The shofar is a traditional Jewish horn made from the horn of a kosher animal. The marrow is removed from the horn to make a horn that can be blown. The horn is known as a shofaris and is blown on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The Central Mitzvah is to hear the shofar. You should ideally hear the shofar during morning prayer.
According to the Torah, Rosh Hashanah is the “day of the [shofar] blast.” Jews should hear the shofar during the daylight hours of both days of Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashana takes place over two days. The exception to the rule is when the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls on the Shabbat. When this happens, do not blow the shofar on the first day; instead, it should only be blown on the second day.
Technically the shofar may be blown at any time during the daylight hours. The traditional time to blow the shofar, however, is during morning service. It should be blown before the Musaf prayer but after the reading of the Torah. The shofar can also be blown several more time during the Musaf service.
The Torah does not give a specific reason for why it is important to blow the shofar, but there are many opinions. For one, Rosh Hashanah serves to coronate God as the King of the World. The blowing of the shofar is meant to herald the event.
Another opinion is that the wail of the shofar is meant to awaken complacent souls. It could also be to represent the horns that the Jewish people heard when God descended Mount Sinai to give the Jewish people the Torah.
There are several other opinions as to why the shofar is blown during Rosh Hashanah. While each reason is unique, they all serve as a reminder that we exist under God.
All Jewish people should make an effort to hear the shofar, men and women alike. Technically speaking, only Jewish men are required to hear the shofar. Women and boys, while not required, are highly encouraged to hear the shofar. Some have the opinion that since women have accepted the mitzvah of hearing the shofar, they are now required to do so.
Children are not required to hear the shofar, but it is encouraged as well. The idea behind this practice is that the shofar speaks to all Jewish souls and helps to prevent them from becoming complacent.
According to the Torah, almost any horned, kosher animal can be used to make a shofar. There are a few notable exceptions, however. First, ox horns cannot be used to make a shofar. This is because an ox horn is used to make a Keren instead. The other exception is animals with antlers. Since antlers are solid, they cannot be used to make a shofar. On that note, shofar literally means hollow, making these incompatible from the beginning.
While artisans can use the horn of any kosher animal, the ideal shofar is made with a ram horn. There are a few reasons for this. First, the ram is representative of the ram offered instead of Isaac and a reminder of Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son for God. Second, the curve of the horn is meant to symbolize the humility of the Jewish people in the eyes of God.
After the horn has been removed from the animal, it should be hollowed out. Once the artisan has removed the marrow, he must make a hole in the small end of the horn. Sawing, drilling, or both can make this hole.
Once the hole is in place and the horn hollowed out, it can then be polished. This is an optional step and is not required. You can also reshape the horn. To do this, extreme heat must be applied to the horn.
The shofar should not be decorated or adorned. This is because the sound of the shofar blast must come from the force of breath. This also applies to cracks and holes in the horn. If the horn cracks, it cannot be repaired. Even if someone has made repairs, the horn is no longer considered kosher, and you should not use it.
During ancient time, the shofar also served as a battle horn. This is no longer the case in the modern-day. Today there are only two other times when the shofar should be blown. The first is during the month of Elul, leading up to Rosh Hashanah. The second is after Yom Kippur.
The shofar has a rich and storied history, and it remains an important piece of Jewish tradition today. When looking for a shofar, it is important to make sure that it is kosher. This includes, not only making sure it is made of a kosher animal but also making sure the maker has not altered it beyond what is allowed. Decorations and repairs are often not allowed on a shofar.