The Talmud  states that the trumpet was made of silver while the processed horn of one of the five animal species — antelope, gazelle, sheep, goat and mountain goat — was used to carry out the ritual commandment of the sounding of the shofar (Rosh Hashanah 27a).

It also notes that preferrably the shofar should be made of a rams horn or wild goat horn, because they are curved. Rabbi Judah says, “The shofar for Rosh Hashanah must be made of the horn of a ram, to indicate submission.”

Traditionally a ram’s horn is sounded on those days because of its association with the binding and near sacrifice of Isaac (the Akeidah), which serves as 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 (Rosh Hashana 3:2). The shofar may not be painted, though it can be gilded or carved with artistic designs, as long as the mouthpiece remains natural.

A shofar with a hole in its side wall or a chip in its mouthpiece is deemed halachically unfit, though it may be used if no other one is available (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 586).

Is the kudu shofar a brand new development, or does it have roots in ancient tradition?

“On a social media site a user posed the following question: “Growing up I only saw short shofars that actually looked like horns from a ram. At some point these very long shofars showed up. Are they naturally from a ram?”

Jay Gurewitsch posted an interesting reply from a social-historical perspective:

The really long, curlicued shofarot (plural for shofar in Hebrew) are from the Kudu and is standard for the Yemenite Jewish community.

The fact that they “showed up” as you put it is actually quite a tale of religious intolerance being overcome. They became the “in” shofar in Israel in the 60s and 70s and their popularity has spread worldwide since then, I assume through Jewish tourists buying them and bringing them home. The Yemenite community was airlifted en masse to Israel in 1949 in a secret operation known as Operation Magic Carpet. After years of severe discrimination by the European born Jews in charge of religious and secular Israeli institutions, they eventually gained enough political power in Israel so that their traditions and community standards were accepted, and as with their shofar, even became popular with Jews worldwide who saw it as the cool, new thing. Personally, I love the fact that Ashkenazi Jews worldwide now use a Yemenite traditional shofar. Perhaps if more people knew the background of that shofar they might be more tolerant of differences within the Jewish community.

The problem with his answer is that it’s inaccurate to say that the kudu shofar is “standard” in the Yemenite Jewish community. Many Yemenite Jews rely predominantly on the Rambam in halachic matters, much like Sephardim rely primarily on the Shulchan Aruch and Ashkenazim rely on the Shulchan Aruch with the glosses of the Rema. And guess what? The Rambam holds that a shofar must be made from a ram’s horn, not a kudu horn. So it would seem the Yemenite shofar is not so Yemenite.

However, a large segment of Yemenite Jewry did not accept the Rambam as the main decisor of halacha, and they do have a custom to use a kudu horn on Rosh Hashana.

According to Rabbi Natan Slifkin, today the majority of Yemenites use a kudu horn, and he argues that ironically, since a significant segment of Yemenite Jewry adheres to the Rambam’s rulings, a kudu shofar is actually more kosher for use among Ashkenazi or Sephardic Jews (who follow the Shulchan Aruch) than for Yemenite Jews.

Kudu Horn

The greater kudu, Tragelaphus strepsiceros, a large antelope whose horns, with up to three full twists, are among the largest of any animal. Owing to their magnificent appearance, they are often used outside of the Yemenite Jewish community, but because they originated there, they are commonly referred to as “Yemenite shofars.”

The last chief rabbi of Yemen, Rabbi Amram Korach, writes that Yemenites were accustomed to blow a “long and twisted [shofar], two or three twists, and its sound was pure and eerie. Some said that it was from an animial that was similar to sheep. Therefore they did not concern themselves with [the Rambam’s] stringency that only sheep horns are kosher, since they saw that this shofar enhances the mitzvah in its stature and its sound was stronger than that of a sheep’s horn, and to the present day they blow the mitzvah blasts with this shofar, according to the rulings of the Geonim that all twisted shofars are undoubtedly kosher” (Sa’arat Teiman, Jerusalem 1954).

Rabbi Ovady Melamed argues that rams’ horns are easier to obtain than kudu horns, and this proves that there must have been an ancient Yemenite tradition that predated the Rambam, according to which kudu horns are acceptable, and perhaps even preferable because of the greater number of curves.

However, Rabbi Shlomo Muchrar, an elderly Yemenite who now lives in the Haifa area, says he recalls that the kudu horn was only used because in certain parts of Yemen sheep with usable horns were virtually non-existent.

The Shofar Man has been quite a character online for a number of years.  His motto: “The Shofar Man is more than a business, it’s a calling!” I believe him on that. He seems to have a lot of energy and enthusiasm, both for shofars and selling shofars.

