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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Christological Uses of the Shofar

Christological Uses of the Shofar

Arthur L. Finkle

Unlike some of the other instruments of the Temple period, the Shofar was uniquely Semitic. The word "Shofar" is derived from the Assyrian shapparu, a wild goat of the ibex family.

Medieval philosophers and mystics have attributed certain moralizing and occult meanings to the sounding of the Shofar. Rabbi Saadia Gaon (10th century) stated that the sound of the Shofar raised awe and emotion in the hearts and souls of the people. Maimonides (11th century) interpreted the sounding as reminding humankind of its duties to God. The mystical Zohar (1285?) holds that the sound of the Shofar awakens the Higher Mercy.

The Shofar is the most-mentioned instrument in the Bible (72 times). It held a special religious and secular role in the life of the Jewish people. Only Priests and Levites were allowed to perform the religious function of blowing the Shofar in the Jewish Commonwealth.

The Shofar had several religious roles recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures , such as the transfer of the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6:15; 1 Chronicles 15:28); the announcement of the New Moon (Psalms 81:4); the beginning of the religious New Year (Numbers 29:1); the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 25:9); the procession preparatory to the Feast of Tabernacles (Mishnah, Hullin 1:7); the Havdalah ceremony marking the end of a festival (Mishnah, Hullin 1:7);and other uses mentioned in Hebrew Writings (Mishnah and Talmud) after the fall of the Temple in 70 Common Era (CE).

Rosh HaShanah
The Shofar is primarily associated with Rosh HaShanah. Indeed, Rosh HaShanah is called Yom T'ru'ah (the day of the Shofar blast).  “And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, ye shall have a holy convocation: ye shall do no manner of servile work; it is a day of blowing the horn unto you.” (Numbers 29:1) [ This is 1 Tishrei, which is Rosh HaShanah, the Hebrew New Year.] See also Leviticus 23:24).

In the Mishnah (book of early Rabbinic laws derived from the Torah), a discussion in Tractate Rosh HaShanah centers around the centrality of the Shofar in the time before the destruction of the Second Temple (70 C.O. Those debating never experienced the ceremony itself but  their grandfathers may have. Indeed, the Shofar was the center of the ceremony, with two silver trumpets playing a lesser role. On other solemn holidays, fasts, and New Moon celebrations, two silver trumpets were featured, with one Shofar playing a lesser role. The Shofar is also associated with the Jubilee Year in which, every fifty years, Jewish Law provided for the release of all slaves, land, and debts. The sound of the Shofar on Yom Kippur proclaimed the Jubilee Year that provided the actual release of fi­nancial encumbrances.

Jubilee Year

The legislation concerning the year of Jubilee is found in Leviticus, xxv, 8-54, and xxvii, 16-24. It contains three main enactments:
·        rest of the soil;
·        reversion of landed property to its original owner, who had been driven by poverty to sell it; and
·        the freeing or manumission of those Israelites who, through poverty or otherwise, had become the slaves of their brethren.

New Moon 

The new moon offering comes before the Rosh HaShanah offering, because that which is brought the most often has precedence (Yad, Temidim 9:2).

The Israelites and the subsequent Jews celebrated a lunar calendar intercalated so that the seasons are correct. New moons were extremely important. Accordingly, the Shofar was sounded upon the occurrence of the new moon. (Numbers 29:11; Rosh HaShanah 1:1). The Talmud tells us that this custom was discontinued when the Samaritans attempted to disrupt this system of sounding from mountain to mountain announcing the new moon.

Scripture further proclaims the sounding on the appearance of the new moon:
And the sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow with the trumpets; and they shall be to you for an ordinance for ever throughout your generations.
Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the LORD your God. See Numbers 10:10.

Finally we have the famous passage in PSALMS 81:3: “Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day.”


In addition, the Shofar had a number of secular roles, such as coronating a king (2 Samuel 5:10; 1 Kings 1:34; 2 Kings 1;13); signaling in times of war to assemble troops, to attack, to pursue, and to proclaim victory (Numbers 10:9, Judges 6:4; Jeremiah 4:5 and Ezekiel 33:3-6).

