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Book Two – For the Shofar Blower

By Michael T. Chusid

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 1 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

Title Page
Table of ContentsAbout the Author
Forward – by Rabbi Dr. Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi

Book 1 – The Call of the High Holy Days Click Here.

Book 2 – For the Shofar Blower
2-1 Why Shofar: Overview of shofar and the High Holy Days
2-2 Kavanah for Sounding Shofar: Whatever moves you.
2-3 Buying, Making, and Caring for a Shofar: A horn of one’s own.
2-4 Hearing Shofar: The reason for blowing.
2-5 Preliminary Exercises: First, make funny sounds.
2-6 Getting Sound from a Shofar: Giving lip service to the horn.
2-7 Sounding the Notes of the Shofar Service: Uniting heaven and earth.
2-8 Tips for Common Problems: I’m sure you won’t need this, but…
2-9 Staging Shofar: Tooting al tutti or alone.
2-10 Blowing Shofar for the Sick and Confined: A double mitzvah.
2-11 Secrets of an Awesome Tekiah Gedolah: How to get to Carnegie Hall.
Appendix: Quick Reference Sheet

Book 3 – The People of the Ram Click Here.

This copyrighted book is offered as a free download. If you receive value from this work, please consider
making a tax-deductible donation to support Shofar Corps. Visit www.HearingShofar.com or click here to
donate. © 2009, Michael T. Chusid

Illustration on First Page: Illustration shows a variety of historical shofar styles and is taken from Cyrus
Adler, Jewish Encyclopedia, 1901-1906. Its caption identifies: “1. Used by Beni-Israel of Bombay. 2, 3, 7.
In the Great Synagogue, Aldgate, London. 4. From Bagdad, eighteenth century. 5, 6, 9. In the United States
National Museum, Washington. 8. With carved Hebrew inscription (after Wetzstein). 10. Alledged to
belong to the pre-expulsion period (1290) of English Jews. 11. In the possession of Mrs. E.F. Aaron, New
York. 12. In the possession of the late A. L. Cohen, London. 13. In the possession of F. L. Cohen, Sydney,
N.S.W.” It is doubtful that 8 really dates from the 13th Century.


Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 2 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

“Put a shofar to your mouth.”1

What chutzpah2 you have to believe you can learn to blow shofar from a book!

A teacher could demonstrate how to blow, and then watch and listen to what you are
doing and offer suggestions to improve your technique. And in a class, you get to watch a
whole roomful of people and see what works or doesn’t work for them; in such situations,
you might even become the teacher yourself and learn by kibitzing3 another student’s

But with this book, you have only some silent words and a few photos and drawings to
guide you.

Hopefully, however, you also have a bit of faith. Whether your faith is in the author’s
ability to teach, faith in your own creative ability to learn, or faith that – after generations
upon generations of shofar blowers in our tribe – the ability to sound shofar already exists
somewhere in your spiritual genetic code and is only waiting to be awakened.

Awakening faith is, after all, one of the reasons you may have for wanting to learn shofar.

Besides, a little chutzpah is a good thing for a shofar blower to have; it takes chutzpah to
stand in front of a congregation and help them perform a mitzvah. And to hear shofar on
Rosh Hashanah is, indeed, a mitzvah.

A Note to Brass Players

If you already play a brass wind instrument, you probably know most of the technique for
sounding shofar. I ask your indulgence, and invite you read this book anyway since there
are spiritual teachings woven into the lessons. More, you will find shofar different than
your trumpet, tuba, French horn, or saxhorn since it does not have a mouthpiece or


Hosea 8:1.
Leo Rosten in The Joys of Yiddish defines chutzpah as “gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible ‘guts,’
presumption plus arrogance such as no other word and no other language can do justice to.”
Rosten, “To comment while watching… To carry on a running commentary…”

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 3 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

Chapter 2-1 – Why Shofar
“Why do we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah? Why do we blow it? The All-
Merciful told us: ‘Blow.’”4

There is a simple reason, and an even simplier reason, why the Jewish people blow
shofar, the “ram’s horn,” on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish holiday that marks the
anniversary of the creation of human consciousness in the world, and on Yom Kippur, the
Day of Atonement.

The simple reason is that Jewish law and tradition tells us to. The Torah says:

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the Israelite people thus: In the
seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a
sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts.” Leviticus 23:23-25

“In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a sacred
occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. You shall observe it as a day
when blasts are sounded.” Numbers 29:1

Tradition and rabbinic interpretation inform us that the blasts are to be sounded by
blowing shofar, the hollowed horn of a ram or other animal.5

To understand the importance of this practice, consider the following scenario: The
synagogue in your town has a great rabbi and even a cantor with an amazing voice, but
there is uncertainty about whether a shofar blower will be present on Rosh Hashanah.
Another town, farther away, has neither a rabbi nor a cantor, but it does have a shofar
blower. In which community should you worship on Rosh Hashanah? Talmud says you
should go to the community with the shofar blower so you can fulfil the mitzvah of
hearing shofar.

The scriptural reference to blowing shofar on Yom Kippur is:

“Then you shall sound the shofar loud; in the seventh month, on the tenth day of
the month – the Day of Atonement – you shall have the shofar sounded
throughout your land and you shall hallow the fiftieth year.” Leviticus 25:9

This commandment is to blow shofar only on the fiftieth year of the Jubilee cycle
when slaves were freed, debts forgiven, and land returned to the clan to which it was
originally assigned. Since we no longer observe the Jubilee, our tradition has become
to sound shofar annually on the Day of Atonement.

Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashanah 16a.
See Chapter 2-4 – Buying, Making, and Caring for a Shofar for a discussion on species acceptable for

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 4 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

An Even Simpler Reason
The even simpler reason we blow shofar is that, as Jews, we have no choice.

The sound of shofar is one of the fundemental energies of our spiritual universe, and is
the very cry of the Jewish people itself. Its call permeates our entire cosmos and is
imprinted into our hearts and souls. We can no more refrain from sounding shofar than
we could stop breathing.

In our tradition, the call of shofar marks the very beginning of time and the very end of
time. In the beginning was the spirit/breath of God, a wind.6 This was the same breath of
life that God blew into the nostrils of humans to transform clay into a living being,7 and
the same breath that we return to our Source when we blow shofar. And, at the end of
time, we are told that the coming of the messiah will be announced by blasts of shofar.

The Hebrew letters of the first word of Torah, “bereshit,” can be rearranged to spell out
“bara tayish,” Hebrew for, “He created a ram.”8 This ram, and its horns, has been central
to the tribal story of the Jewish people ever since. The ram was given form at twilight on
the sixth day of creation when God brought forth many other wonders of the Torah,
including the rainbow of Noah and the manna that fed us during our 40 years in the
desert after the Exodus.

The ram lived in the Garden of Eden until it was required on Mount Moriah where
Abraham sacrificed it instead of his son, Issac, a story we retell every year when we read
the Akedah9 in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. It is said that the ashes of this ram were
used for the foundations of the Temple in Jerusalem, its gut was used for the strings of
King David’s harp, its skin became the mantle of the Prophets Elijah and Elisha, and its
horns were made into shofarot10. One of the horns was sounded at Mount Sinai during
God’s revelation when we received the Ten Commandments, and the other will be
sounded by Elijah to announce the messianic era.

God accepted Cain’s sacrifice of a ram over Abel’s sacrifice of plants – initiating the
tradition of animal sacrifice that runs throughout Torah. Noah’s rainbow, the sign of our
covenant with God, has the curved shape of a horn, and its Hebrew name, “kesher,” is an
acronym of the teKiah-SHevarim-teRuah blasts of shofar we sound on Rosh Hashanah.

Just as the ram of the Akedah marked the transition in tribal leadership from Abraham to
Issac, a young ovine or caprine male was also present at other key transitions in our
history. Issac blessed Jacob after being served a ram potage. Jacob grieved when he was
shown Joseph’s coat stained with the blood of the ram. Moses used the blood of a ram to
mark the homes of the Israelites on the eve of the liberation from Egypt. When he

Genesis 1:2
Genesis 2:7
Attributed to Nachman of Breslov. “Tayish” is also translated as, “male goat,” another animal whose horn
can be used for shofar.
Genesis 22:1-19.
“Shofarot” is the Hebrew plural of “shofar.”

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 5 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

descended from Mount Sinai, his head was crowned with keren, another word for horn.
The priesthood was initiated when Aaron and his sons were annointed with the blood of
the ram. Joshua brought us into the land of Canaan by sounding shofarot outside the walls
of Jericho.

Among the Judges, Ehud, and Gideon sounded shofarot to rouse the Hebrews. Ram’s
horn flasks of oil were used to anoint Kings Saul, David, and Solomon, and the
coronation of other kings were announced by blowing the ram’s horn. The altars, first in
the Mishkan and later in the Temple, were constructed with horns, and daily blowing of
horns marked Temple rituals.

The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, and Amos used the image of shofar to call
upon Jews to return to ways of righteousness. Midrash connects shofar to the Book of
Esther, and The Book of Maccabees relates how shofar was blown to mark the
rededication of the Temple.

The Talmud, the writings of Miamonides, and the Shulhan Aruch are just a few of the
rabbinic writings that devote an abundance of pages to codifying the laws of shofar. The
kabbalists found esoteric meanings in shofar. And the Hasidic masters filled their stories
with impassioned tales about shofarot.

We are also told to blow horns on the new moon, to mark fasts, to rouse the people in
times of crisis, on joyous occasions, in excommunications, and to exorcise a dybbuk, the
soul of a deceased person that can inhabit the body of a living person.

In every era of Jewish life, the call of shofar has grown richer and overlain with new
reverberations of memory and meaning. From the modern era, we still hear the echos of
shofarot blown from within the Nazi death camps to sactify the Holy Name, and the
amazing grace of shofar blasts sounded when the Israeli Army reached the Western Wall
during the Six Day War.

Throughout the ancient world, shofar was used for a wide range of practical, spiritual,
and ritual functions. A 20,000-year old bas-relief in a cave in Southern France depicts a
ram’s horn that is apparently used for ritual purposes. In Biblical times, shephards used
shofar to call to each other across valleys; in medieval times it was sounded in villages
and cities to call field workers into town before the start of Shabbat. It was even used as a
vessel from which to drink.

In other times and places, Jews have had to hide in cisterns or caves in order to perform
the mitzvah of hearing shofar without negative repercussions. Today, in the United
States, Israel, and many other places throughout the world, shofar can be freely and
safely blown in public.11 This has lead to a renaissance of shofar blowing, and shofar is
increasingly blown for a variety of holidays, life-cycle events, and public assemblies.

Least we forget, there are still places where Jews cannot sound shofar with impunity.

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Throughout the month of Elul, the month preceeding Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to
sound shofar every day except Shabbat and the day before Rosh Hashanah. We listen to
these calls to help us wake up spiritually, as a charge to examine our lives, and to alert us
to any amends we have to make for harm we have done. In Hebrew, we call this process
of returning to right living “teshuvah.”

Then, when we blow shofar on Rosh Hashanah and at the conclusion of Yom Kippur,
over five thousand years of Jewish history, faith, and devotion courses through the horn
and are amplified by our prayers and those of the entire congregation, especially prayers
that cannot be put into words. When I blow shofar on these occasions, I experience the
blasts as vibrations that flow out of the ground, travel the length of my body, and emerge
through the shofar and out into the universe, unifying heaven and earth.

Blowing shofar is a transformational moment, and I am never the same after blowing
shofar as I am before blowing. At times, the blasts have moved me to tears, caused me to
quiver in awe, or released so much energy that I literally danced with joy.

Like hundreds of generations of Jews before me, I simply must hear shofar.

What is Your Reason?

I have taught several thousands of people to blow shofar, and many of them have
reported similarly significant experiences as shofar blowers.

As a shofar blower, you will also have the important opportunity to serve your
community by blowing shofar for communal prayers during Elul and the Days of Awe,
and by visiting the sick and confined to sound shofar for those who cannot attend
communal worship services. When you do so, you not only fulfill the mitzvah given in
the Torah, you recreate and help maintain the sonic energy field that has kept and
sustained the world for more than five thousand years so far, and counting.

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Chapter 2-2 – Kavanah of Sounding Shofar
“A Hasidic rebbe asked one of his hasidim to be his ba’al tekiah. ‘Rebbe, I
cannot. I am not learned in the secrets of the mystical kavanot for the shofar
blasts.’ This was no excuse for the rebbe, who had his reasons for his choice, so
he taught his disciple the kavanot. After being fully versed in the esoteric
knowledge, the hasid again refused his rebbe’s wish, this time saying, “Rebbe, I
cannot. Now I know the kavanot.’”12

More important than blowing shofar well, is blowing shofar “good”; that is, with good
kavanah – the intention or focus with which you sound shofar.

The concept of kavanah can best be understood by stories from our tradition about good
and bad kavanot – the plural of kavanah – for sounding shofar:

Teachings on Kavanah
Doing God’s Will
“‘Blowing the shofar is chochmah (a skill), and not work.’13 But regarding chochmah, it
says, ‘The beginning of chochmah (wisdom) is fear of HaShem.’14 Fear of HaShem is the
first requirement for being a tokea (shofar blower).15 This is also expressed, “The primary
intent upon which one should concentrate during the sounding of the shofar is to fulfill
the will of the Creator.’”16

Spiritual Warrior
“A man, lost in a deep forest inhabited by wild animals had only a bow and some arrows
with which to defend himself. In his fear, everything he saw he imagined to be an
attacking beast and shot off his arrows in their direction. When he came closer to what
had appeared to be a lion, wolf, or bear, he discovered that it was only a tree, a rock, or
some other part of the forest. Checking his quiver for arrows, he realized in great dismay
that he had wasted all of them and that only a single arrow remained. ‘With this last
precious arrow I must be very careful,’ he admonished himself, ‘for this may save my

“When we Jews lived in the Holy Land, many paths of redemption were open to us – our
Holy Temple, the altar, sacrifices, and the High Priest. But in our own day, none of these
avenues remain. Our last hope is the shofar. Therefore, my dear ba’al tekiah, apply your
mind and your heart to the sacred task at hand so that the shofar will reach the target at
which you are aiming.”17

Whole Jewish Catalog, pg 69
Rosh Hashanah 29a.
Psalms 111:10.
Rabbi Shlomoh Kluger, Avodas Yisrael, quoted in Meisels, pg 101.
R’ Elimelech of Lizhensk, quoted in Rosh Hashanah – Its Significance, Laws, and Prayers, pg 58.
Jacob ben Wolf Krantz, aka The Dubno Maggid, (1741-1804), Ohel Ya’akov as quoted in The New Rosh
Hashanah Anthology, p 191. My source is a self-published paper, “The Shofar: Ancient Ritual Horn of
Israel” by Mordehai Wosk and Rabbi Yosef Wosk.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 8 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

Preparation to be Ba’al Tekiah
Ba’al tekiah translates literally as “master blaster”. It is the individual who sounds the
shofar for a congregation. It is a position that requires spiritual preparation as well as the
ability to sound shofar, as the following examples indicate:

“On the first day of saying Selichot (penetential prayers recited as the New Year
approaches), the community must determine who the prayer leaders and the shofar
blowers would be, to provide ample time for each prayer leader and shofar blower to
practice and prepare himself. Each prayer leader and shofar blower must free himself
from all his other activities, stay in the Beit Hamidrash (synagogue) all day and learn,
and especially during the last three days prior to Rosh Hashanah.”18

“Whosoever of the congregation has been chosen to…blow the ram’s horn needs, three
days before Rosh Hashanah, and before Yom Kippur as well, to seclude himself from
every thing that leads to ritual uncleanliness because he needs a special purity.”19

“And if the congregation desire him for their reader, he is obligated to remove the hatred
from his heart, and to say explicitly that he will include his enemy in his prayer, the same
as every other man.”20 The shofar blower bears this obligation, too.

The physical and spiritual preparation required of a ba’al tekiah, plus the awesome rush of emotions and
spirit that accompanies shofar blowing, can have a lasting effect on an individual. For many, being ba’al
tekiah becomes part of their self-identities. The honor of sounding shofar can also influence or indicate an
individual’s status in a community. It is not surprising that many shofarists try to serve as ba’al tekiah for
as long as they can. The grave marker of a deceased ba’al tekiah might illustrate a shofar, recalling the
prophetic image of eternal life and as a symbol of the individual’s distinction.21

Zabludow Pinkas, 1750, translation by Shmuel Kehati, published in Kiryat Seffer, Hebrew University of
Jerusalem, Pamphlet 4, Shevat 1925, at www.zabludow.com/zabludowpinkus1647.html September 11,
Agnon pg 37
Rabbi Meir ben Isaac Katzenellenbogen, Responsa No. 64, quoted in Agnon pg 33.
Portrait of William Zack, died 1953 at age 86, on memorial stone in Beth David Cemetary, Detroit
http://atdetroit.net/forum/messages/6790/69744.html April 27, 2009.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 9 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

A Simple Jew
“One year Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev spent a long time in search of a man who
would be worthy of blowing the shofar in his synagogue. Rosh Hashanah was fast
approaching, and many righteous folk sought the privilege, vying with each other in
demonstrating their expertise in the mystical kabbalistic secrets associated with the
shofar; none of them were to his taste.

“One day a new applicant came along, and Rabbi Levi Yitzhak asked him on what deep
mysteries he meditated while he was performing the awesome mitzvah.

“‘Rebbe,’ said the newcomer, ‘I’m only a simple Jew; I don’t understand too much about
the hidden things of the Torah. But I have four daughters of marriageable age, and when I
blow the shofar, this is what I have in mind: “Master of the universe! Right now I am
carrying out your will. I’m doing Your mitzvah and blowing the shofar. Now supposing
You, too, do what I want, and help me marry off my daughters!’

“‘My friend,’ said R’ Levi Yitzhak, ‘you will blow the shofar in my synagogue!’”22

When you are Unable to Blow

“On the last New Year’s festival in the life of Rabbi Levi Yitzhak, they tried in vain to
blow the ram’s horn. No one could wring from it a single note. Finally the tzaddik
himself put it to his lips, but he too did not succeed. It was clear that Satan was involved
in the matter. Rabbi Levi Yitzhak put down the horn, laid it aside, and cried: ‘Lord of the
world! In your Torah it is written that we Jews are to blow the ram’s horn the day on
which you created the world. Look down upon us and you will see that all of us have
come with our wives and children to do your command. But if we are denied this, if we
are no longer your beloved people, well – then let Ivan (the Russians) blow the ram’s
horn for you!’

“All wept and in the depths of their hearts they turned to God. After a time, the rabbi put
the ram’s horn to his lips again, and now it emitted a flawlessly pure sound. After the
prayer, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak turned to his congregation and said: ‘I vanquished him
(Satan), but it will cost me my life. Here I am, a sin-offering for Israel.’

“He died a few weeks later.”23

Another who was unable to blow

This tale describes someone whose motivation for blowing shofar was not, perhaps, of
the highest order:

Retold by R’ S.Y. Zevin in A Treasury of Chassidic Tales, quoted in Rosh Hashanah – Its Significance,
Laws, and Prayers, pg 59. Also at www.ascent.org.il/NewAscentOfSfed/Stories/Stories/5763/255-01.html
from Treasury of Chassidic Tales – Festivals Artscroll.
Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, Book 1, pg 233

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“[The congregation] was meant to offer a more personal though still rigorous Judaism,
and for a few years did so. But reform movements, especially perhaps “conservative"
ones, evolve their own orthodoxies. As more families were drawn to the spirit of the
young temple, more space was needed; a new sanctuary required donors to finance it.
Donors expect to be listened to in matters of practice and policy, and do not always want
moral instruction. They may get it anyway. After 30 years of blowing the shofar during
the High Holidays, my father was summarily replaced one fall by a man who had made a
very large gift to the congregation. When that man was unable to coax even a single good
tekiah out of his dinky ram's horn, a voice from the pews called out, ‘There is a God.’

“That was my mother.”24

Who by Shofar?
In the Yom Kippur prayers, we ask about the coming year, “who will live and who will
die? Who by fire and who by water?”25 We also reflect on the words of Rabbi Eliezer
who taught: “Repent one day before your death.” When his students asked, “But who
knows when he or she will die?” Rabbi Eliezer responded, “That is all the more reason to
repent today, lest you die tomorrow. In that way, one’s whole life will be spent in
repentance”26 One may want to ponder these words while preparing to blow shofar, as the
following incident reminds us:

“When I was fourteen or fifteen… the Yom Kippur service ended in an unforgettable
way, for Schechter, who always put great effort into the blowing of the shofar—he would
go red in the face with exertion—produced a long, seemingly endless note of unearthly
beauty, and then dropped dead before us on the bema, the raised platform where he
would sing. I had the feeling that God had killed Schechter, sent a thunderbolt, stricken
him. The shock of this for everyone was tempered by the reflection that if there was ever
a moment in which a soul was pure, forgiven, relieved of all sin, it was at this moment,
when the shofar was blown in conclusion of the fast…”27

The Master Key28

The following legend makes clear that perfect technique is not nearly as important as the
kavanah one brings to the blowing of shofar:

“Once the Ba’al Shem Tov dreamed that he was walking outside his hut, and he saw a
tree, shaped like a shofar, twisting in and out of the earth, as if a giant ram’s horn had
taken root. The sight of that great shofar took The Ba’al Shem’s breath away. And in the
dream, the Ba’al Shem gathered all his hasidim together by that tree and told them to see
who among them could sound it. So, one by one, they approached the mouth of that

Jesse Green , “My Bar Mitzvah Year: The Gayish Problem,” dated 11-6-06,
www.nextbook.org/cultural/feature.html?id=447, November 6, 2006.
U'netaneh Tokef prayer.
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 153a.
Oliver W. Sacks, Uncle Tungsten (2001), p. 177, Knopf, hardcover edition, ISBN 0-375-40448-1
Or Yesharim, Warsaw, 1884 as retold by Howard Schwartz, “The Master Key,” Gabriel’s Palace, Jewish
Mystical Tales, Oxford University Press, 1993, pp 198-199.

