This year, it may be a little more difficult to hear the blast.
Some events appear to spread the coronavirus more efficiently than others. Blowing the shofar — without adequate precautions — may be one of them.
Drs. Adam Schwalje and Henry T. Hoffman, both professional otolaryngologists at the University of Iowa and amateur bassoon players, said that playing a musical instrument, even a shofar, could propel virus-laden droplets into the air. Schwalje told the Times of Israel that the playing or hearing the shofar “may pose an infection risk.”
The doctors told a conference at the University of Iowa School of Music that at one choir performance in Amsterdam earlier this year, 102 of the 130 singers came down with coronavirus infections. Experts say that shouting, or singing, or even talking loudly in a room, propels droplets into the air causing others to breathe in the virus and develop their own infections. Scientists suspect that aerosols from breath, even smaller than droplets, travel farther and stay airborne longer and can convey the virus in poorly ventilated spaces as well.
Schwalje said sounding the shofar out-of-doors would mitigate the risk, as would standing at a distance from listeners, and pointing the wide end away from them.
Cyrille Cohen, head of the immunotherapy laboratory at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and a veteran shofar-blower, additionally recommends attaching a face mask to the wide end of the shofar.
The New York-based Orthodox Union issued a statement recommending the mask over the wide end as “an appropriate precaution,” but not to rely on it to prevent transmission of the virus.
Every year, some Jews — at home or in the hospital — do not get to hear the shofar sounded in synagogue. This year, many more who usually attend synagogue will stay away. The Jewish community has to help, and many congregations are doing what they can to make this joyful noise sound around Metro Detroit.
Conservative Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield, for instance, will share services over the internet, but Rabbi Shalom Kantor also plans to have the shofar sounded in three public locations: a commons area of Rolling Oaks Community in Farmington Hills, Bloomer Park in West Bloomfield and Burton Field just next to the Burton Elementary School in Huntington Woods.
Orthodox congregations also plan to sound the shofar in the neighborhood as well as at the synagogue. Rabbi M. M. Polter reports that the Woodward Avenue Shul in Royal Oak will arrange for the shofar to sound in three locations in the Huntington Woods area.
According to Rabbi Shaya Katz of Young Israel of Oak Park, the Modern Orthodox congregation has a team of some seven men ready to walk around the neighborhood and sound the shofar for those who cannot get to synagogue.
For patients in the hospital, Rabbi Aharon Amzalak, staff chaplain at Beaumont Hospital, notes that “to comply with HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] requirements which protect patients’ privacy, I go to the patients before Yom Tov and ask if they would like to invite someone to sound shofar for them.”
Rabbi Amzalak and a volunteer (who happens to be a physician at another hospital) then divide up the rooms to visit. “If the Jewish patient has a roommate, we explain the significance of the shofar for Jews, and we ask the roommate if it would be OK for us to sound the shofar for the Jewish patient,” he said. “In practice, they always have agreed. They often seem pleased to support their roommate.”
Rabbi Amzalak uses a shofar given to the chaplains’ office years ago by a grateful relative of a patient. It has an unusually deep pitch, so its sound does not carry, and it is less likely to disturb patients in other rooms.
He adds, “Every year, people ask to handle the shofar themselves. They would like to see it up close, even practice trying to sound the shofar. This year especially, we have to make sure that one mouth and only one mouth comes in contact with the shofar. I plan to wear a new pair of gloves in each room that I visit.”
Boruch Lazewnik plans to sound the shofar for residents at Sunrise of West Bloomfield Senior Living. He thanks Rabbi Chaim Moshe Bergstein of Bais Chabad of Farmington Hills for making the connection.
If you cannot — or should not — get to synagogue this year, consider calling your synagogue for advice. Perhaps a private “recital” is not out of the question.