04 – The Mitzva of Shofar

01. The Mitzva to Hear the Teru’a of the Shofar

It is a positive mitzva to hear the blast (teru’a) of a shofar on Rosh Ha-shana, as it says, “In the seventh month, on the first of the month…. You shall observe it as a day of blasts (yom teru’a)” (Bamidbar 29:1), and “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts (zikhron teru’a)…” (Vayikra 23:24).

The word “teru’a” denotes brokenness. Thus, we read, “Smash them (tero’em) with an iron mace; shatter them like potter’s ware” (Tehilim 2:9). The word “tero’em” means breaking. Similarly, we read, “The earth is breaking, breaking (ro’a hitro’a’a). The earth is crumbling, crumbling. The earth is tottering, tottering” (Yeshayahu 24:19). It also says, “They shall lay waste (ve-ra’u) to the land of Assyria with the sword” (Micha 5:5), meaning they will smash the land of Assyria (Rashi). Similarly, Onkelos translates “yom teru’a” as “a day of wailing.”

While teki’a expresses joy and stability, teru’a alludes to brokenness, fear, tears, and radical change. Similarly, God instructed the Israelites in the desert to blow a teki’a on the trumpets when they needed to gather the people, as teki’a expresses joy and togetherness. In contrast, when they needed to go out to war or leave their encampment and move on, they were instructed to blow a teru’a (Bamidbar 10:1-7), for a teru’a represents brokenness, tears over that which is finished but imperfect, and apprehension about what comes next (3:2 above).

So too, on Rosh Ha-shana, which is when the previous year’s life has already been lived, never to return, and the upcoming year’s life has yet to be allotted, people experience anguish over the lost opportunities of the past year and great trepidation in anticipation of the judgment about the upcoming one. We face the accuser, and we do not know who will live and who will die, who will be healthy and who will suffer. God, in His mercy, commands us to blow teru’ot with the shofar and thereby mitigate the judgment, for by accepting His kingship and judgment, we are inspired to repent. Therefore, even though the teru’a is short, it expresses the character of the day. This is why Rosh Ha-shana is referred to as Yom Teru’a – a day of brokenness and tears, fear and trepidation.

Based on a close reading of the verses, our Sages inferred an obligation to hear three teru’ot on Rosh Ha-shana, each one of which must be preceded and followed by a teki’a. The Torah commandment is to hear three sets of teki’ateru’a-teki’a (Rosh Ha-shana 32b, 34a).

The first teki’a of each set expresses the natural uprightness of the soul, as that of small children who have yet to sin and who are still innocent and pure. As a child matures, though, he is exposed to the complexities and dilemmas of this world; he struggles and is tested; he fails and sins. This is expressed by the teru’a, sighing or crying about our character defects and the sins to which we have succumbed. After this, another simple teki’a completes the set. It again expresses goodness and rectitude, but this time it is the goodness that follows repentance and asking forgiveness. Thus, each blast expresses a different part of life: the positive beginning, the struggle with life’s challenges, and the concluding corrective. At the end of all the blasts, the custom is to blow a particularly long teki’a, expressing the ultimate corrective, when all struggling and suffering is over. (See Shlah, Masekhet Rosh Ha-shana, Torah Or §55.)

Even though Rosh Ha-shana is referred to as Yom Teru’a because of the judgment and trembling inspired by the teru’a, we still blow a teki’a before and after the teru’a. This is because, like the positive teki’a, judgment’s goals are positive: to distance us from evil, to lead us to self-improvement, and to grant us ultimate reward (Rabbeinu Baḥya, Kad Ha-kemaḥ, Rosh Ha-shana 2; Akeidat Yitzḥak, Sha’ar 67).

The shofar hints at this duality as well. It frightens us when we hear it, and it simultaneously inspires us to return to our roots, to our basic inner goodness. This is the advantage of a shofar over a trumpet. The shofar’s natural sound expresses the deep desire to return to our roots, to connect with true goodness, and to strive for perfection.

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.

03. The “Standing” and “Sitting” Shofar-blasts

Our Sages ordained that the mitzva of hearing the shofar is integrated into the special berakhot added in the Amida of Musaf on Rosh Ha-shana: Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot. This enhances both the shofar-blowing and the prayers. This is not a prerequisite for fulfilling the mitzva, though; when the shofar-blowing cannot be integrated into the prayers, prayers and shofar-blowing may be separated. Moreover, the integration of the berakhot and the shofar-blowing was ordained only for communal prayer; someone praying alone may not blow the shofar during the Amida (Rosh Ha-shana 32a, 34b; SA 592:1-2).

Originally, the shofar was blown and the special berakhot were recited during Shaḥarit, for those who are enthusiastic perform a mitzva at the earliest opportunity (“zerizim makdimim le-mitzvot”). Later, at a time of anti-religious persecution, shofar-blowing was outlawed by the government. Enemy soldiers would try to catch Jews blowing shofar on the morning of Rosh Ha-shana. So the Jews instituted that the shofar be blown, and the special berakhot recited, at Musaf, which can be prayed in the afternoon. Even after the ban on shofar-blowing ended, the time did not revert back, out of fear that the persecution would be renewed. Eventually the custom of blowing the shofar during Musaf took root (Rosh Ha-shana 32b; Tosafot and Ritva ad loc.). Some maintain that it is actually preferable to blow during Musaf, since the Musaf offering was a central mitzva of the holiday, and the Musaf prayer corresponds to it (one view in y. Rosh Ha-shana 4:8).

The Sages also instituted shofar-blowing before Musaf and permitted sitting for these blasts; they are therefore known as teki’ot di-meyushav (sitting teki’ot). Even though le-khatḥila it is preferable for both shofar-blower and listeners to stand while the mitzva is being fulfilled, the Sages permitted the listeners to sit before Musaf in order to show that the teki’ot blown later, during Musaf (teki’ot di-me’umad), are the primary ones, for which one must stand. Indeed, the custom of Sephardim and Yemenites is to sit for the teki’ot before Musaf. Nevertheless, Ashkenazim commonly stand for these teki’ot because they are the first shofar blasts and one fulfills his basic obligation with them (SA 585:1; MB ad loc. 2).

According to the Gemara (Rosh Ha-shana 16a-b), the reason the Sages instituted shofar-blowing while sitting before Musaf and then again while standing during Musaf is “to confound the accuser (satan).” Rashi explains that when the satan sees that the Jews love the mitzvot so much that they blow even more blasts than the Torah requires, he is silenced. Ramban explains that the shofar blasts have the special power to bind the Jews to their Father in Heaven. This confounds the satan during the first teki’ot, and thus he is unable to prosecute during the Amida. Others say that the prosecutor can prosecute only once. When the shofar-blowing starts before the Amida, he lays out his case, so he has nothing left to say during the Amida (Raavad). Still others say that the primary manifestation of the satan is as the evil inclination. This inclination is thwarted by the many shofar blasts, which inspire us to repent (Ran). Perhaps during the first set of blasts, one is so excited that he is unable to focus properly; later, after he has heard thirty blasts, he is calmer and can focus properly.

04. The Custom of Blowing One Hundred Blasts

There is an ancient custom, dating back to Geonic times, to blow a hundred blasts. During the times of the Rishonim, most communities did not follow this practice. Rather, they blew thirty blasts before Musaf, and during Musaf itself, some blew an additional ten blasts, while others blew an additional thirty. During the time of the Aḥaronim, following Arizal’s prescription of mystical meditations (kavanot) for each of the hundred blasts, the custom of blowing a hundred blasts spread, and today it is almost universal.[2]

The hundred blasts are arranged as follows. Before Musaf, we blow thirty blasts: three sets of tashrat, three sets of tashat, and three sets of tarat. During the repetition of the Musaf Amida, another thirty blasts are blown: one set each of tashrat, tashat, and tarat after each of Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot.