The Shofar Man

The Shofar Man, a.k.a. Jim Barbarossa, outside the White House in 2015

The Shofar Man, a.k.a. Jim Barbarossa, got his start with shofars 20 years ago, on a trip to Eretz Yisrael. Like many tourists, he bought a large Yemenite shofar, and then, “[to his] surprise, G-d spoke to him to blow the Shofar as He would lead him.” A few months later his wife had a dream that she was pregnant and Jim blew a shofar to help her in delivery. On a trip to Africa Jim “blew the Shofar as G-d directed, and deliverances, healings, and miracles followed.”

He now sells an enormous range of different types of shofars. Many of them are certainly not kosher and it would be much more accurate to describe them as horns, not shofars.

A number of remarks listed on The Shofar Man website sound quite peculiar.

  • “All Shofar [sic] are imported directly from Israel.” This makes little sense, since a large number of the type of horns he sells are not available in Israel and certainly none of the shofar makers there has anything to do with them.
  • “Do yourself a favor and do not purchase a Shofar until you have personally heard our exceptional sounding Shofars for yourself.  If you call (219) 250-2187, The Shofar Man will personally sound an exceptional sounding Shofar.” That’s a nice offer, but it doesn’t seem to fit in with his return policy: “Because of health reasons, we have a no return policy on all Shofars…Would you want to purchase a Shofar that someone else bought and used (spit in), then returned?”
  • “I have come to the conclusion that all Shofars have an odor to them and it is just the nature of a Shofar.” That’s certainly true, but elsewhere on his website he sells a supposedly “Odor Free Shofar.”

If you ask me, it doesn’t make much sense to buy a shofar from an Arab wheeler-dealer in the Old City of Jerusalem, or from a guy out in Indiana — especially since his prices seem exorbitant. I would stick with a traditional shofar from the Land of Israel. Here are a few kosher shofar sellers I know:

  1. HaSofer – They really specialize in mezuzahs and tefillin, but they have a decent shofar selection.
  2. Jericho Shofar – A unique shofar dealer that allows you to see each individual shofar they sell.
  3. Kol Shofar – Mostly ram’s horn shofars made by Shimon Keinon, a veteran shofar maker in the Golan Heights.

Yemenite Shofar Buying Tips

February 10, 2015

If you’re thinking of buying a Yemenite shofar, but have never actually seen a one up close, and held it in your hands, the following tips will help you choose one that has the right look, feel and sound.

Yemenite Shofar Sizes

Featured imageA kudu shofar normally measures somewhere between 20 inches and 50 inches, measured around the curve, from the mouthpiece to the aperture. Keep in mind that a very large kudu shofar, say 40″-50″ is also quite heavy. In fact, I have even seen musical appearances that include a shofar where a special stand was used so that the shofar player would not have to bear all the weight for an extended period of time.

A long shofar is also going to invariably be from a kudu antelope that was alive for many years, meaning some some marks on the back side of the shofar, near the aperture are very likely. Some people may actually prefer to have a shofar from an animal that has been around, that may have weathered some battles and tight situations. Others want a shofar with a smooth, even surface.

Shape

The shape of kudu shofars, unlike a ram’s horn shofar, does not vary significantly. However, some are curled more tightly, while others will be a bit straighter.

Color

Usually around the mouthpiece you will find a lot of black, sometimes all black. The underside is often tan with reddish blotches and the top side is beaver brown.

A half-polished Yemenite shofar is completely polished near the mouthpiece and then along the remainder of the length, only on the underside. A fully polished shofar is smooth on all sides.

Where to buy a Yemenite shofar

If you plan to be in Israel, you may want to stop by some Judaica stores. Most will let you try to blow the shofar to text the sound. Keep in mind that a typical Judaica store may have a selection of a dozen ram’s horn shofars, but only two or three Yemenite shofars.

If you want to buy online, you can try Amazon and eBay, if you find a seller you feel confident with.

The other avenue is to go with a Judaica webstore or even a specialty shofar webstore. But keep in mind that most only have photos for illustrative purposes. A notable exception is Jericho Shofar, which has individual product images to allow you to choose.

Shofar Behind Bars

April 2, 2014

The Talmud discusses whether one can fulfill the obligation to hear the shofar while inside a cistern since the sound of the shofar must come directly, not as an echo.

Shofar blower Michael Chusid knows what the inside of a “cistern” looks like. For several years, on Rosh Hashana he took his shofar into the depths of the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Prison.

If this piece of Talmud is interpreted on a deeper level, that can be quite a challenge when blowing a shofar inside a concrete bunker at what is described as the “Largest Prison in the Free World,” because the walls echo with the sound of so many of society’s failings, plus the fears and uncertainty facing the woeful residents.

Yet all the Rosh Hashana messages about teshuva — that a genuine turnaround is really attainable — come into much greater focus when discussed with someone who has seen the darkness of violence, addiction, crime and incarceration.

