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Shaping Repentance from a Horn

C. S. Teitelbaum

What’s so special about Mr. Bengio’s shofros? Why are baalei tokeia scrupulous about purchasing only Mr. Bengio’s workmanship?

Monday, September 18, 2017

 Mishpacha image

Watching him work, hunched over, his white beard glowing in the dark space, I can close my eyes and pretend I am in Rabi Yochanan HaSandlar’s studio. And though he can’t claim to trace his family’s shofar-making skills to the time of the Tanaaim, Mr. Bengio can say shofar making is a family affair (Photos: Mendel Photography)

A handwritten note affixed to the front window of a nondescript house on Kyverdale Road in North London humbly informs visitors that talleisim, ataros, and shofros are sold on the premises. But the home’s simplicity and the note’s unpretentiousness belie the famous shofar-making factory housed within.

Past the door, the undiscerning customer would still never guess that VIP clients the world over prize the creations produced here. But indeed, rabbanim and gedolim of every stripe own of these shofars, considered among the most mehudar in the world, crafted by Mr. Yehuda Bengio.

Prices for a Bengio shofar start at £90 ($119). The most expensive shofar he’s ever produced came from a Jacob’s Ram, a breed of sheep some believe existed at the time of the Patriarchs. That shofar cost £300 ($396). Either way, his children admit that their father undercharges, running his business more as a calling.

“I don’t take money from choshuve clients,” Mr. Bengio says. “Their brachos are worth much more.” Among those who have received his gifts — and bestowed their brachos — are the Tosher Rebbe ztz”l (Mr. Bengio’s son served as his gabbai), Rav Dovid Pinto, and the rebbes of Pupa, Satmar, Klausenburg, and Bobov.

 

Golden Hands

What’s so special about Mr. Bengio’s shofros? Why are baalei tokeia scrupulous about purchasing only from Mr. Bengio’s workmanship?

“I don’t take money from choshuve clients,” Mr. Bengio says. “Their brachos are worth much more.”

First, there is the shofars’ authentic, natural form. Because there is a stringency to blow a horn that grew on an animal’s right side, many shofar makers twist a left-side horn into a right direction. But poskim, including the Minchas Yitzchak, invalidate this and Mr. Bengio follows that ruling. Also, most companies make the mouthpiece wider so that the shofar is easier to blow. Some poskim maintain that this change deems it passul. Mr. Bengio’s shofros are under the hashgachah of Dayan Aharon Dovid Dunner, Rav of Adas Yisrael, London.

Mr. Bengio shuffles down the creaky stairs to show a visitor his makeshift workshop, a bare, wooden, succah-style hut, whose walls are lined with enough well-worn steel instruments to put a dentist’s office to shame. Among the sophisticated machines, there is a simple metal hanger mangled into a thin rod, a tool that Mr. Bengio says is indispensable for cleaning out the shofar’s hollow.

He picks up a raw shofar and starts his work.

A drill is used to bore a hole at the horn’s tip, which then becomes the mouthpiece, and a hot iron rod widens the incision, piercing deeper until it meets the hollow. (Before drills, the hot iron alone was used to pierce the horn’s sealed tip, a process that took much longer.) A heating apparatus is then inserted to clean the fat residue inside, and smoke exits from the other side, indicating its clearness. A belt-sander machine is used to smoothen the mouthpiece and, much like a nail file, gives the shofar its overall sheen.

Mr. Bengio generally buys his ram’s horns from Morocco, but he says Australian rams also produce exceptional shofars. A local esrog dealer who travels to Morocco for arba’as haminim, brings them over for him. Watching him work, hunched over, his white beard glowing in the dark space, I can close my eyes and pretend I am in Rabi Yochanan HaSandlar’s studio. And though he can’t claim to trace his family’s shofar-making skills to the time of the Tanaaim, Mr. Bengio can say shofar making is a family affair. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 678)

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