Legends and Secrets
There are many superlative legends around Shofar making, which is a complicated and intricate craft, full of secrets and mystery. Ordinarily, the profession was the domain of certain families, who have passed down the secrets of the trade from father to son. Thus, the secrets were kept and legends were created…
Family Trade – Dynasty of Shofar Makers
Shofar making, just like blowing it, is not a trade one can easily pick up. Except for minor changes, Shofars are made in the same way for many years, and it seems that electronic machines will not replace the craftsmen in the near future.
Very few families deal with Shofar making around the world. In Israel, there are two main industrial Shofar makers, who have joined forces in recent years, becoming the makers of most Shofars being used in synagogues and Torah schools in Israel and around the world. Some individuals also make Shofars at home, but they do it only as a hobby, and not commercially.
The Bar- Sheshet Family
The Bar-Sheshet family members have been making Shofars for 15 generations. In 1345 a Jew named Rabbi Yitzhak Bar-Sheshet began making Shofars in Spain. The family name “Bar-Sheshet” is also 15 generations old, originating with Rabbi Yitzhak’s father, who used to announce the commencement of the Shabbat in the Jewish neighborhoods , and was dubbed “Sheshet” – the one
who announces the ending of the six days of labor. His son, Yitzhak, who was a Shofar maker, was later named Rabbi Yitzhak Bar (son of) Sheshet. Eventually, this name became permanent and remained the last name of the Shofar makers’ family to this day.
After the Spanish Expulsion, most of the family settled in Morocco, where they continued making Shofars until about fifty years ago, when Meir Bar-Shshet made Aliyah aboard the ship Exodus. The British sent the illegal immigrants back to a detention camp in Germany, where Meir Bar-sheshet made his first Shofar outside Morocco.
Tale of a Shofar
It was near the eve of Rosh Hashana, and a Shofar was nowhere to be found in the detention camp. After great efforts the detainees had managed to collect 30 Deutsche Marks and bought a ram. Meir Bar-Sheshet recounted:
“Many people stared at me; they saw how I soften the horns; how I drew out the bone;. how I drilled and smoothed it. Everybody was waiting for the Shofar to perform the Tekiah. Finally, two Shofars were prepared, one for the camp where I stayed with my new friends, and one was somehow delivered to a neighboring camp. When we blew my Shofars that year, all the worshipers asked God to remember the binding of Isaac. With a heart full of longing we all prayed:
“Our Lord and Lord of our fathers; Blow upon the great Shofar for our freedom; our dispersed bring together from the ends of the earth; and bring us in joy to Zion, Your city in glad song”
When Meir Bar-Sheshet finally arrived in Israel, he sneaked in to the Wailing Wall and blew the Shofar. That Shofar is kept with his son, Zvika, to this very day.
Meir Bar-Sheshet settled in the city of Haifa and returned to making Shofars. Today, 655 years after founding the first family business in Spain, Meir’s son, Zvika Bar-Sheshet continues the family tradition of making Shofars for the Jewish communities in Israel and abroad.
A Professional Secret
In the heart of Herzl Street, among the shiny lights and shop windows, there is the Bar-Sheshet workshop. From the outside, the workshop looks like a shop of ritual articles, a side door leads to the second floor, climbing up round and winding stairway. The workshop is not larger than an average room, with an adjacent room, where some stages of the Shofar making take place.
Going up to the workshop requires a special permit, which is not easily given. Whoever enters the place will see hundreds of raw horns, the floor is covered with layers of sawdust, and the air smells a little like roast meat. The shelves are loaded with Shofars in different stages of production. Besides the sharpening machine, all the other tools are very simple, improvised by the family: a clamp, older than the person using it, and various hand tools. In this profession, says Zvika: “everybody takes care of his own tools, because such tools can not be bought. Nobody produces such special tools. Therefore the family had made along the years the working tools appropriate for these work”.
Meir Bar-Sheshet in front of the Shofar sharpening machine. (from the Bar Sheshet collection)