If you keep coming across references to shofar odor, don’t be alarmed. It’s not so bad. In fact, personally I would rather have a slight animal scent than a sanitized hospital or factory scent. After all, a shofar comes from an animal, not a manufacturing plant. And G-d wants us to keep that in mind when we blow it.

The source of the odor is remnants of particles of muscle, sinew or bone or blood-eating bacteria. Professional shofar makers heat the shofar to a high temperature, which kills the bacteria, rendering it harmless.

When Isaac blessed Jacob, Isaac said, “My son’s fragrance is like the fragrance of the field blessed by Hashem.” Jacob, of course, was wearing animal skins on his hands and neck, demonstrating that an animal smell is not necessarily a bad odor.

Still, if your shofar has an odor you find a bit too strong, you can try cleaning the shofar with any of the following:

  • Synthetic vinegar
  • Arak
  • Mouthwash
  • Baking soda solution
  • Aquarium gravel (avoid large or sharp pieces)

Just press your thumb against the mouthpiece, fill it with one of the above and shake thoroughly.

Never soak a shofar in oil (including olive oil) or liquid, which can damage it. Whichever method you use to clean the shofar be sure to rinse out the liquid with water to avoid causing permanent damage to the shofar.

A final option is to spend a few dollars on a bottle of Shofar OdorFree, a natural, biodegradable spray solution.

Although it seems like the main mitzvah of hearing the shofar is the first set of 30 shofar blasts sounded in succession after the Shofar Blessing is recited, in fact the mitzvah is really to hear the shofar integrated with the Mussaf for Rosh Hashanah, therefore the central shofar blowing is actually the three breaks during Mussaf when the shofar is sounded.

This point is explained clearly in the Chayei Adam (142):

עיקר התקיעות הוא לתקוע על סדר הברכות כחוזר ה”ץ תפילת המוספים שתוקעים למלכיות ולזכרונות ולופרות ומדינא הוא לתקוע על כל ברכה תר”ת ולפי הספק שנסתפקו בתרועה היה לנו לתקוע על כל ברכה תר”ת פ”א ותש”ת פ”א ותר”ת פ”א וכן נוהגין במקצת מקומות אך כיון תקנו חז”ל לתקוע קודם מוסף והם נקראין תקיעות דמיושב ר”ל שעדיין הקהל יובין ולאעומדין בתפילה והטעם שתקנו כן לערבב השטן שלא יקטרג בתפילת המוספין ובתקיעותיהן

If we are required to hear Tekiah-Teruah-Tekiah repeated three times, it would seem that at each of these junctures we should hear all three possible variations, i.e. the same 30 sounds repeated three times during Mussaf — in conjunction with Malchuyos, Zichronos and Shofaros.

Yet the prevailing custom is to play only a single variation of Tekiah-Teruah-Tekiah each time. Why is that considered good enough?

Confounding Satan

First we have to understand the reason for the initial 30 shofar sounds, known as Tekios D’Meyushav. This custom is intended to confound Satan so that he cannot act as  a Prosecutor during Mussaf and the Mussaf shofar blasts. For Satan is alarmed by the sound of the shofar, which is a reminder of the Great Shofar to be heard in the future Redemption.

And it shall comes to pass on that day that  a Great Shofar shall be blown, nd they shall come who were lost in the land of Ashur, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord on the holy mountain of Jerusalem. (Yeshayahu 27:13)

Upon hearing the Great Shofar the Satan, i.e. death and the Evil Inclination, will be eradicated from the face of the Earth.

And He will destroy on this mountain, the covering that is cast over all the people, and the veil that is spread over all the nations. He iwll destroy death forever and the Lord G-d ill wipe away tears from all faces… (Yeshayahua 25:8).

Since in essence the congregation fulfills the mitzvah through those initial 30 blasts, Chazal did not want to impose an unnecessary burden on the congregation by requiring them to be played another three times.

