When Do We Blow the Shofar and Why?

  • Rav David Brofsky


In memory of Batya Furst z"l
Niftera 28 Elul 5765. 
Dedicated by her family.



In this shiur we will trace the origin of our practice to blow the shofar before, during, and after Musaf, and we will then explore the relationship between teki’ot shofar (the shofar blasts) and the Musaf prayer – both practically and conceptually.

“Confusing the Satan

In a previous shiur, we demonstrated that, due to a doubt regarding the precise sound of the shofar blast called “teru’a,” R. Abahu enacted that one should blow thirty sounds: three sets of TSHRT (teki’a, shevarim, teru’a), three sets of TSHT (teki’a, shevarim, teki’a), and three sets of TRT (teki’a, teru’a, teki’a). We also discussed the debate over whether R. Abahu's enactment responded to a true safek de-orayta (that is, a doubt regarding a law of Biblical origin, for which the law always dictates stringency; Rambam) or not (R. Hai Gaon).

However, as we know, we blow many more than thirty blasts!

The Gemara (Rosh Ha-shana 16b) asks why we blow the shofar while “we are sitting,” i.e. before beginning the Musaf prayer, and then we blow the shofar again “while standing,” i.e. during Musaf. The Gemara concludes, “in order to confuse the Satan (the accuser).”

This passage raises a number of questions. First, what does the Gemara mean, “to confuse the Satan”? And second, which sounds are the “extra” sounds, and which blasts fulfill our obligation of shofar?

Regarding “confusing the Satan,” Tosafot (s.v. Kedei) cite the Arukh, who cites the Talmud Yerushalmi, which explains that when the Satan, the accuser who petitions against us before the Heavenly Court, hears the persistence of the shofar as it is blown twice, he will be startled, as he will think that he hears the shofar of the final redemption.

Other rishonim offer less esoteric explanations.  Rashi (16b), for example, as well as Rabbeinu Chananel (16b), explains that when the Jewish people demonstrate their love for the commandments, the Satan is unable to petition against us. Alternatively, the Ran (Rif 3a) explains that the Satan refers to each and every individual's yetzer ha-ra (evil inclination); by repeatedly blowing the shofar we battle our yetzer ha-ra and remind ourselves to repent. This explanation makes especial sense in light of the Rambam's understanding of the shofar blasts as a call to awaken ourselves spiritually.

In any case, the Gemara clearly requires us to blow additional sounds. The first set, blown before Musaf, are known as the teki’ot de-meyushav (the teki’ot sounded while sitting); the additional sounds, blown during Musaf, are known as the teki’ot de-me’umad (the teki’ot sounded while standing). As we shall see, the rishonim differ as to how many sounds should be blown. 

Which Teki’ot are the Primary Fulfillment of the Obligation?

Seemingly, the facts that the teki’ot de-meyushav are blown first and the blessing is recited upon them imply that they are the primary fulfillment of the mitzva.

Indeed, the Rif (10b) and Rambam (Hilkhot Shofar 3:10) record that during Musaf we blow only one set of sounds for each blessing. The Rif explains that, although one could not fulfill one's obligation with so few sounds, the number of blasts of the teki’ot de-meumad is limited because the members of the congregation have already fulfilled their obligation of teki’at shofar with the tekiot de-meyushav, and so we refrain from blowing so large a number of blasts a second time, so as “not to inconvenience the congregation.”  Similarly, the Rashba (16a) and Ritva (16a and 34a) explain that one fulfills the mitzva of teki’at shofar through the teki’ot de-meyushav.

However, the Ran (Rif 3b), as well as the Tur (585), writes that the first teki’ot are intended to “confuse the Satan,” while one fulfills the mitzva through the second blowing. This, of course, raises a question regarding the placement of the blessing on the mitzva of blowing the shofar (henceforth, birkat ha-shofar) before the teki’ot de-meyushav: Why do we make the berakha before the tekiot de-meyushav and not during Musaf prior to the tekiot de-meumad?!  Indeed, the opinion that one fulfills the mitzva through the second blowing might strengthen the case for a need to avoid interrupting between the berakha made on the shofar and the final teki’ot of Musaf.

