What is a Shofar?
What is a Shofar?
Arthur L. Finkle
A Shofar is the horn of a kosher animal, except that of a cow, processed and used to sound notes as a bugle. Similar to a brass instrument, in which the lips vibrate to make the sound, there are no pistons or other devices to modify its pitch. (Mishnah 3:1)
Properties of an Animal Horn
An animal horn is a pointed, bony structure on the heads of many mammals. Most horned animals have a pair of horns. Such animals as cattle, sheep, goats, and antelope have true horns. Deer have horn-like growths that are not true horns. These growths are called antlers.
Horns have a bony core. The core is an extension of one of the skull bones. A layer of skin covers the core. This skin contains a protein called keratin that makes the horn extremely tough and durable. Keratin «KEHR uh tihn», is a tough, insoluble protein found in the outer layer of the skin of human beings and many other animals. This outer layer of skin is called the epidermis. The outermost layer of cells of the epidermis contains keratin. The keratin in these cells makes the skin tough and almost completely waterproof. In places where the skin is exposed to much rubbing and pressure—such as parts of the hands and feet—the number of cells containing keratin increases and a callus develops. Cells that contain keratin are constantly being shed and replaced by new ones. The condition known as dandruff results when the scalp sheds such cells.
Keratin is also a part of certain structures that grow from the skin. For example, the nails and hair of human beings contain keratin. In animals, such growths as horns, hoofs, claws, feathers, and scales consist mainly of keratin. Keratin helps make these structures stronger and better suited to protect the body from the environment. (Wit, 2000)
In animals such as sheep, where "head butting" is common in jousting for dominance to obtain mates, the horn is surrounded by a sheath of keratin (the same material your nails and hair are made of), which is used for absorbing the force of the head butt. The structure of the horn that is exposed above the skull is composed of keratin. It is for the most part dead tissue. It is attached to the skull at the subcutaneous level, where it is live tissue. When young, dairy and beef cattle are de-horned to prevent injuries to their handlers and the other cattle. The keratin of a ram's horn is a sheath, or covering, that grows around the actual horn in order to protect it. It is hollow because the horn itself (bone) fits into that hollow space. This sheath is used as a musical instrument.
On the other hand, although antlers are also made up of keratin, in antlers it is more firmly packed, so the antler is dense. Antelopes, like sheep, have horns (made up of bone) with a keratin sheath for protection.
Biblical Basis for the Shofar
The Shofar goes back far into biblical history. It is believed that the Shofar commemorates the ram that was caught in the thicket by its horn (Hebrew: Keren).
The Shofar had several religious roles recorded in the tanakh (the bible), such as the transfer of the ark of the covenant (2 Samuel 6:15; 1 chronicles 15:28); the announcement of the new moon (psalms 81:4); the beginning of the religious new year (numbers 29:1); the day of atonement (Leviticus 25:9); the procession preparatory to the feast of tabernacles (Mishnah, Hullin 1:7); the libation ceremony (Mishnah, Rosh Hashanah 4:9); and the havdalah ceremony marking the end of a festival (Mishnah, Hullin 1:7).
"Throughout the day, Abraham saw the ram become entangled in a tree, break loose and go free. Then, become entangled in a shrub, breaks loose and goes free. The holy one who is blessed said: "so shall your children become entangled in many kinds of sons and trapped in many kingdoms. But in the end, they will be redeemed by the sound of the Shofar." (Sefer Haggadah 3:45).
In addition, the Shofar had a number of secular roles, such as coronating a king (2 Samuel 5:10; 1 Kings 1:34; 2 Kings 1:13) and signaling in times of war to assemble troops, to attack, to pursue, and to proclaim victory (Numbers 10:9; Judges 6:4; Jeremiah 4:5 and Ezekiel 33:3-6).
In post-biblical times, the Shofar was enhanced in its religious use because of the ban on playing musical instruments as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the temple. (It is noted that a full orchestra played in the temple, including, perhaps, a primitive organ.)
