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How to Choose a Shofar

The purpose of the Shofar?



Natural (half polished) Shofar

A shofar is a wind instrument made from an animal horn and is sounded traditionally at Jewish religious services on the high holidays.
The shofar is mentioned several times in the bible, Talmud and rabbinic literature. In Exodus (19,20), the ‘exceeding loud’ sound that came from the cloud on mount Sinai and made all the Israelites tremble in awe, was the shofar sounds.
In biblical times the shofar was used for religious ceremonials, processions or as part of an orchestra accompanying the song of praise, but it was also used to signal the beginning of a battle in war. The distinct noise of the shofar called the troops from atop the hills. The sound of the shofar helped Joshua to capture Jericho.
The shofar was often used together with a trumpet for various occasions in the Temple of Jerusalem. On New Year’s Day the shofar was in the center with a trumpet on either side. The shofar was made from a wild goat; it was straight and had a golden mouthpiece. On fast days the trumpet was in the center with shofars on either side. In those cases the shofars were made of ram’s horns in a curved shape with silver mouthpieces. On Yom Kippur of the jubilee year the ceremony with the shofar was conducted as on New Year’s Day.


Shofar Today



Today, the shofar is used in religious services, such as for the Jewish holidays Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The shofar is blown several times on the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the sound of the shofar marks the end of the fast day. It is also customary to blow the shofar during morning services in the entire month of Elul, the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah, with the exception of the last day before Rosh Hashanah, in order to mark the difference between voluntary and mandatory blasts. The shofar is also used for Yom Kippur Katan and for communal prayer services during times of distress.

In religious terms,considering the materials for making a shofar, the most preferred horn to be used as a shofar is the curved rams horn, then the horn of curved other sheep, afterwards curved horns from other animals, for example the Kudu horns which are used to make the popular Yemenite shofars, then straight horns from sheep or other kosher animals. These shofars are used with a blessing; the non-kosher animal shofars are used without a blessing.
As opposed to bovidae horns, which are made of keratin, an antler is made of solid bone and cannot be used as a shofar.

Increasingly, the shofar is also used for non-religious purposes, as a musical instrument. The shofar is used in classical music, such as in Edward Elgar’s oratorio The Apostles.
The Israeli band Salem also uses the shofar in their adaptation of the Al Taster psalm. The sound of the shofar can also be heard in the musical Gospel. The Israeli composer Shlomo Gronich uses the shofar for a wide range of notes. Increasingly many people use the shofar as a musical instrument; especially the large Yemenite shofars can often produce quite a few different sounds. The very distinctive sounds of the shofar attract musicians, who increasingly learn to blow the shofar professionally and incorporate it in their music.

Rams horns and Yemenite shofars


Shofars are becoming more and more popular. Some people prefer to buy the smaller rams horns and others like the curved Yemenite shofars, which come in sizes up to over 50 inches. Often people find it difficult to get a sound out of the shofar at first and it usually takes quite a bit of practice for a beginner to get a nice shofar sound. Usually it is harder to get sounds out of very small shofars, such as 10 or 12 inch, because it requires a lot more strength. Larger shofars are fairly easy to blow, but even that has to be practiced. The best way to begin is to put the shofar on the corner of the lips, close the lips and open them only through the air that is blown into the shofar. The tough part is to learn which spot is best for blowing the shofar and which strength needs to be used to get the perfect shofar sound. Professional shofar musicians know how to get several different notes out of a shofar. For that purpose a large shofar is most suitable. They can usually make 4 different shofar notes. In biblical times the shofar was blown in the temple in Jerusalem or when calling for war, but today the shofar is blown traditionally in Jewish communities for the high holidays, during which certain sounds are required to be sounded, the tekiah, a long sound, the shevarim, several shorter sounds, and teruah, many short staccato-like sounds.
A shofar may not be painted with colors, but it may be carved with designs. Many shofars are silver plated, but those are not used for religious practices. A crack or hole in the yemenite shofar also renders it unfit for ceremonial use.
Because shofars come from animals in the nature, they do not have standard shapes and accordingly the sounds and harmonies can vary.



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