Tosafot (Pesachim 115a s.v. Matkif) write explicitly that “the same birkat ha-shofar that one recites upon the 'teki’ot of sitting' works for the teki’ot blown while standing, which are the essential ones, and which are performed while reciting the order of the berakhot (Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot).”  Tosafot derive this from Rav Chisda's position regarding the proper time to recite the blessing over the eating of maror at the Pesach Seder.           

Interestingly, the Ba'al Ha-ma'or (Rosh Ha-shana 10b), troubled by this question, writes:

It appears to me that our custom of blowing teki’ot de-meyushav, and reciting on them the blessing of teki’a, is not in accordance with the custom of the Talmudic sages. It is rather a custom introduced by later generations so that people who leave prayer prior to Musaf can still fulfill the mitzva of shofar! To this end, the earlier teki’ot (the teki’ot de-meyushav) were introduced, as well as a condensed version of the blessing of teki’a. In fact, however, the primary blessings are those of Musaf: Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot.

In this shocking passage, the Ba'al Ha-Ma'or suggests that originally there was no birkat ha-mitzva for the shofar, nor were there any teki’ot de-meyushav; rather, they were later introduced for those who could only stay for the teki’ot de-meyushav. Here, he clearly reveals a belief that the primary teki’ot are the sounds blown during Musaf; the early sounds were merely intended “to confuse the Satan.”

As we shall see, this debate – over which teki’ot fulfill the primary obligation of teki’at shofar – may impact upon other halakhot relating to the shofar blasts, such as whether one may talk between the first thirty blasts and those blasts blown during Musaf. Furthermore, as we shall also explore later in the shiur, one might also suggest that this debate should depend upon our understanding of the exact halakhic relationship between the Musaf prayer and the accompanying teki’ot.

The Source of Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot

Rosh Ha-shana boasts a unique Musaf prayer. While the usual Shabbat and Yom Tov tefillot consist of the three opening and three closing blessings of the Shemoneh Esrei, plus a middle berakha devoted to the sanctity of the day (kedushat ha-yom), during the Musaf of Rosh Ha-shana we insert three berakhot in between the opening and closing blessings, and, in addition, we blow the shofar during the recitation of these berakhot.

What is the source for the obligation to recite these three middle blessings? How are we to understand their structure and composition? And finally, which teki’ot are blown during Musaf and why?

Regarding the source of “Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot” (henceforth “MZ”V”), the Gemara, at first glance, seems to send a somewhat mixed message.

One the one hand, one passage which questions the source of MZ”V (Rosh Ha-shana 32a) states very simply that “God said that we should recite them.” Along these lines, the Gemara on 16b records:

The Holy One, Blessed be He, said ... “Recite before me on Rosh Ha-shana Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot.  Malkhuyot in order that you will coronate me as your [King], Zikhronot in order that your remembrances should come before Me with favor. And how? Through the shofar.”

On the other hand, the Gemara elsewhere (34b) teaches:

The mitzva of “blowing” is greater than reciting the blessings. How so? If there are two cities, and in one of them they blow the shofar, and in the other they recite the blessings (MZ”V), one should go to the place where they blow [the shofar].  

[Question:] That is obvious?! One [obligation] is of biblical origin (i.e. the shofar) and the other of rabbinic origin (i.e. the berakhot of MZ”V)?!  [Answer:] It is necessary [to teach us this law for a situation in which] one place is certain and the other is a doubt [namely, that even in the case of doubt one should go to the city where he may be able to hear the shofar].

This source clearly asserts that the berakhot of MZ”V are mi-derabbanan.

Indeed, most rishonim assume that the berakhot are of rabbinic origin. While Rashi (Vayikra 23:24) implies that the Biblical verse “zikhron teru’a” refers to the blessings of MZ”V, the Ramban (ibid., and in his Derasha Le-Rosh Ha-shana) – based upon the above passage of Rosh Ha-shana 34b – rejects Rashi’s implication and suggests that even Rashi must accept that the interpretation is no more than an asmakhta.