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mighty shofar, but none of them could bring forth a single sound. At last Reb Wolf Kitzes
approached it, and this time a deep and long-sustained blast came forth, like a voice from
deep in the earth. He blew only one note, but it rose up into heaven.

“When the Ba’al Shem awoke, he was still being borne along by that long note, and he
sighed because there was no such shofar in this world, only in the world of dreams.

“The next day the Ba’al Shem called upon Wolf Kitzes and told him that he wanted to
teach him the secret meanings of the blasts of the shofar so that he could serve as the
ba’al tekiah for the High Holy Days. Of course, Wolf Kitzes relished this chance to delve
into the mysteries with The Besht.29 So it was that he learned, over many months, that
every blast of the shofar is a branch of the Tree of Life, and that there are great powers
residing in the shofar. So mighty are its blessings that a note blown with the right
meaning and intensity could rise on a single breath all the way to the Throne of Glory.

“Now Wolf Kitzes listened carefully to the words of the Ba’al Shem, and wrote down the
secret meaning of each and every sound, so that he could remember it precisely as he
blew on the shofar.

“Then it happened that on the day of Rosh Hashanah, when he was about to blow on the
shofar before the Ark for the first time, the notes with all the secret meanings vanished.
He frantically searched for them everywhere, but to no avail.

“Then, weeping bitter tears, he blew on the shofar with his broken heart, without
concentrating on the secret meanings. And the sound of the shofar rose up in long and
short blasts and carried all of their prayers with it into the highest heavens. And everyone
who heard him blow the shofar that day knew that for one moment heaven and earth had
been brought together in the same place.

“Afterwards, the Ba’al Shem said to Wolf Kitzes: ‘In the palace of the king there are
many chambers, and every one has a lock of its own. But the master key is a broken
heart. When a man truly breaks his heart before the Holy One, blessed be He, he can pass
through each and every gate.’”

It is not proper to get paid for performing a mitzvah such as blowing shofar on the High
Holy Days. Of course, there is a way around this, that is to accept payment for one’s
preparation or travel time.30 Then, the service that one provides during the Days of Awe
is “absorbed” into the work performed over a larger scope of activities. For example:

“There is a dispute among the authorities whether the prohibition of Shabbat

payment applies to things which are a mitzvah, such as…one who blows the
shofar. But even according to the lenient opinion, accepting payment for it is not a

Besht is an abbreviation of Ba’al Shem Tov.
www.ohryerushalayim.org.il/halacha_topic.php?id=32, 8/13/05

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sign of blessing. It would be proper for those so engaged, to stipulate that they are
accepting payment only by “absorption,” i.e., …that the shofar-blower is paid also
for blowing during Elul...”31

The Sound of our Liberation

Among the legacies of the Holocaust are stories of individuals who risked their lives in
order to fulfill the mitzvah of shofar. Their bravery and faith comforted those interred in
the camps and ghettos and voiced defiance against our oppressors. May their kavanah
give strength to all who blow shofar today and for generations to come.

This shofar was made in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah 5704 (1943) by an inmate working in the
armaments factory at Skazysko-Kamienna, forced labor camp. A Polish guard was bribed to obtain the
horn. Its fabrication, and even its possession, carried a penalty of immediate death if discovered.32

The following story, told by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi,33 is an example of this

genre with a happier ending than most.

While still a young man during World War II, Reb Zalman was imprisoned in a Vichy
detention camp in France, hoping that a visa to emigrate to the West would arrive before
those in the camp were deported to the East.

With the approach of the High Holy Days, Zalman escaped from the camp and sneaked
into a nearby town where he entered a butcher shop. The butcher, knowing how desperate
an escapee could be, fearfully asked Zalman what he wanted. While rations in the camp
had been meager and Zalman was undoubtedly hungry, Zalman asked only for the horn
of the sheep being butchered, Securing the horn, he then sneaked out of town and back
into the prison compound. Working in secret, he fashioned a small shofar.

Each morning, prisoners in the camp were assembled for roll call in the prison yard. On
Rosh Hashanah, when all the prisoners were assembled, Zalman surreptitiously blew the
shofar. Just then, the camp commander entered the prison yard with a pistol in one hand

Shemiras Shabbos K'Hilchasa, Chapter 28, Paragraph 66, translated by Kenneth G Miller,
http://www.ottmall.com/mj_ht_arch/v44/mj_v44i80.html, August 11, 2007.
Made by Moshe (Winterter) Ben-Dov, now in Yad Vashem Collection, Jerusalem. http://yad-
vashem.org.il/exhibitions/museums/histmuseum/from_coll/data/shofar.html August 14, 2006.
Paraphrased, told during Rosh Hashanah 1993 at Makom Ohr Shalom, Los Angeles, CA. The story also
appears in Jewish with Feeling by Zalman chacter-Shalomi with Joel Segel, Berkley Publishing Group
2005, page 139f.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 13 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

and a whip in the other. “What was that noise?” the officer demanded. Zalman stepped
forward to say, “That was the sound of our liberation.”

Hearing this, the Commander laughed, pulled a sheet of paper from his jacket pocket, and
bellowed, “Blow it again, Jew, for your emigration papers have just arrived.”


Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 14 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

Chapter 2-3 – Buying, Making and Caring for a Shofar
If I had a shofar
I’d blow it at shacharit.
I’d blow it at musaf,
All over this land.

It’s the shofar of tzadakah.

It’s the horn of the yovel.
It’s the song about the love
between HaShem and his people
All over this land.34

Should a Horn be Kosher?

“All mammals that have horns have cloven hoofs.”35 From this standpoint, all horns
come from animals that are permissible under kashrut – the Jewish dietary laws.

We must go further, however, and ask: Should a shofar be made from the horn of an
animal that was slaughtered in accordance kashrut? Sources within our tradition differ,
and their perspectives may help you determine which path to follow.

The first view is that the dietary laws do not apply to shofar; shofar, after all, is not eaten
and is not even placed inside the mouth when blown.36

Beyond the dietary laws is a principle that religious articles must be made from sources
that are muttar be-fikha (literally: permissible in your mouth), a precept derived from the
commandment regarding tefillin in Exodus 13:9, “in order that the Teaching of the Lord
may be in your mouth.” A careful analysis of this principle limits its applicability to
sacred writing. The precept, moreover, is countered by the concept that inedible items are
afra be-alma (mere dust) and are therefore exempt from considerations of kashrut. In
addition to horns from a non-koshered animal, other non-kosher animal products are
allowed in ritual use; tzitzit, for example, can be made with dye from mollusks and silk

Parody of “If I Had a Hammer” by Lee Hays and Pete Seeger. For chords and original lyrics, see Rise Up
Singing, edited by Peter Blood and Annie Patterson, The Sing Out Corporation, Bethleham, Pennsylvania,
1992, pg, 215. Shacharit is the Jewish morning prayer service; shofar is traditionally blown following the
Torah reading during shacharit. Mussaf is the supplemental prayer service on Rosh Hashanah, another time
when shofar is traditionally blown. Tzadakah can be translated as “justice.” Yovel is the year following the
seventh sabbatical cycle when debts are forgiven and slaves released; it is initiated with the blowing of
shofar. HaShem is, literally, “The Name” and refers to God.
Niddah 51B Cited in Natan Slifkin, “Exotic Shofars: Halachic Considerations,” Version 1.3 (2/1/07),
www.zootorah.com/essays/ExoticShofars.pdf, August 16, 2007. This refers to species with “true horns,”
with bone cores and a horn sheath. See Schochet pg 98 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloven-hoof
August 11, 2007.
Mois Navon, “The Hillazon and the Principle of ‘Mutter be-Fikha,’” The Torah u-Madda Journal,
October 2001, www.yutorah.org/_shiurim/%2FTU10_Navon.pdf, March 4, 2006. This article is also the
source for other information in this paragraph.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 15 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

from insects, and a sukkah can use a living elephant for a wall.37 Like a shofar, these
items are tashmishei mitzvah, objects used to perform a mitzvah yet do not have inherent
kedushah (holiness).38

A second perspective claims that kashrut elevates the mitzvah of shofar into a higher
spiritual realm. This belief is poignantly expressed in a Rosh Hashanah sermon by Rav
Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine. In 1933 when Zionist migration to Palestine was
increasing in response to growing oppression by Nazi and Stalinist regimes in Europe, he

“We find that there are three categories of shofars that may be blown on Rosh
Hashanah. The first category, the optimal shofar, is the horn of a ram. If such a
horn is not available, then the horn of any kosher animal (except a cow) may be
used. If no kosher shofars are available, then one may blow on any horn, even
from a ritually unclean animal. When using a non-kosher horn, however, no
bracha (blessing) is recited.

“These three shofars of Rosh Hashanah correspond to three ‘shofars of

redemption,’ summoning the Jewish people to be redeemed and redeem their

“The preferred ‘shofar of redemption’ is the divine call that awakens the people
through holy motivations – out of faith in God and the sanctity of the people of
Israel. This form of awakening corresponds to the ram's horn, recalling the holy
dedication of ‘Akeidat Yitzchak’ (the Binding of Isaac)… It is for this ‘great
shofar,’ an awakening of spiritual greatness, that we pray.

“There exists a second 'shofar of redemption,’ a lower level of awakening. This

shofar calls out to the Jews to come to the Land of Israel, to return to the land of
our ancestors, our prophets, and our kings. It beckons us to live as a free people in
our homeland, educate our children in a Jewish environment, and so on. This is a
kosher shofar, albeit not a great shofar like the first type of awakening. We may
still recite a bracha over this shofar.

“There is, however, a third type of shofar. (At this point, Rav Kook burst out in
tears.) The least preferred shofar comes from the horn of an unclean animal. This
shofar is the wake-up call that comes from anti-Semitic nations, warning the Jews
to escape while they still can and flee to their own land. Enemies force them to be
redeemed. They sound out the trumpets of war, bombarding them with deafening
threats of persecution and torment, giving them no respite. The shofars of unclean
beasts are transformed into the messianic shofar.

Sukkah 23a
According to Megillah 26b, “These are tashmishei mitzvah: sukkah, lulav, shofar, tzitzit..”

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 16 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

“Whoever failed to listen to the calls of the first two shofars, will be forced to
listen to the call of this last shofar. On this shofar, however, no blessing is recited.
‘One does not recite a blessing over a cup of affliction.’39”40

In between the two poles, the Alter Rebbe makes his determination not on whether the
horn comes from an animal that is kosher to eat, but whether it comes from a kosher
species. 41 To this, his translator appends, “the horn of an animal of a kosher species that
died or was not slaughtered according to the laws of kashrut may be used.”42 This
comment is significant because many commercially available shofarot are made from
horns imported from Africa, India, China, or other lands that do not have an abundance of
ritual slaughterers. And many of the long horns of kudu are taken by hunting, generally
considered a non-kosher means of slaughter.43

Individuals with ethical or moral objections to the slaughter of animals may prefer a horn
from an animal that has died a natural death, even though such an animal would not be
kosher to eat.

Endangered Species
Beyond the laws of kosher is an emerging consciousness of eco-kosher, that we must
“tend” the earth and not just “master” it. 44 Of what value is a glatt kosher certificate if, in
order to get it, we jeopardize the survival of one of the species on the Ark called Earth?

Most commercially available shofarot are made from the horns of domesticated sheep.
Horns from domesticated goats can also be used for shofarot. There are many breeds of
sheep and goats, and their horns come in various sizes, colors and configurations.

Many people, however, want a shofar made from a more exotic horn. For example, long
helical “Yemenite” shofarot are made from the horns of the Greater Kudu, an African
antelope. The horns of wild goats, ibex, and other animals offer additional options. While
there are ranch-raised specimens of these exotic species, most of the horns of these
species are taken from the wild.

Berachot 51b
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, adapted from Mo'adei HaRe'iyah pp. 67-70,
www.geocities.com/m_yericho/ravkook/ROSH_65.htm, March 23, 2006.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Shulhan Aruch (Orach Chayim) 586:3 translated by Rabbi Eliyahu
Touger and Uri Kaploun, Kehot Publication Society, 2004.
Rabbi Eliyahu Touger and Uri Kaploun, citing Mishnah Berurah 586:8 in note 126 of citation referenced
Leviticus 17:13 says, “And if any Israelite or any stranger who resides among them hunts down an
animal or a bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth.” Deuteronomy 14:5
names roebuck, wild goat, ibex, antelope, and mountain sheep – horn-bearing animals – among those that
we are permitted to eat; presumably these wild animals would be slaughtered by hunting. While these
verses appear to permit hunting for food, making the animals kosher by pouring the blood into the earth,
many rabbinic sources appear to disparage hunting.
Compare Genesis 1:28 and 2:15.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 17 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

Buyers should be wary of purchasing horns from endangered species or species that are
considered vulnerable to extinction due to over-hunting, habitat-loss, or changes in
species dynamics due to the spread of disease or the introduction of non-native species,
etc. In the year 2004, 15,589 species faced extinction and one out of four species of
mammals were in jeopardy.45 Many of the species mentioned in the Bible are now
extinct or no longer living in the land of Israel. Humans were created to tend God’s
garden46 and clearly have an obligation to protect the species Yah created. Before you
acquire an exotic horn, either in a raw state or fashioned into a shofar, it is up to you
investigate its provenance.

Left to Right\: Oryx (Oryx gazella), Ibex (Capra ibex ibex), Lesser Kudu (Tragelaphus imberbis).47

A useful source of information on which species are at risk is the ICUN Red List of
Threatened Species compiled by the Species Survival Commission of the International
Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (www.redlist.org). According
to the list, various types of wild goats, gazelles, ibex, oryx, and other animals whose
horns are prized for use in shofarot are already endangered. The Greater Kudu is
classified as having a “lower risk,” and is dependent on the enforcement of conservation
measures to assure the stability and survival of the species.

“A world where the environment is so polluted -- where there is no clean water, no toxin-
free feed, no land available – will be a world that will not hear the blast of the shofar. On
that day, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Teruah, the day of the blast, will be our ‘silent spring.’”48

It can be argued, with some justification, that the demand for exotic horns can actually
aid in the survival of wild species; that the market for their horns makes it economically
practical to preserve open range lands and regulate the number of animals culled. But
poaching remains a huge problem in many parts of the world. If you are offered a horn
from an animal on an endangered species list, do not accept it unless a clear chain of
custody enables you to track the horn through the web of commerce back to its place of
origin and can assure you that the animal was not taken from an at-risk population.49

www.iucn.org/themes/ssc/red_list_2004/main_EN.htm, January 5, 2006.
Genesis 2:15
Images from http://commons.wikimedia.org, September 12, 2009. Oryx from American Museum of
Natural History, Fritz Geller-Grimm, 2004. Ibex by Nino Barbieri, 2004. Kudu, 2008.
Edmon J. Rodman, “Seeing Green in Shofar and Its Call to Action,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency,
September 18, 2008, www.jewishexponent.com/article/17130/ December 26, 2008
For additional information, see “Materials from Endangered Species in Musical Instruments” by

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Buying a Shofar
Some shofarot are compact and simple; others are long and showy. Some are polished to
a high sheen, and others are left with the rough ridges of the raw horn. Each horn is
unique in appearance, performance, and sound. Which you select will depend upon your
budget, aesthetic preferences, and practical matters such as whether you want one that is
easy to fit into a backpack, briefcase, or suitcase for treks into the wilderness, business
trips, or family gatherings. In addition to getting a shofar for yourself, they make great
gifts to bar and bat mitzvot and on other significant occasions.

The ultimate selection criterion, however, is to listen to hear which shofar calls to you. I
mean this in two ways. First, you should select a shofar that is easy for you to sound and
does not require a lot of breath for a sustained blast. And second, you should feel a
resonance with your shofar’s voice. If a store has several horns in your price range, take
time to sound each of them; if you do not yet know how to blow, ask the sales person to
blow them for you. Listen, and purchase the one that feels right to you.

Shofarot are available at Jewish book and gift stores, music stores that sell “ethnic”
instruments, and many synagogue gift shops. If you live in a community that does not
have a large selection from which to choose, make buying a shofar a highlight of your
trip to Israel or to a city with a large Jewish community. Shofarot can also be purchased
via the internet; before buying online, verify the seller’s reputation and return policy.

The length of a shofar is typically measured along the outside (longer) curved edge or
face of the horn. Rather than fumbling with a tape measure, simply roll the outside edge
or face of the shofar along the edge of a tabletop and measured the distance traveled. The
minimum size should be long enough that, when grasped in your hand, both ends of the
shofar remain visible. While a very long horn may look dramatic, it may be difficult to
support throughout a full sequence of blasts.

Make your Own50

Making a shofar can add to the personal meaning of shofar. For example, working with a
“raw” horn, with its bone core and perhaps a few bloodstains and hairs still on it, deepens
the ritual’s primal, earth-based connection to life and death, one of the powerful themes
of the High Holy Days.

It is also a mitzvah to create something of beauty to enhance the practice of a mitzvah;

this is called, hiddur mitzvah – beautifying the commandments. We are told to, “Adorn
yourself before God in the fulfillment of mitzvoth: make a beautiful sukkah in His honor,
a beautiful lulav, a beautiful shofar…”51

Laurence Libin, www.music.ed.ac.uk/euchmi/cimcim/iwt3.html#spec, March 30, 2006.

See also: “How to Make a Shofar,” Michale Albukerk, Historical Brass Society Newsletter Issue 7, pp
13-14 and Biological Museum Methods, Vol 1 pg 331.
Shabbat 133b. There are limits, however, on how far one should go to beautify a shofar. “The idea is that
we expend additional effort and resources in order to raise our level of observance from the minimally
acceptable (e.g., ‘any shofar will do’) to the aesthetically pleasing (‘we ought to use a bigger shofar that
makes a deeper sound’), so as to show that our performance of a mitzvah is a joyful privilege and not

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 19 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

There is also satisfaction in working with ones hands, and horn is a wonderful material
for crafting. It is relatively soft, enabling it to be cut easily with hand tools. It is a
thermoplastic that can be reshaped when heated and holds its new shape after cooling. It
has beautiful colors and translucency and can be finished with a range of textures. And it
is strong and resilient.

Horn has been fabricated into useful objects ever since humans began using tools, and the
horners were one of the important medieval guilds. In addition to blast horns like shofar,
the material was used to make spoons, drinking horns, powder horns, combs, buttons, and
a wide variety of ornaments and implements. Flattened into sheets and separated into
thin, translucent layers, horn was used as glazing before the availability of glass; the word
“lantern” derives from “lamp horn” and refers to the panes of translucent horn used to
protect a flame from wind. It is only in recent times, with the invention of plastics, that
horn lost its economic importance.52

The horner was an important craftsman until relatively recent times and the discovery of plastics. This 18th
century illustration shows a horner’s workshop and a guide to cutting bovine horns.53

While craftsmanship can be lavished on the horn’s exterior, the most crucial details are in
the forming of the horn’s interior: removing the horn’s bone core, drilling a hole into the
horn’s cavity, and shaping the blowhole. This is a tangible metaphor for the realignment

merely a rote act in fulfillment of an obligation. While understandable, this desire might easily lead to
unreasonable and burdensome expenditures; the Rabbis therefore placed a limit on this extra effort. Our
expenses on behalf of hiddur mitzvah should not exceed more than one-third of the original cost of the
object (B. Bava Kama 9b).” Mark Washofsky, Jewish Living, Union of Reform Judaism, 2001, pg. 374.
For more on the characteristics of horn and the technology for fabricating it, see Arthur MacGregor,
Bone, Antler, Ivory and Horn, Barnes & Noble Books, Totowa, NJ, 1985.
Denis Diderot (1713-1784) and Jean Le Rond d'Alembert Tabletier Cornetier [Animal Horn
Preparation] from Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des métiers et des arts,
www.georgeglazer.com/prints/industry/Diderot/Tabletiercorn.html September 18, 2007.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 20 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

of the kishkes, our guts or inner composition, that is necessary as we pursue teshuvah. If
the horn has enough twist, its inner structure cannot be visually examined, and the crafter
must probe the horn to understand its inner nature, a process similar to the self-searching
we must do in preparation for atonement.

