The Source and Significance of this Mitzvah

Rosh Hashanah’s essence is captured by the mitzvah of shofar. The Mishnah states, “The mitzvah of the day is shofar,”1 and the Torah refers to Rosh Hashanah as a “day of sounding.”2

The Sefer Hachinuch (anonymous author, 13th century) writes that the shofar awakens a person to repent and pray for mercy on the day of judgment. Specifically, the broken sounds of the shofar remind us to break our evil inclination.3

Many additional reasons are given for this mitzvah; we will quote two relevant to the discussion below:4 1. We crown G‑d as King through the blasts of the shofar.5 2. The ram’s horn used reminds us of akeidat Yitzchak (the binding of Issac) which took place on Rosh Hashanah since a ram was sacrificed in Yitzchak’s place.6

The Shofar

The verse which serves as the source for this mitzvah is quite vague, stating simply: “In the seventh month on the first of the month, it should be a day of sounding for you.7 No details regarding the instrument, type of sound, or how many sounds are necessary, are provided.

If so, how do we know that one is to use a shofar specifically?

The truth is that the law that a “shofar” must be used on Rosh Hashanah is derived from a different verse entirely. The verse used refers to the sounding of the shofar on the Yom Kippur of a Jubilee year. The verse states clearly that a shofar is to be used: “You shall proclaim [with] shofar blasts, in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month; on the Day of Atonement, you shall sound the shofar throughout your land.”8

From the fact that the words “in the seventh month” are used both in the case of the sounding of the shofar during the Jubilee year and in reference to Rosh Hashanah, the Talmud infers that just as in the Jubilee year, a shofar is used, so too on Rosh Hashanah, a shofar is used.9

There is much discussion in the Mishnah and Talmud regarding the animal from which the horn may be taken.10 Maimonides (1138-1204) rules that a curved ram’s horn must be used.11 However, all the other Rishonim (early authorities) maintain that while it is preferable to use a curved ram’s horn, if that is not possible, one may use any hollow horn taken from a kosher animal (discounting antlers), except for a cow’s horn.12

A curved ram's horn is preferred because—as mentioned above—the ram’s horn reminds us of the binding of Isaac, which took place on Rosh Hashanah.13 The curvature of the horn reminds us to ‘turn’ (literally bend) our hearts to G‑d in prayer and repentance.14

The Type and Number of Blasts

As mentioned, the verses which describe the obligation of shofar are scant in detail. However, from the fact that the Torah mentions the word ‘teruah (תּרועה) three times15 — the Talmud determines that three sounds must be sounded. (We will address below exactly what sound ‘teruahrefers to.) Even though these mentions of teruah do not all appear in the same context—two are stated regarding Rosh Hashanah, while the third is referring to the Jubilee year—nevertheless, the Talmud derives from these occurrences that whenever the shofar is sounded, three teruah sounds must be sounded.16

Additionally, each teruah is preceded and followed by one tekiah sound. This is derived from a verse concerning the Jubilee year, which states: “You shall proclaim [with] the shofar blasts.”17 The Hebrew word “ve’havarta” (והעברת, “you shall proclaim”) refers to the tekiah sound which precedes the teruah. The word at the end of the verse, “you shall sound the shofar,” is understood to be referring to the tekiah, which is sounded after the teruah sound.18

In sum, we have established that the Torah requires us to sound three sets of tekiah, teruah, tekiah - totaling nine blasts. Yet, in practice, we sound at the very least thirty sounds. Why?

The Talmud explains this to be an enactment of the Talmudic sage Rabbi Avahu.19

Two rationales are given for this enactment. According to Maimonides, although it is clear that the teruah is the sound of a cry, we are unsure whether it is a series of drawn-out cries (similar to the sound one makes when in pain) or a whimper, a series of much shorter sounds. The more prolonged cries are referred to by the Talmud as a shevarim, while the shorter whimpers are referred to as teruah. Additionally, it is possible that the teruah the Torah is referring to is actually a combination of the two sounds - a series of longer groans followed by shorter whimpers.