Rav Soloveitchik (as recorded in Harerei Kedem, vol. I, chapter 29) suggested that even if recitation of the berakhot of MZ”V does not constitute an independent Biblical mitzva, it may nevertheless have import for Biblical law in the role of enhancing the fulfillment of the Biblical mitzva of shofar.  We will discuss the significance of this opinion shortly.  

Teki’ot De-me’umad

The rishonim record numerous customs regarding which and how many blasts are blown during Musaf.

(1) The Rif (10b), Ba'al Ha-Ma'or (11a), Rambam (Hilkhot Shofar 3:10), and Rosh (4:10) record that the early custom, seemingly from gaonic times, was to blow one set of TSHRT for Malkhuyot, one set of TSHT for Zikhronot, and one set of TRT for Shofarot, equaling altogether an additional ten blasts.

Some question the propriety of this practice, as according to R. Abahu the proper blasts would be sounded over only one of the berakhot! This question is easily resolved according to the Rif, who, as we mentioned above, writes that while in theory we might have required thirty blasts for each blessing, since the congregation fulfilled their requirement before Musaf only one set is blown after each berakha of Musaf in order not to burden the congregation.  Furthermore, R. Hai Gaon, as we also discussed above, believed that fundamentally all of the types of teru’a are correct and that R. Abahu’s concern was with communal unity and not with halakhic doubts; according to this view a halakhically correct set was blown for each blessing.  However, according to the Rambam, who views R. Abahu's doubt as a true safek de-orayta, the question remains.

The Ramban (cited by Ritva 34b; and see also Milchamot Ha-Shem 11a) offers yet another explanation:

The truth is that halakhically one has already fulfilled the obligation of teki’at shofar with the teki’ot de-meyushav (before Musaf), and the teki’ot blown with the order of the berakhot do not come to fulfill the commandment of shofar, but rather [to fulfill] the mitzva of communal prayer – to raise prayer with the blast [of the shofar], as is done on communal fast days...

Here the Ramban claims that the teki’ot blown during Musaf come not to fulfill the mitzva of shofar, but to enhance the tefilla.

Rav Yosef Karo, in his Shulchan Arukh (OC 592:1), accepts this position and adds that it is customary to blow each set three times, for a total of thirty extra sounds. Elsewhere (596:1) he records the Sephardic custom to blow a final blast – a “teru’a gedola” – after Musaf, for a total of 61 blasts.

(2) Rabbeinu Tam (Tosafot 32b, s.v. Shiur), on the other hand, was so troubled by the question mentioned above that he established that we should blow a TSHRT for each berakha, for a total of forty-two additional sounds. (As we discussed last week, Rabbeinu Tam believes that a TSHRT does not pose a problem of hefsek, or interruption, because the halakha follows the Rabbanan, who allow one to hear even nine sounds over nine hours and still fulfill one's obligation.) The Rema records that this is the custom for Ashkenzic Jewry.

(3) R. Yeshayahu Ha-levi Horowitz (1565–1630), known as the “Shelah Ha-kadosh” ("the Holy Shelah"), after his work “Shenei Luchot Ha-Berit,” records in the name of the Ari z”l that one should blow a TSHRT, TSHT and TRT after each berakha, totaling an additional thirty blasts.

Most congregations seem to follow the position of the Shelah, three sets for each berakha.

One Hundred Blasts

As demonstrated, according to the original gaonic custom, the tekiot de-meumad consisted of only 40 sounds, according to Rabbeinu Tam's practice they consisted of 42 sounds, and according to R. Yosef Karo's practice they consisted of 60.

However, the prominent custom of most communities nowadays is to blow approximately 100 blasts.  What is the origin of this practice?

Tosafot (Rosh Ha-shana 33b, s.v. Shiur) cite the Arukh, who cites what is an apparently non-extant midrash which records a practice to blow 100 sounds in parallel to the 100 wailings of the mother of Sisera, the Canaanite general defeated and killed by Barak and Devorah. Sefer Shoftim (5:28) describes Sisera's mother waiting in anticipation of her son’s return, “Through the window she looked forth, and cried, the mother of Sisera, through the lattice: ‘Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the wheels of his chariots?’”