Step-by-Step Instructions
SAFETY WARNING: Follow prudent safety procedures when using cutting or power
tools, chemicals, open flame, heat, or boiling water. Children should have adult
supervision. Use heat-resistant gloves when handling hot materials. Wear safety glasses
or goggles and dust masks or respirators when cutting, grinding or sawing. Some
individuals may be allergic to dust created by cutting bone and horn.54 Do not use horns
from animals known or suspected to be diseased. Pathogens may be present until the horn
has been sterilized by boiling; wash hands after handling.

1. OBTAIN A HORN: It may take patience to find a horn, since most animals in our
industrialized agriculture are slaughtered in remote factories; local butchers receive only
cleaned sides of meat without hides, hoofs or horns. More, many commercial sheep are
polled – either their horns have been removed while still young or they are breed to have
no horns – for the convenience of the sheep rancher. Widespread reliance on artificial
insemination means that fewer rams are required for breeding purposes. As a
consequence, most males are slaughtered as soon as they reach full size, and few live
long enough to produce the large horns of a mature ram.55 Others become wethers,
neutered male sheep, and yield smaller horns than do intact rams.

Observations of a Jewish Shepherd

“Domesticated animals reach sexual maturity as adolescents and then simply never grow
up to be wild. That is, in both appearance and behavior, domesticated animals are
remarkably similar to the young of their wild progenitors. Adult dogs both look like
juvenile wolves and exhibit the same submissive traits: They whine, roll over to expose
their bellies, and like all domesticated animals, are less fearful around other species. In
sheep the best evidence for this permanent adolescence, known as “neoteny,” is the large
size of a domesticated ram’s horns. Unlike wild rams, which stop growing their horns in
adolescence, domesticated rams grow their horns throughout their lives.”56 That is, if they
are not polled.

Sources for horn include slaughterhouses, shepherds and farmers, craft supply stores,
taxidermists, and internet-based shopping websites. Members of the Society of Creative
Anachronism or other historic period re-enactors may know suppliers. Several ranchers
responded to a small classified advertisement for horns I placed in Sheep! Magazine. Do

Private correspondence with Martha Sonnenberg, MD, Marina del Rey, CA.
Laurie Ball-Gisch, “Rams: Respect Them but don't Fear Them,” Sheep! Magazine, May-June 2004,
www.sheepmagazine.com/issues/05_06_04.html, September 23, 2004
Sam Apple, Schlepping Through the Alps: My Search for Austria’s Jewish Past with Its Last Wandering
Shepherd, 2005, Ballantine Books, NY, pp 113-114. For more information on this theory of animal
domestication, see the writings of Stephen Budiansky.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 21 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

not order or accept raw horns from areas where communicable animal disease is
suspected, and check with government authorities before importing raw horns.

A horn from an ewe (top) is generally smaller than that of the similar-age ram’s horn
(bottom); it is still suitable to fabricate into a small shofar. See Chapter 1-7 – The Ewe’s

While horns from sheep, goats, bison57, antelope, impala, and most other horned
mammals are acceptable, horns from cattle are not. This is because the cow is associated
with the golden calf. While we are listening for shofar to call us back to the revelation at
Sinai, we should avoid temptations from the symbol of our idolatry, the representative of
whatever it is that turns us away from the Divine. It is said that the ram’s horn reminds
God of the merits of Abraham and Issac, but Satan cites the golden calf as evidence that
God should not judge us with mercy. In light of this, our sages ask, “Can a prosecutor (a
cow horn) become a defender (the shofar)?” Venturing to update the prohibition against
cow horns into modern taxonomic nomenclature, the horns of any member of the Bovidae
family are acceptable except members of genus bos, a category that includes cattle, oxen,
and yak.

A shofar must be made from a hollow, true horn. This refers to a horn with a bone core
growing from the skull that is covered by a sheath or horn. Neither rhinoceros horns
(compacted hair) nor antlers from deer, elk, or moose (solid material without a sheath)
can be used. Giraffe horns are not usable because they are covered with skin, not a horny
sheath. Tusks from elephants and other animals are specialized teeth, not horns.

Use a horn that is long enough that both ends of the shofar will be visible when clenched
in a hand, keeping in mind that the tip of the horn may be trimmed during fabrication.
Examine the horn for defects: cracks, cuts, and splits in the wall of the horn can weaken it
and any perforation through the wall of the horn will invalidate it as a shofar.

The use of a bison horn is acceptable according to Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner writing in conjunction with
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism for Hadash #45, September 2005,
07.0931447103/SHOFARHandbookForWebsite9-13.pdf. Other sources disagree.

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These sheep skulls were found on the open range. The skull on the left had very weathered horns with splits
and deterioration that made it unfit for use as a shofar despite its double curl. In both skulls, notice the bone
protrusions from the constitute the core of the horns. The connective tissue between the horn sheaths and
bone cores had decayed, making it possible to twist off the horn sheathes.

While long horns are very dramatic to look at, do not overlook the potential of shorter
horns. Our focus during shofar blowing ritual should be aural, not visual. It is written,
“Pay no attention to his appearance or his stature… for man sees only what is visible, but
the Lord sees into the heart.”58

Short horns can usually sound the fundamental and an octave; they can be as loud as
longer horns and often have a startlingly piercing call. In general, longer horns will have
a lower pitch than short horns, and may be able to sound additional intervals. Pitch and
range, however, are also affected by each horn’s unique configuration as well as by
blowing technique.

2. REMOVE CORE: Horn grows as a thickening of the epidermis (skin) and forms as a
sheath over a bone core protruding from the skull. The horn and bone are joined by soft
connective tissues that must be removed or weaken in order to separate the sheath and

If you do not process the horn soon after it is harvested, the soft tissues in the bone and
between the bone and horn sheath will begin to decay, stink, and fester with larva. The
rotting will not harm the horn (and can even make it easier to extract the bone), but can
be a nuisance. Will you be able to store it outdoors where the smell will not objectionable
and does not attract vermin or dogs? Can it be refrigerated or frozen until you are ready

1 Samuel 16:4

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to use it? Should the supplier keep the horn until it dries out and can be shipped without

The simplest way to separate the bone and sheath is to expose the horn to the elements so
microorganisms and insects can consume the soft tissue. Some shofar makers accelerate
the natural decay by burying horns in earth or employing carrion-eating dermestid beetles
that are available from taxidermists and laboratory supply houses or can be collected off
road kill.59 One taxidermist allows skulls to dry for several months, then, “To remove the
horn from the skull, lay a ¾” piece of plywood on the concrete floor and beat the front of
the horns at the base to pop them off the skull. Whack them good and hard! Use heavy
gloves during this process.”60 Sliding a thin, flexible knife can between the bone and horn
can also aid separation.

The method I generally use is to heat the raw horn in boiling water. Not only does this
weaken connective tissues, it also softens the horn sheath so it becomes malleable and
releases its mechanical grip on the bone. Boiling has the additional benefit of killing
potentially pathogenic organisms living in the soft tissue within the horn.

Horn is composed of keratin, the protein also found in hair, skin, and fingernails. In the
same way that hair can be straightened or given a permanent set, horn can be softened
and reshaped by exposing it to heat and chemicals. Depending on the size and thickness
of the horn, heating can take one to two hours. The literature reports that adding wood
ash to the boiling water can help soften the horn. Boiling horns can be quite odiferous,
and you will probably not want to do it in your kitchen. I boil mine outdoors, in an iron
cauldron over a wood fire to further my connection to the primitive nature of the

In some horns, the bone slides right out or can be gripped with pliers and twisted out of
the softened sheath. When either the horn is stubborn or I am impatient, I screw a lag bolt
into the exposed end of the bone core and use the protruding head of the bolt to grip the
bone so I can apply additional encouragement to its extraction.

3. CLEAN INTERIOR: Some of the connective tissue will still cling to the inside of the
horn and will become a source of unpleasant odors as it decays. Suggested techniques for
cleaning the horn include: using a pick or blade to scrape away visible tissues, sanding
the interior, scrubbing with a bottle brush and soap, blasting the interior with high
pressure water, placing the horns in clean water and bringing it back to a boil to simmer-
away loose tissue, placing small gravel or coarse sand in the horn (rock salt can be used)
and shaking it vigorously to scour the inside. Exposure to sunlight and the elements, over
time, can also help.

4. LOCATE THE TOP OF THE CAVITY: Study the horn to locate the top of the natural
cavity in the horn. Several techniques that may help include:

Stephen H. Hinshaw , “Use of Dermestid Beetles for Skeleton Preparation,”
www.ummz.umich.edu/mammals/dermestid.html, September 16, 2006.
Bob Ulshafer, www.rmi-online.com/pages/sheephorns.html, December 10, 2005

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 24 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

• If the horn is thin or light in color, you may be able to see the shadow of its interior
configuration when you hold the horn up to the sun or other intense light source.
While in a dark room, a small pen flashlight can be inserted into the horn to help with
this “candling.”
• Place magnets or iron pellets inside the horn and use a magnet on the outside to help
you locate and mark the interior configuration. I have several powerful 1/8” diameter
rare earth magnets, available from Radio Shack, and they do the job handily.
• Use a bent wire or stick to probe the interior.
• Lay the extracted bone core against the exterior of the horn as an aide to visualizing
the interior of the horn.

Once you locate the top of the horn cavity, draw the outline of the cavity onto the exterior
of the horn with a pencil or crayon.

5. DESIGN: Now that you know your horn inside and out, you can design your shofar.
There are several general typologies:

Short (Sketch B and D): Remove the horn’s tip close enough above the top of the horn
cavity to allow drilling without problems due to the curvature of the horn.

Straightened (Not Shown): To maximize a shofar’s length, you can straighten the tip of
the horn using heat, chemicals, and pressure. Be aware that the length of your drill bit
may impose a limit on the length of the bore you can make.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 25 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

Side-Blown (Sketch A): See discussion in Chapter 3-14 – Blow it as it Grows. Note that
the desigh shown in Sketch C should not be used as a shofar as the air must travel
through the entire length of the horn cavity.

6. RESHAPING: There are several reasons you may want to reshape the horn:
• Halachah: If the natural shape of the horn is straight, you can curve it in accordance
with the tradition’s preference for a bent shofar.61
• Stylistic: The shape of shofarot has varied from location to location and from era to
era. In some cases, this was a function of the types of animal horn available. In other
cases, it seems to reflect the sophistication of horn-fabrication technology available.
For example, 19th and early 20th Century horns from Central Europe were flattened,
straightened, and given a hook-like curve at the bell representing a high manifestation
of the horner’s art. A flattened horn is less bulky and easier to conceal, a
consideration from times when freedom to live as a Jew was curtailed.62
• Increase Length and Simplify Drilling: A horn may extend well past the end of the
bone core. Since drilling is limited to straight holes, straightening the horn makes the
solid “tip” drillable to maximize the length of the shofar.

Because a thin cross section of horn is easier to bend then is a thick cross section, you
may want to begin by reducing the girth of horn tip or the thickness of the horn walls.
Grinding, rasping, and carving are suitable techniques. Avoid perforating the wall of the

Then, reheat the horn to make it pliable. Various sources recommend heating with radiant
heat from a fire, immersion in hot oil or sand, heating in an oven, boiling, or steaming. Be
cautious to not overheat your horn; it can char or burn.

You may have to use a press or clamp to deform the horn and hold it in the desired shape
until it cools. It may be necessary to go through several cycles of heating and pressing to
get the ultimate shape you want. I have no first hand experience reshaping horn, but have
been told that as many as half the horns shaped by one commercial fabricator breaks
while straightening.63 Note that making it into a shorter shofar can sometimes salvage a
broken horn.

After drilling the bore of the shofar, a horn can be heated once again so it can be returned
to its original curvature.

7. CUT OFF THE TIP OF THE HORN: Study the horn to determine the best angle at
which to cut off the tip of the horn. Generally, you will want to cut the horn on a plane

BT Rosh Hashanah 26b has an indepth debate over whether a shofar should be straight or bent and
whether a straight or bent shofar is preferable on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and other fasts. Compelling
arguments are made for both straight and bent shofarot. The preponderance of latter sages establishes the
Halachah for bent shofarot. While not stated in the exegesis of the sages, I believe the curved horn
prevailed because of the deep-rooted memory of the ram totem and its curved horns.
Pinchas Richard Wimberly, www.jewisheart.com/tefillin.html June 19, 2006

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perpendicular to the axis of the proposed drill hole. But in some instances, this will result
in the bell of the shofar being located next to the blower’s ear or in some other awkward
configuration, so plan the cut to create the most appealing shofar.

When in doubt, be conservative in locating your cut; you can cut more off later if
necessary. Remember the maxim to, “measure twice, cut once.”

8. FORM THE BORE: A hole (bore) has to be made to connect the shofar’s blowhole
and with the horn cavity. The usual method is by drilling. Draw a line connecting the top
of the cavity to the proposed blowhole. It may be helpful to place the shofar in a vise so
you can align your drill accurately. Start with a drill bit about 1/8 or 3/16 inch in
diameter; you can re-drill or ream the hole later if you decide you want a bigger bore.
Only a minimum of force is necessary to drill into the soft horn material. Be careful to
drill at the correct angle since a perforation is not permitted in the wall of a shofar.

Horn is a soft material that can be cut, drilled, and finished with either hand or power tools. An alternative
to drilling is to melt or burn through the horn with a heated rod, a Bronze Age technology that predates the
electric hand drill. While drills work only with straight bores, a bent rod can sear curved channels through
horn, giving the patient craftsman the means to make a bore through a curved horn.

9. SHAPE BLOWHOLE: In modern trumpets, the mouthpiece is separate from the length
of tubing that constitutes the horn. For a shofar, however, the “mouthpiece” or blowhole
must be an integral part of the horn.64 Carve or rout a recess to create a cavity into which
your pursed lips can vibrate. If you have access to a shofar that is easy to blow, use its
blowhole as a guide to the one you are making; an aperture of ⅜ to ½ inch diameter

Based on examination of mosaic depictions of shofarot (such as the mosaic from the ancient synagogue
in Jericho), Braun says, “Portrayals from the Roman period show a separate mouthpiece.” (page 27; see
also page 302) Since no ancient shofar survives, the record is open to interpretation.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 27 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

should be suitable for an adult. If the horn is too narrow to make a satisfactory blowhole,
you may be able to soften the horn and reshape it to create a slightly flared blowhole.
Sand the blowhole if necessary to remove burrs. Remove any remaining debris in the
shofar with a pipe cleaner, running water, or blowing.

10. TESTING AND ADJUSTING: Say a blessing, and blow your shofar. Be patient, as it
will take practice to adjust your shofaring technique to the new instrument. You may
want to make adjustments to the instrument’s configuration as you get to know its voice.

11. FINISH THE EXTERIOR: The horn can be left with the ridges, scales, and wildness
of the natural horn, honed to a fine polish, sculpted, or engraved with designs or an
appropriate text. The wide end of the horn is especially suitable for embellishments
ranging from simple flourishes to stylized “mouths.”

Some people use automotive waxing and buffing products to produce a high shine. I
prefer to use products that have a more ancient provenance such as bee wax or olive oil.
While I have not noticed it in my horns, I have heard that some oils can darken the color
of a horn over time.65

The Talmud disapproves of painting the exterior of a shofar but specifically allows
gilding the exterior of the horn with precious metals; the gilding should be terminated
well below the blowhole to make it clear that the sound is being produced within the horn
and not by blowing into metal. For similar reasons, the interior of the shofar should not
be coated with anything; be aware that some vendors coat the inside of horns with a clear
coating to minimize the odor associated with shofarot – a practice that is not halachically

12. REPAIR: A shofar should not have cracks or holes in the horn.

Despite careful planning, the bore was not aimed correctly and perforated the side of the horn. There was
still enough solid tip left in horn to allow me to cut off the tip below the perforation and salvage the shofar.

Bob Ulshafer, www.rmi-online.com/pages/sheephorns.htm, December 10, 2005.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 28 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

If a horn chips or begins to split at an end, it may be possible to shorten the horn to
remove the damaged portion. If the damage is in the shaft of the horn, it may be possible
to patch the horn. Our sages say that a shofar should be “all of its kind,” so only horn
should be used in its fabrication or repair. Horn is a thermoplastic material that softens
with heat and hardens as it cools. You may be able to cut a patch or plug from the end of
the horn or from another horn, carefully heat the damaged area and the patch until their
surfaces begin to liquefy, and press the two surfaces together and hold them until they
fuse and the repair cools. To fill in narrow cracks, it may be possible to heat powdered
horn to use as a patch. Another way to seal small splits is to heat the split area until it
softens, and then squeeze the horn to close the split; if the heated horn does not fuse shut,
consider the use of a clamps to squeeze the split shut. Use caution when handling hot

Tzivos Hashem, a Lubavitch organization, conducts “Shofar Factory” workshops in many

communities to provide children “and the young at heart” a hands-on opportunity to
fabricate a shofar. Instead of trying to make a shofar completely on your own, consider
inviting the organization to conduct a workshop in your community.66

Other Uses of Horn for Judaica

Once you start crafting horn, you may want to explore other uses for the material. Here
are a few ideas to inspire your hobby:

The solid tip of the horn, removed during the fashioning of a shofar, can be carved and
used as a yod (pointer) for reading the Torah, reconnecting the sheep’s horn and
parchment skin.

A horn makes a beautiful mezuzah case, symbolic of the lamb whose blood we used to
mark our doors on the eve of the exodus from Egypt.

Since antiquity, horns have been used as vessels; the Nordic drinking horn and the
powder horn of the muzzle-loading rifleman are but two examples of this practice. A
ram’s horn kiddush cup is richly symbolic for use as the Cup of Elijah at the Passover
seder table to remind us of the shofar that will be blown by Elijah when the messiah

For an interesting shofar stand, mount the bone core to a piece of hardwood or stone.
When the shofar is not in use, it can be replaced onto the bone.

Care and Maintenance of a Shofar

Shofarot are often afflicted with shofaROT – an unpleasant smell due to decay occurring
inside the horn. New shofarot often have small particles of soft tissue clinging inside the


Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 29 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

horn. Even with aged shofarot, saliva and dampness from your breath can make the inside
of shofar a breeding ground for microorganisms and give a shofar “bad breath.”

If the odor is tolerable, it can deepen the spiritual practice of shofar by engaging the sense
of smell, a sense that goes beyond the intellectual mind to connect the blower with the
primeval forces of the universe. They remind us that the horn came from a living animal,
and we imagine what it must have been like to smell the smoke of the animal sacrifices
our ancestors experienced. I believe that the shofar retains some of the essence of the
ram’s life force and is, in a mystical way, a living entity itself with a voice of its own. If
the shofar smells like an animal, it is because it is an animal.67 As Isaac said when he
blessed Jacob who was disguised as Esau, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of
the fields that the Lord has blessed.”68

Still, cleanliness also serves a spiritual purpose, and purification is part of our preparation
for the High Holy Days. To that end, I recommend a three-step purification process: 1)
cleanse, 2) disinfect/deodorize, and 3) sweeten. These three steps are akin to the process
of teshuvah. First we cleanse by removing the offense behavior. Then we disinfect by
making amends to repair damage we have done. And finally, we sweeten our lives by
replacing our former behavior with better practices.

Coating the inside of the horn with polyurethane or another sealant will encapsulate the
organic material that is decaying inside the horn. But the Talmud prohibits covering the
inside of a shofar. Just as teshuvah must come from our authentic self, the sound should
come from the shofar itself and not from a lining.

Cleanse: Remove any soft tissues still clinging to the inside of the horn. See techniques
recommended in the Step-by-Step Instructions.

1. Soak the inside of the horn in diluted vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing
alcohol, cheap high-proof drinking alcohol, or another disinfectant. Note that repeated
cycles of wetting and drying can cause a shofar to swell and shrink, leading to splitting.
For this reason, my pharmacist says he cleans his shofar with anhydrous (water-free)
isopropyl alcohol. Plug the blowhole so you can fill the shofar; a small piece of plastic
held in place with a rubber band works as does a piece of wax or an earplug. Rinse
afterwards with clean water.
2. Sunlight is a great purifier.
3. Sprinkling borax inside the horn has been recommended.69 Baking soda is also
reported to be an effective deodorizer

Compare, Yeshaya Halevi, October 8, 1997, www.ottmall.com/mj_ht_arch/v27/mj_v27i12.html#CCR,
January 29, 2006.
Genesis 27:27
Journal of Biological Museum Methods, Vol. 1, Page 331

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1. In my congregation, we pass out sprigs of rosemary, lavender, and other aromatic
herbs during the fast of Yom Kippur. Inhaling the scent during the long afternoon service
and can awaken the spirit and reinvigorate the body without violating the terms of the
fast. Afterwards, I collect the sprigs that are left behind and pack them into my shofar as
a sort of potpourri to absorb and mask odors. Inhaling the fragrance of the herbs in the
days that follow Yom Kippur serves a function similar to inhaling the spices during
havdalah, reconnecting me to the imprint of the Divine from the Holy Days.
2. You can also use natural oil with a fragrance you like. Some oils, such as oil of
oregano or citrus oil are also antiseptic and will help disinfect the horn. I use rose oil, a
fragrance that connects me to memories of my mother.

