New Study: Spiritual People Have Stronger Reaction When Hearing Shofar Blast

The blare of the shofar grew louder and louder. As Moshe spoke, Hashem answered him in thunder. Exodus 19:19 (The Israel Bible™)

This is the time of the shofar – the ram’s horn – that is blown by Jews at synagogue services 

every weekday during the current Hebrew month of Elul, on Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) and at the very end of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). 

According to Jewish tradition, the shofar is a bent horn of a ram, reminding Jews one of Abraham’s willing sacrifice of his son Isaac who was most precious to him; the curve in the horn represents the contrition of the person who repents his sins. The pure and natural sounds of the shofar symbolize the lives that it calls Jews to lead.

There are three main types of sounds — tekiashevarim and t’ruah. A fourth type, tekiah gedola, is a longer version of the regular tekia blast.

It has been suggested that the tekiya is a kind of summons or is the sound of a king’s coronation, thus calling on us to reaffirm God’s sovereignty on the Jewish New Year. Shevarim, which has been compared to the sound of weeping, is composed of three broken sounds, while tru’a is made up of nine rapid, staccato notes that are like an urgent alarm, calling us to awaken from our spiritual slumber. 

Prof. Leah Fostick, an experimental psychologist and who founded her lab in 2008 in 2008 in the department of communication disorders at Ariel University in Samaria, decided this past summer to investigate scientifically what emotions the various blasts of the shofar elicit in people. She also happens to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana for women at her synagogue, Shirat Aharon, in the city of Givat Shmuel near Tel Aviv.  

Already a trumpet player, Fostick was assisted in the study by a psychologist at Bar- Ilan University, Rabbi and Emeritus Prof. Harvey Babkoff, who was her mentor when she did her doctorate some 20 years ago.  Others who were involved in the project were Howard Moskowitz, a Jew living in New York, and Ariel students Maayan Cytrin and Eshkar Yadgar. 

Her team spent part of a day testing 40 Ariel University students, half of them women and half men. Some were modern Orthodox Jews, while the rest were secular. 

The participants faced a computer screen to which earphones were attached and hear the three types of shofar blasts. Each group was accompanied with statements expressing feelings, and the participants were asked to choose the words that conveyed what they felt. After each set of sounds, they had to perform various cognitive tasks to blur the emotional impression that each blast created. 

The result was that all the participants – including the secular Jews – felt emotions from the shofar sounds. evokes excitement, fear, anxiety, heaviness in the heart, expectation and awe. Shevarim evoked fear, anxiety and heaviness in the heart, while tru’a tended to elicit excitement, enthusiasm, restlessness, anticipation, joy and amazement.

There was a difference in women’s and men’s reporting mainly in response to the teki’a: Both genders described feelings of fear, but women also described excitement, anxiety and heaviness in the heart, while men described feelings of alertness, hope and awe. There were also some differences between secular and religious; both groups described feelings of fear and anxiety, but secular participants added feelings of watching and alertness compared to religious who added feelings of heaviness in their heart and awe.

All three types of sounds triggered in all the participants a sense of alertness, she said. 

Fostick said in an interview that rams’ horns were blown in ancient history by all peoples as a call to war or for ceremonial purposes. “It was not only the Jews, but today, we are probably the only culture to do it. The sounds arouse feelings. The tru’a, which is blown fast, triggers happiness. The blasts that arouse anxiety and fear are related to the fact that we are facing the annual Day of Judgement.” 

Her study has not yet been published, said Fostick, who is married (to an amateur shofar blower who works in hi-tech) and is the mother of six children aged five to 21.) “My husband says I blow the shofar better than he does.” 

But she will present her findings in November at the 18th Annual Auditory Perception, Cognition and Action Meeting (APCAM 2019) will be held in Montreal in November.