The Origins of the Shofar

The command to sound the ram's horn is found in the Torah.

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Another ancient use of the horn on the New Year was to proclaim the coronation of the victorious gods. We can see how this practice has been reinterpreted in Jewish tradition, which sees Rosh Hashanah as the day when God, having completed the work of creation, is crowned king. In the words of the psalmist, "With trumpets and the blast of the horn, raise a shout before the Lord, the king" (Ps. 98:6).

Over the course of time, other meanings were ascribed to the symbol of the shofar. The most important is the connection made between the horn of the New Year and the horn of the ram in the story of the binding of Isaac. According to the Midrash, God instructed Abraham that whenever his children were in danger of punishment because of sin, they were to blow the shofar--the horn of the ram caught in the thicket. That act would "remind God," as it were, of the merits earned by the binding of Isaac, and the people would therefore be forgiven. The biblical idea of "remembrance" is thus enhanced with another meaning: God recalls the merit of Isaac and so redeems us from punishment for sin. The blowing of the shofar, then, serves to signify not only the coronation of God, but a means of arousing God to mercy.

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Rabbi Dr. Reuven Hammer

Rabbi Dr. Reuven Hammer is a former President of the International Rabbinical Assembly, he is one of the founders of the Masorti Movement in Israel and is currently Head of the Masorti Beth Din in Israel.