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Shofar

A shofar is a ram's horn that is used as a musical instrument for religious purposes. It is used on Judaism's high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

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In the Bible and rabbinic literature

The shofar is mentioned frequently in the Bible, from Exodus to Zechariah, and throughout the Talmud and later tabbinic literature. It was the voice of a shofar, "exceeding loud," issuing from the thick cloud on Mount Sinai that made all the Israelites tremble in awe (Exodus xix, xx).

The shofar is prescribed for the announcement of the New Moon and solemn feasts (Num. x. 10; Ps. lxxxi. 4), as also for proclaiming the year of release (Lev. xxv. 9). The first day of the seventh month (Tishri) is termed "a memorial of blowing" (Lev. xxiii. 24), or "a day of blowing" (Num. xxix. 1), the shofar; the modern use of the instrument survives especially in this connection. In earlier days it was employed also in other religious ceremonials, as processions (II Sam. v. 15; I Chron. xv. 28), or in the orchestra as an accompaniment to the song of praise (Ps. xcviii. 6; comp. ib. xlvii. 5). More frequently it was used as the signal-horn of war, like the silver trumpets mentioned in Num. x. 9 (see Josh. vi. 4; Judges iii. 27; vii. 16, 20; I Sam. xiii. 3).

The Torah describes the first day of the seventh month (1st of Tishri = Rosh ha-Shanah) as a zikron teruah (memorial of blowing; Lev. xxiii) and as a yom teru'ah (day of blowing; Num. xxix). This was interpreted by the Jewish sages as referring to the sounding the shofar.

The shofar in the Temple in Jerusalem was generally associated with the trumpet; and both instruments were used together on various occasions. On New-Year's Day the principal ceremony was conducted with the shofar, which instrument was placed in the center with a trumpet on either side; it was the horn of a wild goat and straight in shape, being ornamented with gold at the mouthpiece. On fast-days the principal ceremony was conducted with the trumpets in the center and with a shofar on either side. On those occasions the shofarot were rams' horns curved in shape and ornamented with silver at the mouthpieces. On Yom Kippur of the jubilee year the ceremony was performed with the shofar as on New-Year's Day.

Construction

The shofar may be the horn of any kosher animal, except that of a cow or calf, which would be a reminder of the golden calf incident. A rent or hole in the shofar affecting the sound renders it unfit for ceremonial use. A shofar may not be painted in colors, but it may be carved with artistic designs (Shulkhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim, 586, 17). According to traditional Jewish law Women and minors are exempt from the command to hear the shofar-blowing, but they are allowed to, and encouraged to, attend the ceremony.

The horn is flattened and given a turned up bell by applying heat to soften it. A hole is made from the tip of the horn to the natural hollow inside. It is played much like a European brass instrument, with the player applying his lips to this hole, and causing the air column inside to vibrate. Shofars used in Ashkenazic Jewish worship tend to have no carved mouthpiece, the player instead applying his lips directly to the irregular hole drilled in the tip of the horn. Sephardic Jewish shofars, on the other hand, usually do have a carved mouthpiece resembling that of a European trumpet or French horn, but smaller.

Because this hollow is of irregular bore, the harmonics obtained when playing the instrument can vary: rather than a pure perfect fifth, intervals as narrow as a fourth, or as wide as a sixth may be produced.

The sounds

The tekiah and teruah sounds mentioned in the Bible were respectively bass and treble. The tekiah was a plain deep sound ending abruptly; the teruah, a trill between two tekiahs. These three sounds, constituting a bar of music, were rendered three times: first in honor of God's Kingship; next to recall the near sacrifice of Isaac, in order to cause the congregation to be remembered before God; and a third time to comply with the precept regarding the shofar.

Ten appropriate verses from the Bible were recited at each repetition, which ended with a benediction. Over time doubts arose as to the correct sound of the teruah. The Talmud is uncertain whether it means an outcry or a moaning sound. The former was supposed to be composed of three connected short sounds; the latter, of nine very short notes divided into three disconnected or broken sounds. The duration of the teruah is equal to that of the shevarim; and the tekiah is half the length of either. This doubt as to the nature of the real teru'ah, whether it was simply an outcry or a moan, or both, necessitated two repetitions to make sure of securing the correct sound, the following formula, consisting of ten sounds, resulting:

teki'ah, shebarim-teru'ah, teki'ah; teki'ah, shebarim, teki'ah; teki'ah, teru'ah, teki'ah. This formula was repeated twice, making thirty sounds for the series. The last teki'ah was prolonged and was called "teki'ah gedolah" = the "long teki'ah." This series of thirty sounds was repeated twice, making ninety sounds in all. The trebling of the series was based on the mention of teru'ah three times in connection with the seventh month (Lev. xxiii, xxv; Num. xxix), and also on the above-mentioned division into malkiyot, zikronot, and shofarot. In addition a single formula of ten sounds is rendered at the close of the service, making a total of 100 sounds.

The performer

The expert who blows the shofar is termed the ba'al tokea'" (the sounder of the shofar).

Its use in modern times

In modern times, the shofar is used only at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is played in synagogues to mark the end of the fast at Yom Kippur, and played at four particular places at Rosh Hashanah. The exact music played can vary from location to location.

The instrument is now almost never used outside these times, though has been seen in western classical music on a limited number of occasions. The best known example is to be found in Edward Elgar's oratorio The Apostles, although an instrument such as the flugelhorn usually plays the part instead of an actual shofar.

See also: Jewish services



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Shofar

... use of the instrument survives especially in this connection. In earlier days it was employed also in other religious ceremonials, as processions (II Sam. v. 15; I Chron. ...