Posted on

The Three Shofars of Redemption

The following excerpt is part of a Rosh Hashanah sermon given in 1933 by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of pre-state Israel (then known as Palestine), at a time when Zionist migration to Palestine was increasing in response to growing oppression by Nazi and Stalinist regimes in Europe.

What is the shofar horn made of?

There are three categories of shofars that may be blown on Rosh Hashanah. The first category, the optimal shofar, is made of the horn of a ram. If such a horn is not available, then a shofar made of the horn of any kosher animal (except a cow) may be used. If no kosher shofars are available, then one may blow on any horn, even from a ritually unclean animal. When using a non-kosher horn, however, no bracha [blessing] is recited.

These three shofars of Rosh Hashanah correspond to three “shofars of redemption,” summoning the Jewish people to be redeemed and redeem their land.

The preferred “shofar of redemption” is the divine call that awakens the people through holy motivations — out of faith in God and the sanctity of the people of Israel. This form of awakening corresponds to a shofar made of a ram’s horn, recalling the holy dedication of Akeidat Yitzchak (the Binding of Isaac) — It is for this “great shofar,” an awakening of spiritual greatness, that we pray.

There is also a second “shofar of redemption,” a lower level of awakening. This shofar calls out to the Jews to come to the Land of Israel, to return to the land of our ancestors, our prophets and our kings. It beckons us to live as a free people in our homeland, educate our children in a Jewish environment, and so on. This is a kosher shofar, albeit not a great shofar like the first type of awakening. We may still recite a bracha over this shofar.

There is, however, a third type of shofar. [At this point, Rav Kook burst out in tears.] The least preferred shofar comes from the horn of an unclean animal. This shofar is the wake-up call that comes from anti-Semitic nations, warning the Jews to escape while they still can and flee to their own land. Enemies force them to be redeemed. They sound out the trumpets of war, bombarding them with deafening threats of persecution and torment, giving them no respite. The shofars of unclean beasts are transformed into the messianic shofar.

Whoever failed to listen to the calls of the first two shofars, will be forced to listen to the call of this last shofar. On this shofar, however, no blessing is recited, for “one does not recite a blessing over a cup of affliction.”

Posted on

How does the shofar operate on a spiritual plane?

Obviously the shofar has its effect in the spiritual realm. What exactly does it do? The Rambam addresses that question, not in Hilchot Shofar, but rather in Hilchot Tshuva. There, in Halacha 4, he notes that blowing the shofar is first and foremost a written statute (“gezeirat hak’tuv“), i.e. the meaning behind the shofar is not necessarily something we need to delve into. However, he explains, a hint to its significance can be found in a Biblical verse.

עורו עורו ישנים משינתכם, והקיצו נרדמים מתרדמתכם

This is a reference, writes the Rambam, to those who forget the truth in the pursuit of emptiness, as time passes by, and in their slumber they chase after emptiness that has no purpose.

The mashgiach of Yeshivat Mir-Brachfeld explains that when a house catches fire and someone is asleep inside, the real danger is if he does not wake up. But once he wakes up, smells the smoke and sees the flames, he leaps onto his feet and runs out the door. Once he’s a wake, he knows what to do. So really all he has to do is hear the shofar, internalize the meaning and the message, and depart on a new course.

However, he adds, citing Rav Yisrael Salanter, waking up is a multi-phase endeavor in our day and age. We’re like people who sometimes wake up in a daze, not sure where we are — or even who we are — and take a while to come to our senses.

Leveraging the Sound of the Shofar

I heard an observant woman say recently, “The shofar has no real effect on me.” It seems she is under the misconception that along comes the blast of the shofar and sets you onto the right course automatically, pushing you along.

That may be true, to some extent, but only if you have your sail is unfurled!

The Sefer HaChinuch, in Mitzvah 405, explains that Rosh Hashanah is about pleading for clemency. To achieve this, first one must be fully cognizant of the gravity of the situation. To awaken to this reality we have a powerful tool at our disposal: the shofar. The sound of the shofar has the power to stir the heart of those who hear it. And even more powerful is the sound of the terua, the broken blast of the shofar.

Interestingly, in Mitzvah 331, the Sefer HaChinuch seems to take a different tack. There he contrasts the mitzvah of blowing the shofar to declare freedom in the Yovel year to the mitzvah of shofar on Rosh Hashana, which he explains is meant to encourage us to contemplate Akeidas Yitzchak (the Binding of Isaac), and to imagine ourselves doing the same for the love of Hashem. As a result, a positive remembrance will arise before Him, i.e. we will be acquitted before Him.

