Can you use a stolen shofar on Rosh Hashana?

Can a stolen shofar be used to fulfill the mitzvah on Rosh Hashana?

Obviously a stolen shofer should not be used on Rosh Hashana, based on the established Talmudic dictum, אין מצוה הבאה בעבירה, i.e. we do not carry out a mitzvah if doing so would involve committing a transgression. However, if someone did indeed steal a shofar and use it to fulfill the mitzvah, he does fulfill the obligation.

The reason is because technically speaking, the mitzvah is actually not to blow the shofar, but to hear the sound of the shofar blown. What we really need is the sound produced by the shofar, not the shofar itself, and there is no such thing as stealing sound.

Can you use a borrowed shofar or do you have to be the owner? To do the mitzvah of taking hold of the Four Species on Sukkot, you must be the owner of the Four Species, since the verse which prescribes the mitzvah includes the word לכם (Vayikra 23:40), which comes to teach us that the Four Species must actually belong to you.

Likewise regarding shofar we find the word לכם (Bamidbar 29:1). However, regarding the mitzvah of shofar, the verse is a bit different.

יום תרועה יהיה לכם

Here we are told that there is to be a day of תרועה, of shofar blasts. Had it said ולקחתם לכם שופר — and take for yourselves a shofar — then we would understand that the shofar must belong to us. Since the shofar does not have to be yours, even if you borrow it without permission you can fulfill the mitzvah, since we have a rule that it is to one’s advantage to allow another person to perform a mitzvah with his possessions.

Shofar Halacha: Rabbinical Prohibitions

Although blowing the shofar is prescribed by Torah law, under certain circumstances Rabbinical decrees can override it and actual prohibit blowing the shofar entirely. The Sages determined that one must forgo a positive Torah commandment if the alternative would be to transgress any Rabbinical prohibition. Therefore if a shofar was buried under a pile of rocks or another type of objective that is forbidden to move on Yom Tov, or if was resting on a tree branch or beyond the 2,000 cubits we are allowed to walk or on the opposite side of a river, we simply cannot observe the mitzvah.

Although a Jew is not permitted to ask a non-Jew to do a Torah prohibition for him on Yom Tov, it is permitted to ask him to Rabbinical prohibition where a mitzvah is involved. Thus the Mishnah Berurah (586, 21 s.v. 86), citing the Chayei Adam (140, 19), writes that if a shofar most be brought across a river by boat, it would be permitted to have a non-Jew transport it, if no other option is available.

The Mishnah Berurah adds that even if you had a shofar, but not a ram’s horn shofar, it would be permitted to have a non-Jew bring a ram’s horn shofar, which is considered the preferred way to fulfill the mitzvah.

Gideon’s Might, Military Prowess and Shofar

But the spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon; and he blew a shofar; and Abiezer was gathered together after him. Judges 6:34

At first glance this verse seems to merely record how Gideon called up the troops, using the shofar like a bugle or another type of horn. But note that the summons to battle is juxtaposed with a profound spiritual change in Gideon. The classical commentators explain that Gideon was “enclothed” with a spirit of might and courage from G-d. Then he blows the shofar.

Note that he used the shofar to summon Aviezer, but to summon troops from elsewhere he sends messengers. The Aviezer clan was devoted, and apparently joined him instinctively upon hearing the call of the shofar.

The shofar appears again in Chapter 7. After Gideon pares down his troops to an elite fighting force of 300 shock troops, he equips each soldier with a shofar. These shofars were not intended merely as a tactical combat tool, but to gain spiritual advantage as well. As Rashi notes (Judges 7:13), they carried shofars and torches as reminders of the merit of the Giving of the Torah.

In From Dan to Megiddo, Rabbi Benjamin Fleischer writes that the Sages placed Gideon on a level with Moses and Samuel, and as a general, alongside Joshua and Barak. His brilliant tactic of using shofars and torches to confound the enemy transformed his soldiers “as if by magic, suddenly, in a super-natural manner into heroes and fearless fighters, revived by a spirit of celestial fire and zeal, with an awakening of higher national consciousness of their pure and Divine faith.”

From a practical military perspective, Gideon’s battle plan was based on a knowledge of the composition of the enormous Midian army, with its fierce cavalry 150,000 strong. He took into consideration the fact that the barbarian army was a heterogeneous amalgamations of various races and nations, with no unifed command and no uniformity of discipline or military conduct. Likewise they were unaquainted with the lingual customs of the various tribes and divisions that constituted the army.

