Shofar Sounding at Jewish Weddings
Arthur L. Finkle
When someone sent an e-mail asking me to sound the shofar at her wedding, I responding, “Are you serious!” She was.
The facts were that she was an Israeli from Herzliya (suburb of north of Tel Aviv) who was marrying in June 2011. She heard the shofar sound at a wedding in the Tel Aviv area, where one-third of Israel’s population resides. Secular in upbringing, when she heard the low primordial, atavistic tonality of the Yemenite shofar, she was transfixed. From that point on, she desired a shofar sounding at her own wedding.
In the meantime, I visited Israel and asked if shofar sounding at a wedding was customary. Surprised that it was, I asked exactly what the shofar was to do and when.
With this knowledge gleaned from the Israeli’s, we met a month before the special occasion with her intended husband, an American who practices law in the sites and in Israel. We decided the shofar to be sounded:
- At the beginning of the ceremony to proclaim the blessed event
- At the aisle procession of the intended bride
- After the glass is broken to end the ritual
At the day of the wedding, I coordinated everything (cues) from the wedding coordinator and the officiating Rabbi.
At the beginning, on the Yemenite shofar, I sound a tekiah – to get everyone attention that the wedding ritual was to begin. (It worked.)
I, myself, shed a tear when the shevarim announced the kallah (bethrothed).
After the cup was broken, I sounded a tekiah gedolah (short as requested).
A wedding is a festive occasion. The happy couple was appreciative. The guests (70 of them) treated me that a rock star. They took my picture with the majestic shofar (although they did not ask for my signature).
There is nothing on the Code of Jewish Law, as amended by the Mishnah Berurah that mandates a shofar at a wedding. However, music is not forbidden.
I have found no mention of shofar sounding at Jewish wedding, after extensive research in Mishnah, Talmud, Rishonim, Acharonim and modern commentators.
However, I can guest what the significance may be, particularly for Israeli’s. When the Wailing Wall was recurred in 1967, the secular Israeli Army secured a shofar sounder to proclaim the Western Wall was now in the hands of those who venerated it. Subsequently, other Israeli events have had the shofar heralding something important.
Why Was the Shofar Historically Sounded?
Biblical references to shofars (Hebrew for trumpets, rams’ horns, coronets, etc. are extensive throughout the Biblical literature. Although there are more than 70 times in the Bible mentioning the shofar and scores more mentioning trumpets sand horns. I submit a small listing indicating its uses:
- The ram’s horn, the shofar, is a reminder of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac and God’s provision of a ram as a substitute. (Genesis 22:13) In other words, the shofar is authentically Jewish.
- The LAW (Torah) was given to Israel with the sound of the shofar from heaven. (Exodus 19:19) Again, the shofar a signal that the Jewish people chose to receive the law and are bound by its ethical precepts.
- The shofar was blown at the start of the year of Jubilee on Yom Teruah. (Leviticus 25:9-10). One of the very few Holy Temple rites is the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah.
- The trumpet (shofar) was blown to announce the beginning of the festival. Numbers (10:10). A signal that something special was \occurring.
- Israel conquered in the battle of Jericho with the blast of the shofars. (Joshua 6:20). The shofar was utilized in war similar to that of a bugle to signal differing military TACTICS. It also was used as psychological warfare (to confuse and this terrify the enemy). Gideon and his army confused and scattered the enemy with the shofar. (Joshua 7:15-22)
- The shofar was blown to signal the assembly of the Israelites during war. (Judges 3:27; 6:34; II Samuel 20:1; Jer. 4:19; 51:27; Neh. 4:20; Amos 3:6).
- Seven shofars were blown before the ark of God. (1Chr. 15:24, 2Sam. 6:15). Signaling awe, relevance and spiritual qualities, the shofar sounding announced the place wherein the Creator resided. Indeed, in Ps 47:5, the shofar serves as a reminder that God is sovereign.
- Shofars were blown as a warning. (Ezekiel 33:3-6, Numbers 10:9, Isaiah 18:3)
- The shofar was used for the coronation of kings. (I Kings 1:34, 39).