Caring for and Displaying your Shofar

In the children’s book, Sophie and the Shofar: A New Year’s Story,70 a child is accused of
stealing a shofar. The child’s reputation is redeemed and her accuser gets a lesson in
teshuvah when the family’s dog appears with the shofar in its jaws. Unfortunately, most
incidents of dogs and shofarot do not end as happily, as the odor and consistency of a
shofar convinces most dogs that it is meant to be chewed. YOU ARE WARNED.

Treat items made from horn in a manner similar to fine woodwork, protecting them, for
example, against prolonged exposure to intense sunlight and extreme fluctuations of heat
and humidity. If the horn has been polished, a periodic buffing will keep it shining. A
case or padded sleeve for a shofar is useful for carrying it between home and shul; for
long shofarot, you can even get a carrying case with a shoulder strap.

Storing a shofar in a dark, enclosed area or wrapping it in plastic can promote the
bacterial action that can give a shofar an unpleasant smell and can even lead to its
deterioration. It is best, therefore, to allow it to dry thoroughly and then store it in the
open air, a ventilated cabinet or a permeable box that will allow the horn to “breath”.

A shofar and its storage box from late 19th Century Europe.71

Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Rosalind Charney Kaye, UAHC Press.
Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris on long term loan from the Musée d'Art Juif.
www.mahj.org/en/2_collections/oeuvres_detail.php?niv=4&ssniv=3&coll_id=3&oeuv_id=18 March 30
2009. Photo Gilles Berizzi.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 31 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

Like your seder plate, Hanukah menorah, and kiddush cup, your shofar can be displayed
in your home throughout the year. With their graceful curves, most shofarot are certainly
beautiful as decorative objects. However, there are higher purposes for displaying your
shofar. First, its presence is a daily reminder of the High Holy Days and of any goals you
laid out for yourself to live by during the year. In addition, keeping the shofar on display
keeps it convenient for you to blow at anytime during the year when you need to
reconnect with its awesome sound.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 32 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

Chapter 2-4 – Hearing Shofar
Student: “Rabbi, Are my prayers heard?”
Rabbi: I don’t know. Do YOU listen?”72

In the blessing recited before blowing shofar, we bless God and acknowledge that we are
commanded to hear the voice of shofar. As this blessing indicates, the mitzvah is to hear
shofar. Blowing shofar is also a mitzvah, but only indirectly as it enables the fulfillment
the mitzvah of hearing shofar. Our primary duty is to hear.73

Hearing is central to many aspects Jewish faith and practice. It has been observed that,

“The shofar blows and we listen… It is not a pretty sound, one that pleases
genteel or even trained ears. To listen to this shrill blast disturbs our senses so that
we might respond to deeply felt realities of admonition and warning. Jewish
worship is expressed by the mouth and caught by the ear, not managed by the eye
reading silently on the handheld page. Silent reading is only a little more than a
century old.”74

The significance of listening is made manifest in Torah where, for example, we are told:

“And he (Moses) took the book of the covenant and he read it into the ears of
the nation; and they said, ‘Everything which the Lord has spoken, we shall do
and we shall listen.’”75

“And now if you will listen, surely listen, to My voice… then you will be to Me
a Kingdom of Priest-teachers and a holy people.”76

There are counter opinions. For example, “the mitzvah of the shofar lies in producing the sounds. In this
sense, listeners fulfill their obligations through the principle of shomea keoneh – one who hears a prayer is
considered to have recited the prayer himself. The sounding of the shofar thus may also be thought of as a
form of prayer.” Linda Leshnik, Bereshith, Sep, 2003,
www.njop.org/html/Yamim%20Norayim%202003.pdf March 6, 2006. Another says, “Rabbi Meir Simcha
of Dvinsk the author of the Meshech Chochma and Or Sameach ruled…that…with the blowing of the
Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, where one person blows …the rest of those present fulfill their obligation by
listening… This is in accordance with the Halachahic principle "Shomea Keoneh" (listening is tantamount
to saying) Shomea Ke'oneh means that although I am not reciting the beracha, the very fact that I am
listening accords me with the ability to fulfill my obligation as if I had been saying it.” Rabbi Chaim
Kanterovitz, www.hgss.org.uk/home/5763/Naso.htm, March 6, 2006.
Rabbi Burton J. Bledstein, from the synagogue bulletin of K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Congregation in Chicago,
reprinted in Moments of Transcendence: Inspirational Readings for Rosh Hashanah, edited by Rabbi Dov
Peretz Elkins, (Jason Aronson).
ding_Shofar/ShofarBirth.htm, May 20, 2007
Exodus 24:7. Translation by Shlomo Riskin, www.ohrtorahstone.org.il/parsha/5765/mishpatim65.htm,
July 1, 2007.
Exodus 19:5-6. Translation by Shlomo Riskin, www.ohrtorahstone.org.il/parsha/5765/mishpatim65.htm,
July 1, 2007.

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Nowhere is the significance of listening stated more clearly than in Shema prayer,
recognized as the watchword of Judaism:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”77

In Hebrew, this verse begins with the imperative, “Shema!” – “listen” or “hear.” It is said
that, “God calls to the one who listens.” If we are to realize the spiritual potential of
shofar, we must learn to listen to it as well as sound it.

Listening is more than the impingement of sound on our auditory nerve. Indeed, we
would probably go mad if we really heard all the noise around us. Instead, our minds
filter out most of the sounds reaching our ears. Yet as important as our ears and mind are
to hearing, they are not the only organs required to hear the call of shofar in all its
dimensions. As with the continuation of the Shema, we must hear shofar “with all your
heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” This is made clear by the suggestion
that the root of “shema” is “ma,” the Hebrew word for intestines or guts.78 We must
experience the vibrational field of shofar from the core of our being.

To do this, try listening to shofar with your body turned towards the shofarist and your
arms and hands stretched out, like an antennae, so the vibrational energy of shofar
impinges on the maximum area of your body. As the shofar blower exhales to sound the
horn, inhale so the sound enters into your being and you recreate that primal experience
of God breathing the breath of life into each of us.

“Vechol ha-am – all the people – saw how it thundered and the lightning flashed, and
heard the trumpet sound…” This can also be read to mean, “Vechol ha’am – and the
whole of the people, every part of them – heard the sound.”79

In ordinary hearing, we quickly desensitize to a prolonged sound. Yet when we received

Torah at Mt. Sinai, we are told that the voice of shofar grew “louder and louder” as it
continued. 80 Some explain that this implies the sound was weak at first and grew louder,
“in order to let their ears hear what they were able to hear [and not shock them
suddenly].”81 But the description in Torah also describes another way of hearing, one in
which we are able to listen more and more closely as we become spiritually awakened.
We get to practice this type of hearing each year when the long Tekiah Gedolah sounds;
strive to continue listening for the entire duration so that the sound grows “louder and
louder” even as the shofar blower loses breath and produces a weaker and weaker sound.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
Rabbi S.R. Hirsch, cited by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin at
www.ohrtorahstone.org.il/parsha/5765/mishpatim65.htm, June 25, 2007.
Based on Braun, Moshe, The Jewish Holy Days, page 400 commenting on Exodus 20:18.
Exodus 19:19.
Mechilta, www.chabad.org/library/article.asp?AID=9880&showrashi=true, May 8, 2006.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 34 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

To improve your hearing, focus your attention on listening. You may not be able stop
thoughts from getting in the way of your concentration, but you may be able to divert
them by telling them, “Later. Not now.”82 Refrain from speaking or making noise. Do not
try to analyze the blasts or critique the shofar blower; try to hear each blast as if it is the
first shofar blast you have ever heard. If that does not work, imagine that it is the last you
will hear and you wish to absorb it all one final time.

Just listen.

Being a Duplex Communication Channel

As a ba’al tekiah, you are not exempt from the commandment to actively listen to the
voice of shofar, even while you are actively engaged in blowing. Multi-tasking like this,
becoming a duplex communication channel – concurrently sending and receiving signals
– may appear challenging. Indeed, one of the greatest challenges of being a shofar blower
is to simultaneously blow and hear. In ordinary conversation it is difficult to both speak
and listen; how much more complex is it for us to process duplex signals at the higher
frequencies of spiritual communication?

This conundrum is eloquently described by the poet, Carl Sandburg:

From The People, Yes83

From Illinois and Indiana came a later myth
Of the people in the world at Howdeehow
For the first time standing together.
From six continents, seven seas, and several archipelagoes,
From points of land moved by wind and water
Out of where they used to be to where they are,
The people of the earth marched and traveled
To gather on a great plain.

At a given signal they would join in a shout,

So it was planned,
One grand hosanna, something worth listening to.
And they all listened.
The signal was given.
And they all listened.
And the silence was beyond words.
They had come to listen, not to make a noise.
They wanted to hear.
So they all stood still and listened,
Everybody except a little old woman from Kalamazoo
Who gave out a long slow wail over what she was missing
Because she was stone deaf.

Technique taught by Rabbi Jonathon Omer-Man for use when distracting thoughts interfere with prayer.
Carl Sandburg, 1936.

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The folks at Howdeehow could not simultaneously make a great noise and listen, the
same paradox you must surmount as a shofar blower. Yet, as my sister Hannah reminds
us, “Embracing paradox is a strength of our tradition and is the work of being on a
spiritual path.” Blowing is the yang of shofar, and listening is the yin; doing both together
creates wholeness in the sense of that word that means “holy-ness.”

Hearing the Still Small Voice

Sometimes we don’t hear until a sound blares so loudly that it cannot be ignored. Yet at
other times, our listening is sharpest when we sit quietly in meditation and hear the still,
small, inner voice. About this, we are told that, “the Messiah will come when our cries
are so loud they reach heaven, or when we are so quiet that we can hear the angels
singing.”84 Shofar gives us the opportunity for both types of hearing.

If the outward sound is the shofar blast, what is the inner sound of shofar?
• It is in your meditation in preparation for sounding or hearing shofar.
• It is in the remembering of shofar when we do not blow it on the Sabbath.
• It is the silence of the inhalation before each shofar blast. This silence is like the silent
aleph – the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet – that the mystics say is the sound of
God inhaling before bringing the universe into creation with the sound of bet – the
second letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the first letter of Torah.
• It is in the sound of shofar reverberating through your soul, a vibration that lingers
even after the horn’s sound wave has decayed below audibility.
• It is when the sound of shofar is so intense that it blocks out all other noise – the chit-
chat of your mind, the nattering of neighbors, and the rumble of the city – so you can
hear your spirit (and, perchance, the angels) sing.

In music, the gaps between the played notes are also part of the music. The Torah, we are
told, is “white fire written on black fire,” and that even the white spaces between the
black letters have meaning in the Divine scheme. In the same way, one can hear the still
small voice of shofar by hearing the silent pauses between blasts.

Exercises in Listening
Children are sometimes told, “you better learn to listen,” but the punishments that are
occasionally administered with those admonitions do not help us to learn to listen deeply.
How, then, does a person learn the type of listening that is required to hear the still small
voice of an unspoken prayer?

Meditation: The Jewish tradition of hitbodedut – meditation – offers some practical

lessons that will sharpen your acuity to hear both the inner voice and the world around
you. In the late 20th century, a generation Jews looking for instruction in meditation
turned to Buddhism, Hinduism, or other traditions. Stimulated by their studies, many of
these “Jew-Bus” and “Hin-Jews” have returned to their roots and discovered that there

Source unknown.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 36 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

are also ancient and beautiful Jewish meditative traditions. We are now blessed with
many fine teachers of Jewish meditation with whom you can learn to listen.85

The Voice of Shiva

“Personally, I am more fixated on the sound of the shofar, than its appearance, whether
curved or straight. From childhood to the present day, I anticipate the moment in the
overheated service when murmuring stops and attention shifts to the honored blower,
who sometimes manages little more than a muffled squawk, but other times a clear,
piercing tone – one long note fractured to three shorter notes splintering like glass into a
run of nine or twelve and then recomposed into a single enveloping cry. I close my eyes
and let it take me, subsuming the chatter of my mind, consuming the sensations of my
body. Mixing my metaphors, I call it the voice of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction for
the sake of creation. I want it to shatter my artifice, reveal the living substance of my soul
flowing into the essence of existence that goes by the cognomen of God.”86

When Hearing becomes Seeing

“The most interesting yet least talked about message we can take from the revelation at
Sinai is the state of being necessary to receive revelation and how our text gives us this

“Meditation is one of the hardest exercises that I have ever attempted. Mindfulness is not
our normal state of being, and as such, I have great difficulty trying to not think, process,
feel, engage… While the difficulty is endless, however, the potential is limitless. This
mindfulness, this potential, is what I perceive happening in the moment of revelation.

“In the midst of all of the passages surrounding the Sinai revelation, I have discovered
two that suggest the Israelites were in a state of mindfulness at the moment of revelation.
In Exodus 19, the sound of the shofar is described in an unfamiliar way: va'yehi kol
ha'shofar holaich v'hazaik m'od; translated literally this means, “The voice of the shofar
is walking and strengthening greatly." What does it mean that the voice was “walking"?
The traditional commentaries…read, “And the voice of the shofar grew louder and
louder."…I wanted to look at the language of this passage through the lens of meditation.
What might it mean if we accepted that the voice was “walking"?

“The ability to experience out-of-the-ordinary sense perception is a classic giveaway of a

deeper meditative state. We learn in this passage that the situation surrounding the
revelation was imbued with meditative potential. We are being set up for an incredible
event. What is normally heard, the sound of the shofar, a voice, is becoming visible; the
Torah is preparing us for transformation. In order for us to witness the voice walking, we
must enter into a mindful state of being…

“In Exodus 20:15, the voice or sound of the shofar is not only walking, but can actually
be seen by the people as thunder, just as they saw the lightning and the smoke on the

See www.aleph.com, for example, for teachers.
“Blow Your Own Horn,” Micah Gill, http://killingthebuddha.com/dogma/blow_horn.htm May 14, 2006

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 37 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

mountain. In his book Jewish Meditation, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan says that the event at
Sinai is a clear example of synesthesia, a meditative state in which our consciousness is
raised to a higher level.87 In the moments surrounding revelation, the Israelites (and
according to the midrash that includes all of us here today) saw sound, experienced a
shift of sensory perception.

“Prayer is meant to be this kind of meditative time… Allowing our minds to rest from
activity and focusing on God in the moments that we say words of prayer—this is how
we can begin to understand the state of consciousness that was present at Sinai…

“God is found in the moment that we stop and notice our breath. This does not have to
happen sitting still, or in isolation. Once a person is comfortable with breath awareness,
has practiced it in silence, then meditation can happen walking down Broadway, sitting
on the subway, running in the park. Being mindful and open to seeing God all around, to
feeling the Shechinah, the holy presence which surrounds us always: this is revelation.

“…In the second half of Exodus 20:15 we are told, “And the people saw [singular, not
plural] and they trembled and stood from afar." There are two teachings here. The first is
that community is a vital aspect to revelation. We were all there. We saw as one, based
on the singular verb which goes with “the people/nation," a collective seeing, if you will.
Yet, we trembled and were afraid individually, because the verbs switch to plural in
describing the ensuing trembling and fear of death. We become a multitude of individuals
in the moment when we need each other most; the unity turns to multiplicity and we are
afraid of God. Is the fear that the people experience due just to the scary special effects of
the moment? I don't think so. The people were opened up to a reality beyond their own.
God was present: they experienced creation, liberation, and redemption all in one. What
is our own fear? The fear, I believe, is that we might connect with God; we might change
the world; we might find peace. Our most noble dream is our greatest dread.

“See the dream and go to it. The closer we come, the more clear the vision. And then we
freak out, and run for the hills. Or back to Egypt, the narrow place, Mitzrayim. The
message of meditation is not to run, but to be still. To be present. To receive.”88

Study Partner: “Find yourself a study partner,” we are told.89 Take turns alternating
between blowing and listening to shofar. Do not attempt to critique the blower’s
technique, but focus instead on your own experience of hearing. Listen for what is called

B. Chaitanya Deva describes a similar experience in the meditative music of India. “The mind of man has
to be emptied and made hollow like the instrument so that He can play His tune on it and His breath may
flow in it. Finally, it is an authenticated fact that in certain para-mental conditions the sound of the
flute…the thunder and the bell are heard.”
February 10, 2006.
Joshua Levine Grater, a Google cache of
ml as retrieved May 1, 2004.
Pirke Avot 1:6.

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forth, awakened, or broken open in you. Take a moment of silence between each set of
blasts. After several repetitions, you can discuss your experience, thoughts, and feelings.

How to Listen
“Zalman Shazar, the third president of Israel, was a childhood friend of one of Rav
Kook's prominent disciples – Rabbi David Cohen, known as the Nazir. When both moved
to Jerusalem, the two men renewed their former friendship. Mr. Shazar described a
particularly memorable experience during the month of Elul, before the New Year:

“‘When I rediscovered Rav David in Jerusalem, he was steadily ascending the world of
mysticism and silence. One day in Elul I went to visit him in Rav Kook's house, in order
to absorb some of his spirit of purity and holiness. Upon arriving, I was told that he was
in the study. Rav Kook was reviewing with him the kavanot – kabbalistic intentions – of
the shofar blasts. I summoned the courage, and allowed myself to peak into the room. I
froze at the sight, totally mesmerized.

“‘The two were standing with their eyes shut. Rav Kook called out the sounds, and Rav
David blew the shofar. The blasts sounded as if they came from another world. In those
moments I felt that I was hearing the blowing of the shofar of our redemption, the
messianic shofar announcing the ingathering of the exiles!’”90

Sighing and Groaning:

Sigh again.
And again.

There are all sorts of sighs and they each mean something different. One can say, “I give
up,” and the next, “This moment is so beautiful, I will remember it always,” “I am too
tired to take another step,” or “I am ready to get going.”

While we are quick to interpret the sighs of others, we seldom listen to our own sighs. Set
aside a few minutes a day to sigh, and listen uncritically to what your sighs express. This
is excellent training for listening to your shofar blows because, like shofar, sighing
involves your breath and often represents an unspoken prayer offering God a petition,
praise, or other message. As our sages say:

“The sighs and groans of a Jew are very precious. When a person is lacking
something, sighing and groaning can bring wholeness and completeness… One
sigh of regret for your sins and the distance which separates you from God is
worth more than many fasts and other forms of self-mortification. The sighs you
let out when you want something holy can actually break the force of your bodily

Adapted from Mo'adei HaRe'iyah 61-2; see also Celebration of the Soul pp. 37-8,

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 39 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

instincts. Then the soul can draw nearer to the body and communicate to it
something of her own perception of God.”91

“When a Jew groans or cries on Rosh Hashanah about something bad in his
physical situation, in health or livelihood, this is higher repentance.”92

Shema Yourself
The first words of the Shema are usually translated as, “Hear, O Israel…” The stilted,
archaic language of this translation got in my way of deeply understanding the prayer,
and its frequent repetition during daily worship made it rote. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-
Shalomi taught me an exercise that transformed my relationship to this prayer. He
reminded me that I was part of this people called “Israel,” and that I could insert my own
name into the prayer so that it would tell me,

Listen! Michael! The Lord is our God! The Lord is one!

Said this way, using your own name, transforms shema-ing from passive hearing to
active listening. Embracing this practice helped me develop my spiritual hearing muscle,
so I could listen better to shofar.

Prayer: As with the Shema, we too often recite prayers by rote and without listening to
or comprehending what we are saying. Being mindful of our spoken prayers will help us
attune to our shofared prayers. As my teachers have taught:

“If you don’t hear an answer to your prayer, you hung up the phone too soon.”93

“Prayer is always answered if you listen, and sometimes the answer is ‘no’.”94

The Talmud on Hearing Shofar

Tractate Rosh Hashanah of the Babylonian Talmud95 contains extensive discussion about
when and why we sound shofar and what qualifies as a shofar. However, it also discusses
how to hear shofar. The quality of our listening, it makes clear, is very important.

Some of the discussions contain readily understood spiritual implications. For example:

“…regarding one who was passing behind a synagogue, or whose house was
adjacent to a synagogue, and on Rosh Hashanah he heard the sound of a shofar
emanating from the synagogue…the law is as follows: If he directed his mind to
it, he has fulfilled his obligation, but if not, he has not fulfilled his obligation.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Advice, pg 18-19. Also at www.breslov.org/torah/pdf/Advice.PDF. August
8, 2006.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch, Likkutei Dibburim vol 4, pg 720 as cited in Days of
Awe, Days of Joy pg. 116).
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Makom Ohr Shalom.
Rabbi Jonathon Omer-Man, Metivta, Los Angeles, CA 1992.
See, primarily, 27a and 27b.

