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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Qualifications for a Shofar Sounder (Ba'al T'kiyka)

Qualifications for a Shofar Sounder (Ba'al T'kiyka)
Arthur L. Finkle
"The one who blows the shofar on Rosh ha-Shanah...should likewise be learned in the Torah and shall be God-fearing, the best man available. However, every Jew is eligible for any sacred office, pro­viding he is acceptable to the congregation. If, however, he sees that his choice will cause dissension, he should withdraw his candidacy, even if the improper person will be chosen"
(Shulhan Arukh 3:72). The Ba'al T'kiyah shall abstain from anything that may cause ritual contamination for three days before Rosh ha-Shanah (Shulhan Arukh 3:73).

When I train Shofar Sounders, I make sure that they all participate in the service and that no one is highlighted at the expense of another. I have also declined invitations to sound the shofar at other congregations if I know that I will displace another sounder. The democracy of each congregation is impor­tant. And it only enhances a sense of participation of as many people as possible can participate in a service.
Finally, the Ba'al T'kiyah shall recite the benedictions before the shofar ceremony.

Arthur L. Finkle, Easy Guide to Shofar Sounding, Torah Aura, 2002

Moreover, the Talmud indicates that a woman can sound the Shofar but only for other women because  this positive mitzvah (obligation) is time bound for which women are exempt.. Mishnah Berurah 588:6.

To which I would now add that, in the preponderance of non-Orthodox synagogues, women have achieved ritual equality as men. Accordingly, there is no prohibition for a man to sound the Shofar in these synagogues.

Arthur L. Finkle

The general rule is that women are exempt from mitzvahs which are time-dependant.1 This would include the Mitzvah of hearing the Shofar -- which has a very specific time designation; it must be fulfilled during the daytime hours of Rosh Hashanah.
Nevertheless, there are certain time-contingent mitzvahs which women have accepted upon themselves to observe. Hearing the sound of the shofar is one of these. Indeed, there are Halachic authorities which maintain that because it has become a universally accepted custom for women to hear the shofar, today it is has become mandatory -- as is the case with any custom which has become accepted practice. 
·         1. See,2512/Which-mitzvahs-are-women-obligated-to-fulfill.html

By Rebecca Honig Friedman
One of the highlights of the High Holy Days is the blowing of the shofar, and the best shofar-blowing I ever heard was by a woman. Her tekiah gedolah was — the long blast sounded at the end of each shofar-blowing sequence on Rosh Hashanah and at the very end of the Neilah service on Yom Kippur — was sublime. She held the note longer than anyone else I’ve ever heard, until her face turned so red I was sure a blood vessel would burst, or worse.
But it wasn’t in shul that I heard this impressive, lung-busting performance. Rather, it was during an interview for The Jewish Channel’s “Holy Dazed” program, where various Jewish personalities share their thoughts, both thoughtful and humorous, about the Jewish holidays. And the woman in question was no rabbi or cantor but the owner of Davida’s Aprons, a purveyor of kitschy, Jewish-themed gifts. She just happened to blow a damn good shofar, and she said she did so every year at her synagogue, where congregants were invited to blow their own shofar along with the official “shofarist” (a term coined by Tablet’s Jesse Oxfeld in another episode of “Holy Dazed”).
As I was recalling Davida’s shofar prowess, I remembered an anecdote shared by the Reform movement’s Rabbi David Ellenson about how as a young assistant rabbi assigned to blow the shofar for High Holiday services, he ran out of steam and was saved by his fellow assistant rabbi, Sally Priesand, the first woman ever ordained as a rabbi. That story made me realize that, having gone to Orthodox synagogues my whole life, I have never heard a woman blow the shofar in shul. With all the strides that Orthodox women have made in synagogue and ritual life — reading Torah, leading services (albeit for women only), and even serving in rabbinic positions — shofar-blowing is one ritual role that Orthodox women, to my knowledge, have yet to go after.
Is that because women blowing shofar is halachically problematic, I wondered, or is this simply a case of tradition left unchallenged? I put the question to a halachic authority I thought would be sympathetic to my cause, Mahara”t Sara Hurwitz of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. She filled me in: “Women do not have the same obligation as men to blow shofar. They cannot blow on behalf of men. But a woman can blow for other women.”
To expound on that, because shofar-blowing is a time-bound mitzvah, women, who are exempt from most time-bound mitzvot, are exempt from blowing or hearing the shofar. Since they’re not obligated in the mitzvah, they cannot fulfill the mitzvah for those who are, namely, men. But there is no problem if a woman wants to blow the shofar for other women, who are also not obligated in the mitzvah. In fact, when I asked another rabbi for a second opinion (always good practice in halachic-decision and medical-prognosis seeking), Rabbi Joshua Yuter of the Stanton Street Shul noted that the Talmudic commentator “Machzor Vitry (written around 1105) #316 writes explicitly that if women want to blow shofar, we do not prevent them.”
How progressive of him.
So, according to Orthodox halacha, for a woman to blow the shofar in an Orthodox shul, she would have to do it in a special women’s-only service, similar to what is done in many shuls on Simchat Torah when women read from the Torah. But on the High Holidays, when congregational unity is a theme of sorts, I wonder if a breakaway women’s minyan just for the sake of shofar-blowing is the best idea. And then, as Rabbi Yuter noted, there is the further-divisive question of whether a woman blowing shofar for other women should say the requisite blessing, containing the words “asher kiddishanu bemitzvotav v’tzivanu” [who sanctified us with the commandments that he commanded us], since she is not technically commanded in this particular mitzvah.
And as I learned from Wikipedia, woman aren’t the only ones who can only blow the shofar for each other: “A hermaphrodite may make his shofar sounding serve for other hermaphrodites.”
I’m not sure what to make of that except that the rabbis really do seem to have thought of everything, and that there is a consistency in their thinking, at least where women and hermaphrodites are concerned.
So my next question is, can a woman blow shofar for hermaphrodites, and can a hermaphrodite blow the shofar for women? And what would be the status of a hermaphrodite vis à vis participating in a women’s minyan?
Anyone who can give me a satisfying answer to these questions gets a free shofar.
Larry Lennhoff

