Sounds of the Shofar and Their Meaning

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The High Holy Days would not be complete without the magnificent sounds of the Shofar.  In every Reform congregation I have served, and in most Reform congregations today, we sound the Shofar, even when Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur falls on the Sabbath.*  The notes echo the spiritual meaning and purpose of the Holy Days.

The four notes/musical phrases of the Shofar are: Tekiah– one long sound, Shevarim – three broken notes, Teruah – at least eight short staccato notes, and Tekiah Gedolah – one very long note, usually as long a the Shofar blower has breathe.

Click on the image below to hear the sounds.

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The Meaning of the Notes

We don’t know who composed or decided to include these notes for the High Holy days.  There our different interpretations and responses to these sounds.   For me..

Tekiah, the one long blast, heralds in the New Year.  It’s a time to give thanks for all of our blessings, the good things that we, family and loved ones experience.

Shevarim, the three broken notes, reflect the harder part of the High Holy days, when we take an honest look at ourselves, our flaws, missteps, and different ways we may have hurt others either intentionally or unintentionally.  We feel brokenness, our imperfections.

Teruah, the nine staccato notes.  The can sound trembling or exciting, depending on how they are played.  When played slowly, I feel a trembling, a trembling at the process of looking honestly at my behavior and faults. It takes some courage to confront the parts of ourselves we don’t like, and the courage to ask for forgiveness from others and to forgive ourselves.  On the other hand, when Teruah is play more quickly and with a burst of energy, it feels exciting, an excitement of unburdening my soul, having a chance to begin anew one again.

Tekiah Gedolah, the one very long Tekiah, feels like the sound of relief. I made it through my self-reflection, and look forward to beginning the new year with a clean slate and with a personal commitment to become a better person, to grow emotionally and spiritually over the next twelve months.

What do you feel when you hear the sounds of the Shofar?  We would love to hear from you.

How are Shofars made?

Shofars can be made from the horns of most animals, but the two most commonly used come from domestic rams and from the Kudu from Africa.  The long horn of the Kudu has become very popular, with its wonderful and full resonant sound, but, in general, they are harder to blow than the shorter rams horn.

Anyone can blow the Shofar, but it takes practice and a Shofar that has a mouth piece carved to make it easier to blow.  If you want to purchase your own, I suggest that you go to a store or website that can help you pick the right one for you.

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Domestic Ram
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African Kudu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little known fact about the evolution of the use of the Shofar in Reform Judaism

The Reform movement had its beginnings in Germany.  The first Reform congregations varied in their practices.  Most still used what we know as  Orthodox liturgy.  The service was conducted primarily in Hebrew.  What was radical about the early Reform Movement?   The congregations instituted the use of the organ and choirs in services, and the rabbis sermons were delivered in German, in their native language. This made the services much more accessible and meaningful to many German Jews.

As the early Reform Movement evolved, some congregations experimented with other changes in worship. Some congregations replaced the Shofar with a trumpet or a simulation of a trumpet on the organ.  But the Shofar came back and is here to stay.  There is nothing like the sound of the Shofar to connect us to our ancestors and to the meaning of the High Holy days for people of all generations.

To read more about the history, rituals and customs connected to the High Holy days,  go to this informative article on ReformJudaism.org

 

*Conservative and Orthodox congregations don’t blow the Shofar on the Sabbath, because it would violate their tradition of not allowing the use of instruments on the Sabbath.  Since there isn’t any prohibition of using instruments on the Sabbath in Reform Judaism, most Reform congregations will sound the Shofar on the Sabbath.