Why is this Karaite Writing about the Shofar on “Rosh Hashana”?

Look at those blue fringes

A beautiful book for the feasts of the Seventh Month, produced by the Karaite community in Israel.

I really wanted to hate this song. And I really wanted to be frustrated at the Israeli Karaites who published it. These are not ideal qualities; I know. But once I took a deep breath, I realized that the song is absolutely beautiful; the Karaite sage who wrote about a shofar in a song about Yom Teruah (“Rosh Hashanah”) is a great poet; and I am a better person because of it.

Before you read this post, just listen to this song. If you want to stop reading and just sing this song for the rest of the day, that’s cool too.

In order to understand my initial frustration, you need to understand two things:

First, the chorus of the song is based on Psalms 47:6:
God is gone up amidst shouting, the LORD amidst the sound of the horn.”
‘Ala Elohim bitrua, Adona bekol shofar.

This verse is not a verse about the high holidays (not about Yom Terua/Rosh Hashana and not about Yom Kippur); it can best be described as a “coronation” verse; in which a shofar represents the appointment or announcement of a king. (See 2 Samuel 15 and 2 Kings 9.)

Second, it is the overwhelming view of Karaite Jews that there is no obligation to blow (or hear) the shofar on Yom Terua – the holiday that most people call Rosh Hashana. In fact, there is only one historical Karaite sage that I know of who said that the shofar is commanded (or at the very least encouraged).

So, given this second point, is it possible that this Karaite is writing a song for Yom Terua and advocating the blowing of the Shofar?

Likely not. Let’s analyze.

The very first line says: “A song for the day of thanks (Mizmor Leyom Toda), with a vocal shout (‘im kol terua).”

And he drives it home in the second line: “I will rise up with pleasant voice; I will lift [myself] with supplication.”

He makes absolutely clear that Yom Terua is a day of shouting.

And if you don’t believe me, I can “prove” it to you by using other sources from the Karaite community of Europe.

This poem is by Hakham Mordecai ben Nisan.

A Hakham Mordecai ben Nisan (potentially a different Hakham Mordecai ben Nissan) also the author of Royal Attire, which discusses all the major differences between the Karaite and Rabbanite theology.

In that book he says: “it is understood that Scripture is not talking about teru‘a with a shofar, but with a voice.” (Download this section here.)

So, why is this first Hakham Mordecai ben Nisan talking about the Shofar? It is (in my opinion) that it is because this time of year that we repent and ask God for forgiveness, and we are in essences affirming God’s kingship over us. Now don’t get me wrong. I assume that he made the connection to the verse about the shofar because it was such an impossible connection to miss given the time of year (and the dominant rabbinic practice of blowing the shofar). But he is not advocating that we blow the shofar.

There are some more notes on the poem below. But before I leave you, I need to thank all of the following people for bringing this song and the entire Tishrei book into existence.

 * * *

I wanted to share some additional notes with you to reflect on how blessed we are to have a young group of Karaites who are dedicated to breathing new life into our community.

  1. The Ant Institute Restored The Manuscript of the Poem: The Karaite community in Israel found this poem in a manuscript that was falling apart and in desperate need of love and care. So they sent it to the “Ant Institute” in Israel to have it restored.
  2. This song did not exist before this project: To be clear, this poem may have existed, but until this project it might as well not have existed. No one was singing it. Very few people actually knew it existed. Its melody – if one ever existed – was not known. So the people involved in this project had to start (almost) from scratch.
  3. The poem is 22 stanzas long: The community (wisely) recorded and amped up a shortened version of the song.
  4. A very long acrostic: The acrostic of the song reads: I am Mordecai ben Nisan: Be Strong and Courageous: Amen.
  5. The Pronunciation: Even though the Israeli Karaites (and I read) the poem with our Egyptian Karaite pronunciation, it is clear that the poet contemplated a different pronunciation. For example, look at this stanza, which is one of the ones on the YouTube Link.
    The poem is set up in two columns. The first column has 6 syllables. The second column has 5 syllables. This means that the third line is “Rosho Leya’ed El / Yotzri Vero’i” – but in our pronunciation, we would naturally read this as “Rosho Leya’ed El / Yotzeri Vero’i.”  This is almost certainly not what the poet had contemplated. (And yes, I know you need to see more than this to be certain, but count the syllables in the video.)
  6. The Shofar! There is another poem in the collection encompassed in the Israeli Karaite Tishre project that mentions the shofar in the chorus. That chorus is directly from Psalms 81:4: Blow the shofar at the new moon day; at the full moon for our feast day. That poem is attributed to a Hakham Israel, and I have not analyzed it and I do not know his theology. I did write about Psalms 81:4 here and “proved” that it is not talking about “Yom Terua.” (But of course, search the Scripture well.)
  7. The Sanctified 7:  If you read the entire poem by Mordecai Ben Nisan, you will see that the focus is on the number seven. He mentions how all the “7s” are sanctified to God: Shabbat is on the Seventh Day, there are seven days for the feast of Matza, we sacrifice seven bulls on the last day of Sukkot; we count 49 (7*7) days before Shavuot.
  8. That Guitar, Though:  If you listen to the song, you’ll hear some sweet guitar licks. The reason is that the community in Israel hired Avi Singolda, who played guitar with the famed Israel singer Shlomo Artzi. Singolda actually brought several guitars and played multiple guitar tracks for each song, adding depth and layering throughout. Pretty awesome.