Regarding the silent Amida, there are different customs. Some blow the shofar during the silent Amida as they do during the repetition. By integrating the blasts and the prayers, both are more readily accepted. This is the custom of Sephardim and Ḥasidim. For those who follow this custom, the shofar-blower sets the pace of prayer, and worshippers do their best to pray at his pace so that they hear the blasts at the proper place, at the end of a berakha. To that end, the shofar-blower must pray at a steady pace. Anyone who finishes a berakha before he does should wait for him to blow the shofar before continuing, but those who wish to pray a bit faster or slower may do so. Those who choose to do this recite the paragraph “Ha-yom Harat Olam” following their conclusion of each berakha. Then, when the shofar is blown, even if they are in the middle of a different berakha, they stop to listen to the blasts and then continue with their prayers. (See Mateh Ephraim 592:13.)

Others do not blow during the silent Amida. (This is the custom of Ashkenazim.) They feel that the primary ordinance is to blow the shofar during the communal prayer, i.e., during the ḥazan’s repetition. Additionally, the need for the individual to coordinate the pace of his prayer with that of the shofar-blower is likely to distract the focus of the worshipper.[3]

Those who blow the shofar during the silent Amida will have blown ninety blasts by the end of the ḥazan’s repetition; they blow the last ten during the full Kaddish. Those who do not blow during the silent Amida are still forty teki’ot short at the end of the ḥazan’s repetition. They blow thirty blasts after Aleinu and another ten following An’im Zemirot (MB 592:4).

[2]. In the times of the Rishonim, there were four different customs regarding the shofar-blowing during Musaf: A) to blow tashrat for Malkhuyot, tashat for Zikhronot, and tarat for Shofarot (Rif; Rambam; Tosafot, Rosh Ha-shana 32b; Rosh; SA 592:1, first opinion). This is still the custom of Yemenites and a few Ashkenazic communities; B) to blow tashrat for each section (Rabbeinu Tam, as cited in Tosafot, ibid.; Rema 592:1); C) to blow tashrat three times for Malkhuyot, tashat three times for Zikhronot, and tarat three times for Shofarot (according to SA 592:1, this was the prevalent practice); D) to blow tashrat, tashat, tarat after each section, to incorporate all three types of teru’a in each berakha (Arukh; Or Zaru’a; Radbaz). This last custom is the one that prevails today.

The first two customs are problematic for, as we have seen, the teki’ot blown during Musaf are primary, and due to uncertainty, we must blow three sets of each of the three types of teru’a. Yet, according to the first custom, each type of teru’a is sounded only once, and, according to the second custom, only one type of teru’a is blown three times. Two possible arguments in support have been suggested. Rabbeinu Ḥananel explains, based on the view of R. Hai Gaon, that even nowadays one fulfills the Torah obligation with any type of teru’a. Rif and Rambam explain that once all three types of teru’ot were blown three times each before Musaf, fulfilling the Torah obligation, it is not necessary to burden the congregation by requiring them to hear them all again during Musaf (cited in Beit Yosef 590:2). The custom to blow a hundred blasts is cited by Arukh (s.v. “erev”) in the name of the Yerushalmi, which in turn is cited by Tosafot (Rosh Ha-shana 33b), Raavya, and Shibolei Ha-leket. Arizal bases his kavanot on this, and this is also the opinion of Shlah.

[3]. Ashkenazic custom is not to blow the shofar during the silent Amida (MA; MB 592:1; Avnei Nezer OḤ §445). The reason is that since people do not pray at the same pace, it is distracting and difficult for them to try to adjust their pace to that of the ḥazan. According to the Geonic custom (of R. Sherira and R. Hai) that only seven berakhot are recited in the silent Amida, the shofar clearly was not blown then. Even among those who follow the majority opinion (of R. Yitzḥak ibn Gi’at, Tur, and SA 591:1) that nine berakhot are recited in the silent Amida, many do not blow during the silent Amida, as is explained in SA 592:1-2. This is also the position of Radbaz and Knesset Ha-gedola. However, among those who blow a hundred blasts (following Arukh), many do blow the shofar during the silent Amida. This is what Arizal and Shlah recommend, and this is the custom of Sephardim and Ḥasidim.

05. The Berakha, the Mitzva, and the Intent

Before the shofar-blowing is begun, two berakhot are recited: A) “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has made us holy through His commandments and has commanded us to hear the sound of the shofar” (“asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzivanu lishmo’a kol shofar”). B) “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this time” (“she-heḥeyanu ve-kiyemanu ve-higi’anu la-zeman ha-zeh”). While Sephardim do not recite She-heḥeyanu on the second day, Ashkenazim do. If possible, it is preferable that the shofar-blower wear a new item of clothing and have that in mind as well when he recites the berakha (SA 500:3; MB ad loc. 7).

Our Sages were precise in formulating the berakha which concludes “to hear the sound of the shofar,” as the mitzva is to hear the shofar, not to blow it (SA 585:2). Thus, a deaf person is exempt from the mitzva even though he is capable of blowing the shofar. One who is hearing impaired but can still hear the blasts is obligated in the mitzva and may even blow on behalf of others. One who wears an electronic hearing aid should remove it so that he hears the unmediated sound of the shofar.[4]

Since the mitzva is to hear the sound of the shofar, if one blows the shofar into a pit or a bomb shelter so that he hears the sound of the shofar together with its echo, he has not fulfilled his obligation, because the sound he hears is not that of the shofar alone. However, those who are in the pit or bomb shelter, since they do not hear an echo, have fulfilled their obligation (Rosh Ha-shana 27b, 20a; SA 587:1-2; MB ad loc. 10).

One who is mute but can hear is obligated in the mitzva and can fulfill it on behalf of others. One of the listeners should recite the berakhot. One who is mentally incompetent is exempt from all mitzvot, including shofar (SA 589:2; MB ad loc. 4).

If the shofar-blower already fulfilled his obligation and is now blowing for people who did not yet fulfill their obligation, it is preferable for one of them to recite the berakhot. Nevertheless, when this situation arises in practice, it is common for the shofar-blower to recite the berakha, and there are grounds for this practice (Beit Yosef and Rema 585:2; MB ad loc. 5).

Mitzvot require intent. Therefore, one who is practicing shofar-blowing does not fulfill his obligation, even if he blows the requisite blasts. Similarly, if one is at home and hears the shofar being blown at a nearby synagogue but does not have in mind to fulfill his obligation, he does not fulfill it. In order for a listener to fulfill his obligation, both he and the shofar-blower must have this in mind. The shofar-blower must have in mind to fulfill the obligation for anyone who hears him, not just those he can see, because there may be people outside the synagogue or in nearby homes who want to fulfill their obligation. If the shofar-blower has in mind only to fulfill the obligation of those he sees, these additional people will not fulfill their obligation (SA 589:8-9). Le-khatḥila, the shofar-blower must explicitly have in mind to fulfill the obligation of all listeners, and listeners must explicitly have in mind to fulfill the mitzva. However, be-di’avad, even if they did not have this in mind explicitly, as long as they had latent intent, they fulfilled their obligation. Latent intent means that if one were to ask the shofar-blower why he blew, he would answer: to fulfill the obligation of all the listeners. And if one were to ask a listener why he came to hear the shofar, he would answer: to fulfill the mitzva (Peninei Halakha: Prayer 15:8).