Andy why was the “Shevarim-Teruah” variation chosen? Because in a way it is the safest bet. If the true Teruah is “Shevarim” you hear it; if the true Teruah is what we refer today as Teruah, you hear it. The only problem is that perhaps you are hearing an extra note, rather than the three notes in succession. But this is considered a minor enough concern that we avoid imposing a burden on the congregation.

The Torah could have commanded us to arouse ourselves to tshuvah by looking at a startling sight or by sniffing a powerful scent. But instead we are commanded, at the start of the year, to a hear a sound. That sound must come from a shofar, connecting us, through a primeval instrument, to other spiritual planes.

The big question then is what exact sound must we hear? There is an extended discussion in the Gemara about how to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the shofar. And because certain doubts remain unresolved, we sound the required set of nine shofar blasts three times, each time in a slightly different manner.

The core of the dispute is how to interpret the word תרועה. The Torah tells us (Bamidbar 29: 1) that we must have a day of teruah: יום תרועה יהיה לכם. And elsewhere (Vayikra 23:23-25) we are commanded to have a day of remembrance during which the shofar is sounded.

דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בְּאֶחָד
לַחֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם שַׁבָּתוֹן זִכְרוֹן תְּרוּעָה מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ

It’s not an easy verse to translate, but roughly it comes out to “it shall be a Sabbath for you, a remembrance of [Israel through] the shofar blast, a holy occasion.”

Then the Gemara (Rosh Hashana 33b) tells us as follows:

מר סבר גנוחי גנח ומר סבר ילולי יליל

Interestingly, the Gemara says any tone that comes from the shofar is fine, whether it is a thin, high-pitched tone (e.g. from a small ram’s horn shofar) or a deep baritone (e.g. from a long kudu shofar).

The first opinion says we should similate moaning and groaning with the shofar. According to the other opinion, the shofar sound should resemble the rapid, truncuated sound of weeping.

At first glance this does not seem to fit in with the spirit of Rosh Hashana. But perhaps the idea is simply that sometimes, when are emotions are stirred, we feel a need to express those emotions vocally (e.g. crying, sighing). On Rosh Hashana, to truly forge and feel a powerful connection with Our Father in Heaven, we have to create an emotional release through sounding the shofar. As if we are letting loose a great sigh: ‘Father, I’m coming home!’

The shofar is the only Jewish musical instrument to have survived two millennia in its original form. The sound of the shofar, wrote Rabbi Saadia Gaon,  struck awe in the hearts and souls of the people. According to the Rambam, the sounding of the shofar served as a reminder to mankind of its obligations toward God, while the Holy Zohar notes that the sound of the shofar awakens the aspect of Higher Mercy.

The shofar is the musical instrument most frequently mentioned in the Tanach (72 times). It played a role both in the religious and secular lives the Jewish people. Only Kohanim (priests) Levites were permitted to sound the Shofar in the Jewish Commonwealth.

The shofar is first mentioned in Shemos 19:16, at the theophany on Sinai. It was also used to proclaim the Jubilee Year (Yovel) and the proclamation of “freedom throughout the land” (Bamidbar 25:9-10). It was sounded on Rosh Hashana, which is designated as Yom Terua (“A day of blowing” Bamidbar 29:1), and was sometimes used in processionals (Joshua 6:4),  as accompaniment for other musical instruments (Tehillim 98:6), as a signal (Shmuel II 15:10, Joshua 6:12), as a clarion call to war (Shoftim 3:27) and to instill fear (Amos 3:6).

When used in the Temple, the shofar was generally sounded in conjunction with the trumpet (chatzotzra).

The shofar had several religious roles recorded in the Tanach, such as the transfer of the Ark of the Covenant (2 Shmuel 6:15, Chronicles 15:28), notification of a New Moon (Psalms 81:4); the start of the new year (Numbers 29:1), the Yom Kippur (Vayikra 25:9), the procession preparatory to Sukkot (Mishnah Chullin 1:7), the libation ceremony (Mishnah  Rosh Hashana 4:9) and the Havdalah ceremony marking the end of a festival (Mishnah Chullin 1:7).

