OF THE FESTIVALS
OF ELUL AND ROSH HA-SHANA
In memory of
Yissachar Dov Shmuel bar Yakov Yehuda Illoway
and Leah Ruth
Illoway bat Natan Naso Jacobs
Shiur 4: The
Laws of the Shofar and Its Sounds
Last week, we
introduced the mitzva of tekiat
shofar. We explored
different reasons for the mitzva and questioned whether the primary focus of the
mitzva lies in the tekia (blowing) or
the shemia (hearing).
This week, we will
begin our summary and analysis of the laws of the shofar, beginning with its
physical properties and characteristics, and then we will discuss the actual
sounds of the shofar, quantitatively and qualitatively. We will conclude next week with a
discussion of the Musaf prayer of
Rosh Ha-shana and its relationship to blowing the shofar.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SHOFAR
As we have already
pointed out, the Torah does not explicitly state that one must blow a shofar on
Rosh Ha-shana, but rather, that it should be a "zikhron terua" (Vayikra 23:24) or
"yom terua" (Bamidbar
29:1), a "remembrance" or "day" of terua (which we still must
The Gemara (Rosh Ha-shana 33b) derives the obligation to blow
a shofar, as well as the types and number of sounds, from the shofar blown on
Yom Kippur of the yovel year. Regarding Rosh Ha-shana, the Torah (Bamidbar 29:1) instructs, "And in the
SEVENTH MONTH, on the first day of the month… it shall be a day of TERUA for you." The Gemara derives that the term terua refers to a sound produced by a
shofar, as it says regarding yovel
(Vayikra 25:9), "Then shall you make
proclamation with the SHOFAR OF TERUA on the tenth day of the SEVENTH
MONTH." Just as the terua of the SEVENTH MONTH of the yovel year is produced by a shofar, so
too the terua of the SEVENTH MONTH of
every year, on Rosh Ha-shana, is generated by a shofar. What is a shofar, and from which animals
may it be taken?
Before we begin, it
is crucial to understand the difference between a "horn" and an "antler", as a
shofar must be a horn.
"horn" is a hollow sheath, made of keratin and other proteins, which covers a
small core of living bone. Horns
are generally found on animal from the Bovidae family, which includes cattle,
sheep, goats, antelopes, etc. They
begin to grow soon after birth, and continue to grow throughout the animal's
An "antler" is a
bony, solid outgrowth of the head, worn only by males, which is shed each year
after the mating season. They are
large and complex, and they are commonly found on deer. Incidentally, the word "tzevi,"
when used in early halakhic literature, refers to a "gazelle," the horns of
which may be used for a shofar, and NOT to a deer, the antlers of which may
antlers can be hollowed out and used as an instrument. The Rishonim differ as to why an antler
is disqualified. The Rashba (Rosh Ha-shana 26a), as well as the
Ritva (citing the Ramban), explains that the word shofar refers to a hollow
horn, not a bone; an antler is therefore inherently not a horn. The Ramban adds that while an antler is
inherently disqualified, as it is simply not a horn, there are other horns which
the Gemara may disqualify for other reasons, as we shall
Which Horns are
The Mishna (3:2) teaches: "All shofarot are kosher, except for the
shofar of a cow, because it is a keren (horn). Rabbi Yosei said: 'All shofarot are called keren.'" This mishna SEEMS to present two opinions:
Rabbi Yosei apparently sanctions the use of ALL shofarot, while the Rabbanan (the first
opinion) disqualify the shofar of a cow.
The Gemara offers a
few interpretations of the Rabbanan.
At first, the Gemara suggests that while Rabbi Yosei makes a valid point,
the shofar of a cow is unique in that unlike other species, whose horns are
called both keren and shofar, the horn of a cow is referred
to ONLY as a keren - not a
Ula then suggests
that aside from the linguistic reason, the horn of a cow should not be used, as
it recalls the sin of the Golden Calf.
A Kohen Gadol (High Priest)
may not enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur to plead the case of the Jewish
people while wearing garments of gold, as we say "ein kategor na'aseh
sanegor," "a prosecutor cannot serve as a defender," and the gold adornments
"reminds" God of the sin of the Golden Calf. Similarly, a shofar, which symbolically
pleads our case before the Heavenly Court, should not be made from a cow's horn,
as it recalls the sin of the Golden Calf.