In post-biblical times, the Shofar was enhanced in its religious use because of the ban on playing musical instruments as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. (It should be noted that a full orchestra played in the Temple, including, perhaps, a primitive organ.) The Shofar continues to announce the new year and the New Moon, to introduce the Sabbath, and to carry out the commandments on Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur. The secular uses have been discarded (although the Shofar was sounded to commemorate the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967) (Judith Kaplan Eisendrath, Heritage of Music, New York: U.A.H.C., 1972, pp. 44-45).

Silver Trumpets and Temple Times

According to rabbinic tradition, “In the Temple on Rosh Hashanah two men blowing silver trumpets stood on either side of the one who blows the Shofar....The Gemara...cites the verse [Psalms 47:5; 81:3; 98:6; 150:3] that requires trumpets along with the Shofar.” We also read that, “A community beset by calamity is under a Rabbinic obligation to...[be] assembled for supplication and prayer, and this is always accomplished with trumpets as it is written (Numbers 10:2): And they shall be yours for summoning the assembly....we sound the trumpets in order to stir the hearts of the people and bring them to repentance by causing them to realize that the disaster resulted because of their sins. In the Temple, Shofars were blown along with the trumpets. The Shofar [blows] short...and the trumpets [blow] long...for the primary commandment is with trumpets.”

In these rabbinic statements, the word “Shofar” is footnoted: “The use of two Shofars, one on each side, is a Rabbinic innovation, to publicize that the special mitzvah of the day is with trumpets (Yom Teruah).” “Trumpets” is footnoted with: “The purpose of sounding an instrument on a fast day is to assemble the people for supplication and prayer....blowing the trumpets is more important, for it is mandated by the Pentateuch, whereas the Shofar accompaniment is derived from the aforementioned verse in Psalms” (Schottenstein Gemara, chap. 3, “Rosh Hashanah,” pp 24b2, notes 21, 24, 27,28, Mesorah Publications, Brooklyn, NY.) Also see The Writings of Flavius Josephus, “Antiquities of the Jews,” Bk. 3, Chap. 12,

History of the Uses of the Trumpet and Shofar Reverse Roles

The marshalling signals are described in Numbers 10, though in war the Shofar seems to have been the signaling instrument par excellence. All these functions, and their calls, seem later to have been appropriated by the Shofars. The encyclopedic Psalm 150, for example, makes no mention of the trumpet. Only lately (in the last century or so B.C.) do trumpets appear to come back into their former favor; but,  due to Greco- Roman influence, their use is primarily military. Indeed the roles of the two instruments seem to have become reversed; the Talmud says 'what was called a trumpet has become a Shofar, and what was called a Shofar has become a trumpet' (Bab. Talmud Shabbat 36a; also Sukkoth 34a; and Rosh HaShanah 36a; Targum version of Hosea 5:8). A
passage in the Mishnah (Gittin 3:6) indicates much the same thing, in saying that a 'trumpet' can be made of animal horn. So the Shofar eventually took on the ceremonial function originally performed by the trumpet.

This confusion of usage makes the task of reconstructing the trumpet and Shofar calls simpler rather than the reverse, for the instruments and their traditional signals may be treated summarily. Since the Shofar calls themselves are the subject of some differences in our own times and were disputed in Talmudic times.

The Shofar had specifications according to the Mishnah. For example, it could not have holes; it could be not be valid if there was a split in the horn. The horn should be from a preferably kosher animal but never a cow (reminding one of the worship of the Golden Calf during Moses’ journey to receive the Ten Commandments for the first time.) It should be sounded from the small end of the horn. Horns could not be placed inside other horns; and there were restrictions as to decorations on the Shofar itself. (See Rosh HaShanah Mishnah and Talmud)

Further it is not clear whether the Shofar was used originally for ritual (as Leviticus 25 suggests) or for war purposes (Joshua 6). We do know, however, that Tractate Shabbat 35b provides that the Shofar sounded six times to prepare for the Sabbath.