The shofar also served several secular roles, such as coronating a king (Shmuel II 5:10;  Kings I 1:34, Kings II 1:13) and for signaling in time of war to rally troops for an offensive, to pursue enemy soldiers and to proclaim victory (Bemidbar 10:9; Judges 6:4; Jeremiah 4:5 and Ezekiel 33:3-6).

On Rosh Hashana and other full holidays (i.e. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and the three pilgrimage fesitvals, Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos) a single priest performed two sacrifices in honor of the day.

On Rosh Hashana, something special occurred during the Mussaf sacrifice. According to one opinion, two shofar sounders played the long notes and one trumpet player played the short note. Rosh Hashana, therefore, is referred to as Yom Teruah (the Day of the Blast). Otherwise, the trumpets had “top billing.” Rosh Hashanah 27a, supports this claim: “Said Raba, or perhaps Rav Yehoshua Ben Levi: What is the scriptural source for this? It is written, ‘With trumpets and the sound of the shofar shout ye before the King in the Temple,’ therefore we require trumpets and the sound of the shofar, elsewhere not.”

Indeed, on Yom Kippur, the shofar was blown to announce the Jubilee Year (every 50 years Jews were granted freedom, forgiveness of debts and sold lands reverted to their original ownership. The shofar is first mentioned in connection with the Yovel (Jubilee Year –  Vayikra 25:8-13). Indeed, in Rosh Hashana 33b, the sages ask why the shofar sounded in Jubilee year.  Further support is found in Rosh Hashana 29a, where the Talmud speaks of trumpets for sacrifices, but the shofar in the Jubilee Year does not apply to priests who are exempt from the obligations of the jubilee.

Otherwise, for all other special days, the shofar was sounded for a shorter duration and two special silver trumpets announced the sacrifice.

When the trumpets sound the signal, all the people who are within the sacrifice area prostate themselves, stretching out flat, face down toward the ground.

The shofar was blown at the Temple to usher in Shabbat every week. On the lintel of the wall at the top of the Temple an inscription read, “To the house of the blowing of the trumpet [ i.e. shofar]”.  Every Shabbat two men with silver trumpets and a man with a shofar sounded three trumpet blasts, twice during the day.

On Rosh Hashana, the procedure differed.  The shofar is the primary trumpet. According to Vayikra 23:24 and Bamidbar 29, Rosh Hashana is the day of the blowing of the trumpets.  The original name is Yom Terua (the staccato sound of the horn, which also means  “shout”).  According to the Mishna (Rosh Hashana 16a, Mishnah Rosh Hashana 3, 3), the trumpet used for this purpose is the ram’s horn, not trumpets made of metal, as in Bamidbar 10. On Rosh Hashana a shofar is used for the first blast, a silver trumpet the second, and then the shofar follows with the third.

The Torah describes the mitzvah of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashana tersely:

יום תרועה יהיה לכם

A day of “teruah” you shall have. The Gemara then explains, step-by-step, that we are required to hear nine notes:

Tekiah  –  Teruah  –  Tekiah
Tekiah  –  Teruah  –  Tekiah
Tekiah  –  Teruah  –  Tekiah

But today the halacha states that the mitzvah consists of 30 notes. How did 9 become 30?

The Gemara relates that R’ Abahu instituted a custom of blowing the shofar three different ways, with the same basic pattern of nine notes each time. In the first set the Teruah is played as a rising note, in the second set as a staccato note and in the third set as a combination of both (Rosh Hashana 34b).

Note that a ram’s horn shofar usually makes it easier to play staccato and to punctuate notes, whereas a Ymenite kudu shofar often has greater range.

