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How to toot your horn: Israel’s Health Ministry issues shofar-blowing guidelines

Memo suggests covering ram’s horn with a mask to prevent spraying of droplets, calls for blowing instrument toward an open window and not toward synagogue congregants

An Israeli man blows a shofar at the market in the northern city of Safed on September 16, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)
An Israeli man blows a shofar at the market in the northern city of Safed on September 16, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Thursday issued guidelines for shofar-blowing over the High Holidays, urging precautions to prevent the ceremonial ram’s horn from becoming an instrument for spreading the coronavirus.

The publication of the memo came before a three-week lockdown that will begin Friday at 2 p.m., hours before the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and will remain in effect during Yom Kippur and Sukkot.

While the lockdown measures bar Israelis from traveling more than a kilometer from their homes unless for essential needs, an exception was made for cantors and shofar-blowers.

“Blowing the shofar is done by forcefully exhaling air from the mouth through the horn. The air is compressed at the opening of the shofar and comes out with strength from the other side. Therefore, there is grounds to fear droplet and even aerosol dispersion during the blowing [of the horn],” the Health Ministry guidelines said.

The ministry expressed concern that carriers who are asymptomatic could blow the shofar without knowing they are infected with the virus, spraying particles that could infect worshipers in the vicinity.

A Jewish man blows a shofar as he prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s old city, September 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

The guidelines advised shofar-blowers to stand at least four meters from others if possible and that if they are unable to socially distance, to cover the opening of the horn to prevent droplets from spreading.

“It is recommended that the covering of the shofar be done with a mask that will remain tightly fastened with a rubberband,” the document specified.

Other suggestions included blowing the shofar in an open area rather than a synagogue and, when in closed spaces, to aim the horn toward an open window rather than in the direction of congregants.

The ministry also called on shofar-blowers to bring their own personal horns and not use those of their synagogue.

The memo was signed by Dr. Sharon Elrai, the acting head of the Health Ministry’s public health services division.

A man blows a shofar covered with a face mask at a synagogue in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on August 21, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Some of the guidelines echoed the recommendation of a leading Israeli virologist and American synagogue group to cover the shofar with a face mask before blowing.

The horn is traditionally used in services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as during the Jewish month leading up to the High Holidays. Most congregations this year will only blow the shofar on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, as the first day is Shabbat.

Ahead of the holiday lockdown, the government released a list of rules Israelis must adhere to during the closure. Prayer services will be allowed but be capped in size as part of the ban on large gatherings.

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