[4]. According to Rabbeinu Tam and Smag, the formulation of the berakha is “al teki’at shofar” (“on the blowing of the shofar”). However, Rosh, following Behag, writes that the mitzva is to hear the shofar, which is why the berakha is “lishmo’a kol shofar” (Rosh Ha-shana 4:10). This is also the position of Raavya, Or Zaru’a, and many others, as well as the ruling of SA 585:2.

One who hears the shofar by means of an electronic hearing aid does not fulfill the mitzva according to most poskim. Some say that this is because the sound produced by the device is not the sound of the shofar. Rather, the device receives the sounds as electronic signals and then translates them into a new sound – the sound of the device, not the sound of the shofar (Mishpetei Uziel¸ Mahadura Kama OḤ §21 and Mahadura Tinyana, OḤ §34; Terumat Ha-goren 1:22; R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Minḥat Shlomo 1:9). Others say that one may fulfill other mitzvot that require listening by means of an electronic hearing aid, but when it comes to shofar, one should be stringent, because if one heard the echo of the shofar, he did not fulfill his obligation (Rav Kook, Oraḥ Mishpat §48; R. Frank writes accordingly in Mikra’ei Kodesh, Purim §11, with regard to hearing the megilla; Beit Avi 3:92; Igrot Moshe EH 3:33). However, some are lenient and consider hearing the shofar by means of a device to be the equivalent of regular hearing (Rav Orenstein, Assia 77-78; Yabi’a Omer OḤ 7:18; this is also the inclination of Minḥat Yitzḥak 3:11; see Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 12:9).

In practice, since most poskim maintain that one does not fulfill his obligation by hearing through an electrical device, one who has such a device must remove it, for as long as it is in his ear, he cannot hear the original sound of the shofar. However, one who cannot hear the shofar without the device should leave it in, because according to some poskim he fulfills the mitzva in this way. He cannot be the shofar-blower, though, because according to most poskim he is not obligated in this mitzva.

The same applies to someone with cochlear implants. It would seem that when hearing by means of implants improves to the point that it is really like hearing normally, we will accept the view of R. Orenstein that hearing in this way is considered hearing normally.

06. The Time of the Mitzva and the Obligation of Women and Children

The shofar must be blown during the day, as the verse states, “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month…you shall observe it as a day of blasts” (Bamidbar 29:1). Therefore, the time to fulfill the mitzva begins at sunrise. If one blows it from the time of dawn (when the first light is visible in the east), he fulfills his obligation. If he did not blow the shofar before sunset, he should do so during twilight (bein ha-shmashot), but without a berakha (Megilla 20b; SA 588:1; MB ad loc. 1-2; for more about these times, see Peninei Halakha: Prayer 11:1 and Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 3:1).

As we have seen (section 3), the Sages instituted that the communal shofar-blowing take place during Musaf. The poskim write that if one is unable to pray with a congregation, and so is unable to blow the shofar during Musaf, he should blow the shofar after the first three hours of the day, as judgment is more benign later in the day (Mateh Ephraim; MB 588:2; 3:10 above).

Men are obligated in the mitzva; women are exempt since it is a time-bound positive mitzva. Women who nevertheless wish to hear the shofar fulfill a mitzva and will be rewarded for it. The custom of most women is to voluntarily fulfill this mitzva. The Rishonim disagree as to whether women hearing the shofar should make a berakha (Peninei Halakha: Women’s Prayer 2:8, 23:2). Some say that the berakha was instituted only for men, who are obligated in the mitzva, but a woman who blows the shofar for herself should not recite a berakha. Similarly, if a man blows the shofar for women, he should not recite the berakha. This is the Sephardic practice. Others say that even though women are exempt from the mitzva, those who choose to hear the shofar should make a berakha because they are indeed fulfilling a mitzva. Thus, if a woman blows the shofar for herself, she recites a berakha, and if a man blows the shofar for women, one of them should recite the berakha on behalf of all the women present. This is the Ashkenazic practice.

There is a mitzva to train a child who has reached an educable age – that is, a child who can understand that there is a mitzva to hear three sets of tashrat, tashat, tarat – to hear the shofar. If he is too young to understand this, there is no mitzva to train him. Nevertheless, as long as a child can stand quietly and not disturb the worshippers, it is good to bring him to hear the shofar. It is an opportunity for children to gain memories of the holy atmosphere. However, a child who has trouble sitting quietly during teki’ot or prayer and is likely to disturb other worshippers may not be brought to services (MB 587:16).

After fulfilling the mitzva to hear the shofar, blowing it unnecessarily is prohibited, as it is considered a weekday activity, like playing a musical instrument. However, the prohibition does not apply to children. On the contrary, children who are of an educable age should be encouraged to blow the shofar all day long, so that by the time they reach halakhic maturity (at the age of bar or bat mitzva), they will know how to do it (Rema 596:1). Nevertheless, they must be careful not to blow the shofar while people are sleeping.

07. Shofar-Blowing: Laws and Customs

The custom is to appoint a righteous, benevolent, Torah-oriented person to blow the shofar for the community, but it should not become a matter of contention (MB 585:3). If possible, it is better to place the shofar on the right side of the mouth. It is also customary for the wider opening of the shofar to face upward, as it is written, “God ascends with a blast; the Lord, with the sound of a shofar” (Tehilim 47:6).

In the past, when people recited the prayers by heart, the custom was to make sure that the ḥazan for Musaf would not blow the shofar during the Amida, lest he become confused and lose his place. Nowadays, though, when people pray from maḥzorim, we are not concerned about this issue, so the ḥazan may blow the shofar as well (SA 585:4; MB ad loc. 14).

The shofar-blowing is not divided among several people. Rather, one person blows all the shofar blasts, as “one who begins a mitzva should be encouraged to complete it” (Rema 585:4). However, where dividing it up is an established custom, the congregation may continue doing so, as it shows how much people love the mitzva (MB ad loc. 17).

Since the berakha recited on the blasts before Musaf also covers the blasts during Musaf, one must make sure not to talk until all the blasts have been sounded (SA 592:3).

In many places, the rabbi or another Torah scholar quietly prompts the shofar-blower, telling him which blast to blow, to make sure that he does not get confused (Rema 585:4). The custom is to prompt even for the first blast. Although there is no concern for mistakes, some maintain that the prompt also helps focus (Shlah; see SHT 585:31).

One must hear every blast from its beginning to its end. If someone heard only part of a blast, he has not fulfilled his obligation. Therefore, the congregation must be totally silent during the shofar-blowing. One who needs to cough should suppress it until after the blasts (MB 587:16).

Ashkenazic custom is to conclude the set of the first thirty blasts as well as the last of the hundred blasts with an extended blast, called a “teki’a gedola.” It alludes to our great and never-ending faith. Sephardic custom is to blow an extended teru’a at the end of the service, to confound the satan (SA 596:1). The subtle message is that while we may still experience crises and “breaks,” they are ultimately transformed for the better.

If the shofar-blower feels weak and is unable to continue, someone should take over from him. If the substitute heard the earlier berakhot, he does not need to recite new berakhot, as he has already fulfilled the obligation with the berakhot of the first shofar-blower (SA 585:3).

Many shofar-blowers take two shofarot with them, so if they have difficulty blowing one, they can switch to the second. In such a case, a new berakha need not be recited, since the original berakha applied to both. Be-di’avad, even if someone started out with only one shofar and was given a different one because he had difficulty blowing the first, he need not recite another berakha (MB 585:4).[5]

One may rinse the shofar with water, or even wine, vinegar, or arak, to improve its sound quality. This is not considered a weekday activity that is forbidden on a holiday (SA 586:23).