R’ Hai Gaon

In a responsum, R’ Hai Gaon writes that it is wrong to think that doubts arose regarding the proper way to blow the teruah. He argues that different customs preceded R’ Abahu’s innovation and that all were in fact correct. However, since to those of limited understanding they seemed to differ substantially, a unified custom was introduced so that the entire Jewish people would blow the shofar in the same manner on Rosh Hashana.

Rambam

On the other hand the Rambam (Hilchot Shofar 3, 2)  writes that as a result of the Destruction of the Temple and the subsequent Diaspora, doubts did in fact arise regarding how to blow the Teruah properly. One type of Teruah is like the lamentations  of wailing women, and the other is the sigh or groan of someone who has a grave concern. The Beit Yosef and the Shulchan Aruch side with the Rambam’s approach rather than R’ Hai Gaon.

Under extenuating circumstances (e.g. a shofar blower going from one hospital ward to the next) it is permissible to reduce the shofar blowing to the bare minimum, blowing each way for a total of just ten blasts.

Tekiah  –  Shevarim  –  Tekiah
Tekiah  –  Teruah  –  Tekiah
Tekiah  –  Shevarim/Teruah  –  Tekiah

How are shofars made?

March 23, 2017

by Adam Ehad

Practically every Jew has seen a shofar and heard it sounded on the High Holy Days. But how many of us know the true intricacy of the process of shofar production?

Selecting horns suitable for the shofar

Although the horns of any animal from the Bovidae family (except for those of a cow) may be used to make a shofar, a ram’s horn is considered preferable and for this reason most shofars are made from rams horns.

Generally speaking, the horns are bought in bulk from cattle ranchers and only on arrival at the manufacturer are they thoroughly inspected. For this reason, and because horns are often damaged during transit and during the actual process of making the shofar, the whole process is extremely wasteful; less than 30% of the horns which arrive at the shofar factory will end up as a usable shofar.

Removing the inner horn

Once the horns have been selected, they are boiled in hot water and sodium carbonate to soften the bone that forms the center of the horn. Once this has been carefully picked out, what remains are the layers of keratin (the same substance that human fingernails are made of) which grow outside the bone. As a result, a hollow tube of keratin has now been produced, narrowing to the tip which can now be sliced off to form the mouthpiece.

To make a kudu horn or ram horn into a shofar, the horn must first be drilled out from one end to the other. The hole drilled is small in diameter near the mouthpiece, but most of the thickness of the main part of the horn is hollowed out completely. Drilling out the inside of horn to form the shofar must be done very carefully because even a small hole in the shofar renders it nonkosher.

Sterilization and straightening

Since most ram horns and kudu horns when removed from the animal are twisted, or even completely looped, the first step is to heat the horn in boiling water to make it pliable. It is then extended until it is straight enough to be drilled. Once the drilling is complete, the shofar is twisted into the familiar curved or spiral shape, and either left in its natural state or polished.

Being an organic, natural substance, the horn may contain bugs or bacteria which can erode it over time. For this reason, it is baked in an oven for a long time, in order to ensure complete sterilization. The shofar is then ready for the most difficult phase; straightening. The shofar is straightened in order to comply to the traditions of the community for which it is being produced (Ashkenazim generally prefer a slightly curved shofar and Sefardim a longer, straighter one).

The final stages: polishing, ornamentation and sound adjustment

It is a lucky shofar indeed that passes successfully through the rigorous processes of selection, hollowing and shaping. However, there are two final stages to complete its journey. First, it must be polished and sometimes carved with designs in order to beautify the mitzva of shofar as much as possible. (Only shofars that are not intended for actual use are ornamented with silver or gold, as this invalidates them for ritual blowing).

Decorative shofar: Not for mitzvah use

Decorative elements are sometimes added to the shofar, such as silver or painted leather coverings. However, decorations that cover any of the surface area of the shofar also make it non-kosher: a decorated shofar serves as a decorative piece, and cannot be used for the mitzvah of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur.

