When Tekias Shofar Goes Wrong
Every year before Rosh Hashanah, Rav Goldberg reviews
the halachos of shofar blowing with the shul’s baal tekiah
(shofar blower/master blaster). This year the baal tekiah, Reb Muttel, had
more questions than usual.
“I have been a baal tekiah for several years now,”
began Reb Muttel. “Each year I feel a stronger sense of responsibility and
privilege. Privilege, because it is through my shofar blowing that our shul
joins Jews around the world in the coronation of Hashem as King. Also, the
shofar is a wake-up call to teshuva and reminds us of many historical
events in our history, including Matan Torah and Akeidas Yitzchak.
At the same time, it is an awesome responsibility to blow the shofar correctly,
so that everyone fulfills his obligation of hearing tekiahs shofar
according to halacha.”
“Not every blast is perfect,” continued Reb Muttel, “and
I’m curious to know when a blast is acceptable and when it must be repeated.
I’d also like to know why sometimes I am told to repeat just a blast, and other
times I am told to repeat several. I have also been in shuls where the
entire series of nine or more blasts was repeated. In short, I would like a
deeper understanding of the halachos.”
Rav Goldberg realized that it would take several
sessions to teach Muttel all the details of shofar blowing. Before presenting a
synopsis of their discussion, an introduction is in order.
THE TORAH’S MITZVAH OF SHOFAR
As in many other mitzvos, there is no clear
command in the Written Torah to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. The Torah does
refer to Rosh Hashanah as “Yom Teruah,” but this could be translated
either as “a day of crying,” “a day of praying” or “a day of shofar blowing.”
The Torah Shebe’al Peh teaches that there is a mitzvah min haTorah
to blow shofar. The mitzvah is to blow three broken sounds called Teruos,
each preceded and followed by a long straight sound called a Tekiah.
These sounds add up to a total of nine blasts.
“How do we know that Teruah is a broken sound
in the first place?” asked Reb Muttel.
“Targum Onkelos translates the word Teruah
as ‘yevavah,’ which means crying,” replied the Rav. “This teaches us
that the Teruah is a broken, crying sound (Rosh Hashanah 33b).
However, it is not clear from the Targum what type of crying sound ‘Teruah’
“How was this question resolved?”
The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 34a) reports
that Rabbi Abahu was uncertain whether Teruah is a series of sobs (what
we call Shevarim), or a staccato, panting cry (Teruah) or a
combination of both, first sobbing and then panting (Shevarim-Teruah).
To be certain that we fulfill the Torah’s obligation, he mandated blowing three
different series, each with a different broken sound. Each broken sound is blown
three times to fulfill the Torah mitzvah, and each one is preceded and
followed by a Tekiah. Thus, Rabbi Abahu’s arrangement results in a total
of thirty shofar sounds:
Tekiah, Shevarim-Teruah, Tekiah (TaSHRaT)
Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah (TaSHaT) three times
Tekiah, Teruah, Tekiah (TaRaT) three times
But why didn’t Rabbi Abahu institute a shorter
procedure, and blow only Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, Tekiah
(the TaSHRaT mentioned before) three times? This way a person would blow all three
varieties of broken sound three times, and each would be surrounded by two teki’os.
The Gemara explains that if the mitzvah
is to blow only a Shevarim, blowing a Teruah immediately after
the Shevarim is an interruption that invalidates the mitzvah. Similarly,
if the mitzvah is to blow only a Teruah, then a Shevarim
preceding it interrupts between the Tekiah and the Teruah and
invalidates the mitzvah. Thus, the only way to fulfill the mitzvah
correctly is to blow three series, one with each type of broken sound (Shevarim,
Teruah, and Shevarim-Teruah) in the middle.
“This last statement of the Gemara teaches us
an important lesson. If one blows an inappropriate sound between the Tekiah
and the correct broken sound, that series is invalid. Early poskim dispute
how much of the series is invalid and must be blown again. The stringent
opinion contends that one must begin the series he is blowing all over again.
The lenient opinion rules that it suffices to return to the most recent Tekiah;
the earlier sounds are kosher (Tur Orach Chayim end of 590).
There is a very interesting story related to this dispute that we will discuss
WHY DON’T WE BLOW A TERUAH–SHEVARIM?
The Gemara points out that Rabbi Abahu omitted
a fourth option — he did not require a Teruah followed by a Shevarim.
