5 Fascinating Shofar Facts

Wacky, Weird, and Fascinating Insight Into the High Holiday Siren

Every year Jews around the world dust off their shofar (שׁוֹפָר), or ram's horn, in the late summer or early fall to prepare for the High Holidays. This unique piece of Judaica is blown daily from the second day of the Hebrew month of Elul until the end of Rosh HaShanah and then once more at the end of the final Yom Kippur service. The blowing of the shofar is a bookend to the High Holidays and harkens to the encampment of the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai in Exodus 19:

It came to pass on the third day when it was morning, that there were thunder claps and lightning flashes, and a thick cloud was upon the mountain, and a very powerful blast of a shofar, and the entire nation that was in the camp shuddered.

From this, Maimonides (Rambam) understood that the sounding of the shofar is meant to "arouse you from your slumbers, to examine your deeds, to return in repentance and to remember your Creator." 

Then, the commandment to blow the shofar appears twice:

"In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts" (Leviticus 23:24).

and

"You shall observe it as a day when the horn is sounded" (Numbers 29:1).

Now that you know where it comes from and what it means, let's get to some fun shofar facts!

01
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Shofars Set Guinness World Records

World's Largest Shofar Ensemble

Oddly enough, one of the oldest pieces of Judaica consistently in use in Judaism has inspired records with the Guinness Book of World Records. 

Among them is the largest shofar ensemble, which involved 1,022 people blowing the tekiyah, sh'varim, and teruah sounds on their own shofar on September 21, 2014. The group shofar blast was organized by The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life in Whippany, NJ. 

There have been additional attempts to establish a record for the longest shofar blast, but unfortunately at this time it's not "official." That being said, there are plenty of people trying to out-blast the original challenger for the longest shofar blast. 

02
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Some Shofars Come from a 600-pound Mammal

Yemenite Kudu Shofar
Judaica Webstore

Shofars are made from many different animal horns, with the Yemenite shofar being one of the most unique with its unique spiraling and large size. This shofar comes from an African Kudu, an animal found in eastern and southern Africa that can weigh in at 600 pounds! This shofar was used for centuries in Yemen and when the Jews of Yemen first traveled to Israel, the Kudu shofar went with them. 

Although some shofars come from a sheep, goat, or mountain goat, the majority of shofars in use today in most Jewish communities come from a ram. These types of ram's horn shofars are short and often straight or just slightly bent. 

03
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The Liberty Bell Connection

The Liberty Bell's Leviticus Inscription
WikiCommons

The shofar appears a whopping 69 times in the Torah, including in these verses from Leviticus 25:9-10, but one of its more well-known appearances is on the Liberty Bell!

The portion in bold from these verses in Leviticus was cast on the Liberty Bell in 1753. 

You shall proclaim with shofar blasts, in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month; on the Day of Atonement, you shall sound the shofar throughout your land. And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live on it. It shall be a Jubilee for you, and you shall return, each man to his property, and you shall return, each man to his family.

The historic Liberty Bell is found on display in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is visited by more than 1.5 million people every year. 

04
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The Sounds of the Shofar Aren't Easy

A man blowing a traditional ram's horn shofar.
Tova Teitelbaum/Getty Images

There are four sounds that a tokea, which means "blaster," makes with the hard-to-master shofar. Although many ​tokeas are seasoned after having blown the shofar for years and years, most still practice because the shofar is a difficult instrument to master. 

Throughout the shofar service, four different sounds are called out at which point the blaster will make the sounds on the shofar. These are the four sounds:

  • tekiyah: an unbroken blast lasting about three seconds
  • sh'varim: a tekiyah that's been broken into three blasts
  • teruah: nine quick, rapid-fire blasts
  • tekiyah gedolah: three of the tekiyah blasts lasting at least nine seconds in total

In many communities, the tekiyah gedolah has become an epic part of the shofar service with the blaster attempting to elongate the final blast as long as possible, especially at the end of the final service on Yom Kippur. 

Also: The shofar sounds an amazing 100 times throughout the High Holiday service, and it's a mitzvah to hear those blasts!

05
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On Shabbat, Just Say No to the Shofar!

Man blowing the shofar
WikiCommons

Although at one time the shofar was used in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, after the Temple's final destruction in 70 CE its use on Shabbat ceased. Why? 

The great Sages prohibited the sounding of the shofar on Shabbat because of the prohibition against carrying (read more about this in our eruv article). Because of the likelihood of Rosh HaShanah falling on Shabbat, the Sages were worried that the shofar blaster would forget that it was Shabbat and carry the shofar to synagogue and violate the prohibition. This, of course, was before the modern eruv, but the prohibition still stands to this day. 

Luckily, because Rosh HaShanah is two days, even if one day falls on Shabbat, the second day allows for blowing and hearing the shofar and fulfilling the mitzvah.