Shofar blowing

The blowing of the shofar (Hebrew: תקיעת שופר, pronounced [teki'at shofarʻ]), or ram's horn, on Rosh Hashanah – although not exclusively limited to a ram's horn, as almost any natural bovid horn serves the purpose, excepting a cow's horn,[1][2] is an injunction that is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 23:24) in undefined terms, without divulging how this was to be done:

Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation.[3]

Three series

Originally, the shofar was only blown nine times on Rosh Hashana - specifically, three sets of tekiah-teruah-tekiah.[4][5][6]

This practice was later changed by Rav Abbahu of Caesarea (3rd century CE), because of doubts that had arisen surrounding the actual performance of this commandment.

During the first series, Rav Abbahu enacted that they blow a [very long] sustained blast (Teki'ah), followed by three [short] lilting blasts (Shevarim), with the resounding pitch of a person who is crying, and again by a [very long] sustained blast (Teki'ah). This series was to be repeated three times, for a total of 12 blasts. This prescribed order is often called by the mnemonics: TaSHRaT – Teki'ah, Shevarim, Teru'ah, Teki'ah.[7][8]

During the second series, he enacted that they blow one [very long] sustained blast (Teki'ah), followed by three [short] lilting blasts (Shevarim), followed by a [very long] sustained blast (Teki'ah). This series was also to be repeated three times. This prescribed order is often called by the mnemonics: TaSHaT – Teki'ah, Shevarim, Teki'ah.[9][8]

During the third series, he enacted that they blow a [very long] sustained blast (Teki'ah), followed by a [long] quavering blast (Teru'ah), and again a [very long] sustained blast (Teki'ah). Again, this series was to be repeated three times. This prescribed order is often called by the mnemonics: TaRaT – Teki'ah, Teru'ah, Teki'ah.[10][8]

The first series has a combination of four interchanging sounds made by the horn, which, when repeated thrice, make for a total of twelve blasts. The second series has a combination of three interchanging sounds, which, when repeated thrice, make for a total of nine blasts. The third and final series has a combination of three interchanging sounds, which, when repeated thrice, make for a total of nine blasts. The sum total is thirty blasts.[11] This understanding has been accepted by modern halakha, which requires that a person hear 30 blasts on Rosh Hashana.[12]

Besides the greater number of blasts made by the horn, the substantial change made by Rav Abbahu is in his adding the "short, lilting blasts" (Shevarim), which blasts have the resounding pitch of a person who is crying. This was added because of a doubt originating over the meaning of the word used by Onkelos and by the Targum Yerushalmi, both Aramaic translations on Lev. 23:24 and Num. 29:1, and where both texts translate "a quavering blast" (Teru'ah) as "a wailing sound," (Aramaic: Yababa), which happens to be also the same word used in describing the sound made by the mother of Sisera in Judges 5:28, when she moaned the loss of her son. With the ram's horn, it was not known if this word meant short, intermittent lilting blasts, or one long quavering blast, from whence he prescribed that they do both in the first series.

Another doubt, however, arose because of this enactment. It was not known whether or not the addition of "three short lilting blasts" in between the older practice would disqualify the whole. For this reason, they also blow "three short lilting blasts" in a series by itself, and "one long quavering blast" in a series by itself. Each is done separately.

Different customs

The nature of the notes

  • 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. The Shulchan Aruch[13] rules that the length of a teruah should be identical to that of a tekiah, yet he agrees there that a longer teruah is also valid. In Yemen, the practice was to make the teruah double the length of a tekiah.[14] Each community is admonished to follow its ancestral tradition.
  • Shevarim-Teruah (of the first series) - in these two blasts, blown one after the other, a dispute is mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch[15] about the permissibility of pausing in between them. One opinion holds that it is not necessary to blow them in one breath, so long as there is no more than the pause of a breath between them.[16] The second opinion holds that they should be made all in one breath. The Shulchan Aruch writes: "He who fears God, when blowing the ram's horn on Rosh Hashanah, will make the three, short lilting blasts and the long quavering blast all in one breath, so as to prevent an unbreak in continuity during the series known as TASHRAT."[17] The Chazon Ish, likewise, explains that "all in one breath" means that they should be done without any "hefseq" - that is, without any break in continuity. Rabbi Moses Isserles[18] says that the custom of Ashkenaz was to follow the first opinion in the Shulchan Aruch, allowing pausing for breath between shevarim and teru'ah, but not between the three blasts of shevarim.

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").

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).[19] 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.[20][21] The final 10 blasts are by tradition dating to the Geonim, and are usually blown in the middle of "Kaddish Tiskabal."[22] 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.[22]

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.[20] (The Hebrew word used to describe her wailing is vateyavev; this is cognate to yevava, the Aramaic translation of teruah.[21]) The short Biblical story of Sisera's mother contains 101 letters;[23] 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.[24] In any case, Sephardic communities typically blow 101 blasts.[24]

Other customs

At the conclusion of Yom Kippur the shofar is blown. Some only blow a tekiah gedolah; others blow the TaShRaT sequence.