The Gemara explains that Rabbi Abahu omitted this combination because
the Torah’s Teruah is a broken sound that imitates human crying. Since
it is unusual for a crying person to pant and then sob afterwards, this sound
cannot be what the Torah commanded.
AN ALTERNATIVE INTERPRETATION
There is another explanation why Rabbi Abahu
instituted three different Teruah sounds. Rav Hai Gaon contends that the
mitzvah of tekias shofar is fulfilled with ANY broken sound. In his
opinion, blowing three times either TaSHRaT or TaShaT or TaRaT or any
combination of the three fulfills the Torah mitzvah. In Rav Hai’s
opinion, Rabbi Abahu instituted the blowing of thirty shofar sounds for a
In Rabbi Abahu’s day, different communities blew the
broken, crying sound in different ways. In some communities it was a Shevarim,
others blew what we call Teruah (short, staccato sounds), while others
blew Shevarim-Teruah. Rabbi Abahu was concerned that an unlearned person
visiting different communities might conclude that there is a dispute how to
blow shofar. To avoid even the appearance of conflict, Rabbi Abahu instituted
that all Jews observe all three customs.
Thus, we have two different explanations why Rav Abahu
instituted the blowing of thirty shofar sounds. The first opinion, which is
held by most poskim, contends that blowing thirty sounds guarantees that
we have fulfilled the Torah’s mitzvah. The second opinion maintains that
we blow thirty sounds to avoid the appearance of a machlokes.
AN INTERESTING STORY AND ITS EXPLANATION
Almost nine hundred years ago, on Rosh Hashanah
4905/1144, the shofar blower of Mainz, a community with many Talmidei
Chachomim, erred in the middle of the blowing. After blasting two kosher rounds
of “TaSHRaT” he made a mistake in the third round. Instead of blowing a
three-part Shevarim and then a Teruah, he mistakenly blew two
parts of a Shevarim and then began blowing the Teruah.
Immediately realizing his error, the baal tekiah stopped blowing the Teruah
after only one stacatto beat. The question was how to continue.
A dispute ensued among the scholarly congregants. Some
advocated that ALL the TaSHRaT soundings must be blown again. Apparently, they
contended that ANY inappropriate sound blown in the middle of the shofar
blowing invalidates the entire series. Since TaSHRaT is blown to fulfill one
interpretation of the Torah’s mitzvah, any inappropriate blast blown in
the middle invalidates that entire attempt and the series must begin again.
Other scholars were more lenient. They contended that
the sounds already blown need not be repeated. In their opinion, only a sound
that has halachic status invalidates a series, not a sound that is
neither a Shevarim nor a Teruah. Furthermore, they felt that in a
case where the sounds need to be repeated, such as where an unnecessary Teruah
was blown in the middle, one need return only to the Tekiah preceding
the errant broken sound. Thus, in a case where someone blew in the third
TaSHRaT Tekiah, Shevarim-Teruah, Teruah, only the last Tekiah
and Shevarim-Teruah need to be blown again but no earlier sounds.
In Mainz, 1144, the first group had its way, and the baal
tekiah started blowing again from the the beginning of the TaShRaT series.
After Rosh Hashanah, the shaylah was referred
to the gedolim,Rav Elyakim bar Yosef and the Raavan, both of
whom ruled that the second group was correct. The Raavan also contended that
the extra blasts blown desecrated Yom Tov since they were unnecessary
and blowing shofar on Yom Tov is permitted only to perform the mitzvah
(Rosh, Rosh Hashanah 4:11).
Returning to Muttel’s lessons with Rav Goldberg, the
Rav pointed out that the ruling of Rav Elyakim bar Yosef and the Raavan — that
nothing needs to be repeated if the errant sound is neither a Shevarim
nor a Teruah — is true only when the baal tekiah blew one or two
Teruah sounds. However, if he blew three Teruah sounds in
the wrong place, such as before the Shevarim is completed, the Tekiah
before it is invalidated, because a Teruah blown immediately before a Shevarim
is an invalid sound.
HOW LONG IS A TERUAH?
“I am confused,” protested Reb Muttel. “Why did
you say that three short sounds is considered a Teruah? Doesn’t a Teruah
have nine sounds!”
“Actually, not everyone agrees that a Teruah
requires nine sounds,” the Rav replied patiently. “According to Rashi, a Teruah
need be only three sounds. The Riva and Rivam disagree, contending that the Teruah
must be at least nine sounds. Since everyone agrees that a Teruah may
have extra sounds, we blow a Teruah of nine sounds, which is kosher
according to all opinions.”