When confronted by Israel’s surprise attack in the middle of the night, breaking into the center of the camp, general panic ensued. As their military order vanished, they fled like a terrified mob, trampling their own men and scattering in all directions.

Why is the shofar blown twice?

The Gemara asks why the shofar is blown twice: first, after the Torah reading and then a second time, divided into three sets, during Mussaf. The Gemara then answers, “to confound the Satan.”

The Ran explains that here the Satan refers to Yetzer Hara, and “to confound the Satan” means to subdue or vanquish the Yetzer Hara.

The Tur presents two ways to understand the dynamics at work here: 1) To confound the Satan right away during the initial set of shofar blasts so that it is incapable of lodging claims during Mussaf. 2) To overwhelm the Satan during the initial shofar blowing, leaving the Satan reeling during the latter shofar blasts.

The Talmud Yerushalmi cites two verses: “He will swallow up death for ever…” (Yeshayahu 25:8) and “And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great horn shall be blown; and they shall come that were lost in the land of Assyria, and they that were dispersed in the land of Egypt; and they shall worship the LORD in the holy mountain at Jerusalem” (Yeshayahu 27:13).

The Gemara then proceeds to present the following interpretation: “When [the Satan/Yetzer Hara] hears the first sounding of the shofar it is startled, but unfazed, saying, ‘Perhaps the time for the Great Shofar has arrived.’ [But] when [it] hears the second time it says, ‘Certainly the time has arrived’ and it becomes confounded and is no longer free to serve as Prosecutor.”

The Smag explains that the Satan will not conclude that the time for the Great Shofar has arrived. However, it does serve as a reminder that when the time comes the Great Shofar will decimate him, therefore it is akin to a person who sees a dead person and therefore starts to contemplate his own end.

What are the central shofar sounds?

Although it seems like the main mitzvah of hearing the shofar is the first set of 30 shofar blasts sounded in succession after the Shofar Blessing is recited, in fact the mitzvah is really to hear the shofar integrated with the Mussaf for Rosh Hashanah, therefore the central shofar blowing is actually the three breaks during Mussaf when the shofar is sounded.

This point is explained clearly in the Chayei Adam (142):

עיקר התקיעות הוא לתקוע על סדר הברכות כחוזר ה”ץ תפילת המוספים שתוקעים למלכיות ולזכרונות ולופרות ומדינא הוא לתקוע על כל ברכה תר”ת ולפי הספק שנסתפקו בתרועה היה לנו לתקוע על כל ברכה תר”ת פ”א ותש”ת פ”א ותר”ת פ”א וכן נוהגין במקצת מקומות אך כיון תקנו חז”ל לתקוע קודם מוסף והם נקראין תקיעות דמיושב ר”ל שעדיין הקהל יובין ולאעומדין בתפילה והטעם שתקנו כן לערבב השטן שלא יקטרג בתפילת המוספין ובתקיעותיהן

If we are required to hear Tekiah-Teruah-Tekiah repeated three times, it would seem that at each of these junctures we should hear all three possible variations, i.e. the same 30 sounds repeated three times during Mussaf — in conjunction with Malchuyos, Zichronos and Shofaros.

Yet the prevailing custom is to play only a single variation of Tekiah-Teruah-Tekiah each time. Why is that considered good enough?

Confounding Satan

First we have to understand the reason for the initial 30 shofar sounds, known as Tekios D’Meyushav. This custom is intended to confound Satan so that he cannot act as  a Prosecutor during Mussaf and the Mussaf shofar blasts. For Satan is alarmed by the sound of the shofar, which is a reminder of the Great Shofar to be heard in the future Redemption.

And it shall comes to pass on that day that  a Great Shofar shall be blown, nd they shall come who were lost in the land of Ashur, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord on the holy mountain of Jerusalem. (Yeshayahu 27:13)

Upon hearing the Great Shofar the Satan, i.e. death and the Evil Inclination, will be eradicated from the face of the Earth.

And He will destroy on this mountain, the covering that is cast over all the people, and the veil that is spread over all the nations. He iwll destroy death forever and the Lord G-d ill wipe away tears from all faces… (Yeshayahua 25:8).