- The shofar will be blown at the time of Messiah. (Isaiah 27: 13; Isaiah 27:13; Zech. 9:14.)
Post Biblical Uses of the Shofar
The Rabbi’s left the shofar as the focal point of the religious year (Rosh Hashanah, also known as the Day of the Blast). See Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah, Code of Jewish Law (Simon 129), and the Mishnah Berurah (20th century) 586:1 et seq. Indeed, a full month before, the shofar is sounded at morning services (except of the Sabbath) to remind parishioners that Rosh Hashanah is coming soon and it is the time of repentance.
Sounding Shofar on Yom Kippur
The Mishna Berurah provides in Section 623:12, Neilah Service,
One should blow the Shofar the sounds tekiah, shevarim teruah, tekiah, although there are authorities who say that one should blow one tekiah counts. The Shofar should be sounded after the community prayer has said the kaddish following the Neilah prayer. Some localities have adopted the practice of having the Shofar sounded after the kaddish prayer.
The sounding of the shofar on Yom Kippur refers back to the days of the Holy Temple when every 50 years, a shofar would sound announcing the Jubilee year. During the Jubilee (Yovel) years, all will return to their land, Jewish salves will be manumitted (freed). The shofar is blown at the end of the Neilah service on Yom Kippur.
There is a striking similarity between the shofar sounds of the Jubliee Year and Rosh Hashanah, in terms of their reminders to persons of ownership and people in general to shake their lethargy and on Rosh HaShanah—to remind one of their sins and repentance in order to return to God for salvation. (Rosh HaShanah, 3:5.)
http://shavualshavua.blogspot.com/2010/05/behar-bechukosai-5770.html. Accessed October, 2009.
Another thought is to associate the Jubilee Year with the ideas of freedom, equality, and justice. One commentary links ‘Teruah’ with ’Re’ut,’ or friendship, implying the Jubilee Year institutes the new beginning of quality Among humankind forgiving debts and freeing Jewish slaves. As well as for “all its inhabitants.”
Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof,’ (Lev 25:10, explaining the Jubilee year and also inscribed on the Liberty Bell).
Freedom was proclaimed for servant and master alike (“all of its inhabitants”), reminding us that we can be enslaved by our possessions, and true freedom requires putting material desires into the context of an ethical and compassionate life. The Yovel communicates light of God upon us in order to Return to God (no longer encumbered with mundane affairs). It also returns land returns to its source, providing for a new wholeness.
Accordingly both Yovel and Rosh Hashanah encourage the opportunity to connect – for all humankind.
Accordingly, the linking of Teruah- a primal shofar sounding- and Re’ut, friendship- is so profound. It reminds us that what sets us free is focusing on people, not on objects. Indeed, we can never be fully free to become loving friends if we are oriented more towards ownership of things than service to others.
http://rabbineal.wordpress.com. Accessed October, 2009.
In Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 35b. the commentators mention shofar blasts to announce the Sabbath. Apparently, the shofar sounds were the vehicle ro remind workers to return form the fields to observe the Sabbath. There were a rituals of how many blasts at which hour (disputed as to the exactness in the Talmud). R. Yishmael indicated that: “We blow six shofar blasts on Sabbath eve right before the Sabbath begins.” He comments on three. The first series of shofar blasts tell people in the field to cease all work.
Workers closer to the city must wait for those further away returning together.
At the second blast , stores may remain open with merchandise on removable doors outside until the second blast after which the doors are removed and the stores closed. At the third blast, pots and hot water for the evening meal are taken off the oven and we are prepared for the morning meal.
In Taanis 36a, the question arises as to whether a shofar can be carried on the Sabbath. However, this question is a non-starter because the shofar is sounded PRIOR to the Sabbath.
It should be noted that social history points to the shofar’s sounding for prayers in the Pale of the Settlement and prior. An artifact may well be the “Shul Knocker” attached to each house to be activated by the town shamas (Town Crier) to remind residents that services will shortly begin. The “Shul Knocker” interestingly is shaped as a shofar. See http://www.hearingshofar.com/
Bamidbar 1:9 provides tht fasts are instituted when threaqts to the community, genenrally lack of rain. This obligaton, however, only applied in the Temple Era. However, the Rabbi’s instituted a special ceremony at which the shofar is sounded when the community is in peril. (Pri Megadim, quoted in Mishnah Berurah 576:1).