The word "Shofar" can be found in the book of Joshua, chapter 6 in numerous places and in Judges, chapter 7. (Eisendrath, 1972).
Did the Levites Sound the Shofar in the Temple?
The Levites accompanied the Temple sacrifices and prayer with the sounding of a trumpet (Chotzotzerah) and a Shofar. The Chotzotzerah (plural: Chotzotzerot) were made of brass and silver overlaid on a mandrel and hammered into shape. On Rosh Hashanah, instead of the usual long notes played by the trumpets, the long notes were highlighted by the Shofar. Thus, Rosh Hashanah is known in the bible as the Day of the Shofar Blast (Yom Teruah).
How Are Shofars Used Today?
The Shofar continues to announce the New Year and the new moon, to introduce the Sabbath, and to carry out the commandments on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The secular uses have been discarded (although the Shofar was sounded to commemorate the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967)
Jewish Laws of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
The Mitzvah Of Hearing The Sounds Of The Shofar is emphasized that the mitzvah is fulfilled even if the Shofar is stolen or if the owner does not know that someone has "borrowed" his Shofar (SA 586:1) (For an explanation of Jewish Sacred Books of Law and Equity, see Appendix, p. 40.)
The Mitzvah is Fulfilled When HEARING the Shofar Sounds
The Sages indicated that the mitzvah was to hear the sounds of the Shofar. They go so far as to establish whether a person hears the actual sound or just the echo at the outside of the pit or cave; the bottom; and midway. The Shulchan Aruch sums up that if the hearer hears the reverberation, the mitzvah is not valid. However, if the hearer perceives the direct sounds, he fulfils the mitzvah. Mishnah Berurah 587:1-3. You can extrapolate this ruling to hearing the Shofar on the radio, the Internet, etc. as being invalid.
In addition, if one hears the blast but with no intention of fulfilling the mitzvah, then there is no mitzvah. However, there is a minority decision on this point.
If one blows with the intention that all who hear will perform the mitzvah, the mitzvah is valid. If someone passes by and does intend to hear the Shofar, he can perform he mitzvah because the community blower blows for everybody. If he stands still, it is presumed he intends to hear. (SA 590:9)
When Can It Be Heard?
The mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah is hearing the sounds of the Shofar. Mishnah 3:2; Josh 6:5. If one listened to 9 blasts during the nine hours of the day, one fulfills the mitzvah because it meets the Biblical definition. “When they will make a long blast with the horn at the Jubilee [when you hear the sound of the Shofar] Josh 6:5 Thus, the mitzvah applies to HEARING the Shofar. In addition, the mitzvah is valid if the Shofar is sounded by 9 different people, for each series of notes.
Sound: The Physics of a Sound Wave
Sound originates when a body moves back and forth rapidly enough to send a coursing wave through the medium in which it is vibrating. To demonstrate, an explosion of a small balloon of compressed air produces a simple form of sound wave. By bursting the balloon, potential energy (energy of position) is converted to kinetic energy (energy of motion). These physical vibrations affect the pitch (note), the timbre (tone and overtones) and the loudness.
Most sound generators produce recurrent waves, which are generally similar to each other. These waves are propagated at a definite velocity. This velocity depends on the medium of propagation.
One cycle of a sound wave in air consists of one compression of the air together with the subsequent rarefaction that occurs. The air molecules are forced together (compression or compaction) and then subsequently (in accordance with the 2nd law of thermodynamics) they immediately begin returning to their equilibrium state. The equilibrium state of the air molecules is the state in which they were before the compression under observation occurred.