Posted on

Shofar halacha: Rabbinical prohibitions

Although blowing the shofar is prescribed by Torah law, under certain circumstances Rabbinical decrees can override it and actually prohibit blowing the shofar entirely. The Sages determined that one must forego a positive Torah commandment if the alternative would be to transgress any Rabbinical prohibition. Therefore if a shofar was buried under a pile of rocks or another type of object that is forbidden to move on Yom Tov, or if was resting on a tree branch or beyond the 2,000 cubits we are permitted to walk, or on the far side of a river, we simply cannot fulfill the mitzvah.

Although a Jew is not permitted to ask a non-Jew to do a Torah prohibition for him on Yom Tov, it is permitted to ask him to do a Rabbinical prohibition when a mitzvah is involved. Thus the Mishnah Berurah (586, 21 s.v. 86), citing the Chayei Adam (140, 19), writes that if a shofar must be brought across a river by boat, it would be permitted to have a non-Jew transport it, if no other option is available.

The Mishnah Berurah adds that even if you had a type of shofar other than a a ram’s horn shofar, it would be permitted to have a non-Jew bring a ram’s horn shofar, which is considered the preferred way to fulfill the mitzvah

Posted on

A shofar in Auschwitz

When Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Meisels, known as the Veitzener Rav, was a prisoner in Auschwitz, where his wife and several relatives perished, he managed somehow to get a shofar and blow it on Rosh Hashanah.

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah 1944, a group of 1,400 teenage boys scheduled to be sent to the crematorium the next day heard that Rabbi Meisels had a shofar and was a skilled baal tokei’ah (shofar blower). They begged him to come into their block and sound the shofar for them. At the risk of being discovered and being killed with the boys the next day, he bribed the guards and entered the block, shofar in hand.

“The boys who were locked in the block and were about to be sent to the crematoria found out that I had a shofar,” Rabbi Meisels recounted in his memoirs. “I heard shouts and entreaties emanating from their block, imploring me to come to them and sound the 100 blasts of the shofar so they could fulfill this precious mitzvah on Rosh Hashanah in their last moments of life, before they would be martyred for Kiddush Hashem.

“I was beside myself and completely confounded, because this involved a tremendous risk; it was nearing twilight, a dangerous hour, and the Nazis would be coming to take them. If the Nazis were to suddenly show up while I was in there with the youngsters, no doubt they would take me to the crematoria as well. The Kapos, so famous for their ruthlessness, would not let me escape.

“I stood there weighing the situation and trying to decide what to do. It was very doubtful that I should take the risk to blow the shofar for the boys in such a dangerous situation, and it was not clear that the risk would be justified even if there were some doubt about the danger. But the youths bitter supplications were heart-piercing. ‘Rebbe, rebbe! Please, for the sake of God, have pity on our souls. We beg you to enable us to observe this mitvah in our last moments.’ I stood there frozen. I was all alone in my decision.

“In addition to my doubts as to whether it was justified to take the risk, my dear son Zalman Leib stood next to me, and he too entreated me with bitter sobs. Father, father! Don’t do this and endanger yourself because this may turn me into an orphan, and leave me stranded and alone. Father, father! Don’t go, don’t enter that block. You aren’t obligated to take the risk. You already blew the shofar so many times, and each time you risked your life. You have done more than enough. He went on beseeching me not to accede to the boys’ request.

“As I gazed at my son, pity and compassion welled up in me, and I saw that in a certain respect he was correct.

“But on the other hand the boys wailing gave me no peace and aroused in my heart tremendous compassion for them. Maybe this mitzvah would give them some protection during the difficulties that lie ahead. I was bewildered. A number of chassidim and other inmates awoke due to the boys urgent pleading and they added their voices to the youths’ pleas, saying that there was still much time left, and I would be able to enter their barracks and exit in time, and that someone who is going to do a mitzvah engenders some protective defense.

“I reached a decision. Come what may, I could not turn the boys down. I would ignore the pleas of my dear son. I immediately started negotiating with the vile Kapos, who didn’t want to let me in. I thought it would soon be too late, and I wouldn’t have another chance to blow for the boys. So eventually, after some of the other men there interceded and a sizable bribe was collected and offered, the Kapos agreed to our request, but warned me twice that if the bell at the gate sounded, meaning that the S.S. were coming to the camp, then my fate would be sealed along with the boys in the block, because by no means would the Kapos then allow me to leave.