What happens if the shofar blower blew a Teruah
shorter than nine sounds?
According to Rashi, one has fulfilled the mitzvah,
provided the Teruah was at least three sounds. According to Riva and
Rivam, one has not. The rav or posek in the shul will pasken
whether to blow the Teruah again. The Mishnah Berurah (590:12)
rules that it is unnecessary to repeat the Teruah. However, if the rav
rules that the Teruah should be repeated, the Tekiah preceding
the Teruah must also be repeated. Since, according to Rashi, the short Teruah
is kosher, blowing another Teruah without repeating the Tekiah
interrupts between the Teruah and the following Tekiah.
HOW LONG MUST THE SHEVARIM BE?
A Shevarim must be a minimum of three broken
sounds, each called a shever. The shever should preferably be as
long as three swift, staccato sounds (three “kochos”), making the entire
Shevarim the length of nine staccato sounds (Mishnah Berurah
However, there are opinions that each shever
should be shorter than three staccato sounds, making the entire Shevarim
about the length of six staccato sounds (Tosafos Rosh Hashanah 32b;
first opinion quoted in Shulchan Aruch 590:3; Mateh Efrayim). In
some communities, the practice is to blow some of the Shevarim according
to this opinion.
ANOTHER STORY FROM ROSH HASHANAH, 1144.
“Is it kosher to blow a Shevarim of four or
five sounds?” asked Muttel.
“To answer that, we must return to that memorable Rosh
Hashanah almost nine hundred years ago in Mainz,” explained Rav Goldberg.
“After blowing Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah, twice without
incident, the baal tekiah blew a successful Tekiah and
then a Shevarim that was four sounds instead of the usual three. The
congregation considered this sound invalid and made him begin the blowing of
TaSHaT from the beginning, repeating a total of eight sounds (the entire TaSHaT
twice and a new Tekiah and Shevarim). Rabbi Elyakim bar Yosef
took them to task for two different reasons. Even if there was a need to repeat
the blowing, they did not need to blow the two previous TaSHaT blowings again,
since those were successful blowings. (As we learned above, some scholars in
Mainz held that a bad sound invalidates the entire series.) In addition, Rav
Elyakim ruled that the Shevarim of four sounds is perfectly valid; there
is nothing wrong with adding an extra shever to the Shevarim (Tosafos
Rosh Hashanah 33b; Rosh). We rule, like Rav Elyakim, that an extra shever
does not invalidate a Shevarim; however, it is preferable to blow a Shevarim
that is exactly three sounds, out of deference to the scholars of Mainz who
disagreed” (see Mishnah Berurah 590:11).
HOW IS THE SHEVARIM BLOWN?
Some poskim contend that each short shever
sound should change pitch in the middle, either once or twice. Some people
refer to these as “tu-U-tu” or “UU-tu” or “tu-UU” Shevarim sounds.
Others contend that the shever sound should be without
change in pitch – and should sound exactly like a very short Tekiah.
Each community should follow the ruling of its rav or its established
HOW LONG MUST THE TEKIAH BE?
There are several opinions. Whereas Raavad’s opinion
is that every Tekiah must be nine kochos, regardless which broken
sound it accompanies (Hilchos Shofar 3:4), Tosafos and most rishonim
contend that the Tekiah must be as long as the broken sound that it
accompanies. Since the length of both the Shevarim and the Teruah
are disputed, as mentioned above, the length of the Tekiah is also
disputed. According to the Riva and Rivam, the combined length of a Shevarim-Teruah
is about eighteen kochos, or perhaps a bit longer to accommodate the
length of the pause in the middle. (Each “koach” is the length of a
minimum beat. The entire Shevarim-Teruah can be blown in about three
seconds.) Therefore, the Tekiah before and after the Shevarim-Teruah
should also be that long (Mateh Efrayim; Mishnah Berurah
According to Rashi’s opinion that the Teruah
need be only three kochos and the Shevarim only six-to-nine kochos,
the Tekiah accompanying the Shevarim-Teruah need be only
nine-to-twelve kochos long.