Because of this doubt, we blow in a way that satisfies all possible combinations. We sound three sets of tekiah, shevarim, and tekiah. We also sound three teruahot (whimpers) preceded and followed by a tekiah, as well as three shevarim teruahot preceded and followed by a tekiah. Each of these sets is sounded three times, corresponding to the three times the Torah uses the word teruah, as explained above. Altogether, this amounts to thirty sounds.

According to Maimonides, it emerges that all thirty sounds are required biblically since we are unsure precisely what a teruah is.20

Rav Hai Gaon (939 -1038) offers a different approach. He believes that from a biblical perspective, any of the above sounds would satisfy one’s biblical obligation, as there is no real doubt as to what the teruah is. In fact, Rav Hai Gaon says, historically, there were different customs; some sounded the shevarim as the teruah, while others sounded the teruah. Still others sounded both the shevarim and the teruah. However, this led to confusion as to what the actual requirement was. Although all three options are perfectly acceptable, to avoid confusion, Rabbi Avahu instituted that everyone must sound all three versions of the teruah.21

A number of practical ramifications result from this dispute:

For example, if the Halacha follows Rav Hai Gaon, then in a situation in which it would be impossible to sound all thirty blasts, it could be argued that one would fulfill one’s biblical obligation by sounding nine or ten of the blasts. Therefore a blessing would be recited as one is fulfilling one’s obligation on a biblical level.

If, however, the Halacha follows Maimonides, then one would not be able to fulfill one’s biblical obligation with nine or ten blasts, as all thirty are required to settle the doubt regarding the teruah. Therefore, one certainly would not be able to make a blessing preceding the nine or ten blasts, as doubt would remain as to whether the mitzvah is being performed at all.

The Shulchan Aruch and subsequent Halachic authorities—including the Alter Rebbe—rule like Maimonides.22 Therefore, whenever one blows the shofar, one should be sure to sound all thirty blasts; otherwise, there would be a doubt as to whether one has fulfilled the basic biblical obligation.

Is the Mitzvah to Hear the Sound of the Shofar or to Blow the Shofar?

As mentioned above, the verse that serves as the mitzvah's source states simply, "a day of sounding shall be for you." The question arises, is the mitzvah to blow the shofar, or is the mitzvah to hear the sound of the shofar?

Much of the discussion on this point, revolves around the language of the blessing recited before blowing the shofar.

Rabbeinu Tam (1100-1171) maintains that one makes the blessing “al tekiat shofar - on the blowing of the shofar,” while other authorities such as Raavyah (1140-1220) and the Baal Halachot Gedolot (work from Geonic period, author unknown) write that the blessing is “lishmoa bekol shofar - to listen to the sound of the shofar.”

Baal Halachot Gedolot explains that the reason we make the blessing “to listen to the sound of the shofar” as opposed to “to blow the shofar” or “on the blowing of the shofar” is because one fulfills one’s obligation by listening to the shofar, not through blowing the shofar.23

This is likewise the view of Maimonides24 and of Rabbi Yaakov Ben Asher (1270-1340) in his work Tur.25

The above would imply that Rabbeinu Tam (who believes that the correct language of the blessing is “on the blowing of the shofar”) would maintain that the mitzvah is to actually blow the shofar, not merely to listen to the sound.

Rabbi Achai Gaon (680-756), in his Sheiltot, is explicit. He writes clearly that the mitzvah is to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah.26 This is also the opinion of Rabbi Moshe of Coucy (early 1200s) in his Sefer Hamitzvahs Gedolot,27 Rabbi Yitzchak of Corbeil (1210-1280) in his Sefer Hamitzvahs Katan28 and Rabbi Eliezer of Metz (1140-1237) in his work Yereim.29

Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488-1575) rules in his Shulchan Aruch that we make the blessing “to listen to the sound of the shofar’ and not “on the blowing of the shofar.” Subsequent Halachic authorities follow this ruling. Meaning that the mitzvah is to listen to the sound of the shofar, not to blow it per se.30

The discussion as to whether the mitzvah is the blowing of the shofar or the listening of the shofar ties into the reasons mentioned above for the mitzvah. If the purpose of the mitzvah of shofar is to awaken oneself to perform teshuva then it is understandable why listening is the essential part of the mitzvah. However, if we adopt one of the many other reasons offered for the mitzvah of the shofar, then perhaps we could more easily suggest that the primary component of the mitzvah is the blowing of the shofar.