Some people, following Arizal and Shlah, offer various confessions and prayers after every three sets of shofar blasts. Where a congregation follows this custom, the shofar-blower stops blowing in order to accommodate them. However, many poskim rule that no prayers should be inserted during the thirty blasts. Both practices can be justified. In contrast, it is never permitted to insert a prayer between the recitation of the berakha and the beginning of the teki’ot (MB 592:12; SHT ad loc. 15).[6]

[5]. Sometimes a shofar-blower cannot continue blowing the original shofar because saliva has accumulated in it, making it difficult to blow. Sometimes a shofar-blower’s lip muscles are weak and get tired during the blowing, making him unable continue to purse his lips in the way necessary to continue blowing. A different shofar, with a differently shaped mouthpiece, requires him to change how he purses his lips and use slightly different muscles, which are not tired yet.

[6]. It is preferable to pray with a minyan where he will definitely fulfill the obligation to hear the shofar, even though the prayers there are not particularly dignified and it will be difficult to concentrate, than to go where the prayers are dignified and he will have proper focus, but the shofar-blower is so inept that it is not certain that he will fulfill the mitzva. This is because shofar is a Torah obligation, while prayer is a rabbinic one (Rosh Ha-shana 34a; SA 595:1). The same applies to the second day, since the basis of the obligation to hear the shofar is from the Torah.

08. Kiddush Before Shofar-Blowing and Musaf

Some congregations have the custom of making kiddush and having something to eat after Shaḥarit, before shofar-blowing and Musaf. This custom is especially prevalent in yeshivot, where the prayers last until midday or later, and having something to eat enables them to continue praying joyfully and with concentration.

At first glance, this custom is surprising. We know that once the time has arrived to fulfill a mitzva, it is forbidden to eat. For example, on Sukkot we do not eat in the morning before fulfilling the mitzva of lulav. Moreover, on the first day of Sukkot (when the mitzva of lulav is Torah-mandated), if one did not have a lulav available and started to eat, and then a lulav was brought to him, he must stop eating and do netilat lulav immediately (Sukka 38a; SA 652:2). Given this, how is it possible le-khatḥila to permit eating before shofar-blowing?

In truth, the prohibition is to sit down to a proper meal before performing the mitzva, lest one becomes so absorbed in the meal that he forgets the mitzva. When one makes kiddush and eats only a bit, there is no concern that they will forget to return to the synagogue to hear the shofar. Certainly, there is no such concern about a mitzva that everyone anticipates and that people remind one another to fulfill. Moreover, even those who are stringent and avoid all eating may be lenient when necessary. Accordingly, where the prayer service is not lengthy, it is preferable not to stop for kiddush before shofar-blowing.

Le-khatḥila, one should not eat more than and egg’s-bulk (ke-beitza) of mezonot at the kiddush, so that it is not considered a proper meal, but if one is lenient and eats a little more than this, he has an opinion to rely upon. As for fruits, dairy products, and other light foods, more may be eaten. However, a person should avoid eating heavily, as this may make him tired and hinder his concentration. In such a case, eating does him more harm than good.[7]

[7]. Terumat Ha-deshen §109 prohibits eating anything at all on Purim before hearing the megilla. Similarly, several Aḥaronim write that only if necessary may one eat on Sukkot before netilat lulav (MA 692:7; MB 652:7). Eating before shofar-blowing would fall into the same category (Mateh Ephraim 588:2; Sho’el U-meshiv, Mahadura Telita’a 1:120). Some maintain that even if there is no necessity, one may eat before shofar-blowing, since the reason for the prohibition is the concern that people will become involved in the meal and forget. However, here people will remind each other, and the normal practice is to go back to pray, so there is no reason for concern (Tzitz Eliezer 6:7).

Many forbid eating more than a ke-beitza because that is the definition of “akhilat keva” (“established eating”) in the sukka (Halikhot Shlomo 2:1; Rav Eliyahu; Ḥut Shani, p. 54). My master and teacher R. Avraham Shapira (cited by R. Harari, Mikra’ei Kodesh: Rosh Ha-shana ch. 7, n. 26) permits eating up to approximately three eggs, which is the amount of a proper meal (kevi’ut se’uda). There is no concern that someone will become preoccupied by his meal if he eats less than the volume of three eggs of mezonot. However, to preserve the solemnity of the day, one should not eat too much.

09. Rosh Ha-shana on Shabbat During Temple Times

According to Torah law, even if Rosh Ha-shana is on Shabbat the shofar is blown. However, the Sages ordained that the shofar is not blown on Shabbat, because while everyone is obligated in shofar, not everyone is knowledgeable about the laws pertaining to carrying in the public domain. The Sages were concerned that people who did not know how to blow the shofar might take one to an expert to teach them. If they were to carry the shofar four amot within the public domain, they would transgress the Torah prohibition of carrying on Shabbat (Rosh Ha-shana 29b; SA 588:5).

Nevertheless, in the Temple they blew the shofar even on Shabbat, as rabbinic ordinances did not apply within the Temple. In fact, they blew in Jerusalem and its environs as well as long as the Sanhedrin was situated there, because due to the influence of the court, residents of Jerusalem and its environs were careful to avoid carrying on Shabbat (MT, Laws of Shofar 2:8-9).[8]

Although the ordinance to refrain from blowing the shofar on Rosh Ha-shana on Shabbat is rabbinic, the Torah alludes to it: One verse says, “a day of blasts (yom teru’a)” (Bamidbar 29:1), while another says, “a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts (zikhron teru’a)” (Vayikra 23:24). The Gemara explains that when Rosh Ha-shana is on a weekday it is a day of teru’a, while when it is on Shabbat it is a commemoration (zikhron) of teru’a, when we mention the teru’a without actually sounding the blasts (Rosh Ha-shana 29b).[9]

Kabbalists explain that when Rosh Ha-shana is on Shabbat, blowing the shofar is not necessary because the holiness normally achieved by blowing the shofar on Rosh Ha-shana is largely achieved on Shabbat by virtue of its intrinsic holiness. True, shofar blasts would add even more holiness, but on such an exalted plane that it would be almost impossible for us to perceive or absorb it. However, in the place of the Temple and Sanhedrin, people were able to absorb it. Therefore, in those places the shofar was blown even on Shabbat (R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Likutei Torah, Devarim 56ff).

[8]. The Mishna (Rosh Ha-shana 29b) states, “When Rosh Ha-shana occurs on Shabbat, in the mikdash they would blow the shofar as usual. However, they would not blow it in the rest of the country (medina).” Rambam understands mikdash to include all of Jerusalem, while Rashi maintains that Jerusalem is part of medina.

[9]. As stated above, according to Torah law the shofar is blown on Rosh Ha-shana even on Shabbat (Rosh Ha-shana 29b). True, playing musical instruments on Shabbat is prohibited rabbinically, and this prohibition includes blowing the shofar (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 22:17), but this rabbinic prohibition cannot supersede a Torah commandment. Rather, the reason that blowing the shofar on Shabbat is prohibited is because the Sages were worried that people would carry the shofar in the public domain. This is also why a lulav is not taken on the first day of Sukkot if it is on Shabbat, and why the megilla is not read on Purim if it is on Shabbat. See MT, Laws of Shofar 2:6.

In contrast, the Yerushalmi (Rosh Ha-shana 4:1) maintains that according to the Torah itself the shofar is not blown on Shabbat, i.e., that the derivation from the verses is not a mere allusion but a bona fide inference. The Yerushalmi then asks how they could blow the shofar in the Temple and answers (based on a close reading of the verses) that wherever people know exactly when the first of the month is and they offer the daily sacrifice, they blow the shofar even on Shabbat. Additionally, it offers a derivation from what is said regarding the Jubilee year, “Then you shall sound the horn loud; in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month – the Day of Atonement – you shall have the horn sounded throughout your land” (Vayikra 25:9). We see that it is specifically on Yom Kippur that a shofar is blown throughout the land. In contrast, if Rosh Ha-shana is on Shabbat, the shofar is blown only at the Sanhedrin. This answer also appears in Sifra, Behar §2.