Incidentally, this passage clearly indicates that the shofar functions as
a vessel for asking forgiveness.
that there is a physical disqualification of the cow's horn, as it grows in a
manner that makes it appear like multiple shofarot.
In any case, both
opinions presented in the mishna seem
to agree that almost all shofarot are
valid, and they disagree ONLY regarding the horn of a cow.
However, the next
mishna, which discusses the various horns used on Rosh Ha-shana in the
Temple, fast days and the Yom Kippur of yovel, teaches:
The shofar on Rosh
Ha-shana is that of a ya'el (ibex),
straight and with a mouthpiece covered in gold… Rabbi Yehuda says: "The shofar of Rosh
Ha-shana is that of a male [ram]."
The Gemara (26b) adds
that Rabbi Levi agrees with Rabbi Yehuda, that "the mitzva of Rosh Ha-shana… is
to blow a bent [shofar]," and it explains further:
In what do they
argue? Rabbi Yehuda maintains that
on Rosh Ha-shana, the more one bends himself, the better… while the Tanna Kamma (the first opinion)
maintains that on Rosh Ha-shana the more one is outstretched, the
implies that they disagree regarding the mode of prayer most appropriate for
Rosh Ha-shana: hunched over, with one's face towards the ground; or looking up
towards the heavens. Once again,
the shofar's function as a vessel of prayer emerges.
question the relationship between the first mishna, which sanctions the
use of all horns, except possibly that of a cow, and the second mishna,
which mentions only the straight horn (of an ibex) or the bent one (of a
passage (16a) teaches:
Rabbi Abbahu asked,
"Why do we only blow on the shofar of a ram?" The Holy One, Blessed Be He, says, "Blow
for Me a ram's shofar, and on account of it I will remember the binding
of Yitzchak [and the ram that was sacrificed in his place]. I furthermore will consider it as if you
bound yourselves up before me like Yitzchak."
What does this
passage teach us about the permissibility of using horns from other
The Rambam (Hilkhot Shofar 1:1) rules that ONLY the
shofar of a ram may be used on Rosh Ha-shana. The commentaries on the Rambam and the
Rishonim question this position, especially since the Gemara never even implies
that there exists a debate regarding this issue.
(Tosafot 26b, s.v. "Shel ya'el;" Rashba; Ritva; Ran; Ra'avad, etc.)
disagree, maintaining that all horns (except the horn of a cow, according to the
Tanna Kamma), are acceptable. They explain that the second mishna discusses WHICH horn should be
used PREFERABLY. They rule in
accordance with Rabbi Yehuda, especially in light of Rabbi Abbahu's comments
(16a), preferring the use of a ram's horn.
therefore, that there are three categories of bony cranial protrusions: those
which are disqualified, either inherently (antlers) or by species (cow horns,
according to the Tanna Kamma); other
horns which may be used when necessary; and the ram's horn, which is
Rishonim question whether it is preferable to use the horn of a RAM, in
accordance with Rabbi Abbahu (16b); or any bent horn, as the Gemara (26b)
The Ran (6a), for example, explains that
Rabbi Yehuda and the Tanna Kamma do
not meant to refer exclusively to an ibex or a ram, but rather to any horns
which are "straight" or "bent."
The Mordekhai (714) also suggests that while
preferably one should use the horn of a ram, be-diavad (if there is no
alternative) one may even use the horn of an ibex or goat, AS LONG AS IT IS
BENT. In other words, despite that
fact that the Gemara describes the horn of an ibex as pashut (straight),
if it is somewhat curved, it may be used, when necessary, as long as it is
This opinion may help
us to understand a difficulty. The
Mishna, as we have learned,
contrasts the "straight" horn of the ya'el with the "bent" horn of the
ram. However, the horns of the
ibex, seen to this day in the Judean Desert (http://www.conservationimages.co.uk/35mm%20stripC3.htm),
are far from "straight"!
Apparently, the Mishna means
that the horns of the ibex are straight RELATIVE to the ram's horns (http://outdoors.webshots.com/photo/1234187188042687404JAAZeb),
which are tightly coiled.
shofarot, in order to saw off and prepare the end as a mouthpiece, are
heated and then straightened somewhat.
