In Judaism, the shofar is the ceremonial horn that is blown to mark the beginnings of the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah (“New Year”) and Yom Kippur (“Day of Atonement”) although it may be sounded on other occasions, depending on the traditions of the local synagogue. According to the Talmud, the shofar is to be made from the horn of any bovine animal, except that of a cow or a calf.
Traditionally, the horn of a ram is used to make a shofar although there is no universal interpretation of Talmudic Law which mandates the use of a ram’s horn. However, there are specific prohibitions against the use of metals such as bronze to construct a shofar. Likewise, there is no restriction placed on the size or shape of a shofar although long, straight shofars are traditionally used for community ritual events and smaller shofars are usually kept in private homes.
The use of the shofar horn is frequently mentioned in the canonical Jewish scriptures and is first mentioned in Exodus 19, when it is said to have been heard coming from the cloud atop Mount Sinai. In addition to its ceremonial use, the shofar horn was also sounded as a general alert during times of warfare and to announce the anointing of a king during the United and Divided Monarchy Periods. From about the time of Kings David and Solomon, the shofar was utilized as an instrument (along with the trumpet and harp) to accompany the singing of the Psalms for both ceremonial and entertainment purposes.
Historically, the shofar horn has come to be intimately associated with Judaism. During the repressions of Judaism that accompanied the Byzantine, Ottoman and British occupations of Jerusalem, Jews were forbidden to blow the shofar at the site of the surviving Western (“Wailing”) Wall of Herod’s Temple. At various times, both Christian and Islamic regimes throughout Europe and the Middle East have criminalized the sounding of the shofar to announce the arrival of the Holy Days. Thus, the first “modern” or “legal” sounding of the shofar in the vicinity of the Temple occurred following the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. Some Messianic Jewish communities, such as “Jews For Jesus,” have incorporated the shofar into Christian rituals.
According to the Talmud, any free (non-slave) male member of the synagogue who is not otherwise disqualified may be appointed to the role of “Ba’al T’qiah” (shofar sounder). In some congregations, a woman may blow the shofar to ceremonially summon the other women to worship. As can be imagined, this ritual role is considered a great honor and is reserved to those held in great respect by the congregation.
There are a number of businesses that offer shofars for sale, both online and in traditional retail outlets located in most major cities. Such shofars may be custom-ordered to any desired degree of ornateness so long as the shofar itself meets traditional customs. Practically all shofars are handmade by craftsmen who have learned the family trade and are thus dedicated to maintaining Jewish tradition. Many families will purchase a shofar to be presented as a gift to their synagogue or to a respected Rabbi.