It should be noted that in the Rosh Ha-shana prayers we refer to the day as yom teru’a when it is on a weekday, and as zikhron teru’a when it is on Shabbat (SA 582:7). This is opposed to Seder R. Amram Gaon, Rambam, and other Rishonim, who maintain that yom teru’a is always said.

10. Rosh Ha-shana on Shabbat Post-Destruction

Following the destruction of the Temple, R. Yoḥanan b. Zakkai ordained that the shofar be blown on Shabbat wherever there was a sitting beit din. He was referring to the main beit din of the time, where the new moon was sanctified, and whose judges had been ordained in an unbroken chain since the times of Moshe Rabbeinu. Wherever such a court was located, whether in Yavneh or elsewhere, the shofar was blown. If the court was no longer sitting there, it was prohibited to blow the shofar on Shabbat (MT, Laws of Shofar 2:9).

Rif, one of the greatest Rishonim, maintained that even after the chain of ordination was broken, the shofar should be blown in any important beit din. In fact, Rif followed this practice himself. In his beit din, the shofar was blown on Rosh Ha-shana even on Shabbat. However, the rest of the Rishonim disagreed with him, maintaining that the shofar was only to be blown in a beit din composed of those ordained in an unbroken chain from the time of Moshe. Therefore, there is no longer any beit din in whose presence the shofar can be blown. Furthermore, even the most devoted disciples of Rif did not follow his practice.[10]

About a hundred years ago, after the rebuilding of Jerusalem had begun, R. Akiva Yosef Schlesinger wanted to blow the shofar in Jerusalem when Rosh Ha-shana was on Shabbat. His rationale was that the original law permitting shofar-blowing in Jerusalem and its environs was still in effect even after the destruction. Additionally, we saw that the Sages did not wish to put an absolute end to blowing the shofar when Rosh Ha-shana was on Shabbat. Thus, he felt that in his time, when there were no ordained judges, the shofar must be blown in the beit din of Jerusalem. Furthermore, since the mitzva of blowing the shofar is from the Torah, and the prohibition of blowing on Shabbat is rabbinic, whenever doubt arises we should blow the shofar, thus fulfilling the Torah commandment. R. Schlesinger also took great pains to explain how to implement shofar-blowing in a way that would eliminate the risk of people carrying on Shabbat. Although several rabbis expressed limited support for his position, those who disagreed prevailed, and the shofar was not blown on Shabbat. The main reason is as we established: License to blow the shofar on Rosh Ha-shana which is on Shabbat is limited to a beit din of ordained judges that is the central court of the time. The fact that none of the Torah greats who have lived in Jerusalem since the destruction have blown the shofar on Shabbat supports this understanding (Ir Ha-kodesh Ve-hamikdash 3:20).

[10]. There is a dispute among Tanna’im (m. Rosh Ha-shana 4:1) as to the nature of the beit din before which the shofar is blown on Shabbat after the destruction of the Temple. According to Rif (as understood by Ran), R. Elazar says this refers to the Great Sanhedrin of seventy-one, while others disagree with him and say it refers to a court of twenty-three. The tanna kama (the first, anonymous opinion in a mishna) says it refers to any beit din of three, whether or not they are ordained. Rif rules in accordance with the tanna kama. Rambam (MT, Laws of Shofar 2:9) maintains that the shofar is blown only in a beit din that sanctifies the new moon, meaning the most important beit din of the time, composed of ordained judges. Several Rishonim explain that according to the tanna kama, the beit din does not need to be the most important one, where the new moon is sanctified, but it does need to be a beit din of twenty-three ordained judges (who are empowered to judge capital cases). This is the position of R. Ḥananel and Rashi, as understood by Ramban and Rosh. See further Mo’adim Le-simḥa §5-6.

11. Teru’a and Shevarim Defined

The teru’a is made up of a series of short, broken-off sounds, like a sob. In halakha, these sounds are referred to as “tromitin.” Some maintain that a teru’a is made up of three tromitin (Rabbeinu Ḥananel; Rashi), while others maintain that it is made up of nine (Rivam; Riva; Smag). In practice we blow nine, but be-di’avad the obligation is fulfilled with three. One may blow more than nine tromitin for a teru’a, as long as the sounds are continuous, with no break (SA 590:3; MB ad loc. 12; for the Yemenite custom, see the note).[11]

The shevarim is made up of three medium-length blasts, like a sigh or groan. Each individual blast (shever) is about the length of three tromitin. Le-khatḥila, we do not add to the three blasts, but bedi’avad, one who does has fulfilled his obligation (SA 590:3; MB ad loc. 11). Some blow each shever with a rise, like a sigh in a broken voice. This is the Lithuanian custom.

If one blows a shever which is the length of two tromitin, he fulfills his obligation, for it is clear that the blast is similar to sighing rather than crying, since it is still twice as long as a teru’a’s tromit. If, however, a shever lasts for less than the length of two tromitin, he has not fulfilled his obligation. One who blows each shever for four tromitin fulfills his obligation, as this is very similar to the normal shever. Even one who extends a shever up to six tromitin fulfills his obligation be-di’avad.[12]

[11]. The generally accepted teru’a is reminiscent of sobbing: short, cut-off sounds. However, the Yemenite custom is to blow a wailing sound. It is not comprised of distinct, cut-off blasts but is rather one long wavering blast. In other words, the teru’a of Ashkenazim and Sephardim is reminiscent of crying that is fitful and uncontrolled, like someone wracked with sobs, while the teru’a of Yemenites is reminiscent of wailing in a controlled fashion, like someone ululating. In practice, every community should continue its custom. Those who are especially meticulous make efforts to listen to the shofar-blowing of all the different communities.

[12]. Some say that a shever that is 3 tromitin long is invalid. Why? Because a shevarim is a type of teru’a, and we know that the teki’a and the teru’a must be the same length. According to Rabbeinu Ḥananel and Rashi, a teru’a of 3 tromitin is acceptable. Therefore, 3 tromitin is the length of a teki’a within the set of tarat. True, within the set of tashrat, the teki’a is longer, to match the length of the shevarim-teru’a. Nevertheless, since a teki’a within tarat is 3 tromitin, a shever that is 3 tromitin can be confused with a tekia (Tur’s understanding of Tosafot and Rosh; first opinion in SA 590:3). According to Rivam, Riva, and Smag, a teru’a is 9 tromitin (as is a teki’a). Accordingly, be-di’avad, a shever can be longer or shorter than the prescribed 3 tromitin, as it will not be confused with a teru’a or tekia (second opinion in SA).

Others maintain that there is no connection between the different sets; in each set, each teki’a must be the same length as the adjacent teru’a. Thus, within the set of tashrat, the teki’a must be the length of a shevarim-ter’ua, while within tashat it must be the length of a shevarim. Since there is no connection between the different sets, even according to Rabbeinu Ḥananel and Rashi a shever that is longer than 3 tromitin is acceptable (Mordekhai; Hagahot Asheri; Rema). This is the common practice (MB 590:15).

