Arthur L. Finkle

If we believe archeological findings, the frieze on the Arch of Titus in Rome, depicts the captured hatzotzerot (trumpets) from the Jewish Second Temple being borne in triumph among the other sacred objects. Further, we see the symbol of the Shofar as a symbol of Judaism in the archeological record (Capernaum synagogue – Ist century CE; Ephesus 2-3rd centuries; Rome – 2-5th centuries; etc.) in the early centuries of the Common Era.

Ambiguity of Words

There are, nevertheless, several ambiguities in whether the written words a trumpet and a Shofar. A case in point are the Hebrew words “Keren” (Horn) and Jubal (Jubilee)

The word ‘Shofar’ comes from an old Semitic root (cf. Akkadian ‘sapparum’ meaning wild sheep or goat). At first, as has been indicated, the word ‘karen’ does not seem to have been used by itself. Later through the explanation of the Mishnah c 200CE), a horn could become a Shofar if it were constructed according to Mishnaic and later Talmudic direction.

The hatzotzerot, in contrast, seem to have been interchanged with the Shofar. In Tractate Rosh HsShanah, it termed when ‘duty days’ were taken in turns, the Shofar and trumpets played the same calls.

Confusion by Performing the Same or Similar Tasks

The Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 54 provides a description of the priests lowering trumpets during pauses in the Levitical singing n the Second Temple, signaling to worshippers to prostrate themselves.

Further there is a curious reference in I Chron. 5:13 instructing the trumpeters and singers being ‘as one, to make one sound.’ It bespeaks the possibility that the trumpets played a sustained note over which the singers chanted as opposed to the trumpets and singers having separate parts. Moreover, one of the common words for ‘fanfare’ is “te r’uah” meaning ‘a shout’. Accordingly, this fanfare could be described to have been the imitation of a shout. Sometimes this ambiguity between a vocal or instrumental meaning is difficult. A case in point is the famous passage in the Vulgate edition (Official early church version of the Holy Scriptures) of Joshua 5 , ‘where the priests were to blow the Shofars, while the peoples shouted: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound (kol) of the Shofar the peoples shouted with a great shout (teru’ah) so that the wall fell down flat.’ The Vulgate cannot be blamed for glossing because , by this time, there was a lack of distinction between the Shofar and trumpet.

History of the Uses of the Trumpet and Shofar Reverse Roles

The marshalling signals are described in Numbers 10, though in war the Shofar seems to have been the signaling instrument par excellence. All these functions, and their calls, seem later to have been appropriated by the Shofars. The encyclopedic Psalm 150, for example, makes no mention of the trumpet. Only lately (in the last century or so B.C.) do trumpets appear to come back into their former favor; but now, due to Greco- Roman influence, their use is primarily military. Indeed the roles of the two instruments seem to have become reversed; the Talmud says ‘what was called a trumpet has become a Shofar, and what was called a Shofar has become a trumpet’ (Bab. Talmud Shabbat 36a; also Sukkoth 34a; and Rosh HaShanah 36a; Targum version of Hosea 5:8). A passage in the Mishnah (Gittin 3:6) indicates much the same thing, in saying that a ‘trumpet’ can be made of animal horn. So the Shofar eventually took on the ceremonial function originally performed by the trumpet.

This confusion of usage makes the task of reconstructing the trumpet and Shofar calls simpler rather than the reverse, for the instruments and their traditional signals may be treated summarily. Since the Shofar calls themselves are the subject of some differences in our own times and were disputed in Talmudic times.

The Shofar had specifications according to the Mishnah. For example, it could not have holes; it could be valid if there was a split in the horn. The horn should be from a preferably kosher animal but never a cow (reminding one of the worship of the Golden Calf during Moses’ journey to receive the Ten Commandments for the first time.) It should be sounded from the small end of the horn. Horns could not be placed inside other horns; and there were restrictions as to decorations on the Shofar itself. (See Rosh HaShanah Mishnah and Talmud)
Further it is not clear whether the Shofar was used originally for ritual (as Leviticus 25 suggests) or for war purposes (Joshua 6). We do know, however, that Tractate Shabbat 35b provides that the Shofar sounded six times to prepare for the Sabbath.
Eventually, after the destruction of the second Temple, the Shofar was identified with Rosh HaShanah (the beginning of the religious year, sometimes known as Yom Teruah (Day of the blast) or Chag HaShoforot (the Shofar festival).

In addition, no minor authority, Cyrus Adler, indicated that cornet (a type of trumpet) and Shofar were used interchangeably.

Further Confusion

In “Sound The Shofar – “Ba-Kesse” Psalm 81:4,” Solomon B . Freehof follows the strange history of translation. The preponderance of traditional (Jewish) commentators agree on one translation of it and all the non-traditional commentators (non-Jewish) unanimously agree on another. One partial exception to this strange lineup is Rashi (11th century commentator), who translates “Ba-Kesse” here and in Proverbs 7:20 as “the special day,” of “the appointed day.” But he, too, in his commentary to Rosh HaShonah 8a-b, agrees with all the traditional commentators, beginning with the Talmud and the Midrash, Leviticus Rabba 29:6, taking the word to be a synonym of the word “Chodesh” in the first part of the sentence, meaning: The New Moon.

However, the non-traditional commentators of the 19th century, Wellhausen in Proverbs, Duhm in Psalms, and Briggs and Toy in the International Critical Commentary, and our modern English translation, all agree to translate the word “Kesse” not as “New Moon” but as Full Moon.

Accordingly, the evidence seems to be on the side of the tradition commentators who legitimized the appearance of the New Moon in the Seventh month as the Rosh HaShanah (Beginning of the Religious New Year)


Cyrus Adler, The Shofar – It’s Use and Origin
Published in 1893, Government Printing Office (Washington) , pp 287-311.

Solomon B. Freehof, “Sound the Shofar: ‘Ba-Kesse’ Psalm 81:4, The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Jan., 1974), pp. 225-228, University of Pennsylvania Press Stable URL: Accessed: 04/01/2010 20:37

Sidney B. Hoenig, “Origins of the Rosh Hashanah Liturgy.”The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 57, The Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Volume of the Jewish Quarterly Review (1967), pp. 312-331, University of Pennsylvania Press Stable URL: Accessed: 04/01/2010

David Wulstan, “The Sounding of the Shofar,” The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 26 (May, 1973), pp. 29-46, London: Galpin Society Stable URL:

The Galpin Society was formed in October 1946 in London for the publication of original research into the history, construction, development and use of musical instruments. Its name commemorates the pioneer work of Canon Francis W. Galpin (1858-1945) who had spent a lifetime in the practical study of old instruments, in collecting them and recording their history.