One of the customs during the month of Elul is to blow the shofar every day. Due to the pandemic, I’m currently unable to attend service. Can I fulfill this custom by listening to the shofar over Zoom?


To help put things into perspective, we need to discuss briefly why we blow the shofar during the month of Elul to begin with. While there is a biblical mitzvah to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, there is no such commandment regarding the month of Elul.

There are two1 main reasons for the custom of blowing the shofar during Elul:

a) The Midrash tells us that at the beginning of the Month of Elul, exactly forty days before Yom Kippur, Moses went back up onto Mount Sinai to receive the second set of Tablets (the first having been broken after the people sinned with the Golden Calf). When he went up, a shofar was blown throughout the camp to let the people know that Moses was going up the mountain and that they should not make the same mistake that led to the sin of the Golden Calf.

To commemorate this, we blow the shofar throughout the month of Elul, which serves as a reminder to stay away from sin.2

b) Elul is a month dedicated to soul-searching and getting ready for the High Holidays. The prophet Amos tells us, “Will a shofar be sounded in the city and the people not tremble . . . ?”3 Thus, the soul-stirring sounds of the shofar arouse and inspire us to do teshuvah and come closer to G‑d.4

Now, according to some opinions, while the custom was instituted to blow the shofar in the synagogue, there was never a mandate for people to hear it (in contrast to Rosh Hashanah, when there is a mitzvah to hear the shofar).5 Accordingly, the question of blowing over the phone or the Internet is a moot point.

However, due to the association of the shofar blast with arousing one to do teshuvah, many make a point to hear the shofar blast during the month of Elul, even if they couldn’t make it to the synagogue.6 This brings us back to the question of hearing the shofar over the phone, Internet, Zoom, etc.

The Halachic Nature of Livestreaming

As we have discussed elsewhere, with the advent of microphones and telephones, there was initially considerable debate whether mitzvahs that require listening could be fulfilled through such devices. Nowadays, with the benefit of a better understanding of how these technologies work, the consensus is that one cannot fulfill one’s halachic obligations through a telephone or microphone.7

(For more on this, see our article Megillah Over the Phone or Livestream?)

Hearing the shofar during Elul isn’t a halachic obligation, but rather a custom. Nevertheless, the Lubavitcher Rebbe (who, among other things, trained as an electrical engineer and worked for the U.S. Navy during World War II) wrote a number of strong letters addressing the issue of fulfilling obligations over various devices. In one talk he specifically addressed the question of hearing the shofar during the month of Elul through an electronic device:

Regarding hearing the Torah or the Megillah et al., one does not fulfill their obligation by hearing it through a tape or other device . . . even with respect to the custom of hearing the shofar during the month of Elul, which is done merely to arouse the person to do teshuvah, as the verse states, “Will a shofar be sounded in the city and the people not tremble?” one should not hear it through a recording, since it needs to arouse one’s feelings to teshuvah and it needs to be done similar to “words that come from the heart enter the heart,” which does not apply to hearing through these devices.8

In other words, when hearing through an electronic device, one isn’t actually hearing the original, authentic sound, but merely an electronic reproduction of it, which doesn’t fulfill the obligation or custom. Furthermore, from the Rebbe’s words, it would seem that even with regard to “arousing one’s heart,” there is something lacking when it is not a direct sound from one heart to another.

Nevertheless, since during the month of Elul (a) the shofar is only blown on the weekdays and (b) there isn’t any bona fide obligation to hear the shofar, if hearing the shofar over livestream or the phone would get you into the Elul and High Holiday spirit, there isn’t anything technically wrong with hearing it over the phone or Internet.

However, on Rosh Hashanah it is a biblical mitzvah to hear the authentic shofar sound, and it is anyways prohibited to use any of these devices. If you foresee being stuck at home for Rosh Hashanah, it is not too late to either make arrangements with your local synagogue or Chabad center to have someone come and blow the shofar for you, or, alternatively, purchase your own shofar and enroll in our free online course to learn how to blow the shofar yourself.

May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a year of health and happiness!