Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, brings to mind many different customs for Jewish people. From special symbolic foods, to special melodies that are only sung on Rosh Hashanah at the prayer services, each Jewish person has something that for him\her symbolizes Rosh Hashanah.
It goes without saying that the central commandment on Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the Shofar. In fact, the Jewish Sages pointed out that if one is faced with having to choose between going to Synagogue to hear services led by a powerfully moving cantor but where the Shofar will not be blown properly or going to a different Synagogue where the services will be much less powerful but the Shofar will be blown properly he should go to the place where he will hear the Shofar blown properly because the Shofar is the commandment of the day.
Such an important commandment understandably has a large number of customs and traditions surrounding it. Just so you can get a taste of some of them;
- Since the time of the Talmud, there was a disagreement between the Sages as to the correct sound of the Shofar blast. Some claimed it should like a person weeping- short sounds that are sounded close together, others say the Shofar should like a person groaning- longer sounds and others say it should sound like a combination of both. To cover all options we do like all three opinions.
- The custom is to hear one hundred blasts which are spread out throughout the prayer service.
- The Shofar is made from the horn of a ram (in Ashkenazi communities), because it was a ram that was offered up as a sacrifice in place of Isaac when his father Abraham bound him up on an altar. Using a ram’s horn recalls the merit of our forefathers. Horns of other animals are used in different communities. Only the horn of a cow must not be used since it would evoke memories of the sin of the Golden Calf and on the Day of Judgment we are better off not “reminding” G-d of such sins.
- The person blowing the Shofar must have in mind that everyone who hears it will fulfill their obligation to hear it. For this reason, we do not practice blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah because it could happen that someone may hear the practice blast and think that he has fulfilled his obligation through those sounds.