As was taught in the Baylonian Talmud Ta’anit 15a and 16a-b, the procedure for a fast day called because of severe drought involved bringing the ark out of the synagogue and into the public thoroughfare. The elders of the town would speak. The prayer service included the usual 18 blessings of the amidah prayer with an additional six blessing inserted. The Mishnah continues with the social history that, Rabbi Halafta (Scholar of the first and second centuries ), together with Rabbi Hanina ben Tradyon, (second century) and Eleazar ben PeraṬa I, established ritualistic rules to adapt to the destruction of the Holy Temple and to assert the role of prayer as a substitute for Temple sacrifices.
They instituted the 18 Blessing prayer (amidah) and ended the service with a series of shofar blasts. The Mishnah concludes, however, that when the Sages heard that this had been done by Rabbi Halafta and Rabbi Hanina ben Tradyon, they objected, arguing that this procedure was only appropriate for use in the Temple.
The commentators continued this argument but circumscribed it within the context of the specific shofar sounds.
The R’ID (Lemberg, 1861–69) said that the problem stemmed from their blowing the shofar outside of the Holy Temple, trumpets sounded in times of need.
The Rambam (1135-1204) explains that in the Temple the shofar was sounded between each of the additional blessings, while outside the Temple it was only supposed to be blown at the very end of the service.
The Ge’onim (625-1100) argue that the problem was the way the shofar was sounded. In the Temple the tradition was to blow a series of varying sounds – Teki’ah-Teru’ah-Teki’ah – while outside of the mikdash a Teki’ah – a single, simple blast – was appropriate.
(See http://www.steinsaltz.org/learning.php?pg= Daf_Yomi&articleId=517)
Is Shofar Sounding Appropriate at a Wedding?
After taking part in a wedding ceremony and seeing the quests’ reactions in this solemn, bitter-sweet, tender and loving ceremony, I claim that shofar sounding at a wedding is appropriate. The sounds signal that something special is going to occur. It signals reverence, majesty, noble and royal.
And it is authentically Jewish.
Shavuot and Shofar
Shavuot completes the cycle of the 3-Pilgrammage Festivals (Succot and Pesach are the others). (Chagigah 7a). All pilgrimage festivals are on the same footing as each other. (Sabbath 131a)
The Feast of Weeks is called Pentecost or Assembly. (Talmud – Mas. Rosh HaShana 6b; Talmud – Mas. Mo’ed Katan 20a)
The Special Preparations for This Holiday
The special preparations for this holiday falling 7-weeks after Passover (Lev 23:17), are the two leavened loaves of bread (Shabbath 131a). Yet their preparation does not override the Sabbath ( Beitzah 20b)
There were special sacrifices for the Feast of Weeks:
• A second young bullock thou shalt take for a sin-offering:1 Now, if this comes to teach that there are two [sacrifices], surely it has already been said, (Zevachim 89b)
• The two lambs offered at the Feast of Weeks; cf. Lev. XXIII, 19. These lambs are also permissible as well as the two loaves mentioned previously. (Menachot 13b)
• The thank-offering consisted of an animal-offering and a bread-offering of forty cakes, ten cakes of each of the four different kinds specified; v. Lev. VII, 12, 13. The entire thank-offering had to be consumed on the same day of offering until midnight.
• A special waving peace-offering offered on the Feast of Weeks and accompanied by a bread-offering of two loaves (Lev. 23:17-19. This peace-offering and the loaves had to be eaten on the same day of offering. (Menachot 15a)
Two loaves of leavened bread were offered on Shavuoth, as a communal offering. The unground wheat was first rubbed by the priests…
The two loaves were kneaded and baked separately. They were rectangular in shape, measuring seven handbreadths long and four wide. The loaves were fashioned so that there would be a hornlike protrusion on each of the four corners.
