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The Shofar is a simple trumpet or horn, generally made of ram's horn, and used for Jewish religious purposes, especially on the Jewish Holidays of  Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In ancient Israel, the Shofar was used to announce events of any kind, similar to the user of church bells in Christianity.

In the King James Version of the Old Testament, the word "Shofar" is translated as "trumpet." Mention of the Shofar is found frequently in the Old Testament Hebrew Bible, from Exodus to Zechariah, and in the Talmud and later rabbinic literature.

Shofar Shofar: Jumbo Yemenite Polished Shofar Shofar: Large black Ram's horn Shofar


Yemenite Shofar Black Ram's horn Shofar

The Shofar was used for the announcement of the new moon and solemn feasts and various other occasions::

NUMBERS 10:2 Make thee two trumpets of silver; of a whole piece shalt thou make them: that thou mayest use them for the calling of the assembly, and for the journeying of the camps.

NUMBERS 10:3 And when they shall blow with them, all the assembly shall assemble themselves to thee at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

NUMBERS 10:4 And if they blow but with one trumpet, then the princes, which are heads of the thousands of Israel, shall gather themselves unto thee.

NUMBERS 10:5 When ye blow an alarm, then the camps that lie on the east parts shall go forward.

NUMBERS 10:6 When ye blow an alarm the second time, then the camps that lie on the south side shall take their journey: they shall blow an alarm for their journeys.

NUMBERS 10:7 But when the congregation is to be gathered together, ye shall blow, but ye shall not sound an alarm.

NUMBERS 10:8 And the sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow with the trumpets; and they shall be to you for an ordinance for ever throughout your generations.

NUMBERS 10:9 And if ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you, then ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the LORD your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies.

NUMBERS 10:10 Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the LORD your God.

PSALMS 81:3 Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day.

PSALMS 81:4 For this was a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob.

The first day of the seventh month (Tishri) must be marked by the use of the Shofar:

LEVITICUS 23 :24 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation.

NUMBERS 29:1 And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, ye shall have an holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work: it is a day of blowing the trumpets unto you.

On New-Year's Day the principal ceremony of the Temple was conducted with the Shofar. It was a straight  horn of a wild goat,  ornamented with gold at the mouthpiece. Other sorts of trumpets were used as well. The Shofar was also used on fast days and jubilees..

Joshua famously used the Shofar to bring down the walls of Jericho.

JOSHUA 6:4 And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams' horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets.

JOSHUA 6:5 And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him.

JOSHUA 6:6 And Joshua the son of Nun called the priests, and said unto them, Take up the ark of the covenant, and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark of the LORD.

JOSHUA 6:7 And he said unto the people, Pass on, and compass the city, and let him that is armed pass on before the ark of the LORD.

JOSHUA 6:8 And it came to pass, when Joshua had spoken unto the people, that the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams' horns passed on before the LORD, and blew with the trumpets: and the ark of the covenant of the LORD followed them.

JOSHUA 6:9 And the armed men went before the priests that blew with the trumpets, and the rereward came after the ark, the priests going on, and blowing with the trumpets...

JOSHUA 6:13 And seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark of the LORD went on continually, and blew with the trumpets: and the armed men went before them; but the rereward came after the ark of the LORD, the priests going on, and blowing with the trumpets...

JOSHUA 6:15 And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they rose early about the dawning of the day, and compassed the city after the same manner seven times: only on that day they compassed the city seven times...

JOSHUA 6:20 So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.

Shofar in the Diaspora

Since the destruction of the Temple, the Shofar assumed almost exclusively religious importance until recently,  because of the ban on playing musical instruments as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the temple. The Shofar is still required to announce the new year and the new moon, to introduce the Sabbath, and to carry out the commandments on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Making a Shofar

A Shofar is generally made from the horn of a ram or other kosher animal. 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. It is played much like a European trumpet or other brass instrument. The lips are pursed and applied to the hole, causing the air column inside to vibrate. In Ashkenazic Jewish worship, the Shofar usually has no carved mouthpiece, Sephardic Jewish Shofarot often have a carved mouthpiece, resemblingke that of a European trumpet or French horn.

Because the hollow is irregular, the harmonics obtained when playing the instrument can vary. 

Shofar sounds

There are basically three sounds emitted in ritual use of the Shofar The tekiah and teruah sounds are respectively bass and treble. The tekiah should be a plain deep staccato sound, and the teruah is a trill between two tekiot (plural of Tekiah. The Shevarim are supposed to be composed of three connected short sounds.

The sequence of blowing the Shofar is ekiah, shevarim-teruah, tekiah; tekiah, shevarim, tekiah; tekiah, teruah, and then a final blast of "tekiah gadola," a long tekiah, held as long as possible. This formula is repeated twice more, making thirty sounds for the series, with tekiah being one note, shevarim three, and teruah nine. This series of thirty sounds is repeated twice more, making ninety sounds in all. The person who performs the Shofar blasts is specially trained and is called a Tokeah.

Shofar and Zionism

During the Muslim and British occupation of Jerusalem, Jews were not allowed to sound the Shofar at the Wailing Wall. After the Six Day War, Rabbi Shlomo Goren visited the wall and sounded the Shofar to signal the liberation of Jerusalem. .

The Shofar in modern times

The Shofar is mostly blown on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is blown in synagogues to mark the end of the fast at Yom Kippur, and blown at four different times in the prayers on Rosh Hashanah. The Shofar is also blown after morning prayers (Sa'hrit) services for the entire month of Elul (excluding Shabbat and the morning before Rosh Hashanah),  the last month in the year, except for the last day of the month.

The Shofar has also been used as a musical instrument in various modern compositions and in movies.

Ami Isseroff


Some photos courtesy of ajudaica

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