The Shofar's Origin
The Shofar instrument is most
commonly made from a ram's horn but it can actually be made from the horns of
other animals such as antelopes, gazelles and goats. In order for the Shofar to
be fit for religious use, it must come from a kosher animal and may not come
from the bovine family (although cows, for example, are kosher, the custom is
not to use such horns due to the Israelite's sin of the golden calf in the
desert). Ashkenazi Jews often use a Shofar without a carved mouthpiece, unlike
How the Shofar is Made
The horn chosen to be made into a
Shofar is heated in order to soften it and a hole is bored from the tip of the
horn into the natural hollow inside.
Inner elements are removed from the horn.
How the Shofar is Blown
The Shofar is blown in a way that
is similar to how the European trumpet or other brass instruments are blown.
The one blowing the horn purses his lips, applies them to the hole and makes
the air column inside vibrate.
The Shofar in Jewish Tradition
The Shofar features frequently in
the Old Testament (the Jewish Bible), as well as in the Talmud and later
rabbinic literature. We learn from these sources that the Shofar was used to
announce the new moon, as well as on Jewish festivals such as the Jewish New
Year and Day of Atonement. After the Temple was destroyed, musical instruments
were forbidden but the Shofar was still permitted as the Rabbis ruled that it
is not a musical instrument.
The Shofar and Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New
Year and there is a prescribed ritual according to which the Shofar is blown.
The three different sounds blown on the Shofar are called Tekiah, Teruah and
Shvarim. Tekiah is a bass sound, Teruah a treble sound and Shvarim is three
connected short sounds. The sequence of sounds on Rosh Hashanah is as follows;
Tekiah, Shvarim, Teruah, Tekiah, Tekiah, Shvarim, Tekiah, Tekiah, Teruah and Tekiah
Gedola (a long Tekiah sound that is held as long as possible). Tekiah is one
note, Shvarim three and Teruah nine. This sequence is sounded three times, for
a total of ninety sounds.
Ram's Horn Shofar
The Ram's Horn Shofar is the most
commonly recognized Shofar and is a common motif in Jewish art. It appears on
reliefs, floor mosaics and various objects. According to the Jewish commentator
Rambam, a Shofar made from the horn of any other animal is not suitable for
ritual purposes. The Ram's Horn Shofar has special significance as it
symbolizes the ram that got caught in the thicket and was offered up as a
substitute by Abraham in place of his son Isaac.
The majority of Yemenite Jews use
a long Shofar that is made from the horn of the greater African kudu
Tragelaphus strepsiceros- a large, striped antelope. Apparently the kudu has
the biggest horn of any creature. There are those who claim that the kudu horn
Shofar is the original Shofar. The Yemenite Shofar, apart from being longer
than the Ram's Horn Shofar is also often polished, giving it an attractive,
The Gemsbok is a part of the
antelope family and has become a popular option for Shofar horns. Their
fabulous horns can be over 85cm long, with the horns of the males being
straight and the horns of the females being longer and thinner. Perhaps a
special feature of the Gemsbok Shofar is the fact that it does not emit an
unpleasant odor that many other types are wont to do.