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What is “Shofar”?
A shofar is an ancient musical horn typically made of a ram’s horn, used for Jewish religious purposes. Like the modern bugle, the shofar lacks pitch-altering devices, with all pitch control done by varying the player’s embouchure. The shofar is blown in synagogue services on Rosh Hashanah and at the end of Yom Kippur; it is also blown every weekday morning in the month of Elul running up to Rosh Hashanah. Shofars come in a variety of sizes and shapes, depending on the choice of animal and level of finish.
The uses of a “shofar” in modern days
While the shofar is best known nowadays for its use on Rosh Hashana, it also has a number of other rituals uses. It is blown each morning during the month of Elul, and to mark the end of the day of fasting on Yom Kippur, once the services have been completed in the evening. In Talmudic times it was also blown to introduce Shabbat. During the short-lived ban on playing musical instruments, the shofar was enhanced in its use as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the temple. The declaration of the ban’s source was in fact set to the music itself as the lamentation “Al Naharoth Bavel” within a few centuries of the ban. (A full orchestra played in the temple. The ban was so that this would not be taken for granted, hence the wording of the ban, “if I forget thee O Jerusalem, over my chiefest joy…”). The shofar is generally no longer used for secular purposes (see a notable exception in a section further down).
Halakha (Jewish law) rules that the Rosh Hashana shofar blasts may not be sounded on Shabbat, due to the potential that the Ba’al tekiah (shofar sounder) may inadvertently carry it, which is in a class of forbidden Shabbat work. Initially, the shofar was sounded on Shabbat in the Temple in Jerusalem. After the temple’s destruction, the sounding of the shofar on Shabbat was restricted to the place where the great Sanhedrin was located. However, when the Sanhedrin ceased to exist, the sounding of the shofar on Shabbat was discontinued.
shofar horn Material:
According to the Talmud, a shofar may be made from any animal’s horn from the Bovidae family except that of a cow, although a ram is preferable. Bovidae horns are made of a layer of keratin (the same material as human toenails and fingernails) around a core of bone, with a layer of cartilage in between, which can be removed to leave the hollow keratin horn. On the other hand, an antler is made of solid bone, so an angler cannot be used as a shofar because it cannot be hollowed out.
There is no requirement for ritual slaughter. Theoretically, the horn can come from a non-kosher animal as well, because, under most interpretations of Jewish law, the shofar is not required to be “muttar be-fikha” (‘permissible in your mouth’); the mitzvah is hearing the shofar blowing, not eating the animal it came from. The shofar falls into the category of “tashmishei mitzvah” – objects used to perform a mitzvah that does not themselves have inherent holiness. Moreover, because the horn is always inedible, it is considered “afra be-alma” (‘mere dust’) and not an unkosher substance, shofar for sale price in Israel are affordable and can be found in “Chabad houses”.
Non-religious usage of a shofar horn
Shlomo Goren blowing the shofar in front of the Western Wall, June 1967
During the Ottoman and the British rule of Jerusalem, Jews were not allowed to make sound by the shofar at the Western Wall. After the Six-Day War, Rabbi Shlomo Goren famously approached the Wall and sounded the shofar. This fact inspired Naomi Shemer to add an additional line to her song “Jerusalem of Gold,” saying, “a shofar calls out from the Temple Mount in the Old City.”
The Shofar has been sounded as a sign of victory and celebration. Jewish elders were photographed blowing multiple shofars after hearing that the Nazis surrendered on May 8, 1945. The shofar has played a significant role in the pro-Israel movement and often played in the Salute to Israel Parade and other pro-Israel demonstrations.
Non-religious musical usage
A musician blows the shofar during a performance by Shlomo Bar, 2009.
In pop music, the shofar is used by the Israeli Oriental metal band Salem in their adaptation of “Al Taster.” The late trumpeter Lester Bowie played the shofar horn with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. In the film version of the musical Godspell, the first act opens with cast member David Haskell blowing the shofar. In his performances, Israeli composer and singer Shlomo Gronich uses the shofar to produce a vast range of notes. Since 1988 Rome-based American composer Alvin Curran’s project Shofar features the shofar as a virtuoso solo instrument and in combination with sets of natural and electronic sounds. Madonna used a shofar played by Yitzhak Sinwani on the Confessions Tour, and the album Confessions on a Dance Floor for the song “Isaac”, based on I’m Nin’alu. In 2003, The Howard Stern Show featured a contest called “Blow the Shofar”, which asked callers to correctly identify popular songs played on the shofar. Additionally, Stern Show writer Benjy Bronk has repeatedly used a shofar in his antics. The shofar is sometimes used in Western classical music. Edward Elgar’s oratorio The Apostles includes a shofar’s sound, although other instruments, such as the flugelhorn, are usually used instead.
The shofar has been used in a number of films, both as a sound effect and as part of musical underscores. Elmer Bernstein incorporated the shofar into several cues for his score for Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments; one of the shofar calls recorded by Bernstein was later reused by the sound editors for Return of the Jedi for the Ewoks’ horn calls. Jerry Goldsmith’s scores to the films Alien and Planet of the Apes also incorporate the shofar in their orchestration.