The Shofar

Ram's horn shofar

The Shofar is a primitive horn used primarily to make an announcement rather than as a musical instrument. Shofarot (plural) can be made out of the horn of any kosher animal. Traditionally, the horn of a ram is preferred in order to honor the fact that God used a ram as a substitute sacrifice for Isaac in Genesis 22:13. Conversely, the horn of a cow is not used because that animal is associated with the sin of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32.

The command to blow the Shofar is given in the Torah without explanation (Lev. 23:23-25, Num 29:1-6, Psalm 81:3-4). However, the rabbis were unsatisfied with that state of affairs and eventually developed 16 reasons why they thought God commanded the blowing of the Shofar:

  • To announce the advent of the Messiah (Zech 9:14)
  • To gather Israel’s exiles (Isa 27:13)
  • Because it is decreed (obey even though there is no explanation)
  • As a call to repentance
  • As a motivator for righteous living and submission to God
  • To mark the anniversary of creation
  • To start the 10 Days of Awe between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur
  • To remember Israel’s acceptance of the Law (Exodus 24:7)
  • To remember the admonitions of the prophets
  • Antelope horn shofar

  • To remind us to pray for the rebuilding of the temple
  • To remember the Akeidas Yitzack (the Binding of Isaac—Gen. 22)
  • To inspire fear and trembling (Amos 3:6)
  • As a reminder of the great and awesome Judgment Day of the future (Zeph. 1:14-16)
  • To remind us of the resurrection of the dead (Isa. 18:3)
  • To confound Satan
  • To cure a sin-sick soul

The sounding of the Shofar is most prominently associated with Rosh HaShanah, which is properly called the Feast of Trumpets. One hundred Shofar blasts are sounded in the synagogue during the Rosh HaShanah service.