There are several laws in the Talmud which seem to support each of these two positions. We will cite some of these proofs and some possible responses.

Possible Support for Mitzvat Shofar to be Defined as Referring Solely to the Hearing of the Sound of the Shofar

1) An individual may blow for another

In the responsum quoted above,31 Maimonides — who believes that the blessing recited is “to listen to the sound of the shofar”—brings two proofs to the position that the mitzvah is to hear the shofar rather than to blow it. Firstly, Maimonides writes that if the mitzvah is to blow the shofar, then each person would have to blow themselves, just like any other mitzvah tied to a particular action. However, if the mitzvah is to listen to the shofar, then obviously the requirement is fulfilled by simply listening to another individual’s blowing.

Since we find in the Talmud that one person may blow for all, it seems clear, writes Maimonides, that the mitzvah is to listen to the sound of the shofar.

This poses a difficulty to those authorities (such as Rabbeinu Tam, Smag, and Sheiltot) who maintain that the mitzvah is the blowing of the shofar.

Rabbi Avraham Bernstein (1838-1910), in his Responsa Avnei Nezer, explains that their response would be that although the mitzvah is to blow, still, if one hears the blowing of another, it is considered as if he himself blew.

This is based on the principle which governs speech-related mitzvahs: “one who hears is considered as if he says'' (shome’ah ke’oneh). For example, although there is a mitzvah for each individual to recite Kiddush on Friday night, one may fulfill this requirement by merely listening to someone else recite Kiddush.

Rabbeinu Tam and those other authorities who maintain that the mitzvah is to blow the shofar would extend this above-mentioned principle beyond speech, to any sound. Therefore, one who hears the sound of the shofar is considered as if he had made the sound himself.32

2) One who blows the shofar but does not hear the sound of the shofar has not fulfilled his obligation

The second support Maimonides brings to his position is as follows: If the mitzvah is the blowing alone, then if one blows while blocking his ears, one would fulfill his obligation. If, however, the mitzvah is to listen to the sound of the shofar, then one will not have fulfilled his obligation in such a case since he has not heard the sound.

Maimonides does not explain why he takes for granted that one would not fulfill the mitzvah in such a manner. However, there is a Mishnah that states that one who blows the shofar into a pit and only hears the echo, does not fulfill his obligation.33 Clearly, even if one blows the shofar, one does not fulfill the mitzvah unless he hears the sound emanating from it. Were the mitzvah to be the blowing, surely there would be no need to hear the shofar's sound.

However, in defense of Rabbeinu Tam and the other authorities, it has been suggested that even though the mitzvah is to blow the shofar, still, the sound one creates must be a sound that can be heard. This is similar to the law that we find by the mitzvah of the reading of Shema,34 that while the mitzvah is to read the Shema, there are opinions that it is necessary that it be audible.35

Possible Support for the Position that the Mitzvah is to Blow the Shofar

1) One must hear the shofar from someone who is obligated in the mitzvah

The Mishnah in Tractate Rosh Hashanah36 states that a deaf-mute and a minor cannot blow the shofar on behalf of others. The Mishnah continues with the general principle that an individual who is exempt from a mitzvah cannot perform the mitzvah on behalf of one who is obligated. As Rabbi Moshe Ben Chaviv (1654-1696) points out, this Mishnah is readily understandable if the mitzvah is to blow the shofar; being that the mitzvah is to blow the shofar, the mitzvah must be performed by one who is obligated in the mitzvah. However, if the mitzvah is to hear the sound of the shofar, then surely it should not matter who is blowing the shofar, so long as one hears the sound of the shofar, he should have fulfilled his obligation.37

2) The one blowing the shofar must have in mind to fulfill the obligation on behalf of the one listening

