views updated Jun 08 2018


SHOFAR (Heb. שׁוֹפָר), an animal's horn prepared for use as a musical instrument. Together with the reed, it is one of the earliest musical instruments known to man which is still in use. Etymologically the word is connected with šapparu, meaning wild sheep (Koehler-Baumgartner, s.v.shofar). It is mentioned 69 times in the Bible and frequently in talmudic and post-talmudic literature.

History and Description

The shofar is first mentioned in Exodus 19:16 at the theophany on Sinai. It was used to proclaim the Jubilee Year and the proclamation of "freedom throughout the land" (Lev. 25:9–10); this verse is engraved upon the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was to be sounded on *Rosh Ha-Shanah, which is designated as "yom teru'ah" ("A day of blowing"; Num. 29:1). It was also used as an accompaniment to other musical instruments (Ps. 98:6), in processionals (Josh. 6:4ff.), as a signal (Josh. 6:12ff., ii Sam. 15:10), as a clarion call to war (Judg. 3:27), and in order to induce fear (Amos 3:6).

When used in the Temple, the shofar was usually sounded in conjunction with the trumpet (ḥaẓoẓrah). The Talmud (rh 27a) states that the trumpet was made of silver, while the processed horn of one of the five species of animal – sheep, goat, mountain goat, antelope, and gazelle – was used to fulfill the ritual commandment of the sounding of the shofar. It further declares (ibid. 26b) that the shofar should preferably be made of a ram's or wild goat's horn, because they are curved. Rabbi Judah states: "the shofar of Rosh Ha-Shanah must be of the horn of a ram, to indicate submission." Traditionally a ram's horn is sounded on those days because of its connection with the sacrifice of Isaac (the *Akedah), the story of which is the Torah reading for the second day of the festival. Conversely, a cow's horn may not be used because of the incident of the golden calf (rh 3:2). The shofar may not be painted, though it can be gilded or carved with artistic designs, so long as the mouthpiece remains natural. A shofar with a hole is deemed halakhically unfit, though it may be used if no other is available (Sh. Ar., oḤ 586).

Sounds of the Shofar

The Bible refers to two kinds of trumpet sounds: teki'ah and teru'ah (Num. 10:5–8). The Mishnah (rh 4:9) describes the teki'ah as a long blast and the teru'ah as three yevavot, a wavering crying blast. It prescribes three sets of shofar sounds since the word teru'ah is mentioned in the Bible three times (Lev. 23:24, 25:9 and Num. 29:1), each set to consist of a teki'ah, a teru'ah and teki'ah thrice repeated (rh 33bf.).

In the talmudic period, doubt arose as to the exact nature of the teru'ah. Some held that it was a moaning sound (genuḥei genah) and others that it was an outcry (yelulei yelal). According to the first opinion, the sound was shevarim (broken sounds), while in the second view it was teru'ah – a tremolo of nine staccato notes. Rabbi Abbahu reconciled the difference by deciding that the first set of sounds should include both shevarim and teru'ah, i.e., teki'ah, shevarimteru'ah, teki'ah, while the other two sets were to be composed as follows: teki'ah, shevarim, teki'ah; and teki'ah, teru'ah, teki'ah (ibid.). The teki'ah (blowing) is a glissando which begins on a lower note and swells into a higher. The teru'ah (alarm) is a series of staccato blasts upon the lower note. The shevarim (tremolo) is an alternation of higher and lower notes. The concluding note of each of the two series is a teki'ah gedolah (great blast); this is a long drawn-out note explained as a sign of the removal of the Divine Presence, hermeneutically deduced from Exodus 19:13: "When the ram's horn soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount."

Use on the Holy Days

During the month of Elul, the shofar is blown from the second day of the new month to usher in the penitential season (Rema, Sh. Ar., oḤ 581:1). There is a tradition that Moses ascended Mount Sinai for the second time on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul and that the shofar was sounded so that the children of Israel might not be misled. Thus, originally it was blown only on the first day of Rosh Ḥodesh Elul. Today it is sounded daily, except for the last day, throughout the month at morning service until Rosh Ha-Shanah is over, and once more on the Day of Atonement at the conclusion of the final service (Ne'ilah). This last, though, is a late custom.

On Rosh Ha-Shanah, Psalm 47 is recited seven times before the sounding of the shofar. This is symbolic of the seven circuits that the Israelites made around Jericho before the wall fell down at the blasts of the shofar, and of the seven heavens through which prayers must penetrate in order to reach the throne of God. There are two series of blasts: for the first, which is sounded before the Musaf, the congregation may sit before they rise to hear it, and hence it is called teki'ot meyushav ("sitting teki'ot"; to distinguish it from the second series, which is heard during the Musaf Amidah, for which the congregation has been standing all the time). This first series is preceded by two benedictions: (1) "Blessed be Thou O Lord our God King of the universe, who has sanctified us by Thy commandments and has instructed us to hear the call of the shofar"; (2) "Blessed be Thou … who has kept us in life, has sustained us and privileged us to reach this season of the year." The second series, the teki'ot me'ummad ("standing teki'ot") is heard three times during the reader's repetition of the Musaf (in the Sephardi rite also in the silent Amidah) at the conclusion of each one of its major sections (Malkhuyyot – the kingship of God; Zikhronot – the remembrance of the merit of our ancestors; and Shofarot – hope for the coming of the Messianic Era to be ushered in by the sound of the shofar). In some communities it is also customary to sound up to a total of one hundred sounds at the conclusion of the service

