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.
The Shofar was used for the announcement of the new moon and solemn feasts and various other occasions::
PSALMS 81:3 Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day.
The first day of the seventh month (Tishri) must be marked by the use of the Shofar:
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 6:8 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.
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.
Some photos courtesy of ajudaica