Yossi Carron, a chaplain at the facility, used the themes of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to help the men understand that forgiveness is possible and that by taking responsibility for their actions, their future does not have to be determined by their pasts.

“The residents recognized that I was in the prison by choice,” said Chusid. “It was meaningful for them to know that they had not been forgotten by or completely severed from the outside world. Some had never heard a shofar before and were trying to reconnect with their Jewish heritage to help them have faith in their future.”

One inmate told Chusid the sound of shofar was seared into his heart, enabling him to tap into Rosh Hashana and the sound of the shofar throughout the year.

As the guards were preparing to strip search him before the brief visit, he told Chusid, “If I can keep hearing the shofar, it will remind me of what [Carron] told us. Then, maybe, this will be my last time in prison.”

 

While most people have the privilege of hearing all 100 blasts of the shofar from the comfort of their shul seat, in every town there are also Jews who can’t make it to the synagogue — even on Rosh Hashana — because they are hospitalized, housebound or institutionalized.

Many shofar blowers view these hapless folk as an opportunity to take Rosh Hashana beyond the synagogue walls and to earn a double mitzva: visiting the sick (bikur cholim) or doing acts of kindness (chessed), and enabling others to fulfill the commandment to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashana.

In some cases these mitzvah-seekers may be organized into a “shofar corps,” making sure that if someone wants to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashana, a traveling shofar blower will come to them.

For several years, master shofar blower Michael Chusid of Tarzana, California participated in a monthly Shabbat service at a nursing home. Several members of the minyan were unable to speak and were locked in bodies they no longer controlled. “Yet somehow,” Chusid recalls, “I could sense that even their souls were moved when they heard the shofar at our Rosh Hashana gathering.”

Another member of the Shofar Corps run by his congregation, Makom Ohr Shalom, blew the shofar at a different nursing home. After he finished blowing the shofar an elderly gentleman approached him saying, “Young man, that’s the first sound I’ve heard in 30 years.”

According to another shofar blower who ventured with shofar in hand to a facility for people with impaired memory, “Just saying the word tekia triggered a couple of people’s memories, and they would light up like a happy kid. We led the Shehechiyanu and translated it, giving thanks for being right here, right now. These people are in the Right Now — each moment is a new day for many of them.”

“Hearing the shofar can be especially meaningful to those who are sick and live with the knowledge that their days may be numbered,” writes Chusid. “The call of the shofar may reassure them that, in sickness as in health, we each stand before God as the Holy One passes judgment. For the dying and their families, prayers of teshuva take on a special urgency, and hearing the shofar may provide them comfort.”

Go to Jericho Shofar>>

 

Shofar Ring Tones

April 2, 2014

With Elul already upon us and Rosh Hashana rapidly approaching, why not put a wake-up call for your soul on your cell-phone? Shofar ringtones can now be downloaded for free at Zedge. Other shofar ringtones are available at beeMP3 or try Daniel ben Yossef’s shofar ringtone at Audiko. Another shofar app, Shofar Hero by Yotam Gingold, features a 55-second tekia gedola.

Meanwhile, RustyBrick.com is offering an application that allows you to familiarize yourself with the various shofar sounds tekia, shevarim, terua, tekiah gedola for your iPhone or iPod Touch.

On a related note, you might enjoy a song by Ari Goldwag called “Finally Here.”

Lyrics:

As he walked home from yeshiva,

a sound reached his ears

clear and majestic, unmistakably near

Joy filled his heart

He’s finally here, Moshiach’s finally here.

He ran all the way home

said to his dad,

“Did you hear it – the shofar

or am I going mad?”

“Not now, my son,

can it wait ’til later, when the business news is done.”

CHORUS:

Where is our hope, our faith, our pride?

Where’s the desire, the love deep inside?

When we say we want Ben Dovid to come

We can’t fool ourselves or the Holy One.

She heard it, at first faintly

a note long and clear

steadily the sound grew

’til it was all she could hear

Joy filled her heart

He’s finally here, Moshiach’s finally here.

She rushed to the kitchen,

got on the phone.

“Sister, can you hear it

or is it me alone?”

“Can you call back tonight?

I’m facebooking now, so I hope it’s alright…”

CHORUS

When we finally hear the shofar

After all these many years

Our emotions can run deeply

moving us to tears

Joy will fill our hearts

When he’s finally here,

When Moshiach’s finally here.

We must strengthen our hope, our faith, our pride.

We can find the desire, the love deep inside.

When we say we want Ben Dovid to come

We can reconnect to the Holy One.

