The Shofar, a trumpet or horn, was used in ancient Israel to summon assemblies, to rally troops and signal in wars, to announce important events, and at holidays such as Rosh Hashanah.

In the Bible

The Shofar is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament Hebrew Bible, translated as “trumpet” in the King James translation. Numbers 10 specifies that two Shofarot must be made of silver and used for summoning the assembly, by the sons of Aaron the priests. They should be used to announce gladness, sorrow and to sound alarms. Leviticus 23:24 and Numbers 29:1 specify that the Shofar must be blown on first day of the seventh month (Tishrei) (the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year), which shall be a Sabbath holiday. The book of Joshua, Chapter 6, relates the famous story of how the walls of Jericho were brought down by the blowing of trumpets. The Shofar is also mentioned in Psalms 81, which calls for blowing the Shofar to announce the new moon.

In Later Times

The Shofar is discussed in the Talmud and later rabbinic writings. Though following the destruction of the temple it was forbidden to play musical instruments, rabbinical authorities ruled that the Shofar is not a musical instrument.

Making a Shofar

It is usually fashioned from ram’s horn, but it can also be made from the horns of other animals, including antelope, gazelle and goats, provided only that the animal is kosher, and the horn is hollow and curved, and that the animal is not of the bovine family. Cow horn cannot be used for a Shofar according to many authorities, as it is considered to be a Keren, which has a different purpose.

The horn is flattened and worked by applying heat to soften it. A hole is bored from the tip of the horn to the natural hollow inside.

Playing the Shofar

It is played much like a valve-less European trumpet or other brass instrument. The lips are pursed and applied to the hole, and the player blows into it, making the air column inside vibrate. In Ashkenazic Jewish worship, the Shofar usually has no carved mouthpiece, Sephardic Jewish Shofarot often have a carved mouthpiece, like that of a European trumpet or French horn..

Blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah

There are three types of sounds produced in ritual use of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah: Tekiah, Teruah and Shevarim. The Tekiah and Teruah sounds are respectively bass and treble. The Tekiah should be a simple deep brief sound, and the Teruah is a trill between two tekiot (plural of Tekiah. The Shevarim are composed of three connected short sounds.
The sequence of blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah is Tekiah, Shevarim-Teruah, Tekiah; Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah; Tekiah, Teruah, followed by a final blast of “Tekiah gedola,” a long Tekiah, held as long as possible. This is repeated twice more, making thirty sounds for the series, with Tekiah being one note, Shevarim three, and Teruah nine. The thirty sounds are repeated twice more, making ninety sounds in all. The person who performs the Shofar blasts is specially trained and is called a Tokeah.

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