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The blowing of the shofar (Hebrew: תקיעת שופר, Hebrew pronunciation: [t(e)kiˈ(ʔ)at ʃoˈfaʁ]) is a ritual performed by Jews on Rosh Hashanah. The shofar is a musical horn, typically made of a ram's horn. Jewish law requires that the shofar be blown 30 times on each day of Rosh Hashanah, and by custom it is blown 100 or 101 times on each day.
Initially, the blasts made by the ram's horn were blown during the first standing prayer (Amidah) on the Jewish New Year, but by a rabbinic edict it was enacted that they be blown only during the Mussaf-prayer, because of an incident that happened, whereby congregants who blew the horn during the first standing prayer were suspected by their enemies of staging a war-call and were massacred. Even though the underlining motive for the rabbinic enactment was no longer prevalent in ensuing generations, their enactment still stands and is practised by all Jewish communities to this very day, to blow the ram's horn only during the Mussaf-prayer.
Types of blast
The following blast are blown on Rosh Hashanah:
- Tekiah is a single long blast of the shofar.
- Shevarim (or sh'varim) (שברים) is composed of three connected short sounds.
- Teruah - in most Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions, this is a string of many short-lived, broken blasts made by the tongue (e.g. tut-tut-tut-tut, etc.). In the Yemenite and Babylonian Jewish communities, it is a single long, trembling blast.
- It is customary for the last tekiah in a set of 30, and the last tekiah blown overall on a day of Rosh Hashana, to be extended in length, called a tekiah gedolah ("great tekiah").
Combinations of blasts
The blasts are blown in the following set groups:
- tekiah-shevarim-teruah-tekiah (abbreviated TaShRaT) [being a long sustained blast (tekiah), followed by three short lilting blasts (shevarim), with the resounding pitch of a person who is crying, and again by a long sustained blast (tekiah). This series was to be repeated three times, for a total of 12 blasts]
- tekiah-shevarim-tekiah (abbreviated TaShaT) [being one long sustained blast (tekiah), followed by three short lilting blasts (shevarim), followed by a long sustained blast (tekiah). This series was also to be repeated three times]
- tekiah-teruah-tekiah (abbreviated TaRaT) [being a long sustained blast (tekiah), followed by a long quavering blast (teruah), and again a long sustained blast (tekiah). Again, this series was to be repeated three times]
Place in the prayer service
In Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities, it is customary to hear 100 or 101 sounds in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah morning, although the minimum requirement is to hear 30 sounds. The sounds are scheduled as follows:
- 30 shofar blasts are sounded to fulfill the mitzvah of shofar blowing, after the Torah reading and before Mussaf. These blasts are preceded by reciting Bible verses related to the shofar, followed by two blessings: one on the Biblical commandment of "hearing the sound of the shofar", and the blessing of Shehecheyanu. The blasts here consist of the TaShRaT sequence three times, followed by TaShaT three times, then TaRaT three times.
- 30 shofar blasts are blown in the silent Mussaf prayer, 10 blasts after each of the three central blessings. Each sequence of 10 blasts consists of TaShRaT, TaShaT, TaRaT one time each. (In some communities these blasts are not performed.)
- 30 shofar blasts are blown in the leader's repetition of the Mussaf prayer, 10 blasts after each of the three central blessings. Each sequence of 10 blasts consists of TaShRaT, TaShaT, TaRaT one time each.
- 10 (Ashkenazi) or 11 (Sephardic) blasts are blown after the Mussaf prayer. If the shofar was not blown during the silent Mussaf prayer, 40 or 41 blasts are blown here.
Yemenite Jewish custom is to only blow 40 blasts: 30 before Mussaf, and 10 in Mussaf (TaRaT, TaShaT, and TaShRaT once each). The blowing of 10 rather than 30 in Mussaf is based on the opinion of the Rif that the Torah obligation to blow the shofar was satisfied with the initial shofar blasts, and blowing too many more would be a burden on the community.