It is therefore not as "curved" as described by the Mishna, and its shape
has been altered. Rav Yosef Kapach
(1917–2000), a great Torah scholar and Yemenite halakhic authority, challenges
the status of these shofarot
("Shofar shel Rosh Ha-shana," Sinai 69, online at http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/kitveyet%5Csinay%5Cshofar-4.htm). Some of his Yemenite followers use a
ram's horn with a full curvature, in accordance with his opinion. Common custom, however, is to allow the
use of the semi-straightened shofarot.
The Shulchan Arukh
(OC 586:1) concludes:
The mitzva of the
Rosh Ha-shana shofar should be fulfilled with [the horn] of a ram, which is
bent. In extenuating circumstances,
all shofarot are acceptable, straight
or bent, although there is a greater mitzva to use a bent shofar. The shofar of a cow is not acceptable in
any case; nor are the antlers of most undomesticated animals, as they are made
of bone and are not hollow.
Aside from those
Yemenites who follow Rav Kapach, and use a fully-curved ram's horn, most
Yemenite communities use the horn of a greater kudu, native to eastern and
southern Africa (http://www.naturephoto-cz.com/kudu:tragelaphus-strepsiceros-photo-1384.html). This custom is especially surprising due
to the Yemenite community's general adherence to the Rambam's halakhic
rulings. As we have seen, while
most Rishonim tolerate, be-diavad, the use of other bent shofarot, the Rambam seems to disqualify
them under any circumstance! This
widespread Yemenite practice has generated much halakhic discussion.
Rabbi Natan Slifkin,
author of many essays and books on zoology and Judaism, has put his article,
"Exotic Shofars", online (http://www.zootorah.com/essays/ExoticShofars.pdf). He discusses the use of horns
originating from exotic animals, and even questions whether there are any
non-kosher animals which produce horns!
How Many Notes Must
Not only does the
Torah not state clearly that the terua must come from a shofar, it also
does not explicitly teach what and how many notes must be
The Gemara (33b)
teaches that each terua, which we
have established must be blown with a shofar, must be preceded and followed by a
tekia. A terua, the Gemara assumes, is a broken
sound, while the tekia is a smooth,
level sound. The Gemara offers a
few attempts to derive this practice.
One source is Vayikra 25:9, in
which the term "ha'avara" (proclaiming) is found both preceding and
following the word "terua." Ha'avara implies a flat, simple
sound, described by the Sages as a "peshuta." This series —
peshuta-terua-peshuta, or tekia-terua-tekia — is known as a "tarat" (or
"karak," as it appears in some Rishonim).
How many times must
one sound a tarat series on Rosh Ha-shana? The Gemara derives that since the term
terua appears three times in the
context of Rosh Ha-shana and yovel,
and each one must be preceded and followed by a tekia, one must blow three sets of
tarat, or 9 sounds. The
Amora'im debate whether mi-de'oraita (biblically) one must blow two sets
or three, which would determine whether all nine sounds are of biblical or
rabbinic origin. The Rambam (Hilkhot Shofar 3:1), Tur (OC 590)
and Shulchan Arukh (OC 590:1) rule that one must hear all nine sounds,
While the sound of
the tekia is relatively self evident
- smooth and flat — the broken sound of the terua is somewhat unclear. What type of sound is the terua? Does it refer to medium, tremolo blasts,
what we nowadays call shevarim (breaks)? Or does it refer to very short, staccato
blasts, what we nowadays call a terua? Or does it refer to a combination of the
The Gemara (34a)
records that Rabbi Abbahu confronted this question and enacted in Caesarea (c.
300 C.E.) that one should blow all different possible variations. Since a biblical terua,
reflecting human weeping, can be tremolo groaning, staccato wailing, or
the former leading into the latter (but not the reverse), we must sound all
The Rif (10a)
Thus it is now the
case that we blow tekia-shevarim-terua–tekia three times, and we blow tekia-shevarim–tekia three times, and we blow tekia–terua–tekia three times.