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Even though this one heard the sound and that one heard the same sound, this one
directed his mind to it and that one did not direct his mind to it; hence, the law is
different for each.”

In other words, one must hear with kavanah – intention or right attitude.

Other discussions in Rosh Hashanah appear, at first reading, to be about the mechanics of
shofaring. Yet they, too, provide spiritual guidance about hearing. For example, the
Talmud discusses blowing two shofarot at once, one inside the other. I can understand
why someone might attempt this feat; I like to display my shofar virtuosity by sounding
up to four shofarot simultaneously. Yet the discussion is included in Talmud not as an
attempt to suppress showmanship, but to make a point about how to listen. For example:

“There is the basic act of sounding the shofar, and the arousal to repentance that it
engenders. This is alluded to in the Gemara Rosh Hashanah 27b. If one places a
shofar within another shofar and blows, if only the sound of the outer shofar was
heard, “lo yotzo” [the obligation is not fulfilled]. If he heard the sound of the inner
shofar, “yotzo” [the obligation is fulfilled]. The outer shofar is the physical body
hearing the sound, while the inner shofar is the soul inside the person who
responds to the sound with repentance. “Lo yotzo,” – he has not gone out of his
previous status, as he has not repented. “Yotzo,” he has left his previous status and
is a “ba’al teshuvah” [repentant].”96

The message is that we have to hear shofar from deep within, even from our guts.

Other passages teach us:

• We need to have our own transcendent experience of the Divine; the reflection of
another’s experience is not enough. So we are told to hear the sound of shofar, and
not its echo.
• While shofar sounds both broken and whole notes, we need to know that its voice
comes to us from a place of wholeness, so we are enjoined from using a shofar that
has holes or is pieced together from several horns.
• While the outside of a shofar may be plated, the inside of a shofar must not be plated
or coated, so we can hear the raw, unvarnished truth from the horn.
• Lo yotzo if we hear a shofar that has been turned inside out or deformed so that the
base of the horn becomes its mouthpiece and the tip of the horn stretched to become
its bell.

Teachings on Hearing Shofar

“Rabbi David Moshe told this story: The year he died my father could no longer go to the
House of Prayer on New Year’s Day. I prayed with him in his room. His service was

Tzofnas Paa'nei'ach on Parsha Vo'eiro, cited by Zvi Akiva Fleisher
www.shemayisrael.co.il/yomtov/rosh-yk/fleisher64.htm, July 1, 2007.

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more wonderful than ever before. When he had ended, he said to me: ‘Today I heard the
Messiah blow the ram’s horn.’”97

“Rabbi Hanokh of Alexander was asked: “It is written: ‘Lo, I come unto thee in a thick
cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee.’98 Why should hearing be helped
by the fact that He comes in a thick cloud?” Rabbi Hanokh interpreted the words in this
way: “The sense of seeing takes precedence over the sense of hearing. But the thick cloud
makes it impossible to utilize the sense of seeing, and so hearing is everything.”99

“In the time of the Temple, Jews traveled to Jerusalem for the Festival. ‘Yet, despite the
absence of the pilgrimage to [Jerusalem] on Rosh Hashanah, the shofar, in its own
inimitable fashion, transports the Jewish soul to the innermost sanctum of the [Temple’s]
Holy of Holies. As the Talmud relates,100 the shofar, whose purpose is to bring Israel’s
merit before HaShem, enjoys the same status and significance as artifacts used in the
innermost recesses of the [Temple].’101 This only happens if we hear the shofar’s call in
our own innermost recesses.

“By recognizing that all of our pleas on Rosh Hashanah are for renewal of our spiritual
life…rather than a life dominated by our physical desires, we can better appreciate the
significance of the voice of the shofar. In sounding the shofar, are we not actually
clamoring to hear once again HaShem’s voice as He gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai,
the Voice which the Torah describes as ‘a great voice, never to be repeated’102?”103

“The sacred call is transformative. It is an invitation to our souls, a mysterious voice

reverberating within, a tug on our hearts that can neither be ignored nor denied. It
contains, by definition, the purest message and promise of essential freedom. It touches
us at the center of our awareness. When such a call occurs and we hear it – really hear it –
our shift to higher consciousness is assured.”104

“When HaShem hears the shofar, it ‘reminds’ Him of one of the high points in His
relationship with Israel: the pledge of ‘We will do and we will hear.’105 Tragically, with
the Sin of the Golden Calf we forfeited our claim to the doing part of this commitment
(because we did the antithesis of HaShem’s will), and ever since, the road to Israel’s
restoration lies in listening, as the midrash106 states, ‘you have failed in your pledge to do,
be careful to observe your pledge to listen.’”107

Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, Book 2, pg 68.
Exodus 19:9.
Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, Book 2, pg 316.
Rosh Hashanah 26a.
Stern, Days of Awe, pg 44.
Deuteronomy 5:19.
Stern, Days of Awe, pg. 131-132.
David A. Cooper, 1994
Exodus 24:7.
Shemos Rabbah 27.
Stern, Days of Awe, pg 135.

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“Rabbi Nachman of Breslov explains that when a person attempts to reproach another,
and the listener does not accept his words, the words return as ‘reflected light’ to the
speaker. This creates an opportunity for the speaker to find the right words to penetrate
the soul of the listener as direct and inner light. Hence, when we do not understand the
deep content of the sound of the shofar, the light of the shofar is reflected back to
Heaven. Subsequently, we merit to draw down from Heaven the inner content of what we
have heard.”108

“There is no act, word or thought in which the essence of divinity is not constricted and
hiding… And when you listen carefully to the inner voice within any physical sound that
you hear, you will hear only the voice of God as, at that moment, it is literally giving life
and existence to the sound that you are hearing.”109

How God Listens110

“‘The level of a ba’al teshuvah [one who has returned to the path of right living] is so
exalted that not even perfect tzaddikim [righteous person] can stand in their division in
Gan Eden [Garden of Eden – paradise in the world to come].’111

“Near the close of the Amidah prayer during the Rosh Hashanah Musaf service, it says,
‘For You hear (shome’a) the sound of the shofar, and You give ear (ma’azin) to the
teruah, and none is comparable to You.’

“The Shelah explains that a perfect tzaddik may be compared to a shofar. Like the
straight sound of the tekiah, he is upright and without failings. A heartbroken ba’al
teshuvah is likened to the broken teruah sound.”

The verb, shome’a, hear, denotes hearing from a distance, while ma’azin, give ear,
implies listening from close by. “For you hear the sound of the shofar” alludes to the
tzaddik who never sins – HaShem [God] hears him from afar. But “You give ear to the
teruah” refers to the ba’al teshuvah. HaShem listens to him from close by, for a regretful
ba’al teshuvah is closer to HaShem.


Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, www.inner.org/times/tishrei/shofar.htm, March 2, 2006.
Kovetz Eliyahu, Translated by Yaacov Dovid Shulman, p. 14, www.baalshemtov.com/ten-
principals.htm, March 2, 2006.
Leshon Chassidim, quoted by Meisels, pg 111.
Sanhedrin 99a.

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Chapter 2-5 – Preliminary Exercises
“Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat.
My shoulder is against yours.
You will not find me in stupas, not in Indian shrine rooms, nor in synagogues,
nor in cathedrals:
not in masses, nor kirtans, not in leg windings around your own neck, nor in
eating nothing but vegetables.
When you really look for me, you will see me instantly –
you will find me in the tiniest house of time.
Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.”112

In the Beginning, Make Funny Noises

Stop! Don’t pick up your shofar yet.

First you have to be able to make noises with your lips. I mean really silly sounding
noises; the types of noises that used to make your elementary school classmates giggle.
• Stick your tongue between your lips and “blow raspberries.”
• Smacking sounds like you just ate something sticky and delicious.
• Pucker up those lips and make smooching kissing noises.
• Sound like a sputtering motorcycle exhaust pipe as you let your gently-closed lips
flutter in the breeze as you blow through them.

The sillier the sound, the better.

Is this an essential prerequisite to blowing shofar? Probably not. But starting with silly
sounds can help in at least four ways:

First – It prepares you for the silly sounds your will almost certainly make when you
finally do blow into shofar. Do you remember the piercing pure sounds your Uncle
Shmuel got when he blow shofar in shul when you were young? Well someday you will
sound like that too, and you won’t even have to wait until your beard is as long and gray
as his. I guarantee, however, that litte Sammy’s first toot on shofar when he was a kid
sounded more like the south end of a north facing horse, and so will yours. Starting with
silly sounds will help you laugh at yourself when your shofar decides to laugh at you.

Second – Among all the people who have tried to learn shofar with me, only a few have
not succeeded in rousing the voice of the horn. What these people had in common was an
inability to make any type of mouth or lip sounds. One of these unfortunates told me with
regret, “As a child, my parents scolded me whenever I made what they considered to be
‘impolite sounds,’ and I guess I never learned to play with my mouth as an instrument.”

Kabir, translated by Robert Bly, Poem 25, The Kabir Book, The Seventies Press, 1977.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 44 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

Instead of shame, I offer them hope; the human vocal repertoire is vast, and around the
world there are entire languages built upon whistles and clicks, fricatives and glottal stops
that aren’t part of ‘proper English’. Imagine the difficulty your non-Hebrew speaking
friends have making the throaty sound of the Hebrew letter chet (as in Hanukah). My
advice to students in this situation is to find time when they are alone – in the shower or
sitting in a parked car with the windows closed, for example – and explore what they can
do with their mouth. The book, MouthSounds, by Fred Newman113 has diagrams and
explanations on how to use the mouth to produce a wide repertoire of sounds. If
necessary, you may want to enlist the help of an open-minded music teacher, speech
therapist, psychologist, or four year-old child.

Third – Making these silly sounds will train your body to make sounds without using
your voice box. Some shofar novices will put the horn to their lips and hum or sing into
it. Maybe they think shofar is like a megaphone that will amplify their voices – but it
won’t. For others, it is just force of habit, so natural it is for us to propagate sound in our

To see what I mean, try this exercise: Put your hand gently on your throat and repeat the
long vowels a-e-i-o-u, holding each letter long enough to feel your throat vibrate. Inside
your throat, a pair of small muscles called “vocal cords” is stretched tightly across your
wind pipe (trachea). As you exhale, air is forced through the slit between the vocal cords
and causes them to vibrate and generate sound. This is known as “vocalizing” and is the
source of the vibration you feel with you hand on your throat.

Now, with your hand still on your throat, pretend you are gently blowing out a candle.
Note that your hand does not feel any vibration when you puff this way and that your
breath is silent except for the turbulent rush of air. This is how your breath should feel
when you blow shofar. Practice this blowing breath a few times to get used to how it
feels. If you find yourself having trouble getting a blast from shofar, it may help to check
on your breathing or to put a hand on your throat to make sure you are not vocalizing
with your vocal cords.

Fourth – Beginners often tell me that, after a few minutes of blowing shofar, their lips
feel tired. Making silly sounds will warm up and strengthen your lips. Like an athlete
stretching, you are about to use some muscles in an unfamiliar way, and it is wise to
condition them first by getting them moving. Many new shofar blowers note that their
lips tingle in unfamiliar ways. This is a normal result of their lips vibrating when they
blow shofar. When I teach in a class, we spend about ten minutes blowing shofar, after
which many students say their lips are “exhausted.” So make those silly sounds as a
warm up exercise.

The lips are an amazing organ, with far more sensitivity and dexterity than we usually
acknowledge. We form them into a myriad of shapes to articulate words. We use them to
grab, hold, and manipulate food in order to eat. And they demonstrate a remarkable range

Workman Publishing, NY, 2004.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 45 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

of delicacy and strength in the kisses of a lover. Getting them in shape for shofar blowing
will add another dimension to your lip life. As the Good Book says, “My lips shall be
jubilant…,”114 and “Gold is plentiful, jewels abundant, but skilled lips are precious

Of course you won’t want to make “raspberries” in synagogue, but after a month of
practice during Elul, your lips will be strong enough that you shouldn’t need to do warm
up exercised on the bimah. But these silly sounds are not just for beginners; if, at anytime
in your shofar practice, you have problems getting shofar to sound, put your instrument
down and go back to silly lip and mouth sounds. Obviously, the “right way” you were
using was wrong, so anything else you do will feel silly at first. By returning to silly
sounds, you give your lips permission to try doing it in a way that feels “wrong” but may
turn out to be just what you needed.

Neville, my friend, was having a hard time figuring out shofar. Unconsciously, he kept
vocalizing into the horn instead of blowing. So I told him to set down his shofar and to
start moving or dancing in a child-like manner. Then I had him make the most silly
mouth sounds he could imagine. These exercises helped him get “out of his head” so he
would forget about trying to do things in what his mind told him was the “right” way.
Once he started to relax, I had him blow through his pursed his lips and, sure enough, he
was able to get them to buzz in the way essential to blowing shofar.

In the meanwhile, his two years old son was watching dad with amusement. I noticed that
he was emulating everything dad was doing, including making his lips toot. Playfully, I
held the shofar up to his face and invited him to toot into the horn. And to everyone’s
delight, little Johan tooted the shofar. While it wasn’t the blasting piercing sounds one
longs for on Rosh Hashanah, it was enough to teach his father that blowing shofar did not
requires deep concentration or strenuous effort – a lesson that the father quickly learned.

Now, Rise-Up
If you are able to, assume a vertical stance when you practice shofar. (If you are unable to
stand, assume whatever position is comfortable – one of my students was flat on her back
just weeks after major surgary when she learned shofar.) This will help you prepare for
blowing shofar on the High Holy Days when we rise, as one would in court, to symbolize
that we stand before God while judgment is passed. Unfurling your torso also allows you
full use of your breathing apparatus to you can produce stronger blasts and sustain a
longer tekiah gedolah.

More, standing helps make a connection between earth and heaven when we sound
shofar. While the vibrations that produce shofar sound are generated by our lips, I
experience them as coming from the earth. On Yom Kippur, after a day of fasting, deep
prayer and penitence, I stand before the Eternal One to blow shofar, and the earth
trembles in awe at this holy moment. The tremors radiate into the soles of my feet, travel

Psalms 71:23
Proverbs 20:15. “Skilled lips” is usually translated as, “intellgient speech.”

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up my legs and through my pelvis, shoot through my spine and unites all the chakras
(sephirot) in a release of kundalini energy, and are released in a sound that fills the entire
universe. The shofar blast is an acoustic lightning bolt that releases the congregation’s
built-up static prayer energy to bring ha’eretz v’ha’shamayim (earth and heaven) into

Contemporary shofarists usually stand with both feet on the ground. However, a 13th century machzor
shows a shofar blower with one foot on a stool. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, this was a widely
documented custom of the period “and was believed to diminish the power of the devil in his attempt to
confuse the blower or cause the shofar to ‘mutiny’.”116 It may also have been understood as a form of
aliyah, rising up to help the shofar calls ascend.

So you say you don’t believe this shamanistic mumbo-jumbo? It doesn’t matter. Trying
to visualize it anyway can help you have a fuller, more spiritually satisfying shofar
experience. I have found a lot of truth in the saying that, “where the mind goes, energy
flows.” It may be true that the trembling I feel as I approach the shofar service is the
result of fatigue and low blood sugar due to fasting, hyperventilation due to chanting, the
emotional release of making confession, or plain nervousness about how well I will
“perform” when called upon to sound shofar. But it is no less true that shofar awakens
my sleeping soul, and that I get a lot more spiritual juice from believing I am connected
to all creation.

Wear comfortable shoes without high heals. If decorum permits, take your shoes off so
your toes can grip the earth.117 Stand with your feet spread about shoulder width apart for

From Bibliotheque de l’Alliance Israelite Universelle, Paris as shown in Encyclopedia Judaica.
There are teachings that support bare-footedness, especially on Yom Kippur. For example, “The
teshuvah of Kal Yisrael brings an atmosphere of holiness to the entire world. The earth on which we walk
becomes spiritually hallowed and uplifted. We must not step on such holy ground while wearing shoes –
just as HaShem told Moses, (Exodus 3:5) ‘Remove your shoes from your feet, for the place upon which you
stand is holy ground.” (Menachem Tzion) and “In the wake of Adam’s sin the earth was cursed. We wear
shoes so our feet will not touch the doomed earth. But on the holy day of Yom Kippur the curse is lifted,
and the earth becomes sanctified. We do not have to avoid stepping on it, and therefore there is no need to
wear shoes.” (Agra DePirka). Both quoted by Meisels; Agnon pg. xvi identifies the author of the first quote
as Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Rymonov. Joshua was also commanded, “Remove your sandals from your
feet, for the place where you stand is holy.” (Joshua 5:15), as he approached Jericho, suggesting that

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stability. Your knees should be slightly bent and loose so your body feels springy or
buoyant. Stand proud and erect, but not rigidly or “at attention’. Take a moment to be
mindful of each part of your body, from your toes to the crown of your skull and the
energy fields beyond, as your bring your attention from your feet through your ankles,
calves, knees, thighs, pelvis, lower back, upper back, shoulders, neck, and facial muscles.
Stretch your hands over your head and shout, “Hallelujah,” a word coming from the
Hebrew, “Hallel Yah” (‫ )היללה‬which means, “Praise God.”

Next, Learn to Breathe

As we go about our lives, we often breathe on automatic, seldom thinking about our
inhalations or exhalations. Blowing shofar, as in yoga or singing, gives us an opportunity
to be mindful of our breath.

Slowly take a few deep breaths, feeling the air enter your body, then leave your body.
Ordinary breathing uses only a small percentage of your lung capacity and is marked by a
shallow rise and fall of your chest. In shofar breathing, you should try to breathe with
every part of your body. You probably do this automatically when you yawn; now you
have to do it consciously.

Try this exercise: First, quickly exhale as much as you can. Then when you inhale, try
filling your body one part at a time:
1. Extend your belly, breathing air into your lower abdomen by forcing down your
diaphragm – the shelf of muscle that separates your chest from your belly. It may
help to place your fingertips just below your ribs so you can feel the powerful
diaphragmatic muscles move as you breathe.118
2. Next, fill your lungs until your chest feels fully expanded.
3. Then, discover that you can draw in more to fill the region of your shoulders.
4. Finally, inhale still more to fill your throat and nasal chambers with air. Imagine
your head is a balloon and you are filling it with air.

Hold your breath for just a moment. Then reverse the process by exhaling slowly through
your mouth in the opposite sequence:
1. Relax your throat and nasal chambers.
2. Feel as if your shoulders were dropping.
3. Deflate your chest.
4. Pull in your belly and use your powerful diaphragm to squeeze out the last
remaining wisps of air.

Relax for a moment before you begin the next inhalation, then repeat the cycle.

connecting with earth is an appropriate preparation for shofaring. Agnon, pg. 173 says that on Yom Kippur,
“There are some who take off their shoes and walk bare-footed to the House of Prayer.”
If you can’t locate your diaphragm, place your hand on belly just below your ribs, and cough. You
should feel the diaphragm contract or firm up as you cough.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 48 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

This type of breathing may feel awkward at first, since you will become aware of parts of
your body to which you do not usually pay attention. With practice, however, you may
become pleasantly aware of air rising and falling in your body – like waves washing up
onto a beach and than flowing back into the ocean – and feel a calming sense of peace.

Your body may feel tingly or you may feel light-headed due to the extra oxygen you are
processing. If you feel this way, slow the pace of the breathing, or take longer pauses
between each inhalation and exhalation.

The final stage of our breathing exercise is to visualize the air coming in from and being
exhaled through the soles of your feet. Then visualize breathing through the crown of
your head and through your fingers. If any part of your body hurts, visualize your breath
flowing through where you need healing.

Visualizing breathing in this manner energizes the body and allows your entire body to
participate in each breath. Torah tells us to love God “with all your heart, and with all
your soul, and with all your might.”119 You will want to sound shofar with the same
totality of your being, and this whole body breathing technique is the key. The root word
for “respiration” is the same root as in “inspiration” and “spirit,” and mindful breathing
as you prepare to blow shofar will help you get in touch with your “spirituality.”120 When
we sound shofar, it is “not by might, and not by power, but by spirit alone.”121

Sounding the Lips without a Shofar

Now that you have warmed up your lips, assumed a comfortable stance, and inspired
yourself with breath, you are ready to make the sound of shofar. But stop! Don’t pick up
your shofar yet. First you have to be able to make noises with your lips. Only now,
instead of deliberately silly sounds, you should make a focused, intentional sound.

Leaving aside the metaphysics, the vibrational energy that drives shofar sound begins in
the rapid, controlled vibration of breath being forced, under pressure, through tautly
drawn pursed lips. Got that? If not, keep reading and try the exercises step-by-step:
1. Gently curl your lips over your teeth.
2. Then bring your top and bottom lips together until they make light contact with
each other.
3. Exhale through closed lips. (Leave your tongue on the bottom of your mouth so it
doesn’t get in the way of your breath.)