Filed under Mordecai Ben Nisan, poetry, Rosh Hashanah, Shofar, terua, Yom Teruah

12 Responses to Why is this Karaite Writing about the Shofar on “Rosh Hashana”?

  1. Keren De Torno

    This is wonderful! Thank you to each and every individual that has made this reality and possible for all to share in and enjoy.
    When will these superb recording productions by Hazzan Rotem HaCohen B’Nei-Mikra Choir be made available for sale?

  2. I start with the premise that it is not inherently wrong for a Karaite Jew to observe a Rabbinic custom. The Havdalah ceremony to mark the conclusion of the Shabbat is a prime example of this. The occasional adoption of Rabbinic halakah into Karaite sevel hayerusah was endorsed by none other by the person who coined the term “Karaite” Hakham Benjamin al-Nahawandi who stated: “As for other rules, which are observed and recorded by the Rabbanites and for which I could find no pertinent biblical verse, I have written them down also so that you may observe them likewise if you so desire.” Anthology p.29. It is conceded by all that Yom Teru’ah falls on the 1st day of the seventh biblical month. At the very least the blowing of the Shofar on the 1st day of a new month is a long standing practice which is recorded in Psalms 81:4. In Sefer Yehoshua the shouting used to bring down the walls of Jericho was closely associated with the Kohanim blowing the Shofar and the people shouting with a great shout. So whilst I concur with the Karaite sages that the essence of the observance is a ‘day of shouting’, it certainly is not a capital offense prohibited by Torah to supplement one’s observance with the blowing of a Shofar.

  3. Henry Mourad

    First and foremost, a million thanks to you Shawn for bringing out this song to our attention. What a beautiful and inspiring melody. I raved about the voice of the singer as well so much that I played it over and over until I had my fill for the moment. However I know I’ll go back and play it again to my heart’s satisfaction.
    I have no problem with the shofar on Yom Terua. After all if we’re making loud noises, then why not make it with a Jewish Shofar.

  4. ..Hi..
    I looked on-line for some English Yom Teruah songs, and only found two – both were written by Christians. I decided to write one from a Jewish perspective to fill in the gap.

    My fully orchestrated “Yom Teruah, a Day of Shouting” song is now on-line!

    Here is the link: http://yeashore.net/Lyrics.html

    You can download, listen and read the lyrics!
    Please enjoy and share with others who might be interested.
    Thank you
    …Be Seeing You…Raja…

  5. Matityahu

    Is 81:4 talking specifically about Yom Teru’ah? Maybe not, but since it is also a New Moon Day it would seem a worthy practice to blow it on Yom Teru’ah, and in my opinion look rather odd to not do so, if you were sounding a shofar on the other Roshei Hodesh. Regardless of that, the song is amazing! Thank you for (always) bringing these wonderful things to our attention.

  6. Ana Lopes

    Shalom, Shawn!
    This song is really beautiful! I’m so glad to have Karaite songs to listen to!

    About the shofar, to be honest, I agree with the opinion of Daniel al -Kumisi that we should blow the shofar in Yom Teruah. It makes a lot of sense for me to blow the shofar as a way of calling people to repentance.

    • Although it is not directly applicable to Yom Teruah, we see in a rededication ceremony during the Reign of King Asa that according to 2 Chronicles 15:14 that “14 And they swore unto the LORD with a loud voice, and with shouting, and with trumpets, and with horns.”בְּקוֹל גָּדוֹל וּבִתְרוּעָה”

      I imagine that Yom Teruah had a similar observance.

  7. AmaniSch

    I am not seeing where to buy this even on The Karaite Press webpage. I am also assuming that this can be bought as a combination book with cd?
    Will get another song for Yom Kippur and Sukkot

  8. Zeke

    Fascinating blog, so glad I found it. I actually stumbled upon it looking for information about the “compensation debate” regarding shechita between the Middle Eastern and the Crimean Karaites.
    Not a Karaite myself, but fascinated by Karaite practice, tradition, history, scholarship etc. And to misquote a famous goy: שום דבר יהודי אינו זר לי.

    Regards from Jerusalem

  9. Pingback: The Turkish Two-Step (?) In Karaite Poetry - A Blue Thread

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