  • Featured in Edward Elgar’s oratorio “The Apostles” (usually other instruments, such as the flugelhorn, are usually used).
  • Featured in the last movement of Aaron Minsky’s Judaica Concert Suite, “Sound the Shofar.”
  • Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov includes shofar blasts in “Rocketekya,” “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind,” “Rose of the Winds” and “Tekya.”
  • Romanian composer Anghel Irinel uses a shofar in “Labryinthe” and “Images Flottantes.”
  • Isaac Sinwani, a Jew of Yemenite descent, opened his performance of Ofra Haza’s song Im Nin Alu at one of Madonna’s concerts with a shofar.
  • Film composer Jerry Goldsmith used shofar sounds in the soundtracks for Planet of the Apes and Aliens.
  • Salem (Israeli Mizrahi band) uses the shofar in their adaptation of a psalm.
  • Late trumpeter Lester Bowie played a shofar with the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
  • The former bassist for Phish is credited for playing the shofar In Joey Arkenstat’s album Bane.
  • David Haskell blew the shofar in the first act of the musical “Godspell.”
  • Israeli composer and singer Shlomo Gronich uses the Yemenite shofar to produce a very wide range of notes.

On YouTube you can hear Metropolitan Klezmer trumpeter Pam Fleming trying out her latest horn, a kudu Yemenite shofar.

 

Shofar on Rosh HaShanah

March 18, 2014

The shofar is generally made out of a ram’s horn, and the Blowing of the Shofar has many purposes and many layers of meaning.

If it is made of a ram’s horn, rather than an eland, ibex or kudu horn, it calls to mind the ram that Abraham sacrificed in place of Isaac. And it helps instill in us awe and fear of Hashem’s glory, as it says in Amos 3:6: “If a ram’s horn is sounded in the city, can the inhabitants fail to be alarmed?”

The word “shofar,” is similar to the word “shapru,” Hebrew for “beautify”, which is to remind us to beautify our deeds and correct our actions.

The shape of the shofar also hints at of our relationship with G-d. The shofar has a narrow end and a wide end. We blow into the shofar at the narrow, tapered end, and the sound comes out of the wider end, as in some musical instruments. This alludes to the verse, “From the straits I called upon Hashem, Hashem answered me expansively” (Psalms 118:5), which we actually recite before the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. In other words, when we are in dire straits we pray to Hashem, and He responds by helping us with expansively, i.e., with bountiful help and support.

One person is designated as the shofar blower, which is a difficult task, and in any case should be performed by a righteous person, since in a sense he is representing us.

On Rosh Hashanah we are judged. The Tempting Angel, who is also our Accuser, stands before the Heavenly Court and enumerates our sins. But the Talmud tells us that whenever we perform a Mitzvah the Accuser is silenced as long as we are doing that Mitzvah. Thus, while we are listening to the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, we cannot be accused. Therefore, this is a very opportune time to silently repent our sins.

Judaism does not believe in confessing to human beings. When you confess, do so quietly, so that only Hashem and you can hear it. If you have sinned against another human being, you must ask that person for forgiveness first (not while the shofar is being blown, of course), and afterwards confess quietly to Hashem and resolve to try not to sin again.

Our blowing of the shofar is also like crying. It is our cry to Hashem to show that we are sorry for our sins.

There are three types of sounds that we blow on the shofar: one straight sound, a set of three brief sounds, and a set of staccato sounds. Why these sounds? Eac represents a different crying sound: the long moan, brief groans, or choppy cries. Sometimes a crying person makes various kinds of crying sounds, catching his breath, bleating, even hicupps, at times.

This reminds us that Hashem has mercy on us like a father has on his crying children, giving them what they need and comforting them.

Today is the birthday of the world. Today all creatures of the world stand in judgement, either as children or as servants. If as children, be merciful with us as a father has mercy on his children. If as servants, our eyes look to You, in dependance upon You, until You are gracious to us and acquit us with a verdict as clear as day, O Awesome and Holy One.

We blow the shofar in a number of stages: some of the blasts we blow immediately after the blessing, and the other blasts are disbursed throughout the prayers.

The gemsbok shofar has been gradually making its way onto the shofar market in recent years. According to Rabbi Natan Slifkin, it is made from the horn of an antelope, the southern African oryx (Oryx gazella), known in Afrikaans as the “gemsbok.”

The horns are about two and a half feet long, straight, ridged along half their length, and dark brown or black in color, lending the shofar a striking appearance that can command a hefty price. They are considered kosher, but according to halacha are not preferred, because they are not bent. However, for the Jubilee year, the Mishna states that a straight horn is ideal (Rosh Hashana 3:2).

A gemsbok at Etosha National Park in Namibia

Another exotic shofar appearing on the shofar market is the eland shofar, which is straight, but has a twist (not a curve) along part of its length. Ibex shofars and pronghorn shofars are also sometimes sold, and are kosher, but not preferable. (According to the Pri Megadim, the ibex shofar is preferable to the eland shofar, because the ibex is from the goat family and the Torah uses the same terminology for goats and sheep.)