A leader in the biblical tradition
“Will the shofar be blown in the city and the populace will not tremble?” (Amos 3:6)
When Rabbi Yehuda Levin blows the shofar at Washington’s annual March for Life, he is continuing a two-decade tradition there, initiated by Jews for Morality. And by using a ram’s horn on each anniversary of Roe v. Wade, he is also placing the pro-life cause within the ancient biblical tradition he represents.
Levin told The Interim how, for thousands of years, the blowing of the shofar has been used to rally the Jewish people in fidelity to God. As the nation of Israel sojourned in the desert, the shofar was “one of the ways of heralding (the people) to march on.” Later, “during the time of the holy temple,” the shofar was blown inside “as part of the sacrifice and the prayer services.” At the Jewish new year, “we’re commanded in our day of introspection and repentance … to blow the shofar.” At Jericho and in war, the shofar was used to sound the battlecry. It is also believed that at the end of days, Elijah the prophet will blow the shofar and herald the coming of the Messiah before the in-gathering of the exiles into Israel.
For all these reasons, the shofar is deeply significant for those who attend or tune in to the March for Life in Washington D.C. in January. “This is supposed to arouse … a fear and a trembling and … taking stock of where we are and this, the ancient job of the shofar from time immemorial,” he said. Before blowing, he takes the opportunity “to deliver a very hard-hitting, powerful message … The people are so thirsty for this, they deserve this.”
Levin wants March participants to connect with their shared biblical heritage – and to be fed in a way that may not be familiar at home. The people may be “frustrated even when they look at conservative politicians and they see different compromises that they’re making or they go back to their churches and they don’t hear anything hard-core for six months or more at a time.” He and his audience pray that “religious leaders re-take the leadership that they’ve ceded to the media and the politicians.”
Recalling Moses’ plea, “What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me” (Exodus 17:4), Levin says that contemporary religious leaders fear their flocks will diminish if they “speak hard-core timeless values. That’s a mistake!” Instead, he tries to model more authentic leadership. He has been “called upon not to win popularity contests, (and) not to speak so that every possible liberal will understand me and not be insulted.”
Likewise, he has not held back from using his speech to rebuke the enemies of life, including Bill and Hillary Clinton and Joseph Lieberman. “You have to identify the people who are thwarting God’s plan and the movement and really elaborate.”
For many attendees, the blowing of the shofar becomes the emotional highlight of the March. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), a tireless defender of life, told The Interim, “I have known Rabbi Levin for over 20 years and can say that he truly is a champion for the rights of the unborn. His use of the shofar is a call for compassion and respect for unborn children and their mothers, as well as a call to promote a culture of life.”
Additionally, Levin’s use of the shofar is, among courageous pro-life efforts, having a spiritual impact against the forces of death, which we will only fully realize in the afterlife. He explains that when pro-lifers rally together for a March, speak truth to power or risk arrest in a rescue, God is moved to greater mercy despite our collective callousness towards life – which deserves his retribution. “God gives us more fuel for the fight, God preserves some of our children in holiness and innocence because we do this … And I believe He doesn’t allow, or He thwarts, some of the even more nefarious things that the other side wants to do.
“Just taking an extra step, making an extra statement, that is literally a protective cloud over a very needy generation.”