A block at Auschwitz

“I accepted their terms and went into the youths. But first I told my son Zalman Leib to stand in the street and watch the gate from a distance. If he saw the S.S. men coming he should run and alert me immediately and I would leave the block, even if I was in the middle of the teki’ot.

“Truth be told, my decision was probably at variance with the strict halachah, which rules that you do not endanger yourself, or even put yourself slightly at risk, to perform the mitzvah of shofar. But my underlying reasoning was that either way whether I sounded the shofar or not I did not have much of a chance of survival. Who knew in Auschwitz how much more time he had to live? Day in, day out, we saw before our eyes thousands of our fellow Jews murdered and burned, or collapsing in the fields from slave labor. Our lives were not worth a penny. This was the main reason I put myself at risk, even though I knew that strictly speaking there was no halachic justification.

“Where is the pen, and where is the writer who could possibly put on paper my inner feelings when I entered that block? It is a miracle that my heart was not splintered into pieces when I saw the dozens of youthful eyes and heard their terrible sobbing. With tears burning and voices beseeching to the heavens, they pressed toward me, to kiss my hand, to touch my clothes, wailing, ‘Rebbe, rebbe! Have mercy, have mercy,’ and similar pleas that your ears cannot bear to hear.

“Some of them were my students and others were from my town. When I began to recite the verses preceding the shofar blowing, Min Hameitzar, From the depths do I cry out to Hashem, they burst into a cry and demanded that I deliver a drashah. They insisted on a sermon and would not even let me continue the prayer. I was so stunned and moved that I was mute, my tongue clung to my palate, and I could not open my mouth. I was also afraid that if there were any further delay this window of opportunity would be shut. Dusk would soon settle and the ensuing danger would be great.

“But I acquiesced to their pleading and began a sermon on the verse from Psalm 81, Blow the shofar at the moons removal, at the time appointed for our festive day, emphasizing how much has been removed from our lives and taken away. The despicable oppressors took away our families. What would be our end? Who would come out of here whole? Hashem is to a great extent now hidden from us. I reminded them that the Talmud teaches (Brachot 10a) that even when a sword dangles at your throat, you must not despair of Divine mercy.

“I must continue relating what happened, so that future generations will know the great devotion, mesirut nefesh and holy words I heard that day from those teenagers in the moments before they were taken to their deaths. After I sounded the teki’ot I tried to go outside. One boy stood in my way and uttered a mournful cry. ‘Friends, the Rebbe gave us encouragement; even when a sword dangles at your throat.’ The others responded amidst their tears with a reverberating Shema Yisrael.

“As I left, a few boys followed me. With tears streaming down their faces they asked whether I had some morsels of bread, a kzayit [the minimum amount halachically considered to constitute a meal] in order to fulfill in their last moments another mitzvah that of the festive meal of Rosh Hashanah. In the 24 hours since they had been locked in their block they had not eaten or drunk a thing. According to halachah it is forbidden to fast on Rosh Hashanah. I was crestfallen that I had nothing to give them and I would not be able to come to their block again. This was a bitter day for them, all the more so because in addition to everything else, they were forced to fast on a festival as they were being taken to the pyre. May Hashem soon avenge their deaths.

“What happened that terrible Rosh Hashanah flashes through my minds eye and reverberates in my ears: young boys with strength of character and bravery who sanctified Hashem’s name in public with great clarity of mind. I understand why the Binding of Isaac is read on Rosh Hashanah and why the Midrash says it took place on this day. For generations this day has been marked for kiddush Hashem in public with the mesirut nefesh and dedication that characterized the Binding of Isaac on the altar. These youths sanctified themselves, and sanctified Hashem in the most dignified way. That serves as an example for us all.”

Translation of Rabbi Meisel’s memoirs courtesy of Cross-Currents.

See also:

A Tallit in Auschwitz

Posted on

Shofar miracle in Moscow

by B. Moskoff

Many years ago in Moscow, in pure Russian tradition, the government enacted decrees against Jewish practice, culminating in the expulsion of all Jews from the city. All Jews – except those needed by the regime for their special skills. The vast majority left the city, but Rabbi Chaim Berlin, the city’s Chief Rabbi, refused to desert his flock. He remained in Moscow, seeing it his duty to assist his fellow Jews in whatever way he could. Of course, religious practices had to be carried out with extreme discretion. The Rabbi and his diminished community went to great lengths to continue their devoted Jewish life.

