02. Thirty Blasts

As we have seen, the teru’a alludes to sorrow, brokenness, and tears. Over the course of time, however, a doubt arose as to what is the optimal sound of the teru’a. Some congregations blew medium-length sounds, reminiscent of someone sighing (what we now call shevarim). Other congregations blew shorter blasts, like someone heaving with convulsive sobs (what we now call teru’a). Still others blew both types of blasts, imitating a person in pain who starts by sighing and continues with sobbing (what we now call shevarimteru’a). Even though one fulfills the obligation with any of these variations, it can seem to unlearned people that there is a dispute about this matter.

Therefore, R. Abahu instituted that in his city (Caesaria) all three types of teru’ot would be blown (Rosh Ha-shana 34a; R. Hai Gaon). There was another reason for his ordinance: each type of teru’a has a unique value, and it is proper to hear all types of teru’a (Zohar III 231b). This ordinance was then accepted by all communities; ever since, the medium-length blasts are called “shevarim” and the short blasts are called “teru’a.” The order of blowing is as follows: We begin with three sets of tashrat (teki’a, shevarim-teru’a, teki’a). We follow this with three sets of tashat (teki’a, shevarim, teki’a). We conclude with three sets of tarat (teki’a, teru’a, tekia) (SA 590:2).

Since R. Abahu’s ordinance was accepted, the obligation is no longer fulfilled by hearing only one type of teru’a. Rather, one must hear all three types of teru’a. Thus, even though according to the Torah we are obligated to blow nine blasts, nowadays we are obligated to blow thirty: nine for the three sets of tashat, nine for the three sets of tarat, and twelve for the three sets of tashrat.[1]


[1]. Originally, one could fulfill his obligation with any of the teru’ot, as R. Hai Gaon writes in a responsum (Otzar Ha-Ge’onim, Rosh Ha-shana, Teshuvot §117). Many Rishonim cite him, including Rosh (Rosh Ha-shana 4:10) and Ritva (Responsa §29). However, Rambam writes, “Over the course of time and the lengthy exile, we have become uncertain as to what the sound is that the Torah calls teru’a…. Therefore, we do them all” (MT, Laws of Shofar 3:2). We see that because this uncertainty developed, we are required to hear all the possible types. This is also the position of Ramban (Milḥamot Hashem) and Smag (Aseh 42). It seems to me that Rambam and those who follow him might agree that originally, before teru’a was precisely defined, the obligation could be fulfilled by hearing any type of teru’a, as R. Hai Gaon maintains, since all the types express anguish. At some point, however, we began to relate to this as a matter of uncertainty, not just different ways of fulfilling the mitzva. Now that there is uncertainty, the Torah obligation cannot be fulfilled with only one type. Moreover, it seems to me that R. Hai and those who follow him would agree that nowadays we are rabbinically obligated to hear all three types of teru’ot, since R. Abahu’s ordinance has been accepted.

There is still room to discuss whether someone who only knows how to blow a shevarim should recite a berakha before doing so. Those who follow Rambam would certainly say no, as nowadays it is uncertain whether this fulfills the obligation. It is possible that R. Hai and his followers would agree, since the shofar-blower is not following R. Abahu’s binding ordinance. In fact, BHL 593:2, s.v. “ve’im,” states this explicitly. It is also implied by Me’iri (Rosh Ha-shana 34a), who follows R. Hai Gaon but nevertheless writes that nowadays we cannot fulfill the obligation without blowing all three types of teru’a. On the other hand, some say that the berakha should be recited in this case, as the halakha follows R. Hai Gaon and his followers. For further discussion, see Harḥavot.

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