Eventually, after the destruction of the second Temple, the Shofar was identified with Rosh HaShanah (the beginning of the religious year, sometimes known as Yom Teruah (Day of the blast) or Chag HaShoforot (the Shofar festival).

In addition, no minor authority, Cyrus Adler, indicated that cornet (a type of trumpet) and Shofar were used interchangeably.

Further Confusion

In “Sound The Shofar - "Ba-Kesse" Psalm 81:4,” Solomon B . Freehof, a a professor at Hebrew Union College, follows the strange history of translation. The preponderance of
traditional (Jewish) commentators agree on one translation of it and all the non-traditional commentators (non-Jewish) unanimously agree on another. One partial exception to this strange lineup is Rashi (11th century commentator), who translates "Ba-Kesse" as ‘here’ and in Proverbs 7:20 as ‘the special day,’ or ‘the appointed day.’ But he, too, in his commentary to Rosh HaShonah 8a-b, agrees with all the traditional
commentators, beginning with the Talmud and the Midrash, Leviticus Rabba 29:6, taking the word to be a synonym of the word "Chodesh" in the first part of the sentence, meaning: The New Moon.

However, the non-traditional commentators of the 19th century, Wellhausen in Proverbs, Duhm in Psalms, and Briggs and Toy in the International Critical Commentary, and our modern English translation, all agree to translate the word "Kesse" not as "New Moon" but as Full Moon.

Accordingly, the evidence seems to be on the side of the traditional commentators who legitimized the appearance of the New Moon in the Seventh month as the Rosh HaShanah (Beginning of the Religious New Year)

Blasts in the Holy Temple

There is much ambiguity between the words “Shofar” and “Hatzorot” in Scriptures and later writings. Indeed, at some point, scholars used Shofar interchangeably.

Indeed, in Tractate Mishnah, Tractate, Arakhin, Chapter Two, Mishnah Three, Section one: There was a minimum of 21 daily trumpet blasts in the Temple and a maximum of 48. The explanation of this section can be found in Sukkah 5:5 (Harvest Festival – 15 days after Rosh HaShanah). The maximum number of blasts was sounded on erev (evening) Shabbat (Sabbath) during Sukkot.

1)              There are never less than twenty-one blasts in the Temple and never more than forty-eight.

More Incidents of Shofar in Scriptures

The Shofar used to proclaim Solemn Assemblies and Special feasts Joel 2:15

Day of Judgment

Day of Judgment (Messianic Age) is proclaimed by the sound of the Shofar. See Is. 27:13

When Ark moved in its almost 40-year journey in the desert, their horns sounded See 2 Sam 6:15; and 1 Chron. 25:28.

Numbers 10:5 When ye blow an alarm, then the camps that lie on the east parts shall go forward.

Numbers 10:6 When ye blow an alarm the second time, then the camps that lie on the south side shall take their journey: they shall blow an alarm for their journeys.
When giving praise, the horns sounded. See Ps 150; 78:6

And, lest we forget, when Moses was at the foot of the mountain on the way to receive the Giving of law, the Shofars sounded. In Exodus, 19:12, instructions are issued to build a boundary around Mt Sinai, and the next pasuk specifies laws

"לֹא תִגַּע בּוֹ יָד כִּי סָקוֹל יִסָּקֵל אוֹ יָרֹה יִיָּרֶה אִם בְּהֵמָה אִם אִישׁ לֹא יִחְיֶה בִּמְשֹׁךְ הַיֹּבֵל הֵמָּה יַעֲלוּ בָהָר - No hand shall touch it, for he shall be stoned or cast down; whether man or beast, he shall not live. When the ram's horn (Shofar) sounds a long, drawn out blast, they may ascend the mountain."
 – See Ex 19:19; 20:18;


Scripture cites that Barak used 400 Shofars to excommunicate Meroz (Judges v. 23; Mishnah Kiddushin 16a., Accessed March 2, 2010-03-02

Excommunication was commonly referred to in the Torah as herem (banishment). To be banished was a terrible thing in ancient days because there was no protection outside your tribe or kingdom. See San 7b. Line 5.

