Shofar History and Tradition

The shofar is mentioned in the Torah. An instruction manual, straight from the sources.

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These two shofar services have specific names. The first is called "sitting" and the second (during the repetition of the Musaf Amidah) is called "standing." The latter refers to the Amidah,which means "standing." "Sitting" refers merely to a time other than the standing Amidah. Regardless of the name of the service, the custom is to stand whenever the shofar is sounded.

The shofar service conducted after the Torah reading begins with the chanting of Psalm 47, which could well have been read on Rosh Hashanah in the Temple. Its appropriateness to Rosh Hashanah is obvious: God ascends midst acclamation: the Lord to the blasts of the shofar (47:6). God reigns over the nations; God is seated on His holy throne (47:9).

In some congregations, this psalm is recited seven times. This repetition is another of the many Lurianic mystical practices that have become part of the Rosh Hashanah service.

The two blessings, "to hear the sound of the shofar" and Sheheheyanu ("who has kept us in life"), are recited by the person who sounds the shofar. While only one person blows the shofar, all the worshippers listen.

The Torah (Numbers 10:6‑8) mentions two different sounds, the teki'ah, one long blast, and the teru'ah, a shorter sound. Since the rabbis were not certain exactly what the teru'ah was, two possibilities emerged: the shevarim, broken sounds resembling a moan, and the teruah, an outcry of nine staccato notes. Both are used today.

Thus the blowing of the shofar follows a prescribed pattern. It is composed of three sets of blasts, each consisting of three repetitions of three notes. Each set is different from the other. The various notes of the shofar that are blown are:

teki'ah--one long blast,

shevarim--three broken sounds, and

teru'ah‑nine--staccato notes.

The pattern of blasts is as follows:

teki'ah‑shevarim teru'ah‑tekiah;

teki'ah‑shevarim‑teki'ah;

teki'ah‑teru'ah‑teki'ah.

The final tekiah is prolonged (it is called teki'ah gedotah, a "great blast"). This last blast recalls the verse from Isaiah, "And on that day a great ram's horn shall be sounded" (27:13).

We conclude the service with a hopeful look toward the future, as the blowing of the shofar is followed by the reading of a verse from Psalm 89:

Happy is the people who know the teru'ah, O Lord, they walk in the light of Your presence (89:16).

Since the first word of this verse in Hebrew is ashrei, this verse leads perfectly into the recitation of the next prayer, Ashrei (Psalm 145), after which the Torah is returned to the ark, concluding the morning service.

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Rabbi Dr. Reuven Hammer

Rabbi Dr. Reuven Hammer is a former President of the International Rabbinical Assembly, he is one of the founders of the Masorti Movement in Israel and is currently Head of the Masorti Beth Din in Israel.