Shofar Guide

What is a Shofar?

A Shofar is an ancient wind instrument, made from the horn of an animal. It is the ancestor of modern bugles and trumpets. Today it is used mainly for Jewish ritual purposes, especially on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the day of repentance). In ancient Israel, the Shofar was used to announce events of any kind, similar to church bells in Christianity. The Shofar is also included in some modern musical compositions.

The correct plural of Shofar in Hebrew is Shofarot, though many say "Shofars" in English and some say "Shofarim" in Hebrew.)

How is a Shofar made?

Shofarot are made as follows:

Materials - The Shofar can be made from the horns of any kosher animal except the bovine (cow) family. The mouthpiece may be covered with gold or silver in some traditions.

Making the Shofar - The horn is flattened. It is heated and shaped by applying heat to soften it. The horn is hollow inside, but the tip is naturally closed and forms a cone. Bore a hole from the tip to the natural hollow inside to make the mouthpiece and then shape it. Of course, it is much easier to buy a Shofar. They come in many sizes and shapes.

Quality control - The Shofar must be perfect. It cannot be cracked, fixed, or patched. To test the Shofar, stop the small end and fill it with water from the big end. If the Shofar leaks, it must be discarded.

How to blow a Shofar?

Blowing a Shofar is a bit like blowing a bugle. Unlike woodwind instruments, the Shofar, like the bugle, has no reed. The sound depends on how you purse your lips, and on the acoustic qualities of the mouthpiece and the horn.

Before you start - Check the Shofar for cracks as above. Clean the Shofar and tap the mouthpiece against your palm to remove moisture.

How can you make a sound? - Make your lips vibrate just as you would for blowing a trumpet or bugle. If you don't know how to do this, simply close your lips together as hard as you can and blow through them, until you get a vibrating sound (like a "raspberry" sound that children make).

Many experts use the side of their mouth to blow the Shofar, in order to get the right sound. You will need to adjust your lips so the sound resonates properly depending on the physical construction of the particular Shofar. Once you have found a resonance point, the sound can be wonderful.

What are the ritual Shofar sounds?

These sounds or calls are made with the Shofar for Jewish ritual use:

  • T'key-ah - A long blast beginning in musical mid-range and finishing as a high note.
  • Shvarim - Three staccato blasts. The duration of all three together is the length of a T'key-ah.
  • True-ah - A long ululating "wailing" sound. There are two main variants of the True-ah. One tradition uses nine separate short calls, in rapid sequence. The other is a single long call with nine wavering ululations.
  • T'key-ah Gdolah (Big Long T'key-ah) - is a T'key-ah that you continue as long as you can. It comes at the end of the series of calls. T'key-ah Gdolah is usually the last Shofar call. It is a very long blast, used usually to announce the end of the holy day of Yom Kippur. Some Shofar blowers can hold a T'key-ah Gdolah for a minute or more. This dramatic call is the mark of a good Tokeiah (expert blower) and requires a lot of practice to develop your wind.

Caution - When blowing any wind instrument, you may get dizzy. This may be because you are not doing it correctly, are not used to doing it, or have a medical problem. If you do get dizzy, find out the reason before continuing. You will find that with continued practice your wind will improve. Done correctly, Shofar practice is healthy exercise, but please, consider the neighbors!

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