The Talmud alludes to twenty-four offenses punishable by excommunication.
Some examples include:

• uttering the name of God in vain
• luring another person to sin
• refusing to testify before a court at the allotted time
• selling nonkosher meat as kosher meat
• marrying a non-Jewish individual

The excommunication began with the announcement of the blowing of the Shofar in front of an open ark. The community gathered, lamented and the assembly leader would articulate curses derived from the Scriptures. And a public warning forbade anyone associating with the ex-communicant.

Examples of famous excommunications include Maimonides,
Spinoza, The Lubachiter Chisisdim and
Mordecai Kaplan founder of the Reconstructionist movement

Sources: Ariel Scheib,, Accessed March 2, 2010.  Eisenberg, Ronald L. The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions. PA: Jewish Publication Society, 2004; Wigoder, Geoffrey , Ed. The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia. NY: Facts on File; 1992; Kolatch, Alfred J. The Jewish Book of Why/The Second Jewish Book of Why. NY:

In post-biblical times, the Talmud tells us that member so the Jewish Court has a duty to, "Take out the tools of my trade, my cane, strap, Shofar, and sandal. [Rashi: The cane was for beating those who refused to abide by judicial decisions, the strap for biblically-prescribed lashes, the Shofar for excommunication, and the sandal for the ritual of halitza in the case of a levirate marriage.] See Talmud Sanhedrin 7b.


Some communities utilized the announcement of a funeral by th e Shofar,  Indeed,
it was customary in some localities to blow the Shofar to announce a death in the community and to summon the citizens to attend the funeral (Moed Katan 27b)

War Horn
So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. Joshua 6:20
Significant Events

When Jonathan defeated the Philistines. See   1 Samuel 13:3
“It came about when he had arrived, that he blew the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel went down with him from the hill country, and he was in front of them.” See Judges 3:27

So the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon; and he blew a trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called together to follow him. See Judges 6:34

Signal of War

Numbers 10:9 And if ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you, then ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the LORD your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies.


A second a procession of the people led by the High Priest carried palm branches and the other fragrant branches processed, singing the Hallel Psalms 113-118, from the Temple through the Water Gate to the pool of Siloam. At the pool of Siloam the High Priest filled a golden pitcher with the water from the pool [Mishnah: Sukkah, 4:9B]; then the procession returned to the Temple, the Shofar, ram’s horn trumpet, announcing their arrival.  The Mishnah records that no fewer than 21 (3 x 7) trumpet blasts on the Shofar we given in a liturgical service.  There were three blasts at the opening of the Temple gates at 9AM, nine (3 + 3+3) at the offering of the Tamid morning sacrifice and nine more at the Tamid evening sacrifice.  On the feast days when additional offerings were made, nine additional Shofar blasts were given and on the eve of the Sabbath 6 (3: 3) more [Mishnah: Sukkah 5:5]. 


The Shofar was blown at the temple to begin the Sabbath each week. There was within the temple an inscription on the lintel of the wall at the top of the Temple that said, "To the house of the blowing of the trumpet (Shofar)".    Each Sabbath 2 men with silver trumpets and a man with a Shofar made three trumpet blasts twice during the day.  On Rosh haShanah, this was different.  The Shofar is the primary trumpet. According to Leviticus 23:24 and Numbers 29, Rosh HaShanah is the day of the blowing of the trumpets.  The original name is Yom (Day) Teruah (The staccato sound of the horn, which also means  “Shout”).  According to the Mishnah (Rosh HaShanah 16a, 3:3), the trumpet used for this purpose is the ram's horn, not trumpets made of metal as in Numbers 10. On Rosh HaShanah, a Shofar delivers the first blast, a silver trumpet the second, and then the Shofar the third.