Some maintain that we must take into account the first opinion of SA, so for at least thirty blasts we should make sure that each shever is less than 3 tromitin (MA ad loc. 2; see Kol Teru’a 8). In my humble opinion, this is not necessary. First, it is a case of a triple doubt, where we can be lenient: (a) It may be that those who maintain that a teru’a is 9 tromitin are correct; (b) even among those who believe that it is 3 tromitin, it is possible that Mordekhai and Hagahot Asheri are correct that there is no connection between the different sets; (c) there are other opinions as to the length of a teki’a: Rambam says that it is half the length of a teru’a, while Raavad says that a teki’a is always 9 tromitin. Second, it is very difficult to guarantee that each shever be less than 3 tromitin, as the difference between a shever of 2 tromitin and 3 is approximately a quarter of a second. It is next to impossible to discern this difference, and we have a principle that the Torah was not given to the ministering angels (who have superhuman capabilities). Third, if the shofar-blower tries to blow a shever of 2 tromitin, he may in fact end up blowing it a little shorter. That would make the shever into a teru’a sound, which all would agree does not fulfill the obligation. Therefore, it would seem that as long as the shever sounds like a sigh, it is acceptable le-khatḥila. Some say that people who follow the Lithuanian custom when blowing have removed themselves from any doubt; since the blast they blow has a rise, there is no way to confuse it with a teki’a. (See Hilkhot Ḥag Be-ḥag 12:64.)

How long may a shever be? Those who say that a teru’a is 9 tromitin say that a teki’a is the same length, and a shever must be shorter than this (SA 590:3, second opinion). However, this requires further inquiry, because if a shever is too long, it approximates the joyful sound of a teki’a. I therefore wrote that a shever, to be acceptable be-di’avad, must be no longer than 6 tromitin. (See Mateh Ephraim ad loc. 11; Elef La-mateh ad loc. 14.) According to Rambam’s view that a teki’a is half as long as a teru’a, after 4.5 tromitin a shever cannot be distinguished from a teki’a. Thus, a shever must be less than 4 tromitin. Le-khatḥila, one should defer to Rambam’s view.

12. Teki’a Defined

A teki’a is a long, smooth sound which must be at least as long as a teru’a. But we blow three types of teru’ot: shevarim-teru’a, shevarim, and teru’a. The halakha mandates that within each set of blasts, the teki’a must be the length of the teru’a of that set.[13] Therefore, when tashrat is blown, the teki’a must be the length of eighteen tromitin, as a shevarim is about nine tromitin and the length of the teru’a is nine tromitin. Even if someone extends the teru’a or blows additional teru’ot, the teki’a does not have to extend beyond eighteen tromitin, as everyone agrees that this length fulfills the obligation. When blowing tashat or tarat, the teki’a must be the length of nine tromitin, as both the shevarim and the teru’a on their own are nine tromitin long.

As we have said, a tromit is a short blast of the shofar. The combination of many short blasts makes a teru’a. How long this takes depends upon the shofar-blower and the shofar. The faster ones blow nine tromitin in 1.25 seconds, while the slower ones take 2.5 seconds. Each shofar-blower must calibrate his teki’a and shevarim based on the length of his tromitin. If one wishes to meet the criteria of all the opinions, he should take five seconds to blow tashrat and 2.5 seconds to blow tashat and tarat.[14]

Even if the quality of the sound changes several times during one teki’a, as long as the teki’a is continuous, it is acceptable, as any type of blast is acceptable. Those who are meticulous try to blow stable, continuous notes with no rises, falls, or other variations.[15]

[13]. “The teki’a should be the length of three teru’ot” (m. Rosh Ha-shana 4:9). The Gemara (33b) asks: “Didn’t we teach that the teki’a and teru’a are the same length? Abaye replied: ‘Our Tanna was referring to all the teki’ot in all the sets; the other Tanna was considering only one set but no more.’” Most poskim explain this to mean, as I wrote above, that the length of the teki’a is the same as that of the teru’a. This is the opinion of Rashi, Tosafot, Rosh, Tur, SA 590:3, and MB ad loc. 15. However, Rambam (MT, Laws of Shofar 3:4) maintains that the length of the two teki’ot is equal to that of the teru’a between them, meaning that a teki’a is only half as long as a teru’a. We must say that in his opinion a teru’a is 9 tromitin and not 3, since it is inconceivable that a teki’a would be only 1.5 tromitin. Alternatively, if Rambam’s teru’a is that of the Yemenites, then each tromit is much longer than the generally accepted length of the tromit, which would make his position more understandable. Raavad maintains that a teki’a is always 9 tromitin.

[14]. Shulḥan Arukh describes tromitin as the shortest sounds possible, made with minimal effort (590:3). Yet not everyone’s tromitin are equal. Expert shofar-blowers can blow nine tromitin in 1.25 seconds, while it takes 2.5 seconds for slower blowers. The teki’a and shevarim must always correspond to the teru’a. In any case, even for the slower blowers, in a set of tashrat, as long as each teki’a is at least 2.5 seconds it is good enough, as be-di’avad 3 tromitin are adequate for a teru’a and 6 tromitin for a shevarim. In the sets of tashat and tarat, be-di’avad a teki’a of 1.5 seconds’ duration suffices.

[15]. “All shofar sounds are acceptable” (Rosh Ha-shana 27b; SA 586:6). This means that even if in the middle of a teki’a the sound changes, it is acceptable, as long as it is continuous. True, some interpret Ritva (33b) as saying that the sound may not change. But in fact, he simply writes that one should not intentionally insert a rise at the end of the teki’a. Indeed, some who are meticulous avoid rises in the teki’a (R. Ḥarlap). However, technically, such an irregularity does not disqualify the blast. (This is the position of all the poskim, and R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach rules this way in Halikhot Shlomo 2:9.) Nevertheless, it would seem that if a teki’a rises or goes up and down repeatedly, so much so that it mimics a shevarim, it is proper to redo it.

Yemenites traditionally incorporate a rise in tone at the end of a teki’a. During the teki’a this rise expresses the heights of joy, while during the teru’a it expresses the depths of sorrow. Those who follow the Yemenite practice must ensure that there is a clear difference between the teki’a and the teru’a, making the teki’a very stable and the teru’a truly tremolo. The shofar-blower must be meticulous not to waver while blowing the teki’a, lest it sound like there is a teru’a in the middle of the teki’a.

13. Breathing

Le-khatḥila, one should blow in the order mandated by the Sages: three sets of tashrat, three sets of tashat, and three sets of tarat. Be-di’avad, one who changes the order still fulfills his obligation. For example, if he blows two sets of tashrat and then goes on to blow three sets each of tashat and tarat, he can later make up the last tashrat (SA 590:9; MB ad loc. 35).

If one makes a mistake blowing a blast, sometimes it is sufficient to simply repeat the blast. Other times the entire set of three blasts – tashrat, tashat, or tarat – must be repeated. It is never necessary to repeat an entire series of three sets, as each set stands on its own.

Within each set, the shofar-blower must take a break long enough to breathe between each teki’a and the adjacent shevarim or teru’a, and vice versa. Since the teki’a expresses joy and peace, while the teru’a expresses crying and sighing, it is proper to separate them (Levush). If the shofar-blower did not make this minimal pause between them, some say that he nevertheless fulfills his obligation, while others say that he does not. Even though the lenient position is accepted, for the first thirty blasts it is proper to be stringent and return to the first teki’a of that set (SA 590:5; SAH ad loc. 9).[16]

Each shevarim and each teru’a must be continuous. If the shofar-blower was confused and stopped for long enough to take a breath while in the middle of a shevarim or teru’a, he has not fulfilled the obligation, as he has split the blast into two distinct parts. Therefore, he must repeat it (MB 590:16; SHT ad loc. 14).[17]

The Rishonim disagree about the shevarim-teru’a in tashrat. Many maintain that it must be blown in one breath, as they are a single mitzva. Since shevarim-teru’a may be the teru’a referred to by the Torah, one may not interrupt it by breathing in the middle – and if he did, he does not fulfill the obligation. However, he should pause slightly between them, to separate the two parts of the blast (R. Yitzḥak ibn Gi’at; Rosh; Rashba; Ran; Rivash; Beit Yosef; MB ad loc. 18). Others maintain that le-khatḥila he must take a breath between them, as people breathe while sighing or sobbing (Rabbeinu Tam). However, if he does not take a breath, all agree that he fulfills his obligation be-di’avad. To fulfill every view, the custom is that for the teki’ot before Musaf, the shofar-blower does not breathe between the shevarim and teru’a, but for the thirty teki’ot during the Amida, he does (SA 590:4; SHT ad loc. 18).