Rosh Hashanah is Coming

As Rosh Hashanah was approaching, Rabbi Berlin went to take the Shofar out of its place. To all the onlookers’ shock, the Shofar was cracked all along one side, deeming it pasul – unfit for fulfilling the mitzvah of blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah.

The community was profoundly disappointed, particularly the Rabbi, who could not imagine Rosh Hashanah without the traditional blowing of the ram’s horn.

When Rosh Hashana came, the Rabbi faced the realization that this year, he would not be listening to the Shofar blowing. Not one to wallow, the great rabbi sat down to contemplate what to do.

“What does G-d want from me now? True, I cannot hear the Shofar, but I can study the laws regarding the Shofar.”

So, that was what Rabbi Chaim Berlin did that year. He stayed up the whole Rosh Hashanah night researching all the ins and outs of the Shofar.

An Unusual Sight

Just before dawn Rosh Hashanah morning, the rabbi headed towards the synagogue. As he quickly made his way, he saw something unusual in an approaching wagon. Incredulous, the rabbi got closer, just to make sure his eyes weren’t fooling him. But it was really true! The wagon was decorated with all kinds of interesting ornaments, and hanging just above the wagon driver’s head was a genuine Shofar!

Rabbi Berlin asked the driver where he had obtained the ram’s horn. The eccentric driver hastily blurted out, “I’m sorry, Rabbi. I didn’t know it was yours!” After more prodding, the driver admitted that he had an obsession with trumpets and horns, and when the Jews had been expelled from the city, he grabbed the opportunity. He stole into the synagogue and snatched the Shofar that he had been eyeing for years.

Certain that Rabbi Berlin was the rabbi of that synagogue, the wagon driver quickly handed him the Shofar, before the police would throw him into jail.

Rabbi Berlin’s joy knew no bounds. His devotion to the mitzvah of Shofar, his willingness to stay awake all night to at least study its laws, even if he couldn’t actually carry them out, earned him this amazing miracle. Surely the Shofar in Moscow that year sounded sweeter than any melodious trumpet or clarinet ever blown. Because it was a blast of devotion to Rosh Hashanah, to Jewish tradition, and to God.

(Adapted from Aleynu Leshabeiach, Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein, Vol. II, p. 343)

Posted on

Saudia Gaon’s 10 Reasons for Sounding the Shofar

Saadia Gaon, born in Egypt in the late 900’s CE, was a prominent rabbi and Jewish philosopher and is considered the founder of Judeo-Arabic literature. He writes that the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah contains ten symbolic elements:


  1. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Creation, the day when God created the world and   became its Sovereign. As it is customary to sound trumpets to glorify a king and proclaim one’s   subservience to him, similarly do we show our acceptance of God’s dominion by sounding the   shofar.


  1. Rosh Hashanah marks the first day of the Ten Days of Repentance. We therefore sound the   shofar as a means of announcing and warning that this period has begun. It is as if we announce:   Those who choose to repent should do so now, and if they choose not to do so, let them not   come later and complain about their fate. This too is the manner in which kings exercise their   dominion, announcing their decrees to the accompaniment of trumpet blasts.


  1. The sounding of the shofar served as a reminder of the revelation at Mount Sinai, which was   also accompanied by shofar blasts. Thus, by listening to the shofar and remembering that event,   we once again accept upon ourselves that which our fathers accepted upon themselves when they   heard the shofar blasts.


  1. The sounding of the shofar serves to remind us of the remonstrations of our Prophets which   are compared to the sounding of the shofar, as the verses state: And if the listener shall hear   the sound of the shofar and not be careful, then the sword shall come and take him. And if he   shall be careful, then his soul has escaped” (Yechezkel 33:4-5).


  1. The sounding of the shofar serves to remind us of the destruction of the Temple and the   trumpet calls of the armies of our enemies. Thus when we hear the shofar, we should pray for   the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.


  1. The sounding of the shofar serves as a reminder of the shofar of the ram at the binding of   Yitzchak, who offered his life to God, but in whose place the ram was sacrificed instead. We too   should stand ready to make our lives a sanctification of His Name and we pray that this serve as   a source of merit for us.


  1. The sounding of the shofar instills a sense of trepidation and fear that leads us to humble   ourselves before G-d, as the verse states: “If the shofar is sounded in the city, will people not   tremble?” (Amos 3:8).


  1. The sounding of the shofar serves to remind us of the forthcoming great Day of judgment, as   the verses state: “The great day of G-d is near, close and quick [to come].. . is the day of [the   sounding of] the shofar and the teruah” (Tzefania 1:14,16).


