The Shofar Users Manual
BIBLICAL INSTRUMENT SERIES
A guide for Shofar Players.
What is a Shofar?
A Shofar is long Rams horn used to proclaim Jewish ceremonial events. It is hollowed out and blown on one end similar to a trumpet. The Ibex is one the most popular rams horns. They usually appear conical with a spiral appearance.
According to the Talmud, a Shofar that is legal for ceremonial events must be at least three handbreadths long.
There are small Shofars that people sometimes use which are not really Shofars by Talmudic definition. To be accurate so you can use the generic term "Keren", which means "horn" in hebrew.
Where is the Shofar in the Bible?
The Shofar goes back far into biblical history. It is believed that the Shofar commemorates the Ram caught in the thicket by its horn (Hebrew: Keren).
The word "Shofar" can be found in the book of Joshua, chapter 6 in numerous places and in Judges, chapter 7.
Did the Levites use the Shofar in the temple then?
Not exactly. The horn used by the Levites is referred to in English as "The Silver Trumpets.". The Hebrew word is Chotzotzerah. The Chotzotzerah (plural: Chotzotzerot) where made of brass and silver overlaid on a mandrel and hammered into shape.
How are Shofars used today?
In the absence of the temple today, the Shofar is used instead of the Chotzotzerah to proclaim the Jewish high holy days. The holy day, "Rosh HaShannah" or New Year is also called Yom HaTeruah.
In many translations, this is referred to as the feast of the trumpets.
"Yom" means "Day", "Teruah" means to blow the trumpet or sound alarm.
According to tradition: The entire month (Elul) before Rosh HaShannah is reserved to blowing the Shofar (except for the last day. Think of it as a whole month of practice! The shofar is blown each morning. The month of Elul is also the time that people prepare themselves inwardly for the high holy days.
The day long fast of Yom Kippur is also ended at sundown with the Tekiah G'dollah shofar call.
The Shofar Calls
The Shofar has four basic calls that have been handed down throughout the ages. These terms can be found in the scriptures at various points. The sequence we know today has been handed down as a tradition. There where probably other calls as well, but they have apparently become lost.
The names of the calls and description:
Tekiah - A Single medium length blast. Low-to-high pitch transition. Hard short push on low pitch, slight sustain on high pitch sometimes ended with a short pushing higher pitch burst.
Shevarim - Three blasts each low-to-high pitch sounded like triplets, think of Shevarim as being three short
Tekiahs without the short burst on the ends..
Teruah - Teruah consists of rapid single second pitch bursts in a staccato fashion. There should be nine or more bursts for make a Teruah.
Tekiah G'dollah - Similar to Tekiah, only the high note is sustained for the longest possible breath. Also ended with a
violent short pushed out breath of an even higher pitched note.
Note: In playing many wind instruments, there is a technique known as "Circular Breathing" where a person who
Is playing replenishes their lung supply by using their mouth cavity as a temporary supply like bagpipe does.
This technique takes many years to learn well. It is not permitted by Rabbinic or Talmudic Law to do "Circular Breathing" but there is no mention of it in scripture..
Examples: Sounding the Shofar at the Jewish Magnes Museum Liberation of the Western Wall (Real Audio)
The liberation of the Western Wall is a historic shofar call, it marks the end to a nearly 2000 year silence of the Shofar at the site. It identifies that G-d's promises to the Jewish people will be fulfilled.
Shofar Playing Techniques
In order to play a Shofar properly, please observe the following steps:
1. Look at the mouthpiece. Shofar mouthpieces are usually irregular. Rotate the Shofar if possible so that the
thickest part of the mouthpiece is in the most upright position. This will make playing easier.
2. Place the mouthpiece against your lips. Do not use the very center of your lips, use the fleshy part to the left
or to the right. Whichever side feels more comfortable.
3. Take a deep breath, tighten and buzz your lips. (It's similar to a trumpet but requires a looser embouchure)
Once you have produced a note, try to see what other notes that you can obtain. If you will push your air-stream in an upward direction, it will help you produce high notes easier. Tighten your lips to get a higher note.
To get a long sustained blast, you must learn to breath deeply. Tighten up your abdomen muscles when playing. Wind Instrument players use parts of their lungs that average people never learn to use. Good posture makes a great difference also!
Shofars do emit certain unpleasing odors. Allow an instrument to remain in an open air space after playing. Febreze is useful for deodorizing Shofars. Hydrogen peroxide could be applied in severe cases and it cleans the bell opening nicely. Be warned that it could dissolve the material in the mouthpiece area and hurt its performance. There are some Shofars available today that have been deodorized, I have no independent reviews on them at this time.
Mid-East Mfg now has a functional synthetic Shofar that has no odor and it's attractive for display purposes as well
Cracked Shofar or repairs
A cracked Shofar can be repair using cyanoacrylate glue (Super Glue). The Gel type is preferable. Be careful to wait for it to dry. Fingernail repair kits can be useful in strengthening weak areas and applying repairs to Shofars.
Shofars should be kept in a comfortable temperature environment. Don't leave it the car, the extreme heat or cold will damage it. Shofars can deform in shape if exposed to hot humid conditions. Sunlight will affect its appearance. Things that are used to protect fingernails can be applied but remember, it's not growing.
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Written by: Daniel Bingamon 1/26/1999