Sound moves forward in a straight line when traveling through a medium having uniform density. Like light, however, sound is subject to refraction, which bends sound waves from their original path. In polar regions, for example, where air close to the ground is colder than air that is somewhat higher, a rising sound wave entering the warmer region, in which sound moves with greater speed, is bent downward by refraction. The excellent reception of sound downwind and the poor reception upwind are also due to refraction. The velocity of wind is generally greater at an altitude of many meters than near the ground; a rising sound wave moving downwind is bent back toward the ground, whereas a similar sound wave moving upwind is bent upward over the head of the hearer. Sound is also governed by reflection, obeying the fundamental law that the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. An echo is the result of reflection of sound. Sonar depends on the reflection of sounds propagated in water. A megaphone is a funnel-like tube that forms a beam of sound waves by reflecting some of the diverging rays from the sides of the tube. A similar tube can gather sound waves if the large end is pointed at the source of the sound; an ear trumpet is such a device. Sound is also subject to diffraction and interference. If sound from a single source reaches a listener by two different paths-one direct and the other reflected the two sounds might reinforce one another; but if they are out of phase, they may interfere, so that the resultant sound is actually less intense than the direct sound without reflection. Interference paths are different for sounds of different frequencies, so that interference produces distortion in complex sounds. Two sounds of different frequencies may combine to produce a third sound, the frequency of which is equal to the sum or difference of the original two frequencies.
The production of sound tubes used to produce a musical sound may be cylindrical, conical, or some combination of the two. They may also be straight or curved. Regardless of the material used, their interior surface must be smooth for best results. The relation of tube length to diameter varies widely but must remain within certain practical limits in order to produce musical pitches. The air contained within the tube is set into vibration by the breath or in some cases a bellows, acting upon a sound-generating device. The pressure exerted against the molecules of air in the tube causes the particles to move forward along the tube until they bump into others, setting them in motion while the first bounce back. This process creates regular pulsations producing sound waves. Throughout the sounding length of the tube, the entire wave moves at the speed of sound. The air itself moves only slowly, and the phenomenon has been compared to the starting of a freight train, in which the first burst of energy from the engine jerks the car behind, which in turn passes the impulse of the car behind it, and so on throughout the length of the train. The impact of the cars also produces a reverse pressure as it moves along. Similarly, at the sounding length of the tube, the waves are reflected back upon themselves, creating a counter pressure that forms nodes and antinodes. The node results from interference between the forward and the reverse forces creating a static point; the antinode is the point of freest vibration in the sound wave. Antinodes always occur at the open ends of a tube, and it must be remembered that the end where the sound generates is also an open end.
The note produced by this basic wave form is called the fundamental. If the pressure of the generating vibration is increased sufficiently, the sound waves divide in half, producing an antinode in the exact middle. This process is known as overblowing. Pitches resulting from these divisions are called overtones, and their frequency increases in proportion to the division of the air column--that is, 1:2, 1:3, 1:4, etc.
The relative strength of the various partials, which is controlled largely by the shape of the tube and the type of generator, is responsible for the timbre or color of the pitch. This feature allows the ear to distinguish between the quality of various tones. (1994-2000 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.)
The Primitives learned that horns could make music. By varying lip pressure, the Primitive could produce several different sounds—not all the sounds he might wish, by any means, but certain definite tones higher than the fundamental note of his horn. With horns of different length, these higher tones were different. He could not understand it, but he accepted it as one of the wonders of the horn.
We call these higher tones harmonics, and we understand nowadays the laws of tone production that make them possible:
(1) When the column of air inside a horn is set in motion by the vibration of the lips, it produces a series of waves, which in turn produce sound.
(2) When the column of air vibrates as a whole, it produces the fundamental tone of the horn.
(3) By varying the pressure of the breath and lips, the air column can be made to vibrate in different ways: as a whole, in halves, in quarters, etc. The sounds produced by the fractional columns are called harmonics of the fundamental tone.
(4) The air column cannot be made to vibrate in any fraction desired, but only in certain fixed fractions. (Montgomery, 1953)
The Primitive made sounds from horns, shells and other things. He had taken the first step in the development of our modern brass instruments.
For more information about Shofar and other Holy Temple instruments.
We have three websites
1) Shofar Sounders WebPage
2) Joint Effort with Michael Chusid, an expert Shofar sounder and commentator
3) Shofar WebPage
If you have any questions or comments, do not hesitate to ask.