I need to adapt myself to the environment and face it. The people who saw the voices adapt themselves to me, and at last people feel what I feel every day in prayer and faith. Of course this is my personal attempt to connect to prayer, not out of fear but because I am deaf - and the work expresses the sounds of the lightning and the blowing of the shofar that I tried to imagine when they received the Torah at Sinai".

Creating this mosaic clearly expresses your joy, optimism and acceptance. What process did the work go through, or did you go through, on the way to expressing imaginary hearing?

"Out of the deep sorrow that I experienced, and my endless suffering, came forth imaginary shapes, circular, bright and pleasant, that swirled and merged in perfect harmony until the mosaic was complete. I had a tangible sense how every creation that was born and released into the world has freed me from a considerable emotional burden. The work was occupational therapy for me, and it made me feel calm. I feel a lot less confused today and emotionally balanced. I am a much more complete person, know my place in the religious world and in prayer. I have a strong sense of security and the world looks more rosy than ever - with thanks to the Creator for all the good I have achieved". ends Ariel, who gave his precious time for the preparation of this article.

In a poetic language it can be said that the "voice" of a shofar is heard from one end of the world to the other. The sounding of the shofar pierces the boundaries of the heart, and directs the notes of awakening for the entire people. The sound that comes out of it is heard by the people, and by those in the world of silence from the vibrations it creates.

"Memorial to the Six Million" by Herman Wald

"Memorial to the Six Million" by Herman Wald


Memorial to the Six Million in Johannesburg South Africa by sculptor Herman Wald

Another shofar is "blowing" silently in Johannesburg, South Africa. This shofar, which does not sound, breaks through the silence left behind by the Six Million who perished in the Holocaust. The bronze shofar is one of the six that symbolise the Six Million.

The monument, six meters high, was made by the late South African Jewish sculptor Herman Wald. Each pair of shofars in the monument stands opposite an additional pair, forming three rows. The shofars form three arches each one held in a clenched fist.

At the base of the monument is a plaque, in Yiddish, reading: "Gedanke Dee Sachs Million, Eden, Wass, Zanan, Omak, Uyif. Kiddush Hashem." Remember the Six Million Jews who were killed for Kiddush Hashem, as well as a list of five concentration camps. In the middle row stands a bronze flame made of the letters forming the words in Hebrew: "Thou shalt not kill". A small eternal light flickers beneath the bronze one.

Herman Wald was born in Kolozvar/Cluj/Klausenberg, Austro-Hungary in 1906 to Yaakov Meir Wald, who was a rabbi in Kolozvar, and immigrated to South Africa before the Holocaust.