It’s the sound that shakes us out of our slumber. It’s the sound serenades Hashem as our King. It’s the sound that frightens the Satan and banishes him from our midst on this most auspicious of days. It is the sound of the Shofar.
R’ Michoel Albukerk, Director of Tzivos Hashem Crafts Workshops, has been running shofar factory workshops with groups of children and adults throughout the world for over two decades. He was gracious enough to share his vast knowledge and expertise in the field.
He began by differentiating between the various types of shofar that exist. The shofar that the majority of us are accustomed to using, of course, is from the horn of a ram, as any first grader will tell you. We use the ram’s horn as a symbol of akeidas Yitzchok, hoping that the merit of that ultimate sacrifice will tip the scales of justice in our favor.
If a ram’s horn is not available, sheep or goat can be used as well.
Then there is the Yemenite shofar, the long curly one that all the children’s books illustrate as the shofar that will herald the arrival of moshiach. Not only does this shofar look different, but it actually originates from an entirely different animal. the kudu shofar, as it is called, is the horn of a kudu antelope, an animal found almost exclusively in eastern and southern Africa.
Rabbi Albukerk shared a fascinating anecdote that sheds some light on why the Yemenites use this shofar as opposed to the standard ram’s horn shofar. He relates that during a workshop he was delivering, he displayed various different shofars, including the kudu shofar, a favorite among the crowd. A member of the audience asked the question, “Why do the Yemenite jews blow this kind of shofar instead of the one we all blow?”
Never having thought much into it, Rabbi Albukerk shrugged and quipped, “Maybe they didn’t have rams in Yemen.”
After the demonstration he was approached by an elderly gentleman with a dark complexion.
“Sure they had rams in Yemen, my father had a whole herd of sheep when we lived in Yemen. The real reason why we blow the kudu shofar is found in the tefillos you say three times a day.” Sifting through the words of davening in his mind and drawing a blank, R’ Albukerk was significantly intrigued.
The man continued, “We say every day, ‘T’Kah B’Shofar Gadol L’Chairuseinu.’ When Hashem will signal our ultimate geulah, He will blow a Great Shofar. The shofar that we Yemenites blow is a large shofar, to arouse Hashem’s to keep His promise of kibbutz goliyos and redeem us from this long and bitter exile with the Great Shofar of Moshiach.”
The Yemenites are known for their deep yearning for moshiach, a product of their having been in golus for so much longer than all of us. They have been living in Taiman since the time of the first Beis Hamidash, never having returned to Yerushalayim with the rest of Klal Yisroel when the second Beis Hamikdash was built. This heartfelt longing so ingrained in them from thousands of years in golus is expressed every year on Rosh Hashanah when they blow their “shofar gadol”, beseeching Hashem to hasten the time when the true “shofar gadol” will be blown.
There are other types of shofars that frum consumers must beware of. One is made out of a gemsbok horn, another kind of antelope, and is being marketed by some Christian messianic groups as shofars. They look different than other shofars in that they are straight, not curvy like the ram shofar and not curly like the kudu shofar.
One of the deeper symbolic attributes of the shofar lies in its curved shaped. The shofar, a call to do teshuvah, represents an individual’s ability to return to Hashem from a path that was originally leading away from Him. If a person feels he is going in the wrong direction, he can always make a U-turn, switch directions, like the shofar curves away from its original path. A gemsbok shofar, though, symbolizes a straight line, leaving no option for a person who is on the wrong path to turn around and return to his Creator. This and other factors, renders this version of shofars problematic.
Another, even more problematic, animal whose horn has been used to make “shofars” is the cow. A cow’s horn, while aesthetically may make a beautiful looking shofar, is not permissible for shofar blowing because it brings to mind the cheit ha’egel, an incident we are so careful not to recall while we are under the scrupulous magnifying glass of the Yom HaDin.we are looking to arouse Hashem’s Rachamim on this day, done with the ayil not His Din, Chas Veshalom.
Some of these “shofars” are sold online and in other venues, so it is important for the frum consumer to be aware of these imposters and their halachic and hashka c ramifications.
Did you even wonder what the word shofar means?
It comes from the word shfoferes, which means hollow. If it’s unable to be hollowed, it should not be used as shofar. The shofar is made of a sheet of keratin, the same material as your nails and hair, surrounding cartilage covered bone. The core is removed in order to hollow out the shofar. The antlers of deer, moose, elk, caribou, etc. are not made of keratin but are a solid block of ivory and are therefore not “shfoferes”. Any other animal whose horn is solid through and through without the outer sheath of keratin is not considered shofar material.
Shofar also comes from the shoresh, the root of shefer, “to improve”, alluding to its purpose to encourage us to mend our ways.
HOW IT’S MADE
Now that we’ve established where the shofar comes from, the question remains: how does it get from the ram’s head to the ba’al tokeia’s lips?
There is a popular myth that the animals typically shed their horns and grow new ones, leaving horns strewn across the field for any shofar maker to collect. While this is true of animals with antlers, such as deer, caribou, moose, etc., who shed their antlers annually and grow new ones, rams and other horned animal keep their horns for life. Therefore the only way to retrieve the horns in order to produce shofars, is to slaughter the animal first. Taking the horn of a live ram can be considered tza’ar balei chaim.