These 30 sounds
comprise the basic obligation of tekiat shofar. We will relate to the 30 sounds blown
before Musaf, as well as the sounds
blown during and after Musaf,
totaling the customary 100 sounds.
However, first we must discuss the nature of Rabbi Abbahu's enactment and
the definition of the sounds themselves.
Enactment — Thirty Sounds:
The Rishonim question
the necessity of Rabbi Abbahu's enactment requiring one to blow 30 sounds. Rav Hai Gaon (see Ritva, 34a) for
example, asks the following powerful question: "Before Rabbi Abbahu came, had
the Jewish people not fulfilled their obligation of tekiat shofar?" He answers:
There is no doubt
that the law was clear to them, as it is not possible that regarding a mitzva
[such as shofar], which is performed each year, they would not know the truth,
and they would not have observed each other, and it would not have been properly
transmitted since Moshe Rabbeinu…
Rather the biblical terua may
be fulfilled in any of these ways… as the Torah's intention of terua is to create sounds and broken
tones, and originally some would blow tremolo and some staccato… as they saw
fit, and they would all fulfill their obligation as such… And then the masses began to believe
MISTAKENLY that there is a difference between the sounds and that some could not
fulfill the obligation of others…
Therefore, in order to remove doubt from the simple people, and to
establish a uniform practice, Rabbi Abbahu established that each group should
blow like the other groups as well…
Because it seemed to the simple people to be a debate, the Talmud
presents it as if there were a doubt.
position of Rav Hai Gaon also implies that no matter which terua one blows, one has fulfilled his
obligation, which explains the medieval custom of not sounding each variation
during Musaf, as we shall
The Rambam (Hilkhot Shofar 3:2) disagrees and
Due to the great
passage of time and the extended exile, we are no longer sure as to the nature
of the terua mentioned in the
Torah. We do not know whether it is
similar to the wailing of weeping women; or the slow, deep sobbing of someone
heavily burdened; or whether it is like a sobbing which naturally turns into a
wailing. Therefore, we perform all
According to the
Rambam, Rabbi Abbahu responded to a bona fide biblical doubt (safek
de-oraita); he therefore enacted to blow 30 sounds in order to be sure that
everyone fulfills his biblical obligation.
Gemara explains that simply blowing three sets of tashrat would not suffice, as the
"wrong" terua would constitute an
interruption (hefsek) between the first tekia, the proper biblical terua, and the final tekia. It seems that we may understand this in
accordance with Rabbi Yehuda (Sukka
53b-54a), who rules that one must hear the nine blast of the shofar without
interruption. However, the Gemara
rules in accordance with the Rabbanan, that "one who hears nine blasts in a
period of nine hours" has fulfilled his obligation, implying that he has
performed the mitzva even if he does not hear the nine blasts
Rabbeinu Tam (see
Ritva, 34b) suggests that Rabbi Abbahu's fear of hefsek, which, according
to the Gemara, led him to insist that one blow thirty blasts, as opposed to
twelve (i.e., three sets of tashrat),
was out of concern for Rabbi Yehuda's position. He notes that according to Rav Hai Gaon,
the idea is to bring about unity among the various customs; therefore, Rabbi
Abbahu showed concern for the rejected opinion of Rabbi Yehuda as well. However, practically speaking, the
halakha is in accordance with the Rabbanan, and one might even fulfill
the obligation through three sets of tashrat.
The Ramban, and
subsequently many of the Sephardic authorities, disagree. They insist that Rabbi Abbahu's
enactment must certainly be according to the position of the Rabbanan. They explain, therefore, that although
the Rabbanan posit that "one who hears nine blasts over a period of nine hours"
has fulfilled his obligation, they mean to say that TIME does not constitute an
interruption. However, another
blast of the shofar between the opening and closing tekiot of each set would constitute a
The Shulchan Arukh
(588:3) mentions both views, but, as we will see, he (590:7-8) clearly endorses
the stringent one.
Definition of the Shevarim and Terua:
The Rishonim discuss
and debate the precise definition of and relationship between the shevarim and the terua.
The Mishna (4:9)
The order or blowing
is three sets of three each. The
measure of a tekia is equal to that
of three teruot; the measure of a terua is equal to that of three
This mishna is a bit difficult to
decipher, as it uses the term "terua" in yet another way and introduces
the term "yevavot."