Magical Symbolism

Apart from its liturgical uses the Shofar was closely connected with magical symbolism. Its blast destroyed the walls of Jericho, and in the Dead Sea scrolls we read that during battles Shofar blowers sounded a powerful war cry to instill fear into the hearts of the enemy while priests blew the six trumpets of killing. Historically the Shofar has also served in a number of popular usages: it was sounded during rites to bring rain, in the event of local disasters, and so on. In our times its liturgical use is restricted to New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
If the Shofar and its tones, like the Law of Moses, must be preserved unaltered, this would seem to prevent its "improvement" to become a true musical instrument to sound concurrent with worship. After the destruction of the Temple the Shofar was permitted specificially because it was not a musical instrument.

"Only in Ps 150:3 is it (shophar) mentioned with most of the other really musical instruments. Hence, we must conclude that the function of the shophar was to make noise--be it of earthly or of eschatological character--but not to make music. After the destruction of the temple and the general banishment of all instrumental music, the shophar alone survived, just because it was not a musical instrument."(International Dictionary of the Bible, p. 473, Abingdon).

  • Alfred Edersheim, The Temple and Its Ministry and Services at the Time of Jesus Christ (London, 1874); Gregal Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI 1997, Reprint Of Original 1874.
For a full references to the Shofar, see Appendisx on page

"The Shofar is the ritual instrument of the ancient and modern Hebrews, the only Hebrew cultural instrument to have survived until now. Of martial origin, the Shofar was a priestly instrument in Biblical times. According to the Mishna, two different forms of Shofar were used in the Temple: one made of ibex horn, its bell ornamented with gold, was sounded at New Year and during the Yovel Days; one made of ram's horn, with silver ornamentation, was sounded on fast days.

The Shofar could be used to call the assembly (Qahal or Synagogue) in the wilderness. However, the ALARM could not be blown which included "making a joyful noise before the Lord." This was not musical worship but the universal warrior's cry that their god was superior.

Shofar as Music?

We learn from the Mishna, the Talmud and later commentaries, that the Rabbi’s proscribed improvements or modifications that might affect the tone. The ban included no gold-plating of its interior, no plugging of holes, no alteration of its length (the minimum permissible length of a ritually approved horn was 3 handbreadths).

  • So, of all the instruments used in the Temple (there was Temple Orchestra), only the Shofar remains extent. See Alfred Edersheim, The Temple and Its Ministry and Services at the Time of Jesus Christ (London, 1874); Gregal Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI 1997, Reprint Of Original 1874.
Today’s Shofar Sounder carries on an ancient Tradition. The Shofar sounder stands in the footsteps of the holy priests, the great warriors, the talmudic sages, the great edi­tors, and the great philosophers. Indeed, the Shofar represents the mystery of the survival of the Jewish people. And the nascent herald of the Messianic Age.

Christian Usage

A proselytizing South African church that has not only taken Shofar as their name, but among other things says the instrument is used to mobilize “God’s army.” Another website full of pictures and videos of men and women blowing Shofars use the shofar to “announce” their ideologies from gay marriage to abortion. From the buzz words on most of these websites they all appeared to be part of the Evangelical movement (or “born again” Christians).

My terribly unscientific survey of my experts involved calling my mom (a lay minister in the Lutheran church) and my sister, who has done missionary work abroad and has close ties to the Evangelical church. Although my mom consulted with a few of her pastor friends, none were aware of any liturgical use of the shofar in Christian worship. My sister however put me in touch with her Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) Worship Director. We had a delightful chat, and he offered a little more insight into why some Christians seem to like to blow the shofar. Although he also confirmed that he was unaware of a regular use of the shofar in any standard Christian worship, he in fact had once used a shofar blast for dramatic purposes at the start of a special musical piece they were performing at his church. He also said that three of his congregants owned and played the shofar.

