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Shofar Through the Ages

by Deena Weinberg

While an entire book can be written about the halacha (laws) surrounding the mitzvah of sounding the shofar, including how and when to blow the shofar, requirements for a kosher shofar, who should blow the shofar and the meaning of the tekiyot, remarkable is how the symbol of the shofar has remained at the forefront of Jewish culture throughout the ages. The shofar is featured in Jewish art, Jewish literature, modern art, posters, postage stamps and more. In fact, today you can even listen to shofar sounds on the Web.

Let’s take a quick journey through time, looking at where and when the shofar has appeared and how it continues to be an influential, heart-stirring instrument and symbol of Jewish heritage to the present day.

Shofar Timeline

  • The word “shofar” appears 72 times in the Tanach (the Jewish Bible), including when the Jewish people received the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai
  • The most famous reference to the shofar occurs in the Book of Joshua, where the shofar took center stage in the battle plan to capture Jericho: “Then the Lord said to Joshua… March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in” (Joshua 6:2-5).
  • During Temple times, sounds of the shofar and trumpets marked important occasions and ceremonies; according to the Mishna, an ibex horn was sounded on Rosh Hashanah and during the Yovel, while a silver-ornamented ram’s horn was sounded on fast days
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls relate that shofar blasts served as a powerful war cry during battle to instill fear in the hearts of the enemy
  • According to the Midrash, the blowing of the shofar arouses God’s forgiveness as God remembers Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, as related in the story of the Akedah (Genesis 22:1-24)
  • The Rambam (Maimonides) states that sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is intended to awaken the soul and to turn our hearts towards repentance (teshuvah)
  • Throughout history, stories of the “lost shofar” have emerged, including stirring stories about shofar blowing during the Holocaust
  • In June 1967, after Israeli troops entered Jerusalem’s Old City for the first time in 19 years, the shofar was sounded at the Western Wall by then chief rabbi Shlomo Goren as Paratroop Brigade Commander Mordechai Gur issued the immortal cry: “The Temple Mount is in our hands!”
  • Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach wrote many moving pieces about the shofar, including: “Our holy rabbis teach us that the sound of the shofar is the sound of our innermost soul and heart but also the sound of a newborn baby. It is everything. It wakes us up, gives us strength, reminds us how holy we are and how holy we can be, and also how close we are and how easy it is to be the best and most exalted.” (September 2, 1994)

Today you can find the symbol of the shofar featured in Jewish calendars, shofar ring tones, e-cards, jewelry, bookplates, t-shirts and more. You can find a whole treasure chest of shofar humor online and you can attend the International Day of Shofar Study in person to discover even more insights and revelations regarding this fascinating, timeless and enduring symbol of Jewish culture.

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