Judaicapedia: What is a Shofar?

The shofar is one of the oldest musical instruments, but today is seen as something more holy and less musical. Today, the shofar is blown a few times a year; during the weekdays of the Hebrew month of Elul (the month before Rosh Hashanah), Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur, sometimes it also makes an appearance during special occasions like at Aliyah (immigration to Israel) ceremonies.

What is it made from?

The shofar is traditional made from a ram’s horn, but today we also see the kudu horn as a common option. The first step to having a shofar being considered “kosher” is that it should come from a kosher animal with horns, but not a cow, leaving sheep and rams as acceptable options.  The kudu horn as a shofar comes from Yemenite tradition, as rams were not available in Yemin but the kudu antelope was. The horn itself is hollowed out and a hole is created at the narrow end for a mouthpiece, as there already is a hole already at the base. While the tone cannot be changed, different notes are played during the Rosh Hashanah prayers.

When is it blown?

The shofar was a common instrument in Temple times, used when going into war, at special times throughout the year, and even in King David’s orchestra. Today, it is used only during the time of the Hebrew months of Elul and the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Every weekday morning during Elul, the shofar is blown immediately after Shacharit– morning prayers- while everyone is still together. Over Rosh Hashanah, the shofar is blown 100 times- in a series of different notes. On Yom Kippur, the fast ends with the shofar blasts. While the shofar cannot hit different tones, there are four different notes that are standard and have been given a name; Shevarim”- three short sounds, “Teruah”- nine very short notes, “Tekiah”- a long note, and “Tekiah Gedola”- one very long note that is usually blown at the end.

The shofar is also used during special occasions, but it is also very rare. When people make Aliyah and when Israeli soldiers return from war, the shofar is also taken out. It is said that when Mashiach- Messiah-, comes, the shofar will be blown and heard all over the world. A horn goes through a very complicated and delicate process in order to become a kosher shofar. It must be a natural horn from a kosher animal, the inside must be entirely cleaned out, there cannot be any cracks or holes in the horn, and it cannot be coating in anything such as lacquer or metal. Kosher shofars also come with a certificate stating they have been looked over and approved. 

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