Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R), the Trump ally who marched to the Capitol on Jan. 6, announced his candidacy for governor on Saturday at an event in Gettysburg.
The breakout attraction of the event was a shofar — a ram’s horn that Jews blow into on certain holidays, producing a trumpet-like sound. The use of a shofar has become more and more common among conservative Christians in recent years, sometimes employed as a battle cry. That trend has angered some Jews who see the appropriation as insensitive.
The shofar made its appearance long before Mastriano took the stage at Saturday’s event. It was sounded shortly after a performance by the Christian singer Danny Gokey and “Old School Patriot” Dave Bray’s rendition of the national anthem, and before remarks from Donald Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn.
Someone identified by an event emcee as “Pastor Don” — the Mastriano campaign did not return TPM’s request for more information — told the crowd that he would “blow the breath of God over this place and this people.”
“I believe God is about to manifest himself,” the man said, before offering a few sharp blasts of the horn. “He has to, because he cannot keep going the way we’re going. Amen.”
But the use of the shofar, particularly to kick off a gubernatorial campaign announcement, sparked some angry reaction.
“Politicizing religious symbols in this manner is ugly and undignified,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League. “It cheapens their meaning and offends those who respect their holiness.”
“As a Jewish person, I find this to be deeply offensive,” wrote University of Alabama law professor and former U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance.
Saturday’s performance recalled the year prior, when “scores” of attendees at the “Jericho March” in Washington, D.C. — the last in a string of protests that preceded the Capital attack — blew on shofars, Religion News Service reported. Others have used them at protests in defiance of COVID-19 public health orders.
“It’s an announcement to the enemy that his stronghold is about to fall,” said Amanda Grace of of Ark of Grace Ministries at a November stop on Clay Clark’s “Reawaken America” tour, which hosted speakers protesting COVID-19 rules, the 2020 election, and other far-right priorities.
Grace, who referred to the shofar as “a weapon of our warfare,” added: “When we blow it, God responds.”
Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, noted that in addition to shofars, some evangelical Christians hold Passover seders and build temporary dwellings on Sukkot.
“There is a kind of movement to re-appropriate Jewish rituals, which are somehow seen to be authentic,” Sarna said.
While Jews generally restrict shofar use to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — the Jewish new year and day of atonement, respectively — Christians have for decades appropriated shofars for all sorts of uses. They’re now often available at Christian book stores, as Christianity Today noted in 2018.
Sarna said the problem for some Jews with the year-round use of shofars “is that that loses the specialness that was associated with the High Holidays.” He noted that over the past several decades, shofars became a popular item for sale in Israel, as Christian tourists and others flocked to the new country.
Notably, Sarna said, shofar shoppers who aren’t interested in the horns’ Jewish religious significance can have different priorities than Jewish shofarists — like looks.
“Lots of things that once could never have been sold — because they’re so old, hard to blow, or the sound is so ugly — suddenly became much in-demand, because there were people who put on display a large shofar, which they wouldn’t blow.”
As shofars have grown in popularity among Christian conservatives, they have also begun to appear in recent years at political events as a sort of spiritual weapon. Around a month before the Capitol attack, “Jericho March” organizers held an event in Washington, D.C., one of several leading up to the insurrection.
Shofars were sounded at the event and, according to a website advertising it, organizers had a straightforward goal: “Jericho Marches simultaneously taking place around the U.S. Capitol, Supreme Court, and Department of Justice with prayers for the walls of corruption and election fraud to fall down.”
Speaking after the shofar blast at the Mastriano announcement Monday, Michael Flynn praised the performance. “That’s the best shofar I’ve ever heard,” he said.
“Prayer,” the former national security adviser added, “is the most powerful weapon system known to man.”