Another proof that is offered by the latter-day authorities in support of the opinion that the mitzvah is the blowing of the shofar, is from a law mentioned in the Talmud in tractate Rosh Hashanah. The Talmud states that the individual blowing the shofar must have in mind that he is fulfilling the mitzvah on behalf of the listener.38 Now, if the mitzvah is the blowing of the shofar, this is readily understandable since this mitzvah is being performed on another’s behalf, therefore the one performing the mitzvah must have in mind that he is doing so on behalf of the other person. However, if the mitzvah is simply to hear the sound of the shofar, then it should not matter whether the person blowing the shofar has anything in mind at all., All that is pertinent is that the shofar is sounded and the listener has the correct intent.39

We will offer three approaches to resolve these two questions:

1) The mitzvah is both the blowing and the listening

Rabbi Yosef Babad (1801-1874) in his classic work Minchat Chinuch, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Ginzburg (1695-1785) in his work Shaagat Aryeh, and other latter-day authorities suggest that the mitzvah consists of both blowing and listening to the shofar. The shofar must be blown by one who is obligated as a requirement pertinent to the blowing aspect of the mitzvah. One who only hears the echo of the shofar does not fulfill the mitzvah because something is missing in the listening element of the mitzvah.40

According to this approach, it can be suggested that the Rishonim quoted above only disagree as to which of these two elements should form the language of the blessing due to primary importance. All would agree that both these two elements are necessary components.

While this approach may be a valid explanation of the seemingly conflicting laws found in the Talmud, it does not, however, resolve the difficulty with Maimonides. This is because Maimonides writes clearly (in the above-mentioned responsum) that the mitzvah is hearing the sound of the shofar and not the blowing.

2) One must hear the sound of a shofar blown for the sake of the mitzvah

A number of latter-day authorities, such as Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz (the Chazon Ish) (1878-1953) and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986), maintain that although the mitzvah is to listen to the sound of the shofar, nevertheless just as it is essential that the shofar is kosher, so too it is essential to hear the sound blown for the sake of the mitzvah.

This being the case, it is necessary to hear the shofar being blown by a person who is obligated in the mitzvah. Similarly, this individual must bear in mind that he is blowing on behalf of the other person. If either of these two are missing, then this sound is not the “sound of a mitzvah,” and therefore one’s obligation would not be satisfied.41

3) The Mitzvah is to hear the shofar, but the act of the mitzvah is the blowing

Along similar lines to the previous explanation, Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, also known as Reb Chaim Brisker (1853-1918), famously explained as follows: True the mitzvah is to hear the shofar, and one who blows the shofar and does not hear it, has not fulfilled the obligation, nevertheless, the act of the mitzvah is the blowing. This being the case, the individual blowing the shofar must be obligated in the mitzvah and intend to fulfill the obligation of anyone listening. Without these two elements, the person listening would not be able to absolve his obligation. In-order for the blowing to be considered a “mitzvah-act” for the listener, these two elements must be present.42

When Must one Blow?

The Mishnah states: “the entire day is kosher for the mitzvah of shofar,” implying that one cannot perform the mitzvah at night. The Talmud derives this from the verse:“a day of sounding it shall be for you.”43 While anytime from dawn and onwards is considered daytime, the Mishnah states that one should only perform the mitzvah after sunrise.44 This is because some may erroneously believe it to be dawn when it is in fact still night. In order to avoid possible mistakes, the Rabbis cautioned against sounding the shofar before sunrise.45 However, if one mistakenly sounded the shofar before sunrise (but after dawn), one need not blow again after sunrise.46

The shofar must be sounded before sunset. This is because we are unsure if the time between sunset and nightfall is classified as day or night. As such, if a person did not perform the mitzvah before sunset, he should blow the shofar after sunset, but the blessing is not recited. This follows the general principle that “doubt regarding biblical matters are resolved stringently”—hence the need to sound the shofar even during this questionable time— however, “doubt regarding blessings are resolved leniently,” thus no blessing is made in circumstances when the obligation is questionable.47

Although from a biblical perspective one may perform the mitzvah the entire day, the Rabbis instructed that the shofar be blown when we recite the blessings of Malchiyot, Zichronot, and Shofarot. These three blessings consist of verses that speak about the kingship of G‑d (malchiyot), G‑d recalling his mercy for the Jewish Nation (Zichronot) as well as verses that speak about the sounding of the shofar (Shofarot).48