Since in essence the congregation fulfills the mitzvah through those initial 30 blasts, Chazal did not want to impose an unnecessary burden on the congregation by requiring them to be played another three times.

Andy why was the “Shevarim-Teruah” variation chosen? Because in a way it is the safest bet. If the true Teruah is “Shevarim” you hear it; if the true Teruah is what we refer today as Teruah, you hear it. The only problem is that perhaps you are hearing an extra note, rather than the three notes in succession. But this is considered a minor enough concern that we avoid imposing a aburden on the congregation.

Let the shofar do the talking

There are a number of situations in which halacha requires us to refrain entirely from talking. For example, you cannot speak between laying the tefillin Shel Rosh and the tefillin Shel Yad. In fact, the Gemara tells us that if someone does speak then, he is unfit to serve as a combat soldier on the battlefield! Likewise, according to some opinions, you cannot speak while checking for chametz on the night before Pesach (בדיקת חמץ).

Another no-talking time is from the time the first set of tekios (shofar blasts) is sounded, until the last set of tekios during Mussaf, a period totalling an hour or two, or even more.

After reciting a brachah on a mitzvah, you must immediately engage in the mitzvah. On Rosh Hashana there are two main sets of shofar sounds referred to in the Gemara as תקיעות דמיושב and תקיעות דמיועמד. The terms imply that the first set is done sitting, but in fact today all of the shofar blowing is done with both the shofar blower and the congregation standing.

When do we recite the brachah on the mitzvah of hearing the shofar? Before the Tekos D’Meyushav, before the Tekios D’Meyumad or both? The halacha is to recite the brachah before, but in order to have the brachah apply to the latter tekos as well, we refrain from talking, or any other distraction, until the Tekios D’Meyumad are complete, toward the end of the Mussaf repitition.

The Shulchan Aruch states this halacha explicitly (O.C. 592, 3). The Rif asks whether someone who does speak should then recite the brachah a second time before the Tekios D’Meyumad. He says that prominent rabbanim reprimanded those who spoke, but held that the brachah should not be repeated before the latter tekios.

The Ran then launches an extended inquiry, saying that the case of tefilin differs, since the transgression is to cause an additional blessing to be recited. In the case of the shofar blowing, there is no additional brachah involved. And we do not see, continues the Ran, that once one begins a mitzvah he cannot speak until it is complete. As an example he cites Bedikas Chametz. He disagrees with the poskim who forbid speaking throughout Bedikas Chametz, saying if that were true then after reciting HaMotzi we would be forbidden from speaking throughout the meal, and after Leishev B’sukkah we would be forbidden from speaking throughout the time we do the mitzvah of eating, drinking, sleeping and relaxing in the sukkah.

The case of speaking after the first set of shofar blasts would appear to be less problematic than speaking during Bedikas Chametz since after the first set of shofar sounds we have already fulfilled the mitzvah in principle.

Despite the argument he presents, the Ran concludes that in deference to the opinion of the Reish Mesivta cited in the Gemara, one should still refrain from speaking.

Why the shofar is blown on Rosh Hashana

The Torah does not explicitly mention the shofar in conjunction with Rosh Hashana. The verse only tells us

יום תרועה יהיה לכם

The key word here is teruah. However, a verse elsewhere tells us that the proclamation of the Jubilee Year is accomplished with a “shofar teruah.” Therefore the Talmudic Sages extrapolated that both of the teruah soundings in the seventh monthof the yar (i.e. Tishrei) are done with a shofar (Rosh Hashana 33b).

Ram’s Horn Shofar

The Rambam writes that a shofar must be a bent ram’s horn. The Raavad and other Rishonim take issue with him, arguing that although a ram’s horn shofar may be ideal, other types of shofars may also be used, with the exception of a cow horn.

In the Beis Hamidkash (the Holy Temple) the shofar player was flanked by two trumpet players, as described in the verse (Tehillim 98:6):

בחצוצרות וקול שופר הריעו לפני המלך ה

Apparently this applied elsewhere in Jerusalem, but not in the rest of the Land of Israel.

A shofar that has been used for idolatrous purposes should not be used, but if it was blown on Rosh Hashana, those who heard it did fulfill the mitzvah. Likewise, a stolen shofar should not be used, but if it was, then the mitzvah is fulfilled. The reason is that the mitzvah is to hear the sound of the shofar and the concept of theft does not apply to a sound. Indeed, the blessing recited is שמוע קול שופר .