Indeed, elsewhere the Gemara derives from this verse that the word “teru’a” refers to the short throbbing cries.  “The Torah states: ‘It shall be a day of teru’a for you.’ The Targum translates the phrase as ‘yom yevava,’ a day of sobbing, based on the verse (Shoftim 5:28): ‘At the window Sisera's mother looked out, and cried.’” 

The commentaries attempt to understand this halakhic derivation.  

Some seek to understand how this verse could serve as a source for the requirement to sound 100 hundred wailings, suggesting, for example, that the gematriya (numerical value) of the word "ha-chalon" (the window), which is exactly 99, implies that had Sisera’s mother wailed just once more, for a total of one hundred times, her son might have been saved.

Others try to understand the relationship between Sisera’s mother’s whimpers and our sounding of the shofar. Seemingly, one might suggest that just as Sisera’s mother, standing by the window, cried out of an intense feeling of uncertainty regarding what would become of her son, so too when the books of life and death are open and our future is at stake, we cry, by means of the shofar, expressing our fears and uncertainties to God and praying for a positive judgment.

While this practice apparently did not become customary during the Middle Ages, the Shelah endorsed it, and the Mishna Berura (OC 596:2) and Arukh Ha-shulchan (OC 596:1) testify to its acceptance.

(Interestingly, R. Binyamin Shelomo Hamburger, in his Shorashei Minhag Ashkenaz, vol. 1, where he summarizes the different positions from a historical and geographical perspective, defends the long standing German tradition of adhering to the gaonic position and blowing only ten blasts during the Musaf repetition.)

According to our custom of blowing one hundred blasts, how are these blasts distributed throughout the Tefilla? There are different customs regarding this question.

Some communities, generally of non-Chasidic Ashkenazic origin (Mishna Berura 592:1) do not blow at all during the silent Shemoneh Esrei and therefore blow thirty during the repetition. The final forty blasts are blown after Musaf (30) and after the final Kaddish Titkabbel (10).

Other communities, generally those of Sefaradic and Chassidic origin, blow during both the silent Shemoneh Esrei (30) and the repetition (30), and the final ten are blown either after the final Kaddish or in the midst of it – before the stanza of “titkabbel,” in which we petition God to accept our prayers.  (The custom to blow during the silent Shemoneh Esrei as well can be found as early as the Arukh, s.v. "ERV.") 

Interruptions between the Blessing and the Final Shofar Blasts

The question addressed above may impact upon a very practical question regarding the teki’ot of Musaf. May one speak during the Musaf prayer or is there a problem interrupting between the birkat ha-shofar and the later teki’ot?

It is customary not to speak between the birkat ha-shofar and the teki’ot after the final Kaddish. But why?

Rav Sa’adia Gaon (Otzar Ha-Geonim, Rosh Ha-shana) writes that “the one who blows the shofar is not permitted to speak until the conclusion of the entire service.”  Similarly, in another fascinating gaonic responsum, the congregation is also warned against talking until the conclusion of the service, as the blessing recited over the shofar is “lishmo’a,” to hear, and not “litko’a,” to blow; the Rosh (4:13) cites this as well. 

The Rif, the primary source for this stringency, cites, at the end of his commentary to Rosh Ha-shana (11a), a Reish Metivta who criticizes those who speak “before one blows upon the recitation of the berakhot (MZ”V).” He equates this to the case of one who speaks between putting on the tefillin shel yad and the tefillin shel rosh, regarding which the Gemara (Menachot 36a) rules that, although ones has sinned, one does not need to repeat the blessing. The Rosh (4:12), as well as the Rambam (Hilkhot Shofar 3:11), cites this ruling. Rabbeinu Simcha, cited by the Hagahot Maimoniyot (3:9), rules that one who speaks before the conclusion of the berakhot (MZ”V) should repeat the birkat ha-shofar!

