What Is a Shofar?

Blowing the ram's horn on the High Holidays.

A shofar is a ram’s horn that is blown like a trumpet during Rosh Hashanah services, every day except Shabbat during the preceding month of Elul, and at the end of Yom Kippur. The four sounds of the shofar — tekiah, shevarim, teruah, and tekiah gedolah — remind many people of a crying voice. Hearing the shofar’s call is a reminder for us to look inward and repent for the sins of the past year.

The shofar is created by hollowing out a ram’s horn, shaping it, and polishing it. It’s a tricky (and occasionally smelly) feat that doesn’t always end up the way you think it will. But it’s a rewarding task, nonetheless.

The shofar is evocative of the Torah portion that we read on Rosh Hashanah, the story of the binding of Isaac. It calls to mind the image of the ram stuck in the bush that Abraham ultimately sacrificed instead of his son — reflecting our own sometimes difficult parent-child relationship with God.

Is the shofar blown on Shabbat?

The shofar is not supposed to be blown on Shabbat. You might be tempted to think this prohibition is similar to the prohibition against playing other instruments on Shabbat. But in fact, the rule against blowing the shofar on Shabbat has more to do with the prohibitions against carrying items outside of the home on the day of rest. (Many of these prohibitions are discussed in Tractate Eruvin of the Talmud.) The shofar is a ritual object, and there are specific injunctions against carrying ritual objects outside between one’s home and the synagogue on Shabbat. So if Day 1 or Day 2 of Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, you will not hear the shofar blown on that day.

Where can one hear the shofar?

The most common place to hear the shofar is in synagogue. If you attend synagogue for the High Holidays, you’ll be guaranteed to hear the shofar blown when you are there for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. In some cities, especially those with large Jewish populations, you might be able to hear the shofar blown on street corners, or in public parks. These days, you can even hear the shofar blown online. My Jewish Learning is broadcasting a shofar blowing every day during the Hebrew month of Elul on its Facebook page. Here is a sample shofar blowing video from these morning broadcasts.

How was the shofar used through time?

The shofar is blown on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but the ram’s horn has had other roles throughout Jewish history. Read more about the origins of the shofar here.

 

 

Read More About the Shofar

Turn the shofar on its side and it looks like a question mark — and its blast draws our attention to the most important question we can ask.

Learn more about the different blasts of the shofar — and hear them as well.

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Step-by-step instructions, materials not included.

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