Yemenite custom

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.[25]

Rabbi Yihya Saleh (died 1805), while explaining the Yemenite custom in the first series known as TaSHRaT (see supra), writes in his Commentary Etz Hayyim on the Baladi-rite Siddur[26] that the short lilting blasts (Shevarim) and the long quavering blast (Teru'ah) are made in two breaths, both, in the series made while sitting and in the series made while standing. In this regard, the Yemenite practice was more lenient than that of the Shulchan Aruch.[27]

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.[28] 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.

Religious significance

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.”[29]

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.[30]


  1. Mishnah, Rosh Hashanah 3:2. Although Maimonides ruled differently in his Code of Jewish Law (Hilchot Shofar 1: 1): "…the shofar (horn) with which they make the blast, whether on the New Year's Day (Rosh Hashanah), or the Jubilee (Yovel), is the curved horn of sheep. Now all [other] horns are invalid, except the horn of a sheep…", the custom of Israel was to make use of other horns, and not only that of the ram (the male sheep). Some would use the horn of the wild goat (Walia ibex) on Rosh Hashanah, while others made use of the long, spiraling horn of the kudu antelope (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) because of its deep, reverberating sound. Compare the teaching of Rabbi Isaac b. Judah ibn Giat, who wrote: "All shofars are valid, excepting that of a cow since it is a [solid] horn. Said Rabbi Levi: 'The shofar of Rosh Hashanah and of Yom Kippurim are curved, while those of the entire year are straight, and thus is the Halacha.' Why is it that they blow with a shofar of a ram on Rosh Hashanah? Said the Holy One, blessed be He: 'Blow before me the shofar of a ram so that I might remember on your behalf the binding of Isaac the son of Abraham, and I impute it over you as if you had bound yourselves before me.'..." (Rabbi Isaac ibn Giat, Sefer Shaarei Simchah (Me'ah She'arim), vol. 1, Firta 1861, p. 32 [Hebrew])
  2. Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 586:1); cf. Babylonian Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 26a)
  3. editors, editors (1917). The Jewish Bible. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.
  4. Mishnah, Rosh Hashanah 4:9; Tosefta, Rosh Hashanah 4:9
  5. Yosef Qafih (ed.), Mishnah, with Maimonides' Commentary, Mossad Harav Kook: Jerusalem 1963, s.v. Rosh Hashanah 4:9 (p. 217)
  6. Rabbi Isaac ibn Ghiyyat, Sha'arei Simḥa, Hil. Rosh Hashanah, Furta 1861, p. 38 (Hebrew)
  7. Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 34a
  8. 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 (Hil. Shofar 3:2–3)
  9. Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 34a
  10. Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 34a
  11. Isaac Alfasi, Halakhot (Rosh Hashanah 10b); Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Shofar VeLulav 3:2. However, according to another opinion, Rabbi Abbahu instituted a total of 12 rather than 30 blasts, specifically TaShRaT repeated three times. See Bar-Ilan, Prof. Meir. "תקנת ר' אבהו בקיסרי" [R. Abahu's decree in the Kessari] (in Hebrew). Retrieved 7 October 2018.
  12. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 590:2
  13. Orach Chaim 590:3
  14. Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Hilchot Shofar 3:4
  15. Orach Chaim, 590:4-5
  16. Mishna Berura, ad loc.
  17. Orach Chaim 590:4
  18. ibid 590:4
  19. Rosh Hashana 16a. The reason given is "to confuse Satan".
  20. Arukh 272:1; mentioned in Tosafot Rosh Hashana 33b s.v. שעור
  21. Ben-David, Rabbi Yaron. "מאה תקיעות בראש השנה" [A hundred blasts on Rosh Hashanah]. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
  22. "ד – מנהג מאה תקיעות" [The Custom of a Hundred Blasts] (in Hebrew). 4 April 2015. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
  23. There are 101 Hebrew letters in Judges 5:28-29, not including verses 5:30-31.
  24. Kitov, Rabbi Eliyahu. "One Hundred Sounds". Retrieved 7 October 2018.
  25. Domb, Yoel (9 October 2015). "Why Do We Blow 100 Blasts of the Shofar?". Retrieved 7 October 2018.
  26. Tiklāal Etz Hayyim. III. Jerusalem. 1894. p. 70a.
  27. Rabbi Yosef Qafih, while explaining the same Yemenite custom as he had seen it, writes that in the second series known as TASHAT (see supra) "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.
  28. 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.
  29. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 3:4.
  30. 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.
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