Ultimately, it tells us that the tekia is as long as whatever follows it,
be it the three medium notes or nine short ones. The Rishonim debate the length of these
blasts, as we shall see.
The Gemara, however,
cites a beraita which seems to
contradict our mishna by saying that "the measure of a tekia is equal to a terua," not three teruot. If so, the tekia should be three times as long as
the following sound!
The Rishonim, based
upon variant texts, offer different explanations of the Gemara's answer. According to most Rishonim, the Gemara
explains that the tekia must indeed
equal the sounds contained within, and the mishna and beraita merely refer to different
perspectives. The mishna means to say that the tekia — i.e., all of the opening blasts
— must equal all of the middle blasts — i.e., the terua. The beraita, on the other hand, means to say
that the opening tekia equals the terua of that set.
Within this version,
which requires that the tekia and
middle sound be of equal length, the Rishonim disagree as to how long they much
last. Rashi (ad loc., s.v.
Shalosh), for example, claims that the terua consists of three
short blasts; therefore, the tekia
must also equal the length of those three sounds. This interpretation leads the Riva and
Rivam (Tosafot, s.v. Shiur; Rosh
4:10) to warn that one should not blow a shever the length of three short blasts,
as then it would equal the tekia
which surrounds a terua! Therefore, a shever, according to this opinion,
should not exceed two beats! Some
disagree with this conclusion and interpret Rashi's opinion as referring to
Riva and Rivam agree that the length of the tekia should equal the length of the
sound contained within; however, they maintain that a terua should consist of nine short
blasts, equaling the length of three shevarim and one tekia. In fact, some Rishonim add that the
quantity of sounds is less important than the length, and one may even blow four
or five shevarim, as long as the tekia is as long.
The Rambam (3:4; see
also Maggid Mishneh, ad loc.) has a completely different reading of the Gemara,
in which he explains that a terua is
twice as long as a tekia. He explains, according to his version,
that the mishna is reckoning the tekiot of all the sets against the teruot of all the sets, and the Beraita is reckoning those of a single
set, such that the length of one terua equals that of two tekiot. The Ra'avad (ibid.) offers another
interpretation as well.
In order to
illustrate the differences, let us demonstrate how each would blow a tashrat.
Rashi's tashrat would be:
"--------" "--- --- ---" "- - -" "---------"
Tosafot's (that of
the Riva and Rivam) would be:
"------------------" "--- --- --- ---------"
The Rambam's would
"---------" "--- --- --- ---------" "---------"
While Rashi, the Riva
and Rivam, and the Rambam disagree regarding the length of the shevarim, they agree that the tekia is measured, somehow, relative to
the inner blasts. The Ra'avad
The Ra'avad (ibid.)
maintains that one ALWAYS blows a tekia for 9 terumitin (beats),
regardless of the length of the terua. The Arukh Ha-shulchan (590) concludes
that one should always blow a tekia
for a minimum of nine terumitin, in order to fulfill all of the
The Shulchan Arukh
(590:3) cites the first two opinions.
It is customary to follow the second opinion.
Definition of the Shevarim-Terua — One Breath or
The Ran (Rif 10b)
writes that one should blow all the beats of the shevarim or terua in one breath. Furthermore, he cites a debate regarding
the shevarim-terua, which combines both possibilities
of a biblical terua.
Rabbeinu Tam asserts that it does NOT need to be blown in one breath, as
"people certainly do not moan and then wail in one breath." The Ramban and the Rosh (4:10) disagree,
explaining that the shevarim-terua combination is "one terua;" therefore, one should blow it in
One might ask whether
Rabbeinu Tam believes that the shevarim-terua MUST or MAY be blown in two
breaths. The Mishna Berura
(Sha'ar Ha-tziyyun 590:19) is inclined to believe that Rabbeinu Tam would
agree that it MAY be blown in one breath.
The Shulchan Arukh
(590:4) cites both opinions and then writes that one who is "God-fearing" should
try to fulfill both opinions and blow the shevarim-terua in one breath
during the tekiot BEFORE Musaf and in two breaths DURING Musaf. The Rema records that the common custom
is to blow the shevarim-terua in two breaths and that one should
not diverge from this custom.