  1. The sounding of the shofar serves as a reminder of the future ingathering of the dispersed   exiles of Israel and to awaken our yearning for it, of which the verse states: “And it shall be on   that day, the great shofar shall be sounded and those who have been lost among Ashur shall   come [back]” (Yeshayahu 27:13).


  1. The sounding of the shofar serves to remind us of the resurrection of the dead, as the verse   states: “All those inhabitants of the world and those who dwell in the earth, when a   sign is lifted upon the mountains you shall see and when the shofar is sounded you shall hear” (ibid. 18:3).
Posted on

Kosher shofar for Rosh Hashana and Yovel

The Mishnah describes two types of kosher shofar:

  1. Rosh Hashana – a straight shofar made from a “ya’el” horn, with a gold-plated mouthpiece. Rashi says ya’el refers to a steinbok, while the Aruch says a ya’el refers to a female sheep. The Ran sides with Rashi’s definition, citing two textual proofs. He also explains that the gold-plate is not on the tip, where one places the mouth.
  2. Taanit (fast day) – a bent shofar made from a male animal, with a silver-plated mouthpiece. The Ran says a bent (i.e. curved) shofar is used to distinguish it from a Rosh Hashana shofar.

The Gemara explains that a shofar used for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur should be curved. So why did it say above “ya’el pashut” (a straight horn)? The fact is the halacha goes according to Rav Yehuda, who holds it should be bent to teach us how to bend ourselves (i.e. change ourselves).

kosher shofar
A straight (Gemsbok) shofar

The reason ya’el pashut was mentioned in the Mishnah was to make it clear that a bent shofar is for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, but not for the Yovel. The Ran explains that a straight shofar is ideal for the Yovel because it is a sign of liberty or liberation. He then asks whether the debate between kafuf (bent) and pashut (straight) is merely a mitzvah or a mandatory requirement. Following a long give-and-take the Ran concludes that we follow the advice of Rav Levy and use a bent shofar for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, however this is merely considered the preferred form of the mitzvah and not an inviolable precept. The Ran lays forth the following conclusions regarding kosher shofars:

  1. Any type of shofar can be used, if necessary, with two exceptions: a cow horn or a horn made of the zachrus (the bony core of an animal horn).
  2. A bent/curved shofar is preferred.
  3. A ram’s horn is ideal.

The Shiltei Giborim adds examples, saying a kosher shofar can be made from the horn of a goat or antelope, even if it’s a straight, but a ram’s horn is best, because it serves as a reminder of Akeidas Yitzchak, where Avraham Avinu sacrificed a ram in lieu of his beloved son.

As an end note, the Ran suggests that although we have established that the horns of any animal except a cow can be used, perhaps only kosher animals are acceptable. He cites Shabbos 28a, which says only a kosher animal can be used for a Maleches Shamayim (a divine endeavor), and blowing the shofar is considered a Maleches Shamayim.

Posted on

Why the shofar is blown on Rosh Hashana

The Torah does not explicitly mention the shofar in conjunction with Rosh Hashana. The verse only tells us

יום תרועה יהיה לכם

The key word here is teruah. However, a verse elsewhere tells us that the proclamation of the Jubilee Year is accomplished with a “shofar teruah.” Therefore the Talmudic Sages extrapolated that both of the teruah soundings in the seventh monthof the year (i.e. Tishrei) are done with a shofar (Rosh Hashana 33b).

Ram’s Horn Shofar

The Rambam writes that a shofar must be a bent ram’s horn. The Raavad and other Rishonim take issue with him, arguing that although a ram’s horn shofar may be ideal, other types of shofars, including a kudu horn, may also be used, with the exception of a cow horn.

Kudu horn shofarIn the Beis Hamidkash (the Holy Temple) the shofar player was flanked by two trumpet players, as described in the verse (Tehillim 98:6):

בחצוצרות וקול שופר הריעו לפני המלך ה

Apparently this applied elsewhere in Jerusalem, but not in the rest of the Land of Israel.

A shofar that has been used for idolatrous purposes should not be used, but if it was blown on Rosh Hashana, those who heard it did fulfill the mitzvah. Likewise, a stolen shofar should not be used, but if it was, then the mitzvah is fulfilled. The reason is that the mitzvah is to hear the sound of the shofar and the concept of theft does not apply to a sound. Indeed, the blessing recited is שמוע קול שופר .

The Raavad adds that even if theft did apply to sound, the mitzvah, as noted above, is to have a יום תרועה.

Posted on

Can you use a stolen shofar on Rosh Hashana?

