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Ask the Rabbi #119

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14 September 1996; Issue #119

  • Shofar Scents
  • Anonymous Kneeling
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  • Shofar Scents

    Michael R. Leavitt wrote:

    Dear Rabbi,

    I just got a beautiful shofar from a friend returning from Israel. It sounds great, but it has one problem. It smells. But really bad. There were probably some marrow pieces left inside. My question is simple: “How do you clean a shofar?

    Dear Michael R. Leavitt,

    To answer your question, my wife spoke to Mrs. Sarah Glaser, author of Life Saver! - The Jewish Homemaker's Survival Kit (Targum Press/Feldheim ). She recommends vinegar or baking soda for removing odors. Pour synthetic vinegar into the shofar. Or dissolve baking soda in water, and pour into the shofar. Rinse and repeat. If necessary, let sit overnight in the vinegar/baking soda solution.

    Eliminating a strong odor is important, because such an odor might lessen the honor of the mitzvah, violating the principle that "mitzvot should not be contemptible in your eyes." And if the odor is as bad as you say, it's forbidden to say a blessing in its presence.

    But remember, the inside of the shofar needn’t compete with perfumes such as Eau d'Elegance or Chanel. Most shofars retain a slight, lingering reminiscence of their humble origin, the ram.

    When Isaac blessed Jacob, Isaac said, 'My son's fragrance is like the fragrance of the field blessed by Hashem.' Of course, Jacob was wearing animal skins on his hands and neck. Perhaps the power of Jacob's mitzvah turned a bad smell into a good one. May Hashem accept our mitzvah of shofar this year, and may all our deeds be sweet-smelling!


    • Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 79:8-9
    • Mishna Berurah 79:29,31 and 586:90
    • Bereishit 27:27, Rashi

    Anonymous Kneeling

    Dear Rabbi,

    I need a reference in Talmud. Is there a place where it says that one may kneel if one has a paper between the knee and the floor?

    The issue of kneeling has become a source of conflict for some of us in the 12 Step Programs (Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous etc.). Kneeling is not required for any reason in the 12-Step Program, but it's sort of a tradition to kneel during the 3rd step which says "We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understand Him..."

    Any other thoughts you have in regard to this question of kneeling would be welcome. Thank you soooooooooooo much for this service.

    Dear Sarah Leah,

    The Torah forbids prostrating yourself flat out on a stone floor, as was the way of the ancient idol worshippers. Our Sages extended this prohibition to include kneeling.

    The Shulchan Aruch says that if you put an intervening substance between your knees and the stone floor, then it’s permitted to kneel.

    On Yom Kippur, we get on our knees and bow down with our faces to the floor. Many synagogues, especially in Israel, have stone or tile floors, so people bring towels to bow down upon. I was once in a synagogue where they passed out used computer paper to kneel on!


    • Leviticus 26:1
    • Maimonides 6:6-8
    • Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 131:8

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