[16]. One may not blow a double teki’a at the end of one set, intending for it to serve as the first teki’a of the next set as well. If one did so anyway, the blast counts as the last teki’a of the first set, but he must blow a new teki’a to serve as the first blast of the next set (Rambam; Ramban; Rashba; Rosh). Some are stringent and maintain that since he intended for this teki’a to do double duty, he has invalidated it entirely, for each teki’a needs a beginning and an end, while here his intent was for the first teki’a to have no end and the second to have no beginning. And since the teki’a is invalid, he has invalidated the entire set; he must return to the beginning of the set and redo it (Tur based on Yerushalmi). Halakha follows the lenient position (MB 590:28 based on Eliya Rabba and Vilna Gaon, though Beit Yosef maintains that it is preferable to defer to the stringent opinion).

[17]. According to most poskim – Rishonim and Aḥaronim – if he paused to breathe in the middle of a shevarim or teru’a, he has not fulfilled the obligation, as explained in SHT 590:14. However, some are lenient (Taz; MA).

14. Mistakes and Interruptions

Two types of mistakes can be made while blowing the shofar. The first type is when the shofar-blower intentionally blows a blast which turns out to be the wrong blast. In this case, he must return to the beginning of the set. The second type is when he tries and fails to blow the proper blast. In this case, he need not repeat the set. Rather, he should take a deep breath and blow the proper blast. We will now explain further.

The first type is when the shofar-blower got confused and blew a teru’a between a teki’a and a shevarim, or a shevarim between a teru’a and a teki’a. Since he intended to blow the blast that turned out to be incorrect in the middle of a set, he must go back to the beginning of the set. This is true even if he did not complete the blast, but only blew for the length of a tromit (SA 590:8). Likewise, if after completing a shevarim he took a breath and blew another shever, he must return to the first teki’a of the set. The additional shever was an alien blast in the middle of the set. Similarly, if after blowing a teru’a he took a breath and began another teru’a, he must return to the beginning of the set (SA 590:8).[18]

The second type is when the shofar-blower tries to blow the last teki’a of the set, but what comes out is closer to a shevarim or a teru’a. He should take a breath and blow a proper teki’a. He need not go back to the beginning of the set, since he did not mean to blow the wrong blast. Similarly, if he was trying to blow a teru’a or a shevarim but ran out of breath in the middle, he must blow that blast again, but he need not return to the beginning of the set. Some shofar-blowers like to extend the last tromit of the teru’a. They must be careful when doing so, because if it sounds like a shevarim, the teru’a must be repeated (MB 590:31).

If the shofar-blower blew three tromitin of the teru’a but was unable to continue, and he paused long enough to take a breath, he must return to the beginning of the set. Since some maintain that three tromitin are sufficient to fulfill the obligation, if he blows the nine blasts of a teru’a after taking a breath, it would be as though he blew two teru’ot (AHS 590:20).[19]

When there are two minyanim near each other, once the first minyan has started blowing the shofar, it is preferable for the second minyan not to start blowing until the first one has finished the initial thirty blasts. This is because some maintain that if a person hears other blasts in the middle of the shofar-blowing, even if he does not intend to fulfill his obligation through them, they invalidate the blasts he has already heard. Even though the halakha follows the view of most poskim, who reject this, it is preferable le-khatḥila to defer to those who are stringent (BHL 590:8 s.v. “ke-mitasek”).

[18]. Even though Rabbeinu Tam and Ba’al Ha-Ma’or say that no teki’a ever invalidates anything be-di’avad, Ramban and Raavan say that a teki’a which is out of place does invalidate the set. This is the ruling of SA 590:8, and it should be followed for the first thirty blasts before Musaf (because the berakhot are recited over them), as well as for the thirty blasts during the repetition of the Amida (because they are the primary blasts). However, for the blasts sounded after Musaf, one may rely on the lenient opinion (MB 590:35). Sephardim and Ḥasidim are lenient regarding the thirty blasts blown during the Amida, as well as the ten blasts at the end of the service.

[19]. If, while blowing a set of tashrat, the shofar-blower blew the first two blasts of a shevarim and then began a teru’a, he must go back and blow a shevarim-teru’a again. However, he need not repeat the initial teki’a because even if he got confused (as opposed to being unable to blow the correct blasts), since he is still in the middle of the shevarim-teru’a, and the sounds of the teru’a are part of it, he is considered like someone who is unable to blow, rather than someone who made a mistake (SA 590:7; MB ad loc. 27-28).

15. Shofar Defined

The shofar of Rosh Ha-shana is a hollow horn that grows from the head of an animal. The word “shofar” is related to the word “shefoferet” (“hollow tube”). A deer’s antlers may not be used, because they are not hollow but solid bone; one would have to drill a hole in them to use them. A cow’s horn may also not be used, as it is called “keren,” not “shofar” (Rosh Ha-shana 26a; SA 586:1). The sound comes out of the wider end of the shofar, the part that had been attached to the animal. This alludes to the idea that by blowing the shofar, we strike a blow against our animal nature, allowing us to reach a higher level of repentance.

There is a mitzva for the shofar of Rosh Ha-shana to be bent or curved, symbolizing the need for us to bend or humble our hearts before God (Rosh Ha-shana 26b). The best way to perform the mitzva is to use a curved ram’s horn. R. Abahu explains in the Gemara, “Why do we blow with a ram’s horn? God said, ‘Use a ram’s horn to blow before Me so that I will be reminded of the binding of Yitzḥak, son of Avraham, and I will consider it as if you sacrificed yourselves before Me’” (Rosh Ha-shana 16a). A mature male sheep is called a ram (ayil), while a female is called a ewe (raḥel). It is best to use the curved horn of the ram for a shofar; one step below that is to use the curved horn of the ewe; since ewes, too, are sheep, their horns also bring to mind the binding of Yitzḥak.

If a person has a choice of blowing either a straight ram’s horn or the curved horn of a different animal, it is preferable to use the curved shofar, because using a curved shofar is a law mentioned explicitly in the Mishna, while using a ram’s horn is only a preference (MB 586:5).[20]

A ram’s horn is naturally curved, but if it grew straight, one may curve it by heating it up, thus making it into an ideal shofar. It is also permitted to heat a shofar and bend it for aesthetic reasons. (See Harḥavot.)

However, if someone heated it up and reshaped it so that the narrower end of the shofar became the wider end, he has invalidated the shofar. Similarly, if he turned a shofar inside out, it is invalid (SA 586:12). Such things can happen, because when a shofar is heated up it becomes very pliable; those who supply shofarot sometimes prefer to turn them inside out, because it is easier to smooth and beautify them that way. Therefore, a shofar must be bought from a trustworthy person, who can be believed when he says that he did not turn it inside out. When the wider end of a shofar has natural grooves and bumps, it is a sign that the shofar was not turned inside out.