Can a stolen shofar be used to fulfill the mitzvah on Rosh Hashana?

Obviously a stolen shofer should not be used on Rosh Hashana, based on the established Talmudic dictum, אין מצוה הבאה בעבירה, i.e. we do not carry out a mitzvah if doing so would involve committing a transgression. However, if someone did indeed steal a shofar and use it to fulfill the mitzvah, he does fulfill the obligation.

The reason is because, technically speaking, the mitzvah is actually not to blow the shofar, but to hear the sound of the shofar blown. What we really need is the sound produced by the shofar, not the shofar itself, and there is no such thing as stealing sound.

Can you use a borrowed shofar or do you have to be the owner, i.e. do you have to buy your own shofar? To do the mitzvah of taking hold of the Four Species on Sukkot, you must be the owner of the Four Species, since the verse which prescribes the mitzvah includes the word לכם (Vayikra 23:40), which comes to teach us that the Four Species must actually belong to you.

Likewise regarding shofar we find the word לכם (Bamidbar 29:1). However, regarding the mitzvah of shofar, the verse is a bit different.

יום תרועה יהיה לכם

Here we are told that there is to be a day of תרועה, of shofar blasts. Had it said ולקחתם לכם שופר — and take for yourselves a shofar, like the Torah instructs us to take hold of the Four Species on Sukkot — then we would understand that the shofar must belong to us. Since the shofar does not have to be yours, even if you do not buy a shofar, but borrow it without permission you can fulfill the mitzvah, since we have a rule that it is to one’s advantage to allow another person to perform a mitzvah with his possessions.

Posted on

Why is the shofar blown twice?

The Gemara asks why the shofar is blown twice: first, after the Torah reading and then a second time, divided into three sets, during Mussaf. The Gemara then answers, “to confound the Satan.”

The Ran explains that here the Satan refers to Yetzer Hara, and “to confound the Satan” means to subdue or vanquish the Yetzer Hara.

Shofar blasts on Rosh HashanaThe Tur presents two ways to understand the dynamics at work here: 1) To confound the Satan right away during the initial set of shofar blasts so that it is incapable of lodging claims during Mussaf. 2) To overwhelm the Satan during the initial shofar blowing, leaving the Satan reeling during the latter shofar blasts.

The Talmud Yerushalmi cites two verses: “He will swallow up death for ever…” (Yeshayahu 25:8) and “And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great horn shall be blown; and they shall come that were lost in the land of Assyria, and they that were dispersed in the land of Egypt; and they shall worship the LORD in the holy mountain at Jerusalem” (Yeshayahu 27:13).

The Gemara then proceeds to present the following interpretation: “When [the Satan/Yetzer Hara] hears the first sounding of the shofar it is startled, but unfazed, saying, ‘Perhaps the time for the Great Shofar has arrived.’ [But] when [it] hears the second time it says, ‘Certainly the time has arrived’ and it becomes confounded and is no longer free to serve as Prosecutor.”

The Smag explains that the Satan will not conclude that the time for the Great Shofar has arrived. However, it does serve as a reminder that when the time comes the Great Shofar will decimate him, therefore it is akin to a person who sees a dead person and therefore starts to contemplate his own end.

Posted on

What is the ideal shape for a ram’s horn shofar?

The Gemara informs us that it is a mitzvah on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to use a curved shofar because it reminds us to bend ourselves (i.e. bend and submit ourselves, rather than being stiff-necked and un-repentent). The remainder of the year a straight shofar is best (Rosh Hashana 26b).

Curved ram's horn shofarAnother reason to prefer a curved shofar is that it serves as a remembrance of the ram whose horns got tangled in the brush following the Binding of Isaac (Akeidas Yitzchak) and which was later sacrificed in place of Isaac.

The Ran writes that it is a mitzvah to use a more curved shofar, but it is not mandatory. The Rambam (Hilchos Shofar 1,1), on the other hand, holds that the shofar must be curved in order to fulfill the mitzvah.

ושופר שתוקעין בו בין בראש השנה בין ביובל הוא קרן הכבשים הכפוף

The Shulchan Aruch seems to side with the Ran.

If one is faced with a choice of using a curved shofar with mediocre sound or a straight shofar with very good sound, HaRav Nissim Karelitz writes that the curved shofar would be preferable. The reason, he explains, is that according to one opinion curved is required, whereas according to all opinions nicer sound is no more than an embellishment of the mitzvah (הידור מצוה).

Posted on

Required shofar sounds on Rosh Hashana

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 Yemenite 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.


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