Those who practise making 70 shofar blasts, such as the Yemenite Jews of the Baladi-rite, do so only because the first thirty blasts are made while the congregation is sitting. These same thirty blasts are repeated when the congregation stands up during the Mussaf-prayer, during which time the emissary of the congregation (Shaliach Tzibbur) leads them in prayer out-loud. Since he fulfills their obligation, the Mussaf-Prayer is only said once by them. There is no "chazarah" (repetition of the prayer), and subsequently, there is no need to make an additional thirty blasts at this time. Another ten blasts are made at the end of the prayer, in accordance with a tradition passed down from the days of the Geonim.
According to all opinions, the mitzvah is fulfilled by hearing the initial set of 30 blasts. Thus, if a person cannot attend the synagogue prayers, they will commonly arrange for a shofar blower to visit and blow only 30 blasts for them.
Duration of the notes
Among Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities, the teruah is blown as nine very short notes, while the shevarim is blown as three longer notes, each equal in duration to three short notes. The tekiah must be longer than the blast which it comes before and after. Thus the tekiah must be more than 9 short notes in duration when blowing TaRaT or TaShaT, and more than 18 short notes when blowing TaShRaT.
The Shulchan Aruch rules that the minimum length of a teruah and tekiah are identical, but agrees that a longer teruah is also valid. In Yemen, the practice was to make the teruah double the length of a tekiah. Each community is admonished to follow its ancestral tradition.
Pausing between shevarim and teruah
When shevarim and teruah are blown together, a dispute exists whether they must be blown in a single breath, or whether one may pause (for a duration of no longer than a breath) between them. The Shulchan Aruch suggests that "one who fears God" should blow in a single breath before Mussaf, and with two breaths during Mussaf. The Chazon Ish adopted this practice. However, general Ashkenazi custom is to always stop for breath between shevarim and teruah, both before and during Mussaf (but not between the three blasts of shevarim).
Rabbi Yihya Saleh, explaining the Yemenite custom, wrote that a breath is taken between shevarim and teruah, both before and during Mussaf. In this regard, the Yemenite practice was more lenient than that of the Shulchan Aruch.
Initial 9 blasts
The rabbis of the Talmud concluded that a shofar must be used for this blowing, and that each teruah must be preceded and followed by a tekiah. Since the word teruah appears three times in the Torah in connection with holidays of the seventh month, the rabbis concluded that a teruah must be blown three times, making a total of nine blasts (three sets of tekiah-teruah-tekiah). The three sets also correspond to the three special blessings of Mussaf: malchiyot, zichronot, and shofarot.
From 9 to 30 blasts
In the Talmudic era, doubts arose regarding the correct sound of the teruah blast - whether it should be a series of short, lilting blasts similar to a person moaning (now known as shevarim), or else a staccato beat sound similar to a person whimpering (now known as teruah), or else a combination of the two sounds (shevarim-teruah). Therefore, Rav Abbahu of Caesarea (3rd century CE), ruled that shofar blowing should be performed according to each of the three possibilities:
- Three sets of tekiah, teruah, tekiah (in case what we call teruah is the correct sound of the Biblical teruah)
- Three sets of tekiah, shevarim, tekiah (in case what we call shevarim is the correct sound of the Biblical teruah)
- Three sets of tekiah, shevarim-teruah, tekiah (in case what we call shevarim-teruah is the correct sound of the Biblical teruah)
If tekiah, shevarim-teruah, tekiah is considered to be four blasts, then Rabbi Abbahu's requirement makes for a total of 30 blasts.
According to another opinion, Rabbi Abbahu instituted a total of 12 rather than 30 blasts, specifically tekiah, shevarim-teruah, tekiah repeated three times. However, modern halacha accepts the opinion that 30 blasts are blown.
From 30 to 100 blasts
The Talmud specifies that the shofar is blown on two occasions on Rosh Hashana: once while "sitting" (before the Mussaf prayer), and once while "standing" (during the Mussaf prayer). This increases the number of blasts from the basic requirement of 30, to 60.