The critical mouthpiece area of the shofar remains kosher even if the opening is very close to one edge. This can occur during the drilling if the shofar shifts to one side due to the condition of the bone.

The drilling process may leave the mouthpiece rough or with small pieces of loose bone flaking off. This can be smoothed by lightly sandpapering the rough spots.

Finally, the shofar receives its ultimate test: It looks great, but how will it sound? The shofar shape can also be slightly adjusted at this stage to achieve a perfect sound.

Adam Ehad grew up in London and is a graduate of Manchester University. He lives in Givat Shmuel and is currently pursuing his Masters Degree in English Literature. His father was a shofar maker.

In the Babylonian Talmud we find that the shofar was blown every Friday, at the close of the day.

The academy of Rabbi Yishmael taught: On Friday afternoon we sound six shofar blasts announcing the arrival of the Sabbath.

Rabbi Yishmael was a Tanna from the third Tannaitic generation. His studied with Rabbi Akiva. After their deaths, the disciples of these two Torah giants continued their learning in the name of their famous teachers.

The Tanna (“repeaters” or “teachers”) were the Rabbinic sages whose views are recorded in the Mishnah, from approximately 10 CE-220 CE, a time span also referred to as the Mishnaic period, lasting about 210 years. The first shofar sound summoned those who are working in the outer fields to return to their homes to welcome the Sabbath. These distant workers would then meet the workers in the more proximate fields to enter the town together.

The second blast is an order for commerce  to cease to welcome the Sabbath. At home, hot water would be heating in pots.

The third blast instructed that the pots be removed from the fires and the food should be insulated for the next day’s meal.

After the third blast, the Baal Tekiah (shofar sounder) would wait the the amount of time needed to roast a small fish over a fire, or to attach bread dough to the oven walls.

As a final alarm, the shofar sounder (who is attached to the synagogue) ends his blasts with a Tekiah, Teruah and another Tekiah ushering in the Sabbath.

Thus we have six blasts paralleling the number of work days in the week. On the seventh you shall rest.

This article was based on material provided by Arthur Finkle

Jumbo shofar

March 15, 2017

Kudu horns are the largest and most striking shofar horns currently available. But another contender in the giant shofar category is a species of sheep. Not the famous American bighorn sheep, whose horns are indeed enormous, but are short and impractical for making shofars.

Rather the most massive horns are found on a wild sheep from the mountains of Asia. Standing up to four feet high and weighing in at 400 pounds, the argali (Ovis ammon) boasts a pair of prodigious horns. The longest on record measured 75″, two inches longer than the longest kudu horns.

The record-breaking horns were taken from a Marco Polo argali (Ovis ammon polii) although another rarer subspecies, the Altai (Ovis ammon ammon) has shorter horns, but which are even more massive.

The Shmoneh Esreh prayer refers to the shofar gadol (“the Great Shofar”) which will be blown to usher in the Final Redemption.

Likewise a verse in Yeshayahu mentions a “great shofar.” “And it shall be on that day that a great shofar shall be sounded, and those lost in the land of Assyria shall come, as well as those expelled to Egypt; and they shall bow down before G-d, on the holy mountain, in Jerusalem (Isaiah 27:13).

Invariably these references are not to a literal shofar, but the spiritual concept of shofar. Still, seeing and hearing the types of giant shofars mentioned above could help us visualize that day, may it comes speedily in our times.

There are a number of situations in which halacha requires us to refrain entirely from talking. For example, you cannot speak between laying the tefillin Shel Rosh and the tefillin Shel Yad. In fact, the Gemara tells us that if someone does speak then, he is unfit to serve as a combat soldier on the battlefield! Likewise, according to some opinions, you cannot speak while checking for chametz on the night before Pesach (בדיקת חמץ).

Another no-talking time is from the time the first set of tekios (shofar blasts) is sounded, until the last set of tekios during Mussaf, a period totalling an hour or two, or even more.