The Ran (11a), citing the Ba’al Ha-Ma’or, rejects the rational of this ruling. He claims that one sins when one interrupts between putting on the tefillin shel yad and the tefillin shel rosh because he must then recite an additional berakha, “al mitzvat tefillin.”  He maintains, however, that once one begins the performance of a mitzva there is no prohibition of talking until its completion.  In fact, he forcefully asserts that one who begins searching for chametz after reciting the blessing upon bedikat chametz is certainly not prohibited from speaking until its completion. He concludes, however, that, out of deference to the Reish Metivta who uttered the ruling, one should still refrain from speaking.

Seemingly, the anonymous Reish Metivta cited by the Rif makes two assumptions. Firstly, he assumes that one may not speak after reciting a birkat ha-mitzva until the conclusion of the mitzva. Secondly, he assumes that the mitzva of shofar concludes after the teki’ot have been recited with the berakhot (MZ”S), or that the birkat ha-mitzva of shofar covers the recitation of the berakhot (MZ”V) which accompany the teki’ot. (While the Ran challenged the first assumption, we addressed the second assumption above.)

Despite the apparent absence of any Talmudic source for this position, the Shulchan Arukh (OC 592:3) rules: “One should not speak, not the person blowing the shofar, nor the congregation, between the teki’ot de-meyushav and the teki’ot de-me’umad.”  The Taz (ibid, 2) defends this position against that of the Ran, maintaining that the primary fulfillment of the mitzva of shofar occurs during Musaf, and that one must not interrupt until the conclusion of the entire mitzva.

While a full discussion of “interruptions” (hefsek) in halakha is beyond the scope of this shiur, I will raise briefly some other considerations related to this question.

Regarding the berakhot of MZ”V, the acharonim debate whether the congregation is obligated to hear the blessings in their entirety in order to fulfill their obligation (R. Chaim Soloveitchik), or, whether, alternatively, merely hearing the teki’ot blown during the berakhot, even without hearing the repetition of the berakhot themselves, is sufficient (Chazon Ish 137:3-5). Seemingly, according to R. Chaim, one must not interrupt during the berakhot in order to fulfill the mitzva of the berakhot as well! One might question, based upon this, whether one should hurry one’s prayer in order to hear the entire repetition and whether the first three berakhot of Musaf are also included in this mitzva. Furthermore, according to those who blow the shofar during the silent Shemoneh Esrei, one might question whether one must conclude the berakha before hearing the teki’ot or may one simply pause to listen.

In addition, it’s worth noting that the Kol Bo, a medieval work on Jewish ritual and traditions, explains (64) that one should not talk between the teki’ot before Musaf and those blown during Musaf, “in order that [people] should focus their hearts on the teki’ot . . .

Finally, we pointed out previously that, due to the many opinions regarding the proper manner of blowing the shofar, some are accustomed to blowing differently each time, in order to accommodate a variety of opinions. For example, some blow a “shevarim-teru’a” in one breath for some of the blasts, while they blow two breaths for others, and some, in addition, blow a strait “shevarim” for some, and an “oleh ve-yored” (tu – a – tu) for others. If so, then one might not be allowed to interrupt unnecessarily until after all of the teki’ot, even those blown after Musaf, are blown ( – for until that point, one still has a small doubt whether he has fulfilled his obligation, since he has not yet blown all of the possible combinations of sounds).

What constitutes a hefsek (a halakhically offending interruption) regarding this question?  Clearly, one may recite Musaf and its kedusha.  Furthermore, it is customary to recite various piyuttim during the repetition.  The Rema implies that one should not speak devarim betelim, idle chatter.

The poskim discuss whether one who goes to the bathroom during Musaf may recite the blessing Asher Yatzar. The Penei Yehoshua (Rosh Ha-shana 34b) seems to equate this with the law during Hallel and Megilla reading, during which one may not recite Asher Yatzar, and during which one may only interrupt out of “fear or respect” for another.  Others (see Minchat Yitzchak 3:44 and 4:47 and Tzitz Eliezer 11:45) rule leniently, equating this issue to interrupting during Pesukei De-zimra, during which we permit one to say Asher Yatzar (Mishna Berura 55:8).

