A Shofar is usually constructed from a kosher animal's horn, most commonly a ram's horn. Cattle horns are not used, due to the Golden Calf transgression, and antlers, being of solid bone rather than keratin, are not suitable for hollowing. The ram's horn is preferred, although they are also produced from the horns of goats, antelopes, gazelles, Bighorn sheep, and Ibex. The Shofar cannot be painted, so is left its natural colour, generally brown or black. It may be decorated with engravings or carvings. Typically they are around 1½ feet long, with a half-spiral, although they can be much longer and twisted.
Biblical and Rabbinical references
The Shofar was accorded several religious roles recorded in the Tanakh:
- The transfer of the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6:15; 1 Chronicles 15:28)
- The announcement of the new moon (Psalms 81:40)
- The beginning of the new year (Numbers 29:1)
- Yom Kippur (Leviticus 25:9)
- The procession prior to Sukkot (Mishnah, Hullin 1:7)
- The libation ceremony (Mishnah, Rosh Hashanah 4:9)
- The havdalah ceremony marking the end of a festival (Mishnah, Hullin 1:7).
The Shofar had additional secular roles:
- At the coronation of a king (2 Samuel 5:10; 1 Kings 1:34; 2 Kings 1:13)
- Signaling in times of war to assemble troops, to attack, to pursue, and to proclaim victory (Numbers 10:9; Judges 6:4; Jeremiah 4:5 and Ezekiel 33:3-6).
In post-biblical times, the Shofar was enhanced in its religious use because of the ban on playing musical instruments as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the temple. The secular uses have been discarded although the Shofar was sounded to commemorate the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967
Sounding the Shofar
"According to tradition, the shofar is the closest thing to the voice of God. Almost every time the Jewish or Christian Bibles mention a trumpet or horn, it means the Shofar. Whether it is at the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses, Gabriel blowing the last trumpet, the raising of the dead or the tuba mirum (wondrous trumpet) of the Catholic mass — all are referring to the shofar. Composers throughout history have vied to conjure the magic of the biblical shofar, but most have done so fancifully, perhaps the most spectacular being by the 19th-century atheist and genius Hector Berlioz, who dreamed up four spatially separated brass bands for the unforgettably rousing Dies Irae of his "Requiem Mass" to illustrate what the shofars at the end of the world would sound like."
A Shofar is not a true musical instrument, as the shofar-sounder can only control the number, length and clarity of the notes sounded, not the key or pitch. There are three sounds made with the Shofar:
- Tekiah - One long, drawn-out, uninterrupted blast, ending abruptly; the final tekiah in a series, tekiah gedolah, is particularly long and sustained.
- Shevarim- Three shorter blasts in succession.
- Teruah - A series of nine staccato blasts. To correctly render the teruah, it is necessary to accent the last note. There is also another school that accents the last note and takes the note up a third.
The entire note combination can be heard here.
"Because of its powerful, thundering voice, a Shofar was sounded at events of earth-shattering significance. A surround-sound shofar blast filled the atmosphere when the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai, Joshua conquered Jericho with seven assault-Shofar city circlings, and the greatest Shofar recital in all eternity will accompany the arrival of Moshiach.
"In ancient Israel, tekiah was a reassuring sound. It signaled that the watchmen guarding the city were on duty and all was well. That sound periodically divided up the watches of the day and night. Shevarim signalled some significant event — the changing of the guard, the arrival of an important person such as a king, or a call to assemble and hear welcome news. The sound of shevarim was less routine than the tekiyah, but it was welcome because it meant good tidings. Teruah, however, was the sound of alarm. Teruah alerted Israel that they were under attack and that all the fighting men were needed to draw together immediately for battle. It might also be sounded for some other calamity that required the immediate and urgent convocation of all the people. Thus in most of the Bible texts where teruah appears, the word is translated as "alarm". "
- Eisendrath, Judith Kaplan, Heritage of Music, New York: UAHC (1972)
- During the 1967 Six Day War, General Shlomo Goren, a Rabbi, was present at the capture of East Jerusalem where he gave a prayer of thanksgiving which was broadcast live to the entire country. Sounding a Shofar and carrying a Torah scroll, he then held the first Jewish prayer session at the Western Wall since 1948.
- Mostel, Raphael When the Ram's Horn Sounds, Jewish Daily Forward, September 6, 2002.
- Finkle, Arthur L., Sounds of the Shofar
- Rabbi Mendy Hecht Ask Moses
- Moss, Joshua, Hearing the Sound of the Shofar The Jews for Jesus Newsletter (September 1, 1993)