[20]. Most of the laws pertaining to the shofar are derived from the verse about blowing the shofar in the Jubilee year (Vayikra 25:9). The Sages extrapolate from it to Rosh Ha-shana, as is explained in Rosh Ha-shana 33b.

We learn in a mishna, “All shofarot are kosher except that of a cow, because it is a horn” (Rosh Ha-shana 26a). Later on we learn, “The Rosh Ha-shana shofar should be the straight horn of an ibex…. R. Yehuda says, ‘On Rosh Ha-shana we blow rams’ horns’” (ibid. 26b). R. Yehuda is referring to curved rams’ horns, as horns from a ram are generally curved. R. Levi in the Gemara rules that on Rosh Ha-shana and Yom Kippur the mitzva is to use curved horns, because during those days the humbler a person is, the better. Thus, the first mishna teaches us that a cow’s horn is invalid because it is called a keren and not a shofar. In contrast, all other shofarot are kosher. The second mishna teaches us that it is preferable to use a curved shofar, but that a straight one is kosher as well. From R. Abahu’s statement in Rosh Ha-shana 16a we derive that the ideal shofar to use is a ram’s horn. This is the ruling of Raavad, Ramban, Rosh, Rashba, Ran, and many others. In contrast, Rambam rules that only a curved ram’s horn is kosher (MT, Laws of Shofar 1:1). According to him, R. Yehuda disagrees with the statement in the first mishna that all shofarot are kosher, believing that only a shofar from a bent ram’s horn is acceptable. This is also the opinion of R. Levi. R. Sa’adia Gaon and Yere’im follow this as well. However, the Aḥaronim rule in accordance with the majority of Rishonim that all shofarot are kosher. Therefore, one may recite a berakha before blowing a straight ibex horn or the like. This is also the ruling in SA 586:1. Nevertheless, in light of Rambam’s position, efforts should be made to procure a curved ram’s horn.

16. Miscellaneous Laws of Shofar

A shofar must be at least a tefaḥ long, so that when the shofar-blower is holding it in his hand, both ends of the shofar can be seen (SA 586:9).

Even if the sound of a shofar is very high-pitched, very low-pitched, or very rough, it is acceptable, in accordance with the principle: “All shofar sounds are acceptable” (SA 586:6).

If one glued together pieces of several shofarot to form a new shofar, it is invalid. Even if one glued only one broken piece of a shofar onto an existing one to lengthen it, he has invalidated it, for a shofar must be a single piece as it is found naturally, with no additions. Thus, if one added to the length of a shofar with metal or plastic, it is invalid (SA 586:10-11). However, if one sawed down a shofar and as a result its sound changed, it is kosher as long as a tefaḥ of the shofar remains. Similarly, if one sanded the shofar outside and inside, making it thinner and thus changing its sound, it is kosher (SA 586:13-14).

If one coated the outside of a shofar with gold or any other material, and this changed its sound, it is invalid, because the sound is not being produced exclusively by the shofar. Therefore, one should refrain from painting a shofar, lest the paint change its sound. However, it is permitted to carve designs into a shofar (SA and Rema 586:17).

If the inside of a shofar is coated with gold or any another material, the shofar is invalid, because the blasts blown do not pass through the shofar, but rather through a different material. Similarly, if the shofar’s mouthpiece is coated with gold or another material, even if they do not add to the length of the shofar, it is invalid, because the coating separates between the shofar-blower’s mouth and the shofar (SA 586:16, 18).

If a shofar was pierced but the sound did not change, it may be used even le-khatḥila. If the sound did change, some maintain that the shofar is invalid. Le-khatḥila, one should defer to this opinion. If no other shofar is available, one may rely on the position of most poskim, that as long as the hole does not extend over most of the shofar, it is kosher, and one can recite a berakha when using it. This is true even if the length of the shofar without the hole is less than a tefaḥ.

If one plugged the hole by gluing on a piece from a different shofar, if the sound returned to what it was, and the hole does not cover most of the shofar, it is kosher. In pressing circumstances, even if the sound is affected, the shofar may be used, and the berakha may even be recited before blowing it (MB ad loc. 35).[21]

If a shofar has a crack lengthwise that was not glued or tied, some maintain that even if it is a very small crack, it invalidates the shofar, as blowing the shofar is liable to crack the entire shofar. However, according to most poskim, if the crack extends over less than half of the shofar, the shofar is kosher. If necessary, one may rely upon them and even recite a berakha. However, if the crack runs along most of the shofar’s length, the shofar is invalid (SA 586:8; MB ad loc. 43; see BHL there). If someone heated up the shofar and repaired the crack, the shofar is kosher. If the crack extends the entire length of the shofar, the shofar is absolutely invalid. There is no way to fix it, since this object no longer qualifies as a shofar (SA 586:8). If a shofar is cracked widthwise, and the crack does not extend most of the way around, the shofar is kosher even if the sound is affected. If the crack does extend most of the way around the shofar and there is less than a tefaḥ from the mouthpiece to the crack, the shofar is invalid (ibid. 9).[22]

[21]. If a shofar has a hole which has not been plugged, even if its sound has been affected, it is still kosher according to most poskim (Tosafot based on Yerushalmi; Ramban; Rosh; Ran; Rabbeinu Yeruḥam; and others). This is also the ruling of SA (586:7). Others say that if the quality of the sound has changed, it is invalid (Ritva; Kol Bo). Le-khatḥila one should defer to their opinion (Rema). However, if the sound has not changed, it would seem that all agree that it may be used (MB ad loc. 28). When we speak of its sound changing, it must be a clear difference, because a minimal change is difficult to discern.

According to the Mishna and Gemara (Rosh Ha-shana 27a-b) as understood by Rambam and Ran, three requirements must be met in order for a shofar to remain kosher: A) The hole extends over less than half of the shofar’s surface; B) If the hole is plugged, it must be fixed with something of its type, meaning a piece from another shofar (or the two sides of the shofar may be stuck back together); C) Its sound must remain unchanged. If any one of these conditions is not met, the shofar is invalid. In contrast, according to Tosafot and Rosh, the shofar must meet condition A and either B or C. In other words, the area with the hole must not be more than half of the surface. Additionally, either the shofar’s hole must be plugged with something of its type (in which case it is kosher even if the sound has changed), or the sound must be unchanged (in which case it is kosher even if the hole was plugged with some other material). Pri Ḥadash and Vilna Gaon state that the latter position is accepted. Pri Megadim and MB 586:35 add that at times of necessity, the berakha may even be recited before blowing such a shofar. It is preferable, though, to remove the plug, because then, even if the sound has changed, more poskim would agree that the shofar is kosher.

[22]. Additional laws: It is forbidden to blow a stolen shofar. One who transgressed and blew a stolen shofar has nevertheless fulfilled the mitzva, because the mitzva is to hear the shofar, and it was not the sound that was stolen (SA 586:2). If the shofar’s owner has given up hope of getting it back, and the thief passed the shofar on to someone else, the shofar is no longer considered stolen, and it is permissible to blow this shofar. (The thief, though, is still obligated to pay the original owner the value of the shofar.) Nevertheless, since it was stolen, some Aḥaronim write that one may not recite the berakha before blowing it (MB 586:9; Peninei Halakha: Sukkot 4:13).

If the owner of a shofar is not present, and there is no way to ask his permission to use his shofar, one may nevertheless use it for a hundred blasts, as there is a presumption that he would want his shofar to be used for the mitzva (MB 586:9). Afterward, the person who used it must wash and clean the shofar well. If it is known that a shofar’s owner is repulsed by others blowing his shofar, then no one may do so.

One may not blow a shofar that was used for idolatry. (See SA 586:3-4.)

Chapter Contents