Sounding the shofar

Horn's wail represents 'different sounds of crying' in Judaism

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Rabbi Eli Langsam said it before his guest had a chance to.

"Shofar, so good."

But the director of Lubavitch Chabad of Peoria didn't joke around about the usage of the shofar, usually made from the horn of a ram, goat or antelope.

Typically associated with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, a shofar is blown several times over that two-day fall festival, happening this year from Friday to sundown Sept. 24, as well as at the end of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement falling on Oct. 1-2.

The wail of the shofar was used for several different purposes in ancient times: at the anointing of a king, for the sighting of a new moon, over sacrifices, at the beginning of festivals and the Sabbath, and in battle.

But in Leviticus 23 and Numbers 10, the Israelites and their descendants are specifically commanded to sound the shofar on the first day of the seventh month. Langsam said it's a way to wake up a person spiritually as they begin a 10-day period of self-examination leading up to the Day of Atonement, a 25-hour fast.

"It represents the different sounds of crying, of yearning to get ourselves closer to God, a cry from the inside of the soul," Langsam said in the days leading up to last Sunday's "Shofar Factory" workshop. "It's like a heart crying."

A horn from a kosher animal - a cattle horn isn't allowed because of the connection with the Golden Calf - is first soaked in boiling water to soften the cartilage inside. That cartilage is then pulled out and the horn further shaped while it's still hot and pliable. The rabbi said it's preferable to have the wide opening of the horn toward heaven. A hole is drilled in the narrow end. The outside is then sanded to make it smooth. There also should be no holes other than the two openings.

Langsam said the best technique for shofar blowing is to put the narrow opening at the corner of one's mouth - he puts it on the right - toward the bottom of the lip and then, just blow "from the depth of the heart." Putting it at the center of the lips usually doesn't work, he said.

There are three sounds used at Rosh Hashanah services: tekiah, shevarim and teruah. Each should be sounded for the same amount of time, Langsam said.

Tekiah is one long, steady note. Shevarim is three medium notes. Teruah is nine quick notes in rapid succession.

At a traditional Rosh Hashanah service on any other day than a Sabbath, 100 notes are sounded by a person knowledgeable about its use. Not every Jew has to blow a shofar, Langsam said; the commandment is to hear it blown. But, he added, it's always good for a Jew to own his own shofar and know how to blow it in case he isn't able to get to a service.

The shofar isn't sounded when one of the days of Rosh Hashanah falls on a Sabbath, as happens this year, due to traditional protections against the possibility of a person carrying a shofar in a public domain. Carrying anything from one private domain to another is forbidden on Sabbath, Langsam said.

Plus, the rabbi said, with the weekly Sabbath itself being a reminder of the Jewish people's identity, the sounding of the shofar isn't needed on that day.

The shofar will be sounded on Sunday, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, he said.

One long tekiah, called a tekiah gedolah, is blown at the end of Yom Kippur to signify the end of that holy day. The shofar also is blown daily in synagogues during the month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah, to serve as a reminder for Jews to prepare for the High Holy Days.

Michael Miller can be reached at 686-3106 or [email protected].

More shofar

- To learn more about the shofar, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, view

- To hear a shofar being blown, click the "Hear the Shofar Sounds" link on