A central mitzvah (commandment) of Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the shofar. The sound of the shofar, a ram's horn that is played like a trumpet, is a defining symbol of the festival and evokes strong memories for many people.

Shofar in the Torah

Read the texts below and answer the questions that follow.

(כד) דַּבֵּ֛ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר בַּחֹ֨דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֜י בְּאֶחָ֣ד לַחֹ֗דֶשׁ יִהְיֶ֤ה לָכֶם֙ שַׁבָּת֔וֹן זִכְר֥וֹן תְּרוּעָ֖ה מִקְרָא־קֹֽדֶשׁ׃

(24) Speak to the Israelite people thus: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a remembrance of the shofar blast on a holy occasion

The verse from Leviticus commands the observance of Rosh Hashanah, which is commemorated by blowing the shofar.

  1. Two additional names for Rosh Hashanah can be found in this verse. Look at the verse in Hebrew. What two words are used in names for the festival?
  2. What is the connection between memory and the sound of the shofar? What does the sound of the shofar remind you of?

Shofar in the Talmud

The following text is from the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashanah.

Read the text and answer the questions below.

אמר רבי אבהו למה תוקעין בשופר של איל אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא תקעו לפני בשופר של איל כדי שאזכור לכם עקידת יצחק בן אברהם ומעלה אני עליכם כאילו עקדתם עצמכם לפני
Similarly, Rabbi Abbahu said: Why does one sound a blast with a shofar made from a ram’s horn on Rosh HaShana? The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: Sound a blast before Me with a shofar made from a ram’s horn, so that I will remember for you the binding of Isaac, son of Abraham, in whose stead a ram was sacrificed, and I will ascribe it to you as if you had bound yourselves before Me.
  1. What question is Rabbi Abbahu asking?
  2. According to this text, what will the shofar remind God?
  3. Once He is reminded, what will happen?
  4. For whose benefit do you think we blow the shofar? For us? For God? For both? Explain your answer.

Below are three primary sources from the collection of the National Library of Israel. Answer the questions following each picture.

Shana Tova, Germany, 1904, National Library of Israel

1. Do you think that this is good illustration for a Shana Tova card?

Explain your answer.

2. Compare the illustration to the shofar blowing service at your synagogue.

What is the same?

What is different?

Large Shofar, 1994, National Library of Israel

  1. Compared to the shofar depicted in the Shana Tova card above, what is special about this shofar?
  2. The man holding the shofar is the craftsman who turned the ram's horn into a shofar. What emotion do you think he is feeling as he holds the shofar up to be photographed?
  3. What type of sound do you think this type of shofar makes?

Shofar Blowing in the IDF, 1968, National Library of Israel

Partial translation of article:

The Shofar Sounds of those Protecting the Security of Israel

The IDF Chief Rabbi, Major General Rabbi Shlomo Goren, clarifies religious laws (halakhot) regarding shofar blowing and prayers which will take place in outposts in the Golan Heights, the Jordan Valley, the Suez and the Gulf of Solomon. “Your prayers, while guarding Israel, will rise up to the One who hears the teruah of His people Israel with mercy. “ - said the Rabbi in his meeting with the soldiers who are on the front lines facing the enemy’s cannons.

  1. Why types of questions might active-duty soldiers have about fulfilling the mitzvah of shofar
  2. Why might a soldier on guard duty not be able to hear the shofar?
  3. What comforting words does Rabbi Goren say about soldiers who are unable to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah? Do you agree with Rabbi Goren?

Wrapping it all up!

How do you feel when you hear the shofar? Do the sounds of the shofar connect you to Rosh Hashanah or teshuva (repentance)? What do you think of when you hear the shofar?