Relationship between the Shofar and Musaf

Finally, we must ask, why do we integrate the shofar blasts into the blessings (MZ”V) of Musaf at all?  Why did the Sages insist that both mitzvoth be performed together, and what role does each component play in this combination? 

We may propose two possible understandings.

On the one hand, we may suggest that the shofar blasts are employed to enhance our prayers (MZ”V). Indeed, we have demonstrated that a major aspect of the mitzva of shofar is prayer. For example, as the verse describes, trumpets are used during wartime:

And when ye go to war in your land against the adversary that oppresses you, then ye shall sound an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the Lord your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies.” (Bamidbar 10:9)

The origin of the shofar, as well as its shape, may be crucial for the very reason that we are utilizing the shofar as an instrument of prayer. Finally, as we saw above, the Ramban explains, explicitly, that although we may not fulfill our mitzva of shofar during the Musaf blasts, they “[fulfill] the mitzva of communal prayer, to raise prayer with the blast [of the shofar], as is done on communal fast days...”  If it is indeed an instrument of prayer, it makes much sense to incorporate the blowing of the shofar into the Musaf.

Apparently, the wordless shofar blasts contribute something that the three lengthy articulate blessings do not. What the shofar adds may be the sense of emergency which is expressed by the sounding of an alarm. Alternatively, it may be that after verbal prayer expresses all that it has in its power to express, the shofar articulates those prayers and hopes that transcend words.

A second approach to explaining why we incorporate teki’at shofar into Musaf would be to suggest that although mitzvot are generally fulfilled even if lacking an awareness of the reason behind the mitzva (whether or not intention to fulfill the mitzva is required; see Rosh Ha-shana 26b), nevertheless, some mitzvoth may be elevated or enhanced when fulfilled within a certain understanding and context.

For example, the Bach (OC 625) insists that mitzvot for which the Torah mentions a reason explicitly should preferably be fulfilled while aware of that reason. Therefore he rules that one should think about the redemption from Egypt while fulfilling the mitzva of Sukka on the first night of Sukkot, as it says in the verse “in order that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Vayikra 23:43).

Along similar lines, the Ramban (Milchamot Hashem, Berakhot) explains R. Gamliel’s famous statement (Pesachim 116a) about the first night of Pesach – “Whoever did not say these three things on Pesach has not fulfilled his obligation. And these are they: pesach, matza, and marror” – in an innovative way.  While we generally assume that R. Gamliel refers to three essential components of the mitzva of sippur yetzi’at Mitzrayim (the mitzva to relate the story of the exodus from Egypt), the Ramban suggests that without fully comprehending these components one’s fulfillment of the mitzvot of eating the pesach, matzah and marror are lacking!

Similarly, perhaps, the mitzva of Shofar should ideally be performed while reciting the berakhot of MZ”V. In fact, as mentioned above, Rav Soloveitchik suggested that this may be Rashi’s intention when he interpreted “zikhron teru’a” as referring to MZ”V. He explains that MZ”V may be “mi-deorayta” when integrated unto the mitzva of teki’at shofar.

How do the berakhot of Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot enhance the mitzva of shofar? The themes of these berakhot – the coronation of God (Malkhuyot), reward and punishment (Zikhronot), and Divine revelation (Shofarot) – are central themes of the mitzva of shofar.  And so, reciting these berakhot together with the shofar blasts would, perhaps, heighten one’s performance of the mitzva of shofar.

Interestingly, these three themes also correspond to the three fundamental beliefs of Judaism as presented by the fifteenth century philosopher, R. Yosef Albo, in his Sefer Ha-Ikarim: the existence of God, the revelation of God, and reward and punishment. In our Musaf of Rosh Ha-shana, then, in the opening prayer of the New Year, we affirm our belief in these three principles.

What emerges from our discussion is an understanding of a truly unique ritual – the Musaf blessing of Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot, accompanied by the blowing of the shofar.

Ketiva va-chatima tova!