Shofar History

The History of the (Shofar) Horn

In Judaism, when looking in to the history of an object or event, the Bible is naturally the first source that is consulted. In the case of the Shofar, there is no shortage of mentions in the Bible. As a matter of fact, the Shofar is also mentioned extensively in the Talmud and in rabbinic literature.

At the very birth of the Jewish people at Mount Sinai it is related in the book of Exodus that the blast of the Shofar emanated from a thick cloud over the mountain. Additionally, we learn from the Bible and the book of Prophets that the Shofar was used in order to announce holidays, the Jubilee year and the start of a war. The blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah is mentioned in the book of Leviticus as it is termed "a memorial of blowing." Later on, the Shofar was also employed in processions and as a musical instrument in the Temple.

In the Temple, the Shofar would sometimes be blown together with trumpets. On New Year's Day the Shofar was the main feature in the principle ceremony and was accompanied by two trumpets on either side of it. On fast days the order was reversed and the trumpets were featured in the center and a Shofar would accompany them on either side.

In the times of Joshua the Shofar was used in order to help capture Jericho. At the command of G-d, the Jewish people surrounded the walls of Jericho and blew on Shofars and were thereby able to capture the city.

In post-biblical times the Shofar is still blown on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year at four different places in the services and is also blown at the end of the Yom Kippur services- the services of the solemnest day of the year. The Shofar is blown in the month of Elul which is the month preceding Rosh Hashanah so as to prepare the Jewish people for the High Holidays. Shofars are also used during penitential rituals such as on Yom Kippur Katan and in optional prayer services that have been arranged due to communal distress.

During the ottoman and British rule of Jerusalem the Jewish people were not allowed to sound the Shofar at the Western Wall. After the Six Day War, in a famous move, Rabbi Shlomo Goren approached the Wall and sounded the Shofar. This moving moment inspired the Israeli poetess and song-writer Naomi Shemer to add an additional line to her famous song, "Jerusalem of Gold,' that reads as follows, "A Shofar calls out from Temple Mount in the Old City."