The Acharonim differ
as to which custom people should follow.
The Mishna Berura (Sha'ar Ha-tziyyun 18) notes that the Chayyei
Adam omits the Rema's ruling; indeed, it may be preferable to follow the
Shulchan Arukh's ruling, as it covers all of the opinions. The Arukh Ha-shulchan (590:13) testifies
that this is the custom of many communities.
Rav Soloveitchik, as
recorded by Rav Herschel Schachter (Nefesh HaRav, pg. 206), believes that
the shevarim-terua should be blown in one breath, as
it constitutes one sound, and he had the toke'a (the one sounding the shofar)
blow with one breath throughout the entire Tefilla, until the tekiot AFTER the repetition of Musaf, during which the toke'a would blow three tashrat sets with two breaths, totaling
What if one blows the
entire set of tarat in one breath?
The Yerushalmi (Rosh Ha-shana
4:10) rules that if one blows "bi-nficha achat" (in one breath), one has
fulfilled one's obligation. The
Tosefta (2:12) differs — and the Rosh (4:10) rules in accordance with it — that
one has NOT fulfilled one's obligation.
The Shulchan Arukh (590:5) cites both opinions.
The Sound of the Tekia, Shevarim and Terua:
The Shulchan Arukh
(586:6) rules: "If the sound is particularly thick or thin, it is still
acceptable, as ALL SOUNDS ARE ACCEPTABLE FOR THE SHOFAR".
The Acharonim differ
on the following question: what if the sound changes in the middle of a specific
tekia, shevarim, or terua?
Rav Yehoshua Yehuda Leib (Maharil) Diskin, a leader of the Old Yishuv
community in the late 19th century, is extremely stringent regarding
this question. He believes that the
Shulchan Arukh is referring to DIFFERENT sounds and blasts, but he would not
rule in this way if one would alter the sound within one specific terua
or tekia. While common
practice is in accordance with the Chazon Ish and others, who are not concerned
with this change of tone, scrupulous individuals are strict regarding this issue
(see Piskei Teshuvot 586:5).
Regarding the shevarim, there are different customs
concerning its sound. Some
communities blow smooth/ flat sounds.
Others break each "shever" in
the middle, creating a "tu-a-tu" or "a-tu" sound, often described as "oleh
ve-yored," "ascending and descending."
Being that there are
so many variations and opinions, regarding both the length, sound and number of
breaths, many, especially in yeshivot, are accustomed to blow extra sounds after
Musaf, in order to fulfill many, if
not all, of the opinions.
(Hefsek) Between the Sounds:
Although we noted
above that the Rishonim differ as to whether or not one must hear the shofar
blasts uninterrupted and that the Shulchan Arukh (588:2) cites both opinions,
elsewhere (590:7-8) the Shulchan Arukh assumes that one may NOT interrupt
between the sounds with invalid notes.
Assuming that one may
not interrupt in this manner, what constitutes an invalid note? And if one must "return," to where would
one do so?
The Shulchan Arukh
(590:7) rules that if one inadvertently inserts the wrong sound, such as a terua instead of a shevarim, one must return to the opening
tekia. The same would apply
even if one repeats the SAME sound, such as an extra shevarim (after taking a breath) after
the required shevarim.
However, if one, for
example, successfully blows two sets of tashrat and errs during the third, one
need not repeat all three sets, but rather only the final set
The Taz (588:2),
citing the Levush, argues that only the toke'a fails to fulfill his obligation
if he inserts the wrong sound into a set.
However, for the listener, he argues, this extra sound should not
constitute an interruption, even according to the Ramban, but rather a
"pause." The Acharonim do not
accept the Taz's distinction.
What if one began to
blow a terua or shevarim but cannot produce the proper
sound? The Arukh Ha-shulchan
(590:20) and the Mishna Berura (590:34) rule that this does NOT constitute an
interruption, and one should return to the beginning of that specific
Knowledge of these
laws is crucial for the toke'a, as well as for the makri, the one
who announces and approves each sound.
Next week, we will
address the tekiot sounded before,
during and after Musaf, and we will
discuss the relationship between them and Musaf.