Oct 14, 2009

Larry Lennhoff Wed. Oct 14, 2009

 All who are obligated to hear the shofar can blow the shofar for others to fulfil their obligation. A child (meaning under the age of bar mitzvah), a mentally incompetent person and women are exempt from the Torah's obligation of hearing the shofar. A child is exempt since he has not reached the age of mitzvahs, nevertheless, parents bring children to hear the shofar in order to educate them in this important mitzvah. A mentally incompetent is not required to hear the shofar, since the Torah does not obligate someone who is severely lacking in intelligence. A women is relieved of her obligations to hear the shofar since it is a mitzvah that is time orientented. Even so, most (if not all) woman have the custom to hear the shofar, just like a man. However a woman does not blow the shofar for a man, since she is not obligated by the Torah to hear it and a man is.
   The person who blows the shofar must have in mind that everyone who hears it will fulfil their obligation to hear it. Therefore, we do not practice blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah; perhaps someone will hear the practice blast and think that by hearing those sounds he has fulfilled his obligation.

Qualifications for Sounding the Shofar

The Shulchan Aruch begins its exploration of fitness by citing excluding classes of people:
  1. Whoever is not obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of sounding the shofar should not substitute his efforts for another whose duty it is to perform a mitzvah. For example, the Baal Tekiah sounds a shofar for a synagogue in Chelm cannot perform he same mitzvah when another in the town of Lodz can fulfill the mitzvah.
  2. The mitzvah is not valid for a deaf mute (cannot hear), moron (lacks the capacity) and a child (lacks the adult status).
  3. Women are exempt because the mitzvah is time bound.
  4. A hermaphrodite may make his shofar sounding serve for other hermaphrodites.
  5. Women should not be Baal Tekia’s because they would be substituting her efforts for another whose duty it is to perform a mitzvah. However, if a female Baal Tekiya has already intoned the shofar for other women, it is valid. However, women should not make a blessing.
  6. Only a freeman (not even a slave who will become free in the next month) can be a Baal Tekiya. MB 590:1–5
Being a Baal Tekiya (Shofar Sounder) is an honor.
"The one who blows the shofar on Rosh Hashanah . . . should likewise be learned in the Torah and shall be God-fearing; the best man available. Nevertheless, every Jew is eligible for any sacred office, providing he is acceptable to the congregation. If, however, he sees that his choice will cause disruption, he should withdraw his candidacy, even if the improper person will be chosen” See Shulchan Aruch 3:72.
Moreover, the Baal Tekiya shall abstain from anything that may cause ritual contamination for three days prior to Rosh Hashanah. See Shulchan Aruch 3:73
A Baal Tekiya can sound the shofar for shut-ins and home-bound women who have had baby.
If a blind blower was dismissed, but the community did not find a blower as proficient, he should be appointed as community blower. The touchstone is proficiency not disability.

The laws of the tumtum (apparently sexless person) and the androgynous(hermaphrodite) are dealt with by Rabbi Dr. Cohen in article republished on the web at
While dissenting opinions exists, with regards to true hermaphrodites the majority opinion seems to be we choose the more restrictive option with respect to torah law. (Torah law as opposed to rabbinic legislation).
Thus IMVHO a hermaphrodite would be obligated to hear shofar, but could not blow it for men, since that is the strict ruling in each direction. To unpack it a little, since the obligation to hear the shofar is only for men, and the hermaphrodite might be a man we rule strictly and say he/she is obligated. But since they might be a woman, we rule strictly and say they can't relieve others of their obligation.
It seems to me that a hermaphrodite could blow the shofar for a group of women. If he/she is a man, then obviously they can do so. Since we say that woman can blow shofar for other women, that if the hermaphrodite counts as a woman then they can also fulfill the mitzvah for [other] women. The only way this logic fails is if they constitute a category of their own, and this does not appear to be the majority opinion.
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