The Arukh mentions a custom to blow 100 blasts: 30 before Mussaf, 30 during the Mussaf silent prayer, 30 during the cantor's loud repetition of Mussaf, and 10 more after Mussaf. The final 10 blasts are by tradition dating to the Geonim, and are usually blown in the middle of "Kaddish Tiskabal." Blowing 100 (or 101) blasts is nearly universal today, though many congregations omit the 30 blasts in the silent prayer, and instead blow 40 after Mussaf.
The number 100 in the Arukh is intended to correspond to the tears which Sisera's mother is said to have shed when her son was killed in battle. (The Hebrew word used to describe her wailing is vateyavev; this is cognate to yevava, the Aramaic translation of teruah.) The short Biblical story of Sisera's mother contains 101 letters; while the Arukh only mentions 100 blasts. This discrepancy is explained by saying that while each shofar blast is intended to "nullify" one of her cries due to hatred of Israel, nevertheless we leave her one tear out of recognition of the pain suffered by any bereaved mother. In any case, Sephardic communities typically blow 101 blasts, with the 101st symbolizing her legitimate mourning.
Maimonides wrote that even though the blowing of the shofar is a Biblical statute, it is also a symbolic “wake-up call,” stirring us to mend our ways and repent. He explained that the shofar blows call out to us: “Sleepers, wake up from your slumber! Examine your ways and repent and remember your Creator.”
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook suggested that the doubt whether the shofar sound is supposed to be short, intermittent blasts (Shevarim), like a person groaning in remorse, or a series of short, staccato bursts (Teru'ah), like the uncontrolled wailing of a person in extreme anguish and grief, may be connected to Maimonides’ explanation. Some people are moved to better themselves due to an intellectual recognition that something was seriously amiss in their lives. Their shofar sounds – what motivates them to repent – are the heavy sighs and groans of the introspective individual, the Shevarim. For others, the stimulus comes from the heart. They are moved by the overwhelming pain and anguish of a person who has lost his way – the emotional outburst and wailing of the Teru’ah. The most effective form of repentance, however, utilizes the strengths of both faculties, the emotions and the intellect, combining together the Shevarim and the Teru'ah.
- Mishnah (Rosh Hashana 4:7 ), where once it was customary to blow the shofar during the first standing prayer (Amidah), rather than during the Mussaf-prayer. Later, the practice was changed to make the horn blasts only during the Mussaf-prayer, because of an incident that happened during the Amida. Cf. Babylonian Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 32b). The ruling not to change the rabbinic enactment (even when conditions have returned to what they formerly were) is brought down in Maimonides (Hil. Mamrim 2:2-3) and also in Rabbi Isaac ibn Ghiyyat's work on Hil. Rosh Hashanah, printed in "Sefer Sha'arei Simha", part I, Firta 1861. The Jerusalem Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 4:8) explains the reason for this change of custom regarding the shofar blasts as being when a certain congregation blew the ram's horn during Amidah, the enemies of Israel thought that it signaled a war-call against the neighboring gentiles, and they rushed into the synagogue and killed the entire Jewish congregation who had gathered there to pray.
- Domb, Yoel (9 October 2015). "Why Do We Blow 100 Blasts of the Shofar?". Hidabroot.com. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
- This practice is actually mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud (Berakhoth 32b and 36a). Even though the emissary of the congregation fulfills their obligation, the custom in Yemen was that each person prays silently along with the emissary of the congregation.