The Raavad adds that even if theft did apply to sound, the mitzvah, as noted above, is to have a יום תרועה.

Required shofar sounds on Rosh Hashana

The Torah describes the mitzvah of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashana tersely:

יום תרועה יהיה לכם

A day of “teruah” you shall have. The Gemara then explains, step-by-step, that we are required to hear nine notes:

Tekiah  –  Teruah  –  Tekiah
Tekiah  –  Teruah  –  Tekiah
Tekiah  –  Teruah  –  Tekiah

But today the halacha states that the mitzvah consists of 30 notes. How did 9 become 30?

The Gemara relates that R’ Abahu instituted a custom of blowing the shofar three different ways, with the same basic pattern of nine notes each time. In the first set the Teruah is played as a rising note, in the second set as a staccato note and in the third set as a combination of both (Rosh Hashana 34b).

R’ Hai Gaon

In a responsum, R’ Hai Gaon writes that it is wrong to think that doubts arose regarding the proper way to blow the teruah. He argues that different customs preceded R’ Abahu’s innovation and that all were in fact correct. However, since to those of limited understanding they seemed to differ substantially, a unified custom was introduced so that the entire Jewish people would blow the shofar in the same manner on Rosh Hashana.

Rambam

On the other hand the Rambam (Hilchot Shofar 3, 2)  writes that as a result of the Destruction of the Temple and the subsequent Diaspora, doubts did in fact arise regarding how to blow the Teruah properly. One type of Teruah is like the lamentations  of wailing women, and the other is the sigh or groan of someone who has a grave concern. The Beit Yosef and the Shulchan Aruch side with the Rambam’s approach rather than R’ Hai Gaon.

Under extenuating circumstances (e.g. a shofar blower going from one hospital ward to the next) it is permissible to reduce the shofar blowing to the bare minimum, blowing each way for a total of just ten blasts.

Tekiah  –  Shevarim  –  Tekiah
Tekiah  –  Teruah  –  Tekiah
Tekiah  –  Shevarim/Teruah  –  Tekiah

Shofar tones and pitch

The Shulchan Aruch states that the pitch of a shofar can be high or low (586, 6). This ruling is derived from the Gemara (Rosh Hashana 27b), which states as follows:

היה קולו דק או עבה או צרור כשר שכל הקולות כשירין בשופר

Here we see that not only high- and low-pitched shofars can be used to fulfill the mitzvah, but even a “hoarse” tone, which Rashi describes as a “dry” tone.

Sometimes the pitch of a shofar will change midway. A tekiah starts high and then in the middle suddenly changes to a lower note. Or it may start as a clear tone and then suddenly shift to raspy. The custom is that the tekiah is acceptable, and does not have to be repeated.

There are two notable cases where the tekiah may have to be repeated:

  1. If there is a break that can be detected by the listeners
  2. If it trills

Note that if a shofar shound is not produced and air can be heard passing through the shofar, this is not considered קול שופר and therefore does not affect the order of the required shofar notes.

When looking at shofars for sale, keep in mind that you will find it easier to play it well if the sound is clear, not raspy, and the notes are easy to hit, without skipping up or down.

What is the ideal shape for a ram’s horn shofar?

The Gemara informs us that it is a mitzvah on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to use a curved shofar because it reminds us to bend ourselves (i.e. bend and submit ourselves, rather than being stiff-necked and unrepentent). The remainder of theyear a straight shofar is best (Rosh Hashana 26b).

Another reason to prefer a curved shofar is that it serves as a remembrance of the ram whose horns got tangled in the brush following the Binding of Isaac (Akeidas Yitzchak) and which was later sacrificed in place of Isaac.

The Ran writes that it is a mitzvah to use a more curved shofar, but it is not mandatory. The Rambam (Hilchos Shofar 1,1), on the other hand, holds that the shofar must be curved in order to fulfill the mitzvah.

ושופר שתוקעין בו בין בראש השנה בין ביובל הוא קרן הכבשים הכפוף

The Shulchan Aruch seems to side with the Ran.

If one is faced with a choice of using a curved shofar with mediocre sound or a straight shofar with very good sound, HaRav Nissim Karelitz writes that the curved shofar would be preferable. The reason, he explains, is that according to one opinino curved is required, whereeas according to all opinions nicer sound is no more than an embellishment of the mitzvah (הידור מצוה).