If you get a satisfying toot, well done! If not, you will need to experiment with your
instrument – your lips and breath. While you can’t do much about genetic factors that
control the shape and size of your lips, with practice you will be able to control your
embouchure – the use of facial muscles and the shaping of your lips. Variables include:

Deuteronomy 6:5
Hebrew has this same linguistic connection between breath and spirit. Neshamah translates to “soul” and
has the same root as neshēmah that translates as “breath.” Ruach) can mean either “wind” or “spirit.”
Zechariah 4:6.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 49 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

1. How tightly or loosely are your lips curled over your teeth?
2. How tightly pursed (pressed together) or relaxed are your lips? Pressed together
too loosely, and the lips flutter like in the raspberries exercise. Squeezed together
too tightly, and you need to strain to force air through them. Find a happy
3. How far back are the corners of your mouth? Most people can leave the corners of
their mouths in a normal, relaxed position. Some, however, need to draw the
corners of mouth back far enough to dimple their cheeks.
4. Where do your lips form the channel through which air passes? If air is pouring
out of you across the entire width of your mouth, you will not be able to direct
your breath into the shofar. Your airflow has to come from an area no wider than
the tip of your small finger, about the diameter of the action end of a shofar. Most
people find it easiest to control the shape of the front and center of their lips and
this is generally the classic image we see of shofar blowers. But others blasters
blow out of the side of their mouth.122 If necessary, hold your hand in front of
your mouth so you can feel where the airflow is.
5. Are your lips moist? Moisture acts as a lubricant to loosen your lips and let them
vibrate against each other more freely. Lick them if necessary.
6. Your lower jaw can move forward from its normal position, changing the relative
position of top and bottom teeth and lips.
7. Your check and face muscles can be tighted or relaxed to change the tension on
your lips. As an exercise, tighten all the muscles in your face and neck – from
your scalp to your ears to your shoulders; now relax them. Experiment to see if
selectively tightening or relaxing them changes your ability to buzz your lips.
8. Tilt your chin upward or downward to see which position works best.
9. Are you checks bulging out like balloons? They shouldn’t be. Your breath should
come from your diaphram, not checks.
10. How much air pressure and air flow are you using?

A bugler can form all the notes needed to play taps just by controlling his or her
embouchure. In general, the tighter your lips are and the greater the air pressure you use,
the higher the pitch that your horn will produce. And the more wind you put out, the
louder your blast will be.

It may help to have a mirror handy so you can see what you are doing with your lips.
Now it is up to you to experiment – or, in keeping with the silly sound exercise, to play
with your mouth – until you make and sustain a controlled sound through your lips. If
you don’t succeed after a few minutes, take a rest. Simply repeating the exercises in the
same what that hasn’t been working will not help. Returning to the practice after a break,
you will, even without intending too, make subtle shifts in how you shape your lips or use
your breath. Have fun.

Some teach that the shofar should always be blown from the left side of the mouth.

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Your Health, Safety, and Comfort
Novice shofar blowers are prone to over-exerting themselves by blowing with all their
HURT, OR YOU FEEL STRAIN – STOP IMMEDIATELY. You probably won’t injure
yourself, but it could take a while for the discomfort to subside and this could discourage
you from persevering. Take a break from shofar practice, and use less effort when you

On rare occasions however, playing any wind instrument may present a danger due to the
Valsalva maneuver. This occurs when a person strains to exhale, increasing the air
pressure in their chest, neck, and mouth and nasal cavities. (Scuba divers and airplane
passengers use Valsalva when they hold there nose and try to exhale; the internal air
pressure builds until pressure in the eustachian tube equalizes air pressure on the exterior
of the eardrum. A similar internal pressure build-up can occur when one strains to make a
bowel movement.) If internal pressure becomes too great, it can put squeeze internal
organs or veins and contribute to temporary numbness or loss of feeling, fainting,
cerebral hemorrhage, stroke, spinal epidural hematoma, and other cardio and arterial

Individuals with uncontrolled high blood pressure, cerebral aneurysms, or arteriovenous

malformation may have a higher risk and are encouraged to consult their physician before
taking up any wind instrument.123


123 See Ami Schattner, MD, “One Blow Too Many”, The American Journal of Medicine, Volume 116,
Issue 2, January 2006, Pages 139-140. The article states, “Blowing the Shofar, or playing wind instruments,
is just one of many activities in which straining occurs, including coughing, defecation, lifting heavy loads,
and labor. All involve a transient marked elevation of intra-abdominal and intrathoracic pressures as well as
substantial circulatory changes. An effect simulating the Valsalva maneuver is a common denominator of
all these activities… The Shofar is a particularly high-resistance wind instrument requiring an intense
expiratory strain and the generation of especially high pressures in order to produce the desired sounds.
Mouth pressures of >150 mm Hg [3 psi] and an extreme increase of intrathoracic pressure up to 300 mm
Hg [6 psi] for several seconds have been reported for similar types of strain. The associated Valsalva
maneuver was found to lead to marked increases of cerebral blood flow velocity that may reach 100%
above baseline, even at moderate intrathoracic pressures of 40 mm Hg. This is of particular importance
because of the simultaneous decrease in the protective extravascular cerebrospinal fluid pressure and
increase in arterial pressure. The resulting major increase in the transmural pressure gradient may place
patients with cerebral aneurysms or arteriovenous malformation at high risk of rupture and bleeding
following the strain.” Additional information is at Charles R. Meyer, M.D., “The Perils of Trumpeting,”
Minnesota Medicine, Minnesota Medical Association, February 2003/Volume 86.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 51 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

Chapter 2-6 – Getting Sound from a Shofar
“Not study, but action, is the essence of the matter”124

By learning to toot your lips without a horn, you now understand that the vibrational
origin of shofar sounds comes from you and not from the horn. Had we begun with the
shofar, you may have incorrectly attributed any difficulties you were having to the fault
of the shofar. While some shofarot may be more difficult to sound than others, you now
know that the solution is in your own hands, so to speak.

The relationship between blower and shofar is very intimate, and you will want get to
know the shape, feel, and smell of your shofar. Find your shofar’s center of gravity. Run
you hands along the shofar’s length to establish a tactile connection and experience its
curving, tapering form. Exhale into it a few times, without sounding it, to warm the horn.
This meditative moment of connection helps me to attune all of my senses more closely
to shofar so I can have a fuller experience blowing it. Plus, I believe that some part of the
life force of the ram – maybe just a molecular memory – remains present in its horn. This
moment of tenderness will make it eager to please and serve you; awakening the shofar
acts as a prelude to its blasts that will awaken you.

In getting to know your shofar, notice how the shofar wants to be held? Can you hold it
in one hand, or does it require two? A typical shofar has an oblong into which one blows;
it is usually (but not always) easiest to blow if the long axis of the oblong is parallel to
the long axis of your lips, i.e. horizontal.

It is customary to blow shofar so the broad end opens upward, as if to blast the sound to
the heavenly hosts above and to direct the sounds over the heads of the congregation so it
is more clearly audible in the back of the sanctuary. But sometimes I rotate the horn as if
to send the radiating acoustical and spiritual energy back into the earth or striking my
own body; it depends on where I feel the need to direct my intentions. The entire world is
sacred, not just the heaven above. More, Earth and its ecosystems are in urgent need of
healing. During Sukkot, we shake the lulav in the four cardinal directions and upward and
downward as we send our prayers and intentions to all corners of the world; perhaps we
should similarly blow shofar in all directions to help us foster an eco-consciousness.

Standing, take a moment to get centered and grounded. Take a few full breaths as I have
described in the preceding Chapter, feeling the air flowing in and out of your body. And
then place the narrow end of the shofar to your lips at the place where the air flows
through the lips. Press the shofar against your lips with just enough pressure to seal the
junction between the horn and your lips so that your breath does not leak out and away
from the shofar. And then, as you have already practiced, exhale so that your lips vibrate.
If all goes well, the audible vibrations of your lips will be modulated and amplified as the
sound passes through the horn, and you will have sounded shofar.

Simeon, the son of Rabban Gamliel, Pirke Avot 1:17 as translated by Bialik 453:482.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 52 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

If this technique does not work, hold the horn a small distance from your lips. Cause your
lips to buzz as described preceding Chapter. And while they are buzzing, bring the shofar
up against your vibrating lips so the vibrations and passing air is forced into the hollow of
the shofar.

While the preceding Chapter introduced the sounds your lips can make and most of the
variables involved in blowing shofar, you have several additional techniques to modify
your embouchure. Every horn and every mouth is different, so there is not a single
embouchure that works best for every shofarist. You will have to experiment to discover
the embouchure that works best for you.

In addition to the variables discussed in the preceding chapter, introducing an actual horn
to your embouchure enables you to experiment with the following variables:

1. Pressure: Vary the pressure with which you hold shofar against your lips and the
pressure applied between the lips and teeth. In most cases, a gentle pressure is
required to keep air from leaking out of your lips and away from shofar. Using
minimal pressure will allow your lips to vibrate more freely. This may work for
you; or it could allow your lips to flutter in a way that produces a raucous noise.
Gradually increase the pressure by pulling shofar slightly closer to your face; this
has the tendency to stretch your lips, increasing the tension in them and raising
the pitch and changing the timbre.

2. Angle: Vary the vertical angle of inclination of shofar to your face. This can be
accomplished either by moving the shofar or by holding the shofar steady and
moving your head. Changing the angle can be useful in helping you find the best
position for channeling your breath into the shofar. Further, it changes the relative
pressure on the top and bottom lips, allowing your flexibility to adjust the tension
in the lips to find the combination that works best for you.

3. Horizontal Position: Some blowers get the best sound holding the shofar to the
center of my mouth, others position the horn slightly off-center, and some place
the shofar right into the corner of their lips.

Left, Right, or Center: Some rabbinic sources say shofar should be blown from the right
side of the mouth. They base this on scriptural references to Satan, the prosecutor,
standing on an individual’s right as God judges the person. It is said that holding shofar
on the right protects that side in the same way that tefillin protects the left side of a right-
handed individual. Similarly, left-handed individuals – who wear tefillin on the right arm,
are encouraged to blow shofar from the left side. Other teachings, however, say that the
left side is preferred regardless of the blower’s handedness.125

“Ask the Rabbi,” Hemdat Yamim, Elul 27, 5768,
www.eretzhemdah.org/Data/UploadedFiles/Mails_Files/516-sFile.doc December 24, 2008

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 53 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

These teachings appear to be minhag (custom) and not halachah (Jewish law), and the
prevailing wisdom is that otherwise qualified shofar blowers are acceptable regardless of
the mouth position they need to use when blowing shofar. As a beginning shofarist, use
whatever mouth position you find easiest. Then, as you strengthen your embouchure and
gain competency, adjust your technique to follow the tradition of your community.

4. Vertical Position: Start by positioning the center of your shofar’s blowhole so that
it is centered between the upper and lower lips. Then try raising or lowering the
horn so that more of one or the other lip is astride the blowhole. Some brass horn
pedagogues recommend having more of your upper lip in the mouthpiece, but I
know shofarists who get a better tone by favoring their lower lip. The lip with the
greater exposure over the blowhole is that one that will vibrate the most to create
shofar’s sound.

If air leaks from between your lips outside of the shofar blowhole, use a finger or two to
plug the leak or squeeze your upper and lower lips together.

Time for Prayer

After sounding shofar for the first time, take a moment to listen to its voice reverberate
through your body and the space you are in. You have learned a new skill, a skill that will
help you fulfill a mitzvah. As it is written, “There is gold, and an abundance of jewels;
but the lips of knowledge are a more precious thing.”126 Rejoice, and say the
Shehecheyanu or a prayer of gratitude for having learned a new skill.

Baruch atah Adonai Elohaynu Melech ha-olam, shehecheyanu, v’kiyamanu, v’higiyanu

lazman hazeh.

Blessed are you, Yah, Spirit Guide of the world. You have kept us alive, sustained us,
and brought us to this moment.

All Sounds are Acceptable

Talmud states, “If the shofar’s sound was naturally thin, or thick, or rough, it is valid, for
all the sounds are valid [in the case of] a shofar.”127 Strive to send a strong and steady
shofar signal, but suffer such sputters, squawks, squeaks, or squeals your shofar sounds,
certain they suffice and suffuse the soul with spirit.

Proverbs 20:15.
Rosh Hashanah 26b.

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Chapter 2-7 – Sounding the Notes of the Shofar Service
“May the expression of our lips be sweet before You, almighty and exalted King,
who understands, listens, sees, and hearkens to the sound of the shofar.”128

Now that you are able to produce sound from shofar, we will refine your unshaped toots
into the sequence of blasts typically used in the High Holy Day liturgy.

Making Music
As a child, I was given clarinet lessons and struggled to read the notes and play them as
written; it was a frustrating exercise in mental and manual dexterity and I did not
persevere at it for long. As an adult, I returned to the instrument, but with a new
understanding. This time, I listened to the clarinet as I played the scales and exercises. I
heard intervals, patterns, melody, phrases, and, most importantly, music. It was no longer
an abstract mental exercise to ken whether I was playing the correct note – all I had to do
was listen. The feedback was instantaneous and completely natural; if it sounded good, I
was playing the right note. Listening to your shofar is the surest way to improve your

Shofar is a blues horn, where the beauty and impact of its voice is formed in the
“bending” of the notes and the transition from one tone to another. As you play and pray
with shofar, you will begin to infuse each blast with feelings that swing with grief, fear,
triumph, elation, majesty, and the full spectrum of emotions.

While I try, below, to describe an ideal of what each of the traditional blasts aspires to, I
believe there should be considerable latitude given to the shofar blower. Blowing shofar
in synagogue is not a performance to be judged by anyone but God. There is a story about
pious but uneducated person who prayed with fervor, but could not follow the prescribed
order of the text in the prayer book. When someone criticized his technique, he replied,
“All I can do is say the words as they come into my heart. I will have to leave it to God to
put them in the right order.” Let the same philosophy inform your shofar blasts, as
“imperfect” as they may be.

In the drive for “perfect” blasts, some have resorted to ploys that, to my sensibility, lack
authenticity. For example, someone recalls hearing shofar in a Reform congregation in
the mid-Twentieth Century as follows, “For the shofar blowing, my French horn teacher
would stand in the wings and produce these perfect dulcet tones with her horn.
Meanwhile, out on the bimah, someone would be holding the shofar aloft.”129

I do not espouse an “anything goes” approach; only to encourage beginners to trust that
their best efforts will be enough. Through the generations, performance standards have

Rosh Hashanah liturgy, from Twerski, Living Each Day, page 351.
Brooks Susman quoted in Growing Up Jewish in America: An Oral History, Myrna Katz Frommer and
Harvey Frommer, University of Nebraska Press 1999.

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been established for what shofar calls should sound like, and all shofarists should strive
to honor the traditions of their communities.

The Basic Blasts

Tekiah: Although it is a single blast (produced with a single, continuous exhalation),
tekiah is not played on a single pure note. Fully developed, there are three parts to the
sound of tekiah: the blast begins with a short, sharp attack or introduction, raises
dramatically in volume and pitch to sound the alarm, and finishes with a flourish.
Onomatopoetically, these three parts are like the three syllables in te-ki-ah.

“Te” begins with a sudden sound made like the creation of the consonant tee. It blasts out
of quietude and is created by a quick contraction of your diaphragm. This introduction is
sustained just long enough to be heard.

“Ki” has a long “i” vowel in it. As when pronouncing that vowel, you can linger over this
syllable of tekiah, holding it for most of the duration of the blast.

“Ah” is like the fiery crown on a Hebrew letter, it is the mote note or sweet release that
gives tekiah its final “potch on tuchis”130 to send it on its way into the universe. This is
not the “ahhh” of a sigh or “ahavah” (Hebrew for “love”), this is the “Ah!” of having a
bucket of cold water thrown in your face, and like the ah of the German “achtung!” it is
meant to be given attention. It is formed with a sharp final contraction of the diaphragm
to push out the final puff of air with even greater intensity; you should feel your chest
shudder as the diaphragm jolts it with a quick squeeze. And it is frequently accompanied
by a physical gesture such as raising the horn or the head to change the inclination of the
horn, tensing the lips and modulating the pitch. Sometimes I find my entire body
stretching into the final “ah” as if I am being lifted towards heaven with the blast of

Shevarim: Shevarim consists of three successive tekiah blasts in a single breath. Begin
each of the three segments of shevarim with a strong attack of a “Te,” then a short “ki”
followed promptly by “ah” mde by rapidly contracting the diaphragm to force more air
through your lips to produce a rising pitch. Tightening the lips or changing the inclination
of the horn to your face can also help shape the higher pitch.

Teruah: While exhaling in a continuous breath, the air stream is interrupted by rapidly
moving your tongue forward and backwards to repeatedly block and open the passage of
air into the shofar blowhole. This “tonguing” technique is known to all wind instrument
players who use it to produce distinct breaks between notes that are faster and more
staccato than could be created by contractions of the diaphragm. Try saying “ti-ti-ti” and
you will feel your tongue repeatedly touching the front of your mouth, exactly as it will
when you sound teruah.

Slap on a person’s rear-end.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 56 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

Adding a small flourish at the end, and using our onomatopoetic syllables, teruah is, “ti-
ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti ah.”

Traditionally, teruah consists of nine bursts; other communities favor twelve. I have a
hard time trying to count out nine (or twelve) bursts at the same time I am focused on
trying to sound and listen to shofar. So what I do is count or feel the beats in sets of three.
My mind recognizes “three” at a semi-subconscious level, so I can feel the bursts as
“one-two-three/one-two-three/one-two-three without having to count them. With
practice, you will find yourself doing the desired bursts without thinking; it will just feel

Shevarim-Teruah: These two blasts should be sounded in a single breath and without
pausing between them.


Tekiah Gedolah: While the other blasts may take as little as two seconds, you should aim
to sustain tekiah gedolah for at least ten seconds or more.

Tekiah gedolah provides the opportunity for a shofar blower to grandstand his or her
skills by holding the blast for an even greater length. Like the opera singer who can hold
a dramatic note, sustaining a very long tekiah gedolah heightens the theatricality and
emotional impact of the shofar service. Blows of 30 to 60 seconds or even longer
duration are not unheard of. My friend Howard – a professional showman – sometimes
drops to his knees while sustaining an exceptionally long blast, playing off the
congregation’s concerns that he might faint from not breathing.

Some traditionalists may scoff that the High Holy Days are somber occasions and that
grandstanding has no place in a religious service. And while they are true, I say we also
have the responsibility to dance with God, and to transform worship from “oy!” to “joy!”
There is room in the Yamim Noraim for every human emotion, and if we descend into the
depths of remorse when we make our confessions during the Rosh Hashanah and Yom
Kippur Services, the tekiah gedolah allows our spirits to soar upon a mighty wind.132

Jeremy “Yirme” Bernstein, “Sounds of the New Year “, 9/11/05, www.blitzandkling.com September
12, 2009. “Zaidy“ is Yiddish for “grandfather”.
While I encourage the display of your prowess during tekiah gedolah, you must still stay true to the
spirit of the Holy Day worship and the symbolism of the shofar blasts. A professional musician once
demonstrated his technique of “circular breathing” while blowing the shofar. He could sustain a blow
indefinitely by inhaling through his nose while continuing to exhale air stored in his puffed-up cheeks.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 57 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

While an initial “te” is optional, I typically minimize or dispense with it and begin with
an easy “ki” in order to conserve air. In a long blast, you may find that your pitch or
timbre wander; without the shaped mouthpiece of a modern brass instrument, the tone of
shofar is inflected by every nuance of change in the tension of your lips or pressure of
your breath. I do not worry about these variations; they are a reflection of the prayer work
that is going on inside my heart and soul. And while every attempt should be made to
sustain the tekiah gedolah for as long as possible, one must have the wisdom to know
when the end of the blast is approaching so you can seal the blast with a rising “ah.”
Tekiah gedolah, then, sounds like, “(ti)-kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-ah!”.

Additional tips for blowing tekiah gedolah, and the other calls, are in Chapter 2-11 –
Secrets of an Awesome Tekiah Gedolah.

Remembering the Names of the Blasts

From year-to-year and during the excitement of blowing shofar in shul, some shofarists
have a hard time remembering the difference between shevarim and teruah. My friend,
Perla, solves this by discretely taping a reminder to the top of her shofar where she can
see it while blowing. It looks like:
Tekiah _____________
Shevarim ____ ____ ____
Teruah _________
Tekiah gedolah ______________________

If you know Hebrew, a mnemonic I like is that “shevarim” begins with the same sound as
“shalosh” – Hebrew for three – the number of pulses in shevarim, while “teruah” begins
with the same sound as “tesha” – Hebrew for nine, the number of pulses in teruah..

A similar mnemonic that does not rely on Hebrew is that “shevarim” has the same initial
sound as “several” while “teruah has the same initial sound as “trill” or “tremolo.”

Another approach is to remember that the blows are in the sequence of a whole being
broken into progressively smaller parts until it achieves a new consistency as a reformed
whole; tekiah is a whole sound, shevarim is broken, teruah is shattered into even smaller
pieces, and finally the sound is fractured into such short blasts that the ear hears them as a
continuous tone.