After reciting a brachah on a mitzvah, you must immediately engage in the mitzvah. On Rosh Hashana there are two main sets of shofar sounds referred to in the Gemara as תקיעות דמיושב and תקיעות דמיועמד. The terms imply that the first set is done sitting, but in fact today all of the shofar blowing is done with both the shofar blower and the congregation standing.

When do we recite the brachah on the mitzvah of hearing the shofar? Before the Tekos D’Meyushav, before the Tekios D’Meyumad or both? The halacha is to recite the brachah before, but in order to have the brachah apply to the latter tekos as well, we refrain from talking, or any other distraction, until the Tekios D’Meyumad are complete, toward the end of the Mussaf repitition.

The Shulchan Aruch states this halacha explicitly (O.C. 592, 3). The Rif asks whether someone who does speak should then recite the brachah a second time before the Tekios D’Meyumad. He says that prominent rabbis reprimanded those who spoke, but held that the blessing should not be repeated before the latter tekios.

The Ran then launches an extended inquiry, saying that the case of tefillin differs, since the transgression is to cause an additional, superfluous blessing to be recited. In the case of the shofar blowing, there is no additional brachah involved. And we do not see, continues the Ran, that once one begins a mitzvah he cannot speak until it is complete. As an example he cites Bedikas Chametz. He disagrees with the poskim who forbid speaking throughout Bedikas Chametz, saying if that were true then after reciting HaMotzi we would be forbidden from speaking throughout the meal, and after Leishev B’sukkah we would be forbidden from speaking throughout the time we do the mitzvah of eating, drinking, sleeping and relaxing in the sukkah.

The case of speaking after the first set of shofar blasts would appear to be less problematic than speaking during Bedikas Chametz since after the first set of shofar sounds we have already fulfilled the mitzvah in principle.

Despite the argument he presents, the Ran concludes that in deference to the opinion of the Reish Mesivta cited in the Gemara, one should still refrain from speaking.

But the spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon; and he blew a shofar; and Abiezer was gathered together after him. Judges 6:34

At first glance this verse seems to merely record how Gideon called up the troops, using the shofar like a bugle or another type of horn. But note that the summons to battle is juxtaposed with a profound spiritual change in Gideon. The classical commentators explain that Gideon was “enclothed” with a spirit of might and courage from G-d. Then he blows the shofar.

Note that he used the shofar to summon Aviezer, but to summon troops from elsewhere he sends messengers. The Aviezer clan was devoted, and apparently joined him instinctively upon hearing the call of the shofar.

The shofar appears again in Chapter 7. After Gideon pares down his troops to an elite fighting force of 300 shock troops, he equips each soldier with a shofar. These shofars were not intended merely as a tactical combat tool, but to gain spiritual advantage as well. As Rashi notes (Judges 7:13), they carried shofars and torches as reminders of the merit of the Giving of the Torah.

In From Dan to Megiddo, Rabbi Benjamin Fleischer writes that the Sages placed Gideon on a level with Moses and Samuel, and as a general, alongside Joshua and Barak. His brilliant tactic of using shofars and torches to confound the enemy transformed his soldiers “as if by magic, suddenly, in a super-natural manner into heroes and fearless fighters, revived by a spirit of celestial fire and zeal, with an awakening of higher national consciousness of their pure and Divine faith.”

From a practical military perspective, Gideon’s battle plan was based on a knowledge of the composition of the enormous Midian army, with its fierce cavalry 150,000 strong. He took into consideration the fact that the barbarian army was a heterogeneous amalgamations of various races and nations, with no unifed command and no uniformity of discipline or military conduct. Likewise they were unaquainted with the lingual customs of the various tribes and divisions that constituted the army.

When confronted by Israel’s surprise attack in the middle of the night, breaking into the center of the camp, general panic ensued. As their military order vanished, they fled like a terrified mob, trampling their own men and scattering in all directions.