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).

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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 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

Let the shofar do the talking

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.