The Sequence of Blasts

Each community has its own minhag (custom), and local tradition should be followed. In
general, most communities use the following sequence of blasts:

While quite a showy display, I suggested he refrain from using the technique in his spiritual practice. Just
as we do not know the length of our days as granted to us by God on Rosh Hashanah, neither can we know
the length of our next breath, for life may be taken from us at any moment. Employing circular breathing
seems like a way of tricking the Divine decree, employing artifice to compensate for the inherent frailty
and uncertainty of the human condition.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 58 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

Tekiah Shevarim-Teruah Tekiah
Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah
Tekiah Teruah Tekiah133

If it is the last blast of a sequence, the final Tekiah is sustained as Tekiah Gedolah.

Many congregations expand this basic series of ten blasts so that shofar is heard up to 100
times on each day of Rosh Hashanah.

Call and Response

The shofar blower is called a “tokea.” Another term for the shofar blower is “ba’al
tekiah” (masculine) or ba’alat tekiah (feminine), term that poetically translate as, “master
blaster.” It is customary for the blasts to be announced before each is sounded. The
person calling out the name of the blast to be sounded is called a “makrei.”

While the tokea concentrates on the blasts and his kavenah for sounding them, the
mackrei is responsible for following the prescribed sequence of blasts in the machzor –
High Holy Day prayerbook and to call out the name of the next blast. The makrei is also
charged with determining if the blasts are acceptable in form, clarity, and duration; if the
blast is not acceptable, the makrei will call out the name again so the tokea can repeat the
blast. A rabbi or prayer leader frequently performs the role of makrei, but it can be
anyone who is knowledgable about shofar and is of good character.

It is advisiable for the tokea and makrei to meet before Rosh Hashanah to review the
order of the blasts and how they will collaborate.

More teachings about the shofar blasts are in Chapter 1-5 – Blast, Break, Shatter, Blast.


These sequences can be referred to by the following abbreviations:
Tekiah SHevarim-teRuah Tekiah = TaSHRaT
Tekiah SHevarim Tekiah = TaSHaT
Tekiah teRuah Tekiah = TaRaT.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 59 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

Chapter 2-8 – Tips for Common Problems
“The rest is commentary, go and study.”134

If you have persevered up to this point, you should now be able to get at least a peep from
your shofar. But if you have not produced a sound, do not allow yourself to become
frustrated. You must absolutely trust that, having gone through the exercises given in the
preceding chapters, you already know how to sound shofar, and that you will soon hear
gratifying confirmation of this.

The following exercises may be useful:

• Lower the shofar and return to making tooting sounds with your lips. When you are
confident in and relaxed with sounding your lips, raise shofar to your lips while they
are still vibrating, and visualize the air flowing through a small opening in your lips
directly into the horn. If necessary, make some more silly lip sounds to help get your
kisser loosened-up.
• The most common problem I have seen beginners have is that they try too hard.
Relax. Remember we talk about “playing” an instrument, not “forcing” it. Do
something to relax yourself, and then resume your practice with a different attitude
and a fresh approach. Sitting in quiet meditation for a few moments or taking a drink
of water may help.
• If your lips are getting tired or any part of you starts to hurt, STOP. Take a break.
Tomorrow, you will get a fresh start.
• If the shofar is making a farty sound, it is laughing at you. Laugh with it, then play
with it some more.
• Watching yourself in a mirror may help you see where the airflow through your lips
is or to discover that your lips may be too loose or too tight.
• Ask a friend or study partner to watch you. Even if he or she does not play shofar,
he/she may be able to see something you don’t and offer helpful suggestions.

If necessary, use fingers to seal your lips so air does not escape except through the shofar.135

Hillel, Shabbat 31a.
Blowing shofar for displaced persons in a 1948 service organized by the Joint Distribution Committee.

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• Some individuals have a hard time sealing their lips so their breath goes only into the
shofar. If you experience this problem, hold the shofar with one hand, and use the
fingers of the other hand to hold your lips together.
• Whatever technique you have been using isn’t working. Go through the variables
listed in the preceding chapters and try changing them. Play with air pressure,
inclination, placement on the lips, etc.

Remember that you are doing spiritual work. Give yourself a blessing, and ask God for
help. Chant or recite Psalm 51, read at the beginning of the Amidah prayer; its reference
to our lips makes it especially powerful to blowing shofar. It acknowledges that we may
be unable to pray without divine assistance. Since the shofar blast is prayer, recite this
prayer or any other to ask for God’s help:

Adonai s’fatai tif’tach ufi yagid t’hilatecha.

Eternal One, open up my lips so that my mouth may declare your glory.136

Listen Louder
There are individuals who, try as they may, cannot produce a loud blast from shofar.
However, they can still blow shofar in a way that enables themselves and others to
perform the mitzvah of hearing shofar. By simply exhaling through shofar, the horn
amplifies the rush of breath so it becomes a quiet yet audible wind.

When someone asks Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi to speak louder, he frequently

replies, “I can’t speak louder. You’ll have to listen louder.” Similarly, if the shofar blast
is soft, we can listen louder.

Listening louder to hear a quiet whoosh of air coming from a shofar can heighten your
spiritual hearing acuity. When both the blower and the hearer have the right kavanah, the
still fine wind becomes a roar of prayer.

Where to Practice
It is told that:
Jack asks Sam what time it is. Sam answers and then asks Jack, “Why don’t you
own a watch?” Jack replies that he doesn’t need one because he can always ask
somebody what time it is.
“But what if you wake up in the middle of the night and what to know the time?”
Sam asks. Jack tells him, “I still don’t need a watch because I have a shofar.”
“How can you tell time with a shofar?” Sam asks.

X19fXzkvZGV0YWls/ September 12, 2009.
With regards to blowing shofar, it may be appropriate to reverse the word order to, “…open up my
mouth so my lips may declare…”

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“Oh, that’s simple,” Jack responds. “I simply open the window and start blowing
the horn. Pretty soon, one of my neighbors hollers at me, ‘Are you crazy! Don’t you
know it’s 2:00 in the morning?’”

So where do you practice shofar blowing, especially if you blow your horn every day
during Elul, the baby’s asleep, and your neighbors are so close you can shake hands by
leaning out your window?

I have found public shofar blowing creates fewer disturbances than expected. It is not
exceptionally loud compared to other noises in a community. I find that my intention
make a difference – if I am blowing for spiritual reasons, my blasts will be less intrusive
on my neighbors than if I was making random noise. One of the blessings of living in a
pluralistic culture is that, if I get any response from strangers, it is usually one of
curiosity. I show them the shofar, explain its spiritual significance, and bless them for a
sweet New Year. Our shofar blasts commingle in the public sphere with church bells and
muzzein calls to sing praises for a land of religious freedom.

Still, you must be respectful to your neighbors and use common sense. If going indoors
and closing the windows and doors to your room do not afford you or your neighbors
sufficient privacy, here are some additional ideas:
• Blow quietly. (See Chapter 2-11 – Secrets of an Awesome Tekiah Gedolah for more
on this.)
• Use a pillow to mute your blasts.
• Go to a public park or beach.
• Blow in your car with the windows up.
• Go to a different neighborhood each day so at least you aren’t disturbing the same
people every day.

And if nothing else works, go to a synagogue and blow for the morning minyan.

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Chapter 2-9 – Staging Shofar
“Know before whom you stand.”137

Keeping Shofar Covered

There is a custom to keep shofar hidden within the drapes of one’s tallit or wrapped in a
special cloth until the blessing is recited before blowing shofar. Covering is a sign of
respect given to many spiritually significant items including the challah of the Shabbat
table and the Torah scroll. Concealing shofar reminds us of the ram of the Akedah which
was concealed from Abraham. Concealing shofar also helps keep the congregation’s
focus on the horn’s sound and not on the visual impact of the horn or the shofarist. A
shofar blower can also pull a tallit over his or her head before blowing; like at Sinai, the
congregation hears the sound without seeing its source.

“The shofar is covered while the brachot are recited. This is similarly related to the
Akedah. The midrash says that before building the altar on which to sacrifice his son
Yitzhak, Avraham kept Yitzhak hidden, for fear that Satan would injure Yitzhak and
render him unfit to be offered.”138

While waiting for the blasts to be called, I hold the shofar close to your body to warm the
horn. I also blow into the horn to keep it moistened with my breath. I don’t know if these
steps actually improves the sound, but it does connect me to the horn and seems to make
it easier to blow.

When performing a mitzvah, it is customary to refrain from speaking from the time the
blessing of the mitzvah is said until the mitzvah is performed. This applies to the mitzvah
of sounding shofar.

Solo or Tutti Shofar

In many synagogues, a single ba’al tekiah serves the congregation and sounds a solo
shofar while standing in front of the open ark of the Torah. The single shofarist
represents an ancient archetype, a spiritual warrior who intercedes with the Almighty on
behalf of the people. More, a powerful energy can be generated when the entire
congregation is united in its focus on a single note. And, for the individual listener, the
sound of a single shofar can enable the listener to discern each nuance of the blasts,
allowing its message, we hope, to be heard with clarity.

There are equally ancient and spiritually compelling traditions of polyphonic shofaring.
For example, whole platoons of shofarists lead the attacks on Jericho and against the
Medianites. The Levites had entire trumpet choirs. And when shofar was blown in the
Temple, two trumpets accompanied it. Some congregations now use a shofar duet, trio or

Rabbi Eliezer, Pirke Avot.
Elef Hamagein quoted in Meisels, pg 95

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other small grouping of skilled shofarists; others all shofar-blowing members of the
congregation to participate.

In Judaism, as in many spiritual traditions, loud noise is understood to scare away evil
forces; playing groggers (noisemakers) during the reading of the Esther during Purim is a
familiar example of this. Surely the cacophony of a multitude of shofarists will deter even
Satan. And while I never doubt the ability of a solitary shofar to pierce someone’s heart
or psyche, many of us need the concussive effect of an entire barrage of blasts to return to
spiritual vivacity.


If your congregation’s practice is for a solo shofar, there is no reason to abandon your
tradition outright. However, you may want to experiment with ensemble shofar tooting at
least once during the High Holy Day observances. For example, use a single shofar on
the first day of Rosh Hashanah according to tradition, then encourage group blasting on
the second day as a way to keep the services fresh and awaken those who may have
become satiated after two days of prayer.

Alternatively, introduce group blowing at the conclusion of Yom Kippur when shofar’s
blast has a more joyous quality than do the soul-searching blasts of Rosh Hashanah.
Group blowing at this time will resonate with the Biblical injunction to “have the shofar
sounded throughout the land...for all its inhabitants.”140

Spatial Dynamics of Shofaring

This openness to exploring new approaches to liturgy is part of what Rabbi Zalman
Schachter-Shalomi has called “davvenology,” the experimenting with the form of our
worship to discover models of prayer that respect tradition yet are attuned to
contemporary needs. If your congregation is open to multiple shofar blowers, you have
the opportunity to explore a variety of strategies for how you deploy your cadre of shofar
blowers. For example:
• Situate shofar blowers around the perimeter of the sanctuary to surround the
congregation within field of sound.

Photo by Mark Redden.
Leviticus 25:9-10.

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• Have shofar blowers standing at their own seat throughout the congregation. This
arrangement reminds us of the Torah verse read during the Holidays, “And God heard
the boy where he was at,”141 indicating that our prayers are heard regardless of the
place or condition in which we are. The dynamics of this shofar blowing arrangement
can have a profound impact on the congregation, since they can hear shofar blasts
arising from their midst, altering the “them and us” dichotomy that can be fostered
when shofar blowers are standing apart from the body of the congregation.
• A lead shofarist at the front of the sanctuary can be echoed by other blowers at the
back of the sanctuary, enhancing the call and response of the shofar service.

“An old brass technique for trumpet/coronet is to have a primary musical sequence
repeated thereafter from a distance as if it were an echo. This is especially useful for the
relatively short sequences of shofar blasts. Plan to have the mitzvah blasts from the bimah
called by the makrei (caller) and then blown first by the tokea (shofar blower). After each
blast sequence, another shofar repeats the blast at the back of the congregation, or from
various corners of the sanctuary as “echoes.” While it is a bit dramatic, it won't be
forgotten; moreover it enables more people to be involved in the services. Since the tokea
blows the mitzvah sequence, then the “echoes” could be blown by minors or women
where otherwise they may be permitted to do so. Consider using different shofarot
“voices” such that there will be sounds in “soprano,” “tenor,” “alto,” and “baritone”

• And, of course, the choir of shofar blowers can huddle together on the bemah or in
front of the open ark for a mighty team effort.

Once, finding myself the only shofar blower in shul, I blew each series of blasts,
(Malchuyot, Shofarot, and Zichronot) from a different part of the sanctuary. It was the
Second Day of Rosh Hashanah, and I was feeling that the congregation was getting
lethargic. Like the acupuncturist trying to release blocked “chi” in a body, I felt that
sounding shofar from different parts of the House of Prayer would free-up the flow of
spiritual energy.

The team effort can also become a relay for what might be called a tekiah gedolah-
gedolah or an extra-sized blast. Lined-up in front of the ark, the first blower sustains his
or her blast for as long as possible. Just before running out of breath, the first blower
signals to the next, by means of a nod of the head or other gesture, allowing each
subsequent blower to take up the call without a break in sound.

Alternative translation of Genesis 21:17.
Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner, “Shofar, So Good: Having a Blast on the High Holy Days,” HADASH #46,
prepared for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, September 2005, downloaded from
13.pdf, December 18, 2008.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 65 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

In the Temple, two trumpets accompanied the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. This poses the
question of whether we can fulfill the mitzvah of hearing shofar if more than one
instrument sounds. The Talmud answer, “…the reason the shofar and trumpets can be
blown simultaneously in the Temple is because two sounds issuing from one person are
not discerned, whereas two sounds issuing from two people are discerned. ...since [the
mitzvah] of shofar is especially dear, when one hears the shofar and trumpets blown
together in the Temple he puts his mind to discerning the sound of the shofar, and indeed
hears it.”143 This suggests a precedent for sounding more than one instrument, and
suggests that minhag – tradition – changes over time.

Outdoors and Open Doors

Today, most people hear shofar blown indoors, inside synagogues or rented hotel
ballrooms. Throughout the ages, however, the horn was heard outdoors where its
loud cry could travel from hillside to hillside or across a field. While we say it
was blown “in the Temple” in Jerusalem, there too it was blown outdoors in the
Temple’s precinct. Or in the words of a contemporary poet, “The answer is
blowing in the wind.”144

The shofar was born to carry its voice v’ha-eretz v’ha-shamayim – throughout the earth and up to the
heavens – not just within the walls of a synagogue. Rabbi Ayla Grafstein of Congregation Ruach Hamidbar
(Spirit of the Desert) in Arizona uses shofar in a lake-side tashlich service on the second day of Rosh

Blowing shofar in the open air of the out of doors has a liberating quality, freed from the
constraints of roof and wall to send your blasts outwards into the ecosphere and cosmos.
One of the great challenges of our era is to reconnect our urbanized culture with
the earth. We experience a powerful reminder of our connection to Earth when, a
few days after the Days of Awe, we sit outdoors in our Sukkot. But why wait
until then. A contemporary sage says, “One way to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and
honor the earth is to go out and blow a shofar out in the fields or the woods to
fill creation with the sacred Presence.” 146 Why not carry the Torah outdoors

Rosh Hashanah 27a
Robert Zimmerman, aka “Bob Dylan.” The composer’s publishing company is “Ram’s Horn Music.”
© Rabbi Ayla Grafstein, www.ruach.org
Jill Hammer, http://telshemesh.org/tishrei/ August 12, 2007.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 66 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

during Rosh Hashanah – the birthday of the world – and blow shofar so all
creation can be washed in its vibrations.

And if that is not practical, then let us open the doors to the Synagogue before
blowing shofar. Open the doors, like we do on Passover, so that all who are
hungry for spiritual renewal can be nourished by the call of shofar.

“…grandfather would go alone with his horse-driven cart to the forest, and there would
sound the shofar…in different intonations and rhythms. I would not know whether he
was practicing there the art of blowing the horn for the High Holidays, or whether he was
spending his solitude in the forest in communion with God…”147


Immanuel Velikovsky, Days and Years, www.varchive.org/dy/vitebsk.htm February 11, 2006.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 67 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

Chapter 2-10 – Shofar Service in the Greater Community
“Just as we all eagerly hasten to hear the shofar, so must we do with regard to
every other mitzvah.”148

As a ba’al tekiah, you have the opportunity to provide service beyond the walls of your
synagogue by sounding shofar for individuals who are homebound, hospitalized,
institutionalized, or otherwise unable to observe the High Holy Days in the midst of a
congregation. This can be a double mitzvah since it fulfills both the commandment to
visit the sick (bikur cholim) and to enable others to fulfill the commandment of hearing

For several years, I participated in a monthly Shabbat service at a nursing home. Several
of our minyan were unable to speak and were locked in bodies that they no longer
controlled. Yet somehow, I could sense that even their souls were moved when they
heard shofar at our New Year’s gathering. A shofar blower at another nursing home
reports that, “After I blew the shofar…one man came up to me and said, “Young man,
that’s the first sound I’ve heard in 30 years.”149 Miracles like this happen when shofar

Hearing shofar can be especially meaningful to those who are ill and living with the
intimate knowledge that their days may be numbered. The call of shofar may reassure
them that, in sickness as in health, we each stand before God as the Holy One passes
judgment. For the dying and their families, prayers of teshuvah take on a special urgency,
and hearing shofar may give them comfort.

“[Mother] was 18 months into her death sentence of ALS. It turned out to be her last
Rosh Hashanah. For the first time in her adult life, my Mother did not join us [at Shul]…
she said, it was just too hard. After services…the doorbell rang… There was our Rabbi
and his wife. We were a bit astonished. It was after all, a kind of busy day for him. We
also knew that he lived about 5 miles away and further knew that he did not drive on
Shabbat or Yom Tov. After offering them a cold drink and chatting for a few minutes, the
Rabbi pulled out a bag he was holding from which he took out a shofar. He looked at my
mother and told her that he wanted to make sure that she heard the shofar for Rosh
Hashanah and he proceeded to blast the shofar in my mother’s living room. I think that
the Rabbi was the only one without tears in his eyes. Shortly thereafter, he and his wife
apologized for the short visit and left – shofar in hand. He did, after all, have to get back
for mincha. I have never listened to a shofar in quite the same way.”150

Chofetz Chaim, Music of the Universe – The Chofetz Chaim on Tehillim, Feldheim Publishers, 1996,
page 52.
Fred Bernheim quoted in “A Gift to the Chicago Jewish Community,” by Sarah Sechan,
posted:9/11/2008, at http://www.juf.org/news/local.aspx?id=36458, December 15, 2008.
Arlene Wexler, September 2007, www.wjcenter.org/uploads/13466HH_Wexler_-_shofar.pdf, December
13, 2008.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 68 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

Even without a trip to a hospital, nursing home, or prison, you can telephone the shut-in
and allow them to hear shofar via electronic assistance. One member of my congregation
brings her cell phone to shul on the yontif and holds it up during the shofar service so her
bed-ridden mother can hear shofar along with the rest of the congregation.151 Parents and
care givers who stay home to care for young children and the infirm can also benefit from
a friendly visit by a shofarist from their community.

While this outreach can be undertaken as an individual effort, it is a wonderful project for
a congregation or spiritual community to undertake. At Makom Ohr Shalom, for example,
our Shofar Corps has become a service project that raises the ruach – spirit – of the
congregation even as it serves the community. Volunteers contact local institutions before
Rosh Hashanah to find out who needs a visit and to make arrangements. Then other
volunteers, either individually or in small teams, spread out throughout the community.
Our slogan: “Have shofar. Will travel.”

Blowing shofar in an institution can be a profound experience. One member of the Corps

“We blew shofar in the living room at a home for those with memory
impairments. Just saying the word “tekiah” triggered a couple of people's
memories, and they would light up like a happy kid. We led the Shehechayanu
and translated it, essentially giving thanks for being right here, right now. These
people are in the Right Now – each moment is a new day for many of them.
That's my takeaway message: being present, and in so being, there is the
possibility of joy in each moment.”

Jailhouse Shofar
For several years, I sounded shofar in the Los Angeles County Men's Central Prison. In
Talmud, there is a discussion about blowing shofar inside a cistern; one is supposed to
hear the sound of shofar directly and not the sound echoing off the walls. That can be a
challenge when blowing shofar inside a concrete bunker at what is described as the
“Largest Prison in the Free World" because the walls echo with the sound of so many of
society's failings plus the fears and uncertainty facing the residents.

Yet all the Holidays' messages about teshuvah – that personal improvement can really
happen – are so much clearer when discussed with someone who has seen the darkness of
violence, addiction, crime, and incarceration. Rabbi Yossi Carron, the chaplain who
works with the men, used the themes of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to help the men
understand that forgiveness is possible and that, by taking responsibility for their actions,
their future do have to be limited by their pasts.