Based on the above, poskim conclude that the Tekiah
for TaSHRaT should preferably be a bit more than eighteen kochos long,
whereas the Tekiah for TaSHaT and TaRaT need be only nine kochos
What if the Tekiah ended earlier? It is not
unusual that the teki’os that accompany TaSHRaT are not eighteen kochos
long. Again the rav will make the decision. (For example, the Mateh
Efrayim rules that a Tekiah for TaSHRaT that was only nine kochos
long is kosher b’dei’evid, after the fact.)
SHOULD THE BLOWER PAUSE BETWEEN THE SHEVARIM
AND THE TERUAH?
This interesting question is an early dispute.
According to most opinions, there should be only a slight interruption between
the Shevarim and Teruah of the Shevarim-Teruah (most rishonim,
as explained by the Mishnah Berurah 590:18.) It should be noted that
according to the Chazon Ish 136:1 and Avnei Nezer #443 there
should be no interruption whatsoever between the Shevarim and the Teruah.
Some even contend that a significant interruption between the Shevarim
and the Teruah invalidates the blowing (see Mishnah Berurah
590:16 and Shaar HaTziyun ad loc.). Rabbeinu Tam disagrees, maintaining
that someone would not change from a sobbing cry to a panting cry without
stopping for a breath in between. Therefore, he maintains that one should
pause, although not extensively, between the Shevarim and the Teruah.
HOW DO WE RULE IN THIS ISSUE?
There are different customs. Some communities follow
Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion and blow every Shevarim-Teruah with a brief pause
in the middle (Rama 590:4). However, most congregations today follow the
Chayei Adam’s recommendation that the Shevarim-Teruah of the
first blowings (before Musaf) are blown without a pause, whereas the baal
tekiah should pause between Shevarim and Teruah when blowing
during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei.
Incidentally, the shofar soundings blown during Musaf
should be treated with the same degree of importance as those blown earlier.
According to many poskim, they are the main mitzvah of shofar
blowing (see Tosafos, Pesachim 115a s.v. maskif; Mishnah
WHAT IF A WOMAN CANNOT BE IN SHUL FOR BOTH SETS
OF SHOFAR BLOWINGS?
Shofar blowing is one of the time-bound positive mitzvos
(mitzvas aseh she’hazman grama) from which women are exempt.
Nevertheless, generations of women have been careful to hear shofar blowing,
just as they are careful to shake the lulav and esrog on Sukos,
another time-bound mitzvah from which they are exempt. Many poskim
rule that since women have assumed responsibility to hear shofar blowing, they
are now required to do so (Chayei Adam 141:7; on the other hand, see Shu’t
Salmas Chayim #349). However, a woman does not need to hear more than
thirty shofar sounds, although it is meritorious for her to hear the sounds
blown during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei.
DOES A WOMAN MAKE A BRACHA ON SHOFAR BLOWING?
The rishonim dispute whether one can recite a bracha
on a mitzvah that one is not commanded to perform. Some contend that
women should not recite the bracha because one cannot say “asher
kideshanu be’mitzvosav ve’tzivanu,” “He who sanctified us in His
mitzvos and commanded us,” when Hashem never commanded women to perform
this mitzvah. Sefardim follow this opinion, and therefore Sefardic women
do not recite a bracha on mitzvos such as shofar and lulav.
Ashkenazim rule that one may recite ve’tzivanu even if one is not
personally obligated, since Klal Yisrael collectively observes the
For the above reason, an Ashkenazic woman who did not hear
the first blowings should recite the bracha before the shofar soundings
during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei or at the end of davening.
WHY DO WE BLOW SHOFAR BOTH BEFORE AND DURING MUSAF?
The Gemara explains that we repeat the shofar
blowings in order to confuse the Satan and prevent him from prosecuting us (Rosh
Hashanah 16b). This is surprising. Is the Satan so easily fooled? Most of
us have discovered the Satan to be extremely clever. Does he not remember that
we pulled the same prank on him in previous years and blew the shofar twice?
Tosafos explains the Gemara more deeply. The
Satan is constantly afraid that Moshiach will come and put him out of
business. Therefore, every time the shofar blows, the Satan leaps up, terrified
that Moshiach has come, and forgets to prosecute us! When it is blown
the first time, he is petrified that it might be the advent of Moshiach.
When it is blown the second time, he is absolutely certain, and is beside
himself with shock and consternation. Then he realizes, too late, that it is
just Rosh Hashanah again. By that time, Hashem has reached our verdict without
How nice it would be if we sat on the edge of our chairs
waiting for the Moshiach with the same intensity as the Satan!