The New Testament cites the Shofar used as the Shofar (Trumpet) of Righteousness blown 1 Corinthians 15:52. Indeed, it heralds the “end-Times.”  Rev. 11. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and 1 Corinthians 15:72. This is the trumpet to herald the return of the Messiah.

Jim Barbarossa, The Ministry of the Shofar: Blow the Trumpet in Zion, Action Publications, Keiser, OR, 2000

There are some who use the shofar As a connection to Christianity’s Jewish roots and as a way of spiritual awakening which could lead to spiritual healing as well as physical healing.  Indeed, Shofar Ministries
( commits to the Shofar’s Judaic roots into the Christian. Pastor Barbarrossa preaches that the Shofar is a Prayer Sound reaching the heavens. .

My Experience

My own esxper3einces have taken me to Christian ceremonies in which the celebrants asked me to sound the Shofar. Indeed, at the Synod of the Trenton (N.J.) Diocese in 1988, the Shofar announced the commencement of the synod.

A Pentecostal conference of 50+ churches in Philadelphia and Africa also requested my services to begin their conference for several years.

In truth, there might be some spiritual, therapeutic value on the sound of the Shofar.

If anyone wants to learn more about this ancient instrument, please get in touch with me at

Appendix - Scriptural References to Trumpet, Shofar and Ram's horn
Scriptures containing "TRUMPET"

Exodus 19:13
1 Kings 1:39
Ezekiel 33:4

Exodus 19:16
1 Kings 1:41
Ezekiel 33:5

Exodus 19:19
Nehemiah 4:18
Ezekiel 33:6

Exodus 20:18
Nehemiah 4:20
Hosea 5:8

Leviticus 25:9
Job 39:24
Hosea 8:1

Numbers 10:4
Psalm 47:5
Joel 2:1

Psalm 81:3
Joel 2:15

Joshua 6:20
Psalm 150:3
Amos 2:2

Judges 3:27
Isaiah 18:3
Amos 3:6

Judges 6:34
Isaiah 27:13
Zephaniah 1:16

Isaiah 58:1

Judges 7:18
Jeremiah 4:5
Matthew 6:2

Samuel 13:3
Jeremiah 4:19
Matthew 24:31

Samuel 2:28
Jeremiah 4:21
1 Corinthians 14:8

Samuel 6:15
Jeremiah 6:1
I Corinthians 15:52

Samuel 15:10
Jeremiah 6:17
Hebrews 12:19

Samuel 18:16
Jeremiah 42:14
Revelation 1:10

Samuel 20:1
Jeremiah 51:27
Revelation 45:1

Samuel 20:22
Ezekiel 7:14
Revelation 8:13

Kings 1:34
Ezekiel 33:3
Revelation 9:14


Lev 23:24
Joshua 6:8
Judges 7:22

Numbers 10:2
Joshua 6:9
2 Kings 9:13

Numbers 10:8
Joshua 6:13
2 Kings 11:14

Numbers 10:9
Joshua 6:16
2 Kings 12:13

Numbers 10:10
Joshua 6:20
1 Chronicles 13:8

Numbers 29:1
Judges 7:8
1 Chronicles 15:24

Numbers 31:6
Judges 7:18
1 Chronicles 15:28

2 Chronicles 5:13
2 Chronicles 23:13
Job 39:25

2 Chronicles 7:6
2 Chronicles 29:26
Psalm 98:6

2 Chronicles 13:12
2 Chronicles 29:27
Revelation 8:2

2 Chronicles 13:14
Ezra 3:10
Revelation 8:6

2 Chronicles 15:14
Nehemiah 12:35

Scriptures containing 'RAM'S HORN"

Joshua 6:4
Joshua 6:6
Joshua 6:13

Joshua 6:5
Joshua 6:8

Scriptures containing "CORONET or CORONETS"

2 Samuel 6:5
Psalm 98:6
Daniel 3:10

1 Chronicles 15:28
Daniel 3:5
Daniel 3:15

2Chronicles 15:14
Daniel 3:7
Hosea 5:8

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