The residents recognized that I was in the prison by choice; it was meaningful for them
to know that they were not forgotten by or completely cut-off from the outside world.

There is a halachahic controversy over whether hearing an electronically-transmitted shofar blast
enables one to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing shofar. This must be weighed against the significance in our era
of telephonic communication.

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Some had never heard a shofar before and were trying to reconnect with their Jewish
heritage to help them have faith in their future. One told me that the sound of shofar
burned into his heart where he will be able to hear it again throughout the coming year,
drawing upon it for the strength to support his recovery. As the guards were preparing to
strip search him after our brief visit, he said, “If I can keep hearing it, it will remind me of
what the rabbi has told us. Then, maybe, this can be my last time in prison.” All I could
say to that was, “AMEN!”

Once, I had a divine revelation.

It was on the holy day of Rosh Hashanah, but I wasn't in shul. I was in a hospital on that
very wet morning, in a sterile and depressing geriatrics rehab ward, where a few old
bubbies (grandmothers) had gathered to hear the sounding of the shofar.

Every year I do this--blow shofar in the hospitals. Every year at least one person cries.

This year there was a bubbeh who didn't seem so old. She was very with-it. The sight of a
shofar filled her with excitement. She poured out to me memories of her childhood, it
seemed the past had just come awake for her. She had grown up steeped in Chassidic
warmth and soul, and…it had never left her.

She recited the blessing and I began to blow the shofar, softly but clearly. The tears began
to come. I'm used to that already I just keep going. But when I finished, that's when it was
obvious that God was there in the room. Because she was talking to Him.

"Oy, zisseh Gott! Tiereh, zisseh Gott! Mein zisseh Gott!"

She was crying and she was holding God in her hands. The hands of an old bubbeh
holding an infinite, timeless God.

She called him “ziss.” I had never heard that before. “Ziss" I had heard applied to desserts
and to grandchildren. The Psalms of David and the Song of Songs talked about the
Almighty in that way. But this was an old bubbeh. Her voice had that tone of love and
compassion, yet she was filled with awe. She was crying with sorrow, with joy, with
pain, with longing...yet her words were sweet ecstasy.

I can't translate those words she said. It doesn't work in English, “My dear sweet God.” It
just doesn't happen.

Because in English you don't talk to God the way a wife talks to her beloved husband, a
husband who went away on a distant journey and you never knew if he would return, and
now you're suddenly in his arms. Like a mother talks to her small, sweet children and like

152 Tzvi Freeman, www.chabad.org/library/article.asp?AID=2009, July 2, 2006.

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a daughter talks to her father who she knows will never abandon her. All in one. In
English there is no such thing. But in the Yiddish of her childhood she could say it.

For me, her cries smashed through the most profound journeys of the philosophers,
popping them like a child pops bubbles in the air, like shadows disappear in the sunshine.
They had no meaning here. They are ideas. This is God. The real thing. This was
revelation. Something the old bubbies had back there, back then. Something we had lost.

I had to leave to go to shul. She was still in tears. I discovered I was smiling. You'll think
I'm insensitive, but I was helpless before this deep, uplifting joy that just arose from

She cried. I was full of joy. Why shouldn't I be? I had just seen God face to face. Unzer
zisseh Gott.

Guidelines for Blowing Shofar for the Sick and Confined153

1. You are performing a mitzvah, an act of holiness, by enabling others to hear the sound
of shofar. It is also a mitzvah, to visit the sick and confined.

2. Be respectful of the person you are visiting and others in the room. Your shofar blasts
are still effective if you blow quietly to avoid scaring people. If someone does not want to
hear you blow shofar, do not blow for them; wish them a sweet New Year and leave.

3. Be respectful of the institution you are visiting and heed its rules and staff’s
instructions. Check in with the visitor liaison or nursing station before going to
someone’s room. Even if you scheduled a visit, understand that plans may have to adjust
to the current situation in the facility. Knock before entering a person’s room. Illness can
make a person more sensitive to smells, so use moderation if applying perfume or a
fragrance. When visiting the infirm, wash your hands before and after shaking hands with
or otherwise touching a patient.

4. Lower your expectations about how you or your shofar blowing will be received. A
person, especially if ill or confined, may respond to shofar or your presence with anger,
sadness, fear, confusion, or other unexpected behavior. Trust in the holiness of your
intentions and stay focused on the mitzvah.

5. A person who is sick may want to talk or want more personal attention than you are
able to give; you do not become responsible for all their needs just because you have
visited. Be civil and loving, but know your limits.

A useful guide for visiting the sick is Give Me Your Hand, prepared by Adas Israel Congregation,
Washington, DC, 1988, second edition by Congregation Netivot Shalom, Berkeley, CA, 1997, available as
a free download at www.netivotshalom.org/archive/drashot/rkelman/Bikkur.pdf, December 27, 2008.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 71 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

6. Do not become embroiled in discussions about Jewish sectarian issues or inter-
religious discussion. For example, some Orthodox Jewish men may not want to hear
shofar blown by a woman.

7. Visiting the sick and hearing shofar can bring up feelings inside you; you may want to
ask a friend to go with you for support.

8. If you are asked to visit a private home, be aware of your surroundings and security
concerns. Ask someone to come with you if necessary.

9. The family members and caregivers of the person you are visiting may also appreciate
hearing shofar. Non-Jewish roommates or staff for example may also respond to or be
curious about shofar. While you are at an institution, ask if there are other residents or
staff that may want to hear shofar.

10. Listen to shofar while you blow. Do not worry about the quality of your shofar calls;
this is holy work and not a concert. All sounds from shofar are acceptable.

Teaching Shofar
I encourage all shofar sounders to become shofar teachers. There is great hunger among
many Jews to find more meaning in their heritage, and sometimes blowing one shofar
blast can touch somebody in a way that reading a hundred pages of holy texts cannot.

Children, as young as six, are especially adept students of shofar. Teaching them continues the chain from
generation to generation.154

Sometimes the rewards of teaching, though vicarious, are very direct and satisfying. I
taught my friend Lynn, who taught her grandchildren and had the pleasure of hearing
them blow shofar on the next Rosh Hashanah. But our own fulfillment is not the most
important reason for teaching. We have, instead, an obligation to pass our traditions l’dor
v’dor – from generation to generation. We are told:

Photo of Elijah Kneeland by Mark Redden.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 72 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

“In Second Temple times, the baking of the lechem panim became the job of Beit
Garmu. The Garmu family members were experts in baking this bread in such a
manner that it did not become moldy, even after sitting out for six days…155

”The Garmu family understood and was skilled at this tradition. However, they
kept their expertise secretive, refusing to teach others how to properly prepare the
lechem panim. The rabbis of the Mishnah include Beit Garmu among others who
refused to pass along the instructions of Jewish ritual to future generations. The
memory of these people was to be recalled for disgrace according to the

”The lesson for us is that no one person or group of people should hold a
monopoly on Jewish tradition or the intricacies of Jewish rituals. We must keep
our rich traditions from dying out by practicing “open source" Judaism, providing
future generations with the recipe for Jewish living. If you know a great trick to
blowing shofar, you should share that trick with a few other people. You should
encourage your Bubbie to pass along her delicious gefilte fish recipes. Perhaps
your family has some nice Pesach Seder innovations that you could teach to other

The Highest Level of Shofar Service

Maimonides taught that there are eight levels of tzadakah (charity), and that the greatest
level is to give someone skills and resources so he or she will not be dependent on
others.158 With this in mind, perhaps the highest level of service a shofar-blower can
perform is to give a shofar to someone and teach him or her to sound it so the person will
not be dependent upon others to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing shofar.


Tosefta Yoma 2:5.
Yoma 3:11.
Rabbi Jason Miller,
0074224C?OpenDocument, January 28, 2006.
Mishneh Torah.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 73 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

Chapter 2-11 – Secrets Of An Awesome Tekiah Gedolah
“Sometimes I blow the shofar. But sometimes, it blows my mind instead.”159

1. Practice: Remember the advice given to a tourist in New York City who asked
“How do I get to Carnegie Hall? The answer: “Practice, Practice, Practice.”
Blowing shofar daily throughout Elul – the month preceding the New Year – will
assure you are in top form for Yamim Noraim – The Days of Awe. The practice
throughout Elul, however, is not just to perfect technique. As discussed in Chapter
2-4 – Hearing Shofar, the practice is to spiritually awaken the blower and to align
him or her with the sound of shofar and the process of teshuvah.

2. Conditioning: The healthier you are, the easier it will be to blow a strong, loud
blast. I like to swim the length of a swimming pool underwater, a discipline that
requires breath control similar to immersing myself in a tekiah gedolah. Steve. a
fellow shofar blower in my shul, was able to sustain a longer shofar blast after he
stopped smoking.

3. Mind the Basics of Posture and Breathe Control: Loosen your belt and collar
to free-up your breathing apparatus. If decorum permits, remove your shoes so
you are in better contact with the earth.

4. Preparation is the Key to All Spiritual Ritual: In the moments leading up to

shofar sounding, turn inward; this is not the time to be concentrating on the prayer
book or the mounting intensity of the worshipers surrounding you. I concentrate
on my own most intimate prayers and assume a meditative composure.
Sometimes I pull my tallit over my head to allow me privacy to do the inner work
I must do. Rather than listening to the Rabbi and responses, I allow myself to feel
the vibrational field of sound in the sanctuary. I pay attention to feeling centered
in my own body and in contact with the earth. And I begin breathing slowly and
deeply, inhaling oxygen into every cell of my body and exhaling carbon dioxide
along with sins of the past year. By the time I am called forward to blow shofar, I
aim to be of a single-mindedness of purpose – to connect heaven and earth in the
sounding of shofar, advancing the process of teshuvah for myself, my
congregation, all of Israel, my fellow Earthlings, and all the worlds beyond.160

5. Shofaring is Not a Performance Art: Blowing shofar is devotional service. If

you remember that it is not a performance, you will experience less performance
anxiety, leading ironically to a better performance.

6. Kavanah and Prayer: Kavanah is the intention underlying our actions. One can
read the words of a prayer book out of intellectual curiosity, or one can read them

The reference to “the worlds beyond” acknowledges that God created the entire universe, not just the
parts I know.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 74 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

with a sense of reverence; they are the same words, but your relationship to the
words will be different because your kavanah is different. Before blowing shofar
in shul, I pray, quietly, that I be worthy to act a messenger for the congregation,
that my shofar blast be accepted as a giant AMEN to all the congregation’s spoken
and unspoken prayers (including my own), and that I be given the strength and
skill to sound shofar in such a way that it will be heard by anyone in the
congregation who has not yet completed their teshuvah work (including myself).
If my kavanah is clear, then it does not matter how long my tekiah gedolah is, it
will be awesome.

7. Believe that the Longer you Blow, the more Opportunity you are Giving God
to Show Mercy: Central to the High Holy Day liturgy is the belief that we can
bargain with God for mercy. The machzor – prayer book for the Days of Awe –
says, “Our Father, our King, be gracious and answer us, for we have too few good
deeds. Treat us with justice tempered by love and bring us salvation.”
Anthropomorphizing The Deity, we envision a judge about to pass a harsh decree,
but who, at the last moment, shows mercy. By extending the cry of the tekiah
gedolah for as long as possible, you give HaShem the opportunity to show greater
compassion. One student in my class told me that, as a child, she imagined that
every moment her rabbi sustained the tekiah gedolah meant that more people
would be sustained in life throughout the new year; she says she continues to use
the imagery to inspire her to “blow as though lives depend upon it.”

8. Believe that Your Blast will Bring the Messiah: The essence of this technique
is captured in a story from the Satmar Rebbe161 explaining why Satan is
bewildered by shofar: “Every year when we blow the shofar, the shofar blasts of
all the tzaddikim of previous generations are added to our present shofar sounds,
and a great and holy crescendo rises to heaven. Every Rosh Hashanah, as new
shofar blasts are joined to the ones of the previous years, the noise in Heaven
grows stronger. Satan remembers the sound of last year’s shofar blasts. He is now
confronted with a much louder noise. Afraid that enough shofar blasts have
accumulated in Heaven to bring about the final redemption, he is panic-stricken,
thinking that what he hears is the “shofar of Mashiach,” trumpeting his demise.
The Satan’s fears are not unfounded. Mashiach can come today when our modest
tekiot are added to those of the tzaddikim of past generations. Let’s not miss the
opportunity. Entreat HaShem wholeheartedly and accept His absolute sovereignty,
for with sincere prayer it is possible to bring the final redemption.”

9. Feel Competitive: Despite what I have said about shofar not being a performance
art and about establishing kavanah, it excites me to blow tekiah gedolah with
others. Like the racer who can run faster or farther when he or she has others to
pace him or her, I feel the energy of the other shofar blowers and think, “If they
are still blowing, I will too – and perhaps even longer!” Like the sportsman, I
shake hands with my fellow blowers if they are standing nearby and bless them

Divrei Yoel, quoted in Meisel, pg 93

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 75 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

with strength, because I know the better they blow, the better I will as well. When
I am a shofar soloist, I compete with myself to achieve my own personal best.

10. Use the Energy of the Congregation: I can always sustain a longer blow when I
am in shul than when I am blowing for myself alone. In the same way that I draw
energy from the other blowers, I feel the love and support of the entire
congregation. I know that many of them are holding their breath as they
experience the awe of shofar blasts, and I visualize that I have their permission to
use all the air in the sanctuary to blow tekiah gedolah.

11. Use a Shofar that is Easy to Blow: See Chapter 2-3 – Buying, Making, and
Caring for a Shofar for tips on finding a shofar that is easy for you to blow.

12. Find your Horn’s Resonant Frequency: During a long blast, the voice of shofar
may change its pitch or timbre. While these changes may seem to occur
spontaneously as if the horn was still a living thing with a mind of its own (and it
is), the shifts are also in response to subtle changes in air pressure, tension in the
lips, or the relative positioning of the horn and lips. When this happens to you,
notice that the effort required to sound shofar may vary. To sustain a long tekiah
gedolah, find the combination that requires the least “wind” to blow. This will
generally be at a resonant frequency. It is not necessary to understand the physics.
What is important is that you pay attention to the amount of breath you need to
blow shofar. When you find a pitch that is easy maintain without having to blow
hard, you have found a resonant frequency, the “sweet spot” in your shofar’s

13. Ask for Support: During a long, sustained shofar blast, one is not breathing fresh
oxygen into his or her body. This can produce symptoms of lightheadedness and
even fainting. This is even more likely after fasting, when even the act of standing
can be challenging. If you are concerned about fainting, ask someone to stand at
your side to support you. Moses, when he stood with outstretched arms on a hill
above our battle with Amalek, had Aaron and Hur162 standing by his sides to
support him. And when you read from the Torah, you have a gabbai standing next
to you. There is a reason why we bless someone performing a mitzvah with
“yashar koach, may you have strength”; we are most vulnerable to the evil
impulse while we are doing a mitzvah. Getting the support you need will allow
you to blow without fear of injuring yourself should you faint.

14. Keep your Focus on Listening: The mind plays tricks on us, making us panic or
feel like we are out of air or about to pass out long before we are in real danger. If
you are listening, you will not be thinking about how you might be running out of
air. You will want to hear more and more.

Exodus 17:12.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 76 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

15. Become Invisible: Pull your tallit over your head, allowing the far end of the
shofar to protrude from under your cover. From the anonymity of your own
private sanctuary, you can blow and listen uninhibited by thoughts of what you
might look like or the visual distractions of your surroundings. This technique can
also heighten the experience of the congregants listening to the blasts, since they
veil will conceal the shofar blower’s face and keep the focus on the sound.

16. Inhale First: Many shofar blowers rush into their blast as soon as the first
syllable of “tekiah gedolah” is pronounced by the caller. Instead, wait until the
full call is uttered, then quietly reground yourself to the earth, raise to your full
stature, bring shofar to your lips, and inhale deeply before blowing. The
momentary delay will heighten the drama of the blast and arouse the congregation
to listen even more closely as they fill with anticipation. This pause is similar to
the midrash about why Torah begins with the letter Bet instead of Aleph, the
silent first letter of the Hebrew Aleph-Bet. It is said that the Aleph is the sound of
God inhaling before the Eternal uttered the first sound of creation.

17. Exhale: The real secret to inhaling is to be sure to exhale first. When blowing the
relatively short tekiah, shevarim, and teruah blasts, you probably will not require
all the air in your lungs. Instead, you will blow one blast, suck in a little gulp of
air, blow the next blast, and take another short gulp of air, and continue taking
short inhalations throughout the entire sequence of ten or thirty blasts. By not
inhaling fully between each blast, your lungs will contain stale air and your blood
will become deoxygenated. The rest of the congregation may be in a hurry to get
out of shul, but shofar blasts should occur in “sacred time” that is not measured by
the clock. So don’t hurry. Take time to exhale fully after each toot, and your body
will naturally breath in fresh air. Then, when you get to tekiah gedolah, you will
be stoked and ready.

18. Wet Your Whistle: Moist lips vibrate more easily than dry lips. More, it can help
to moisten your shofar. Before blowing a conch shell, Hindu devotees make a
ritual of pouring water into their “horn”; it makes the instrument easier to sound
and is an act of purification. The practice is permitted in Judaism, too; the Talmud
permits us to pour water, wine, or vinegar into a shofar.163 If it is not a fast day,
you may want to take a drink of water yourself. On fast days, however, reserve
the liquid for the shofar in keeping with the ethical principal that a farmer must
feed his livestock before feeding him or her self.

19. Visualize your Blast is Heard in all the Worlds: Motivational speakers say that
the way to reach a goal is aim beyond it. So blow shofar with the goal of having it
heard even beyond the back row of seats in your synagogue. Blow so they can
hear it throughout your neighborhood and to the outskirts of your town. Blow
with the intent that the call will be heard all the way to Washington, the Middle
East, the hospitals and prisons and corporate board rooms and all the places in our

Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Shofar, Sukkah, V’Lulav, Chapter 1, Halachah 4

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 77 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

society that need healing. Blow with the certainty that the endangered plants and
animals (and they all are) in the rain forests, the family farm, and the coral reefs
feel the vibration. Merge your blast with those of all shofarot being sounded
around the world and blow so that all ten sefirot of the kabbalah’s Tree of Life
resonate and harmonize with the vibration of shofar. In just a few days after the
Days of Awe, we will enter the sukkah and invite our ancestors to sit with us;
blow with the understanding that even now they are straining to hear the message
that transcends physicality and temporality.

20. Blow Softly: For tekiah, teruah, and shevarim, I try to produce loud, strong
blasts, blasts that can pierce the heart and awaken the spirit. Then, once the
audience is fully alert, tekiah gedolah does not have to be loud because everyone
is already listening with their senses fully engaged. In fact, the more quietly we
blow, the closer we listen. This is a technique professional speakers often use,
raising their voice to higher and higher volumes, then switching to a low decibel
level so we have to listen more intently to hear what is being said. We can also
think of tekiah, teruah, and shevarim as calls primarily to be heard by our fellow
humans and sentient beings. Tekiah gedolah, on the other hand, is a direct line to
Spirit and does not depend on acoustical pressure to be heard.


A Final Note:
“Once, when Rabbi Simha Bunam of Pzhysha honored a man in his House of Prayer by
asking him to blow the ram’s horn, and the fellow began to make lengthy preparations to
concentrate on the meaning of the sounds, the tzaddik cried out: ‘Fool, go ahead and


Alphonse Lévy (1843-1918), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:AlphonseL%C3%A9vy_Shofar.jpg
September 12, 2009
Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, Book 2, pg 252

Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 78 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid

Appendix: Quick Reference Sheet

Blessing before Hearing Shofar

Baruch atah Adonai Elohaynu Melech ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav vitzivanu
lishmo-ah kol shofar.

Blessed are you, Eternal One our God, Universal Sovereign, who sanctifies us with holy
ways and commands us to hear the voice of shofar.

Add following the first time you hear shofar in Elul or Rosh Hashanah and at other
significant occasions:

Baruch atah Adonai Elohaynu Melech ha-olam,

shehechayanu, v’kiyamanu, v’higiyanu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are you, Yah, spirit guide of the world. You have kept us alive, sustained us, and
brought us to this moment.

Shofar Calls
Tekiah One blast _____________
Shevarim Three short blasts ____ ____ ____
Teruah Trill of nine or more beats _________
Tekiah gedolah One very long blast ______________________

Rosh Hashanah
The specific cycle of repetitions will vary according to local practice, so listen to the
caller. The sequence typcially includes repetitions or variations of the following:

Tekiah, Shevarim-Teruah, Tekiah

Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah
Tekiah, Teruah, Tekiah (The final Tekiah in a sequence is Tekiah Gedolah.)

Yom Kippur
While some congregations repeat the ten-blast sequence of Rosh Hashanah, most use just
a single long blast of Tekiah Gedolah.

Yasher Koach – May You Have Strength


Hearing Shofar – Volume 2 Page 79 © 2009 Michael T. Chusid