These blessings are said during the Musaf prayer, and various customs have evolved regarding how many blasts are sounded and whether they are sounded during the quiet Amidah or only during the Chazan’s repetition.49

In addition, the Rabbis instituted that thirty blasts be sounded immediately following the reading of the Torah. Although in essence it would be sufficient to simply sound the thirty blasts during Musaf, we sound the shofar earlier to “confuse the Satan,” to prevent the Satan from attempting to prosecute when we blow the shofar later, during the Musaf prayer.50 Over time this blowing before the Musaf prayer became the primary blowing and individuals are technically able to fulfill their biblical obligation with this blowing alone.

It has now become customary that the total amount of blasts sounded when one prays with a quorum amounts to 100 sounds. The breakdown (according to Chabad custom) is as follows: 30 sounds after the Torah reading, 30 during the silent Amidah, 30 during the Chazzan’s repetition, and 10 during the kaddish following the Chazan’s repetition of the Amidah.51

Who Is Obligated?


Women are exempt from the mitzvah of shofar. This follows the general principle that (barring a few notable exceptions) women are exempt from any positive time-bound mitzvot.52 Nonetheless, the common custom is that women do ensure that they hear the shofar. A number of points must be made in explanation of this custom: As a general rule, women are permitted and are even rewarded for performing mitzvahs from which they are technically exempt. Moreover, Ashkenazi women even recite a blessing when performing mitzvot from which they are exempt.53

As mentioned above, women ensure that they perform the mitzvah of shofar. This is because, historically, women accepted this custom upon themselves, and subsequently, it became like an obligation for them.54

Nevertheless, because it is not an absolute obligation, they are not able to blow on behalf of men since, as mentioned earlier, a person must hear the shofar from a person who is equally obligated.55

There is much discussion as to whether a man can blow for a woman after he has already fulfilled his obligation, but the bottom line Halacha is that a man may do so.56 (However, it must be noted that the women must make the blessing herself57


As with all other mitzvahs, although children are exempt on a biblical level until they come of age (12 for a girl and 13 for a boy), on a rabbinic level, a father is obligated to educate one’s child to perform mitzvot. As part of that education, there is an obligation for a father to ensure that his child performs all the mitzvot.58 Generally speaking, the age at which the child becomes obligated in any given mitzvah is the age at which he is capable of performing the mitzvah properly, as well as understanding what the obligation consists of, which varies from child to child based on intellectual capability.59 With shofar, the age at which a child is obligated, is understood to be around the age of six or seven years old.60

Since even a child above the age of six or seven is only obligated on a rabbinic level, the child may not blow the shofar on behalf of an adult who is obligated on a biblical level.61

The Deaf

There are many sources in the Mishnah and Talmud that exempt a deaf-mute from all mitzvahs, and shofar is no exception.62 However, in general, one who is able to speak but is deaf is obligated in mitzvot.63 The question arises if he is obligated in the mitzvah of shofar or not. This seems to hinge on whether the mitzvah is the blowing of the shofar or the listening to the shofar. If the mitzvah is to listen to the shofar, then it follows that a deaf person is exempt from the mitzvah since he is unable to listen to the shofar. If, however, the mitzvah is to blow the shofar, then perhaps the deaf person would be obligated to blow the shofar himself and fulfill the mitzvah in that manner. The Shulchan Aruch and most Halachic authorities rule that a deaf person is exempt from the mitzvah,64 while the Aruch Hashulchan is inclined to say that such an individual is obligated in the mitzvah.65 It is proper that in such a scenario the deaf individual should endeavor to blow the shofar themselves.

The Midrash and Chasidic sources focus on the connection between the word “shofar” and the Hebrew word “Shapru maaseichem” which means tobeautifyyour deeds. This is because the shofar effects that all the mitzvahs are done in the most beautiful manner. This evokes immense enjoyment, so to speak, on High, which ensures that we are blessed with a good and sweet year in both physical and spiritual matters.66