Unfortunately, it is very hard to find rams that have had a kosher shechitah. The reason for this is that horned animals find their horns to be a very useful tool to use in a fight. They often violently butt each other with their horns in anger, causing the sharp edges of the horns to break their opponents’ ribs. Broken ribs can puncture lungs, and a punctured lung renders an animal unequivocally treif. (Be grateful that Hashem didn’t create ten-year-old boys with horns!) This is why meat from a horned animal, even a kosher animal, will rarely find its way into your cholent.
So where do our shofar horns come from then, if not from your local shlacht hoiz? Interestingly enough, most ram horns come from Hallal butcher shops or Jamaican ones. Americans are not so fond of rams’ meat, or mutton, while Moslems and Jamaicans tend to appreciate its flavor more.
In Eretz Yisroel, where the main shofar industry is located, the ram horns come mostly from Morocco, where they are bought by the kilo with the core still inside. Then, they must be sorted through. Almost half of the horns will be rendered passul before the manufacturing process begins, because they are cracked, rotted, too thin, too small, etc.
Once the selection process is complete, each qualified horn is must have its keratin covering separated from the bone inside. It is drilled so that it’s completely hollow, with no cartilage left inside. The job is not without its hazards. The keratin is extremely tough material, and therefore the drill used is a strong and powerful one. Even the most precise shofar-maker can get hurt while working with the high speed drill, not to mention the countless shofars that get damaged from the slightest digression of the drill.
After the covering is separated from the bone, the horn is examined again to see if it qualifies for making a Shofar. A horn with a crack or puncture penetrating into its inner part is disqualified since it would affect its sound. If the hole or crack is superficial and the puncture does not penetrate all the way to the hollow, the horn is “kosher”. No mending is performed as the horn must be “Hakol Mimino”, i.e. – not having any foreign substance.
The shofar is heated in a kiln and sterilized from any living creatures that may still hide inside it. Like macaroni, it starts off hard but when heated turns soft and pliable. It is then clamped in a vise and as it is cooled it is bent into a letter vav shape. The heating and clamping is repeated a few times until you get the perfect angle. However, it is quite a delicate art. If a horn is bent too much at once, it can crack, which is why it gets heated repeatedly and only bent a bit at a time. On the flipside, if it’s heated too much, it can become brittle and crack. Understandably, this process is not for those with limited patience or low stress tolerance.
A mouthpiece is drilled out according to the various different traditions, which affects the quality of the sound produced by the shofar. Finally, it is polished with a polishing machine until it is smooth and shiny for the sake of beautifying the mitzvah. Because of the intricacies involved in making a shofar, and the so many hidden ways a shofar can become passuled during the process, it is imperative to only buy a shofar with a reliable hechsher, which means that it had the proper hashgachah throughout the process.
SHOFAR IN HISTORY
In ancient times, Shofars were used as a communications device, think the first telephone ever invented. When an announcement had to be made among the Jewish communities, including announcing the new moon or the advent of a yom tov, an announcer would blow the shofar using a special code, much like a Morse code system. Anyone who heard would blow their own shofar, passing along the message, until it spread further along, eventually reaching the most far-flung communities. Even young children were well versed in shofar code, so that if an urgent message was sounded while the parents were occupied, they were able to transmit the announcement further on their own.
We all heard the sounds of the Shofar at Matan Torah and we experienced the lightning and the thunder. The Shofar at Har Sinai was a call to us to become a holy nation, a righteous people, a light unto humanity. Perhaps a reference to that momentous occasion will serve as a call to us to reopen our heart and allow the Torah to penetrate. And perhaps this is the reason why so many unaffiliated Yidden find their heartstrings tugged at the sound of the shofar, without really knowing why. After all, their neshamos were at Har Sinai too and felt that same pull toward Hashem that we all did.
That Neshama is stirring within them as they sit in shul for their annual services, remembering the calling it felt back then, yearning on some level to be reunited with its Source. It’s brought down in seforim that the call of the shofar is a simple call, that is why the shofar can’t easily be played to a variety of tunes. The simple sounds of the shofar sound is the call of a small voice, the cry of the neshama that pines to reconnect with Avinu Shebashamayim, Hashem. The call of the Shofar is the cry from the heart when all the words, the prayers have been said.
When Yehoshua was on the verge of capturing Yericho upon entering Eretz Yisroel, Hashem commanded him to encircle the city and march around it seven times. After the seventh time, the kohanim blew their shofars and the walls of the city collapsed, allowing the Jewish army easy access to the quaking city.
This miracle has remained a symbol of the shofar’s power to break down barriers, both physical and spiritual. While we don’t see events such as this in our everyday life anymore, we can certainly daven that the shofar’s calling should inspire us to crumble the barriers separating us from our Father.
At the coronation ceremony of Jewish kings, the shofar was traditionally blown. (See Melachim I, I:35, 39) Of course, when we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah we are symbolizing the coronation of Hashem as our King, reaffirming our loyalty to Him and accepting His sovereignty over us anew.
The final shofar blow, the one that will bind the past and future together in the culmination of our destiny, is the one that Yeshaya prophesied, “And it shall come to pass on that day, that a great shofar shall be sounded, and they shall come who were lost in the land of Ashur, and the outcasts in the land of Mitzrayim, and shall worship Hashem in the holy mountain at Yerushalayim,” (27:13)
May the small shofars we blow this Rosh Hashanah open our hearts to true teshuvah shelaimah and thus serve as the harbinger for the Great shofar, the shofar of moshiach and the shofar of Kibbutz Galiyos that will sound imminently.