The shofar may be sounded only in the daytime. Women and children are exempt from the commandment to listen to it, but such is its place in the Rosh Ha-Shanah ritual that nearly all do. When Rosh Ha-Shanah occurs on the Sabbath, the shofar is not blown, the traditional reason being "lest he carry it (the shofar) from one domain to another (in violation of the Sabbath)" (rh 29b). When the Temple was in existence, it was sounded there even on the Sabbath, but not elsewhere. After the destruction of the Temple Johanan b. Zakkai permitted its use on the Sabbath in a town where an ordained bet din sat (rh 4:1). This, however, is not the normal practice in our times. The congregant sounding the shofar is called a ba'al teki'ah and anyone capable of doing so is permitted to blow it. The prompter, or caller, is the makri.

Other Uses

In about 400 c.e. in Babylonia, the shofar was sounded to announce a death (mk 27b). During the Middle Ages also, it was also blown on fasts (see Ta'an. 1:6), at excommunications (see Sanh. 76 and mk 16a), and at funerals. On Friday afternoon, six blasts were sounded at various intervals. At the first teki'ah, the laborers in the fields ceased their work. At the second, shops were closed and city laborers ceased to work. The third signaled that it was time to kindle the Sabbath lights. And the fourth, fifth, and sixth were a teki'ah, teru'ah and teki'ah formally ushering in the Sabbath (Shab. 35b). In modern times the shofar is used at the inauguration of a new president of Israel. During the Six-Day War in June 1967, the chief rabbi of the Israeli army blew it at the Western Wall after its liberation by the Israel Defense Forces, using the same shofar which he had sounded on Mt. Sinai in 1956. More and more in modern Israel the shofar has been used to mark various solemn occasions, especially by the Oriental communities.

Reasons for Sounding the Shofar

Anthropologists offer the theory that since many powers are ascribed to a horn, for example, frightening away demons, it was blown to produce magical results. The shofar, thus, is to scare off Satan and evil spirits (cf. rh 16b); and so it is fitting that it be used on Rosh Ha-Shanah to frighten away the "prosecuting attorney."

Most Jewish philosophers attempted to explain the significance of the shofar. Saadiah Gaon offered ten reasons for sounding it: (1) to proclaim the sovereignty of God, since it was the custom to sound the shofar at a coronation; (2) to herald the beginning of the ten days of repentance; (3) as a reminder to be faithful to the teachings of the Torah, since the shofar was heard at the giving of the Torah; (4) as a reminder of the prophets, the teachers of righteousness, who raised their voices like the shofar to touch our consciences; (5) to the sound of trumpets the Temple fell, and to the sound of trumpets it will be restored; (6) as a reminder of the Akedah, since the ram which was substituted for Isaac was caught in the thicket by its horns; (7) to inspire awe ("Shall the shofar be blown in the city and the people not be afraid?"); (8) as a summons to the Heavenly Court on the Day of Judgment to be judged; (9) as a reminder that the shofar will call together Israel's scattered remnants to return to the Holy Land; and (10) as a reminder of the day of resurrection, the return to life (quoted by Abudarham (Jerusalem, 1959 ed.), 269f.).

Maimonides gives a moving interpretation of the sounding of the shofar: "Awake O sleepers from your sleep, O slumberers arouse ye from your slumbers, and examine your deeds, return in repentance and remember your Creator" (Yad, Teshuvah 3:4).


S.J. Zevin, Ha-Mo'adim ba-Halakhah (196310), 40–54; J.L. Baruch (ed.), Sefer ha-Mo'adim, 1 (1947), 52–75, 172–75; S.Y. Agnon, Days of Awe (1965), 65–81.

[Albert L. Lewis]


views updated May 14 2018

Shofar. An animal horn (now traditionally a ram's horn) blown during Jewish rituals. The shofar is first mentioned in Exodus 19. 16 at Mount Sinai. Today, it is blown daily from 2 Elul until the end of Rosh ha-Shanah and again at the end of the last service on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). According to Maimonides, the reason for sounding the shofar is to ‘arouse you from your slumbers, to examine your deeds, to return in repentance and to remember your Creator’.


views updated May 17 2018

sho·far / ˈshōfər; shōˈfär/ • n. (pl. sho·fars or sho·froth / shōˈfrōt; -ˈfrōs/ ) a ram's-horn trumpet used by ancient Jews in religious ceremonies and as a battle signal, now sounded at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.


views updated May 23 2018

shofar (Heb.). Wind instr. made of ram's horn, used in Jewish synagogue rituals, sounding only natural scale. Elgar employs it in The Apostles (1903), simulated by brass.


views updated Jun 11 2018

shofar a ram's-horn trumpet used by Jews in religious ceremonies and as an ancient battle signal.