Monday, September 11, 2006

Blowing the Shofar in Elul and on Rosh Hashana

Starting from the first of the month of Elul the Shofar is blown every morning. On Rosh Hashana the Shofar is blown as well a few times during the day with the minimum required amount being thirty blasts.

There are many different Halachos or laws regarding how the Shofar is supposed to be blown and how the sound is supposed to come out. Because of the many different Halachos regarding blowing the Shofar, the one selected to blow the Shofar should be someone who knows all of the Halachos and someone who is a big Talmud Chacham. Similar to the Chazzan on Rosh Hashana the person blowing the Shofar should have certain qualifications regarding their Frumkeit. With all of that said I now come to my questions.

For the past three years, I have davened at a few different Shuls. In all of these shuls I have had issues with the Shofar blowing. In all of these shuls the Shofar blowing took longer than it should have. It took a long time for the Baal Tokiah to get a sound out of the Shofar, and when a sound came out, it was not a clear and crisp sound like it is supposed to be. When hearing the Shofar blown properly the sound is supposed to send a chill through your body reminding you of the holiness of the day and remind you of the fear and awe you should have standing in front of Hashem. For some reason, when the shofar is not blown properly I do not get this feeling.

If I was asked to be a Baal Tokiah and I knew I could not blow the Shofar well, I would not volunteer myself and I would decline. If the person who blows the Shofar is supposed to know all of the Halachos involved, don't you think they should know how to blow the Shofar properly? One shul I went to they even had to replace the Baal Tokia because he could not get a sound. These people obviously are not as Holy as they claim they are if they want to be in the spotlight so badly that they volunteer themselves to blow the Shofar and they can't. Not only do they make themselves look bad, but they make the Rav look bad, the Gabbai look bad as well as taking away much of the spirit of Rosh Hashana. Why does this problem happen so frequently? Why do Rebeeim allow this to happen? Shouldn't the Baal Tokiah practice before? Who checks to make sure they are practicing? Who makes sure they know all the Halachos and can get that crisp clear sound?

Everytime when I learn the Halachos of hearing the Shofar it reminds me of my past Rosh Hashanas and this issue drives me crazy. I am hoping that I won't run into this issue this year since I am once again davening in a different place.


Litvak said...

You raise a legitimate and important issue - namely the technical competency of shofar blowers.

The shofar is actually a musical instrument (albeit a 'primitive' one), what is called a wind instrument, like a trumpet, french horn, etc. One who blows it for a congregation should have a certain level of competency in it, for various reasons, as you have written, including tircha detzibura. While some people may be naturals at it, others can use (and probably almost anybody can benefit from) professional instruction in the area.

In recent years there was a fellow in Brooklyn, who is a professional musician/music teacher, who plays the trumpet and french horn, who gave lessons in this, the *technical* (as opposed to religious) aspects of shofar blowing. I attended his class a number of years ago and found it quite enlightening. Also, I believe a class in shofar blowing is given at the Belz school of music.

Anyway, I agree with you that this is an important issue, and I think that those who need it should get instruction of the type I wrote about above, from an expert. It's still not to late to do so for this year !

Litvak said...

Boruch Hashem !

I just found a great article about the class.


Enjoy !

socialworker/frustrated mom said...

Hope you won't run into the problem again good luck.

Rebecca said...

nice to see litvak agrees with you for once

Litvak said...


Anonymous said...

I am a ba'al tekiah and I teach shofar in Los
Angeles. We are given the month of Elul to practice shofar by daily blowing, so we should be all tuned up and ready by Rosh Hashanah.

Still, I urge compassion and tolerance for your shofar blower. Even with practice and preparation, it is possible to have difficulty blowing on Rosh Hashanah. In some cases, practice and preparation makes it harder - because the magnitude of the responsibility can be so great that one can became fearful abot not getting it "right".

The shofar sounds are a vibration of the soul. There are years in which I become overwhelmed by my prayers and teshuvah-work that I too have been unable to make a beautiful sound.

There is a story from the Baal Shem that says the broken heart unlocks the doors to G-d's kingdom. It may be that the true dispair of a shofar blower who struggles to get out a toot is more meaningful to HaShem than a beautiful note.

D.A said...

very well said!
I have been chosen to be the baal tokea of my shul for this year and I know that although I get beautiful blasts out when I practice, only hashem knows how they will sound on the big day.....