- Mishnah Berurah 590:13-15
- Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 129:13
- Yalkut Yosef, Moadim p.55
- Orach Chaim 590:3
- Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Hilchot Shofar 3:4
- Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 590:4-5; Mishna Berura, ad loc
- Orach Chaim 590:4
- Chazon Ish, Hilchot Rosh Hashanah, 136
- Rabbi Moses Isserles, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 590:4
- Tiklāal Etz Hayyim. III. Jerusalem. 1894. p. 70a. (Commentary Etz Hayyim on the Baladi-rite Siddur)
- Rabbi Yosef Qafih, while explaining the same Yemenite custom as he had seen it, writes that in the TaShaT series, "the custom and instruction that was widely accepted in Yemen was to make the [three] short lilting blasts (Shevarim) in [only] one breath, while the [three] short lilting blasts (Shevarim) and the long quavering blast (Teru'ah) in the [first] series known under the mnemonics as TaSHRaT, [and] which are [blown] when the congregation sits, are all done in one breath. Moreover, those [same blasts] (i.e. the Shevarim and the Teru'ah) that are made when standing are done in two breaths. And thus do I have it as a practice, etc." (See: Rabbi Yosef Qafih's Commentary on Maimonides' Mishne Torah, Seder Zemanim (part ii), Hilchot Shofar, ch. 3, vs. 3, footnote # 3, Kiryat Ono 1986 [Hebrew]). Cf. Tur 590:4 who brings down the aforesaid dispute in the names of Rabbeinu Tam and Rabbi Isaac ibn Giat.
- Rosh Hashanah 33b
- Rosh Hashanah 33b
- Rosh Hashanah 34a
- Mishnah, Rosh Hashanah 4:9; Tosefta, Rosh Hashanah 4:9
- Yosef Qafih (ed.), Mishnah, with Maimonides' Commentary, Mossad Harav Kook: Jerusalem 1963, s.v. Rosh Hashanah 4:9 (p. 217)
- Rabbi Isaac ibn Ghiyyat, Sha'arei Simḥa, Hil. Rosh Hashanah, Furta 1861, p. 38 (Hebrew)
- Rosh Hashanah 34a
- She'iltoth de'Rav Achai Gaon, P. ve'Zoth Ha-berachah, # 170 - Le-Rosh Hashanah: Translation: "One must blow a sustained blast (teki'ah), three [short] lilting blasts (shevarim), a quavering blast (teru'ah) and a sustained blast (teki'ah), seeing that Rabbi Abbahu enacted in Caesarea the mnemonics: TaSHRaK (teki'ah, shevarim, teru'ah and teki'ah), TaSHaK (teki'ah, shevarim, and teki'ah), TaRaK (teki'ah, teru'ah, and teki'ah)."; Maimonides, Mishne Torah (Hilchot Shofar VeLulav 3:2–3)
- Isaac Alfasi, Halakhot (Rosh Hashanah 10b); see Bar-Ilan, Prof. Meir. "תקנת ר' אבהו בקיסרי" [R. Abahu's decree in the Kessari] (in Hebrew). Retrieved 7 October 2018.
- Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 590:2
- Rosh Hashana 16a. The reason given is "to confuse Satan".
- Arukh 272:1; mentioned in Tosafot Rosh Hashana 33b s.v. שעור
- Ben-David, Rabbi Yaron. "מאה תקיעות בראש השנה" [A hundred blasts on Rosh Hashanah]. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
- "ד – מנהג מאה תקיעות" [The Custom of a Hundred Blasts] (in Hebrew). 4 April 2015. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
- Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 129:17, et seq.
- There are 101 Hebrew letters in Judges 5:28-29, not including verses 5:30-31.
- Kitov, Rabbi Eliyahu. "One Hundred Sounds". Retrieved 7 October 2018.
- Arthur L. Finkle, Shofar: History, Technique and Jewish Law, (Saarbrücken, Germany: Hadassah Word Press, 2015)
- Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 3:4.
- See Rosh Hashana 33b, where the Biblical name for Rosh Hashana ("Yom Teruah") is translated to Aramaic as "Yom Yababa"; the word "Yababa" is also used to describing the crying of Sisera's mother (Judges 5:28) when she moaned the loss of her son.
- Morrison, Chanan; Kook, Abraham Isaac (2010). Silver from the Land of Israel: A new light on the Sabbath and Holidays from the writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook. Urim Publications. pp. 56–58. ISBN 978-9655240429.