Rosh Ha-Shanah 5770/ September 19-20, 2009
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
What is a kosher shofar?
Ari Zvi Zivotofsky
Gonda Brain Research Center
The only commandment explicitly set forth in the Torah that has to do with the Jewish New Year is to listen to the blowing of the shofar.  Therefore it is important that we clarify the rules of halakhah pertaining to this commandment. Here we focus on the animals from which one may make a shofar. The answer to this question is not to be found in the written Torah; in fact, surprisingly, the word shofar is not even mentioned in the written Torah in the context of Rosh ha-Shanah. The Mishnah fills in the gap, but with instructions that appear to contradict one another:
“All shofars are valid except that of a cow” (Rosh ha-Shanah 3.2).
“The shofar for the New Year was of a wild goat, straight, and its mouthpiece was overlaid with gold” (Rosh ha-Shanah 3.3).
The gemara discusses these statements, adding a further remark on this subject (Rosh ha-Shanah 16a):
Rabbi Abahu said, “Why is a shofar of a ram sounded? The Holy One, blessed be He said: Blow on a ram’s horn before Me so that I be reminded for you of the binding of Isaac, Abraham’s son, and ascribe you merit as if you had offered yourselves to Me on the altar.”
These sources gave rise to rules of Halakhah that go in two directions. The Shulhan Arukh and works of similar ilk viewed the passages of Mishnah as a single story which includes shofars that are valid from the outset as well as shofars that are valid after the fact, and therefore ruled (Orah Hayyim 586.1):
The shofar for the New Year should be of a ram, and curved. After the fact, all shofars are valid, whether straight or curved. Curved shofars are preferable to straight ones, and that of a cow is not acceptable under any conditions.
Maimonides and his followers, however, viewed the different remarks of the Mishnah as conflicting. Hence Maimonides ruled (Hilkhot Shofar 1.1):
It is a positive commandment of the Torah to hear the sound of the shofar on the New Year… and the shofar that is blown … is a curved sheep’s horn. All shofars other than sheep’s horns are not valid.
According to Maimonides a ram’s horn is the only valid shofar, even after the fact, and according to the Shulhan Arukh a ram’s horn is the preferred shofar. In actual practice, most communities around the world have used the horn of a ram, although sometimes they have done otherwise either deliberately or inadvertently. Here I give three examples.
 tells of
a tradition among the Jews of Spain and
Although no explanation was given for using a shofar
from an animal other than a ram, it appears that they deliberately used a
different animal. A fascinating story
That commandment almost became neglected in all of
Ashkenaz, since for forty years the gentile artisan who lived in
The rabbi goes on to explain that for several years they made shofars of ram’s horns for all the lands of Ashkenaz, and he writes: “I hereby decree, by virtue of the authority given me to pass decrees, that from the day this writ comes to be known, … no person shall make any shofar that is not from a ram’s horn. Moreover, cursed is the person who shall make one, even from a goat’s horn … and this includes whoever blows a shofar of a goat’s horn where one of a ram’s horn is to be had.” 
Unlike the case in
I spent the New Year (1859) here (in Mocha, in southwest
Antelope horns continued to be used to make shofars
The shofar that one blows is of course to be made of a ram’s horn, according to the halakhah. But not all the Jews of Yemen blew on a ram’s horn shofar. In many villages they would blow an antelope-horn shofar. Even in Sanaa itself there were those who blew on a ram’s horn and others who blew on a long, twisted shofar. Many challenged the use of this shofar, and the reply made to them was that it came from a ram, an assertion which is patently absurd. Others admitted that it was not from a ram, but that the custom of blowing on these types of shofar had been observed by the Jews of Yemen since antiquity, according to the legal principle that all types of shofar are valid. My grandfather, Rabbi Y. Kapah, of blessed memoruy, vehemently objected to the use of this type of shofar and maintained that it was made from the horn of a buffalo, and coming from the cattle family was ipso facto not valid.
In 1887, Rabbi Yehezkel Shaul-Rofe, a rabbinical emissary
from Tiberias, set out for
Use of a shofar from an animal other than a ram in several communities evoked sharp reactions by posekim. Even though the Shulhan Arukh permits the use of such shofars, it also admits that they are not the preferred type. According to Maimonides, these shofars are not valid even after the fact, however this view is a minority opinion. Arukh ha-Shulhan shows that it is not a minority view, and concludes its discussion on the matter with the following remark (Orah Hayyim 586.3):
Even though Raabad and Rosh and Ran and Tur ruled contrary to him (Maimonides), as we shall see, in any event since Rashi, Tosefot, Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, Hagahot Maimoniot and Sefer Yereim all ruled like Maimonides, that a shofar is not valid unless it is of a ram, clearly we must take their words to heart, especially considering it is a proscription from the Torah not to proclaim as valid any other sort of shofar, and such is the practice of all Jews.
literature has an extensive discussion of the question whether the commandment
on the New Year is to blow the shofar or to hear it, and this question
has implications regarding the benediction.
Maimonides writes that the commandment is to hear the shofar,
as indicated in the benediction lishmoa qol shofar (Hilkhot Shofar,
Sukkah ve-Lulav 22.214.171.124. Also see
Maimonides, Iggerot u-Teshuvot 1958, responsum
 Rabbi Herbert Dobrinsky, A Treasury of Sephardic Laws and Customs, Ktav, 1986, p. 331.
 In an e-mail message sent me on March 1, 2002.
 From a personal conversation on August 30, 2000.
 Letter by Rabbi Lipmann of Welhausen (d. 1459), written in 1421 and reprinted in Ha-Levanon 35, 26 Elul 5629/1869, by Abraham Berliner.
 Rabbi Yaakov Sapir, Even Sapir, 1990, p. 165.
 For further information about using antelope horns, see A. Gimani, “Shofar u-Tekiot bi-Mesoret B’nei Teimaan,” in Mehkarim bi-Leshon ha-Ivrit u-ve-Mad‘ei ha-Yahadut, edited by Aaron ben David and Yitzhak Gluska, Jerusalem 2001, pp. 23-35; Ari Z. Zivotofsky, “Yemenite Shofar: Ideal for the Mitzvah?” The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, 53 (Pesach 5767/Spring 2007), pp. 106-124
Yosef Kapah, Halikhot Teiman, Makhon Ben-Tzvi,