The priests would carry the two loaves and the other offerings up to the altar. They would be accompanied by Levites blasting trumpets and playing flutes.
• The first fruits according to R. Eliezer b. Jacob. first fruits require waving;
• Twin Loaves Waves with Trumpets, Flute and Song
o When the time for the wine libation arrived and the twin loaves were offered, the Levite choir began its music-the singers, trumpeters and musicians. Indeed, the special holiday commandment for this day calls for the blowing of trumpets: “And on the days of your joy, and on your festivals… you shall sound off with trumpets” (Numbers 10:10). Additionally, the festival of Shavuot is included as one of the 12 days of the year in which the flute is played before the altar, even if it falls out on the Sabbath (Maimonides, Laws of Temple Vessels 3:2,5,6).
After the destruction of the Holy Temple, the Rabbi’s decreed that, in lieu of the sacrifices, the Hallel (Ps 113-118) be individually prayed. (Arachin 10a)
Arakhin, Chapter Two, Mishnah Three states that the Priests sounded the shofar never less than twenty-one blasts in the sanctuary and never more than forty-eight.
In addition, the shofar sounded during the twin loaves wave offering special for Shavuot. In addition, the special holiday commandment for this day called for the blowing of trumpets: “And on the days of your joy, and on your festivals… you shall sound off with trumpets” (Numbers 10:10).
The Horns of the Altar
Horns on an altar are ancient in the Middle East. Obbink, however, finds Israelite altars unique. Abraham calls his altar Jahwe jir’e (Gen. 22) ; Jacob calls his altar El ‘elohe yisra’el (Gen. 33 20), and Moses calls his, Jahwe nissi (Ex. 17). These are not names for altars. Rather, they are for sanctuaries. Gen. 28 is tells that Jacob took the stone that he had put for his pillow and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on the top of it: similarly Gen. 35 . In ancient Israel they were called altars when they were attached to the altar. In both cases the altar is a bethel, and the bethel is an altar. Such was the ancient Semitic tradition. (H. Th. Obbink, The Horns of the Altar in the Semitic World, Especially in Jahwis, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 56, No. 1 (Mar., 1937), pp. 43-49. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3259629. Accessed: 05/29/2011
Initially using the Midrash Tadshe (ch. XI) (The Midrash Tadshe focuses on symbols and it plays much on groups of numbers. Section 2 contains a symbolization of the Tabernacle, the central idea of the midrash is the theory of three worlds—earth, man, and the Tabernacle), Samuel Belkin describes the rationale behind the use of the horns combined with the altar. Belkin explores further by using translations to the Greek texts of Philo, to the Armenian translation of Philo’s Questions and Answers on Genesis and Exodus, to the Mishnah, to the Talmud and Midrash, to Midrash Psalms and to the Mekilta (midrash to Exodus extending Jewish Law). He finds that these horns are of clean animals, whether these are brought as sacrifices or not, have horns and cleft hoofs. Once again, why did the Holy One, blessed be He, decree that horns be made for the altar? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, sought to teach us, that if we offered sacrifices to Him in righteousness, He would repel, destroy and subject their enemies and would not permit them to harm them (the Israelites). For it is written: ‘And all the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up’ (Ps. 75: II). But, if not, (i.e., should the Israelites become iniquitous), He would harass and repel them from before Him, as it is written: ‘And I will make your cities a waste, (and will bring your sanctuaries unto desolation), and I will not smell the savor of your sweet odors’ (Lev. 26: 31) ; and it is also said; ‘To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me’ ” (Isa. : II).
Belkin claims that Philo finds the Tadshe to be a Hellenistic Midrash derived from or based upon the main structure of Philo.
Accordingly, those which are to be offered as sacrifices are the following three (kinds): the sheep, the ox, and the goat.
But besides these there are seven other (kinds permitted) for food: gazelle, deer, wild goat, buffalo, white-rumped antelope, oryx, and giraffe; each of these has horns. For He wishes to specify those (animals to be used) for food, for even though they are not to be offered as sacrifices, still they are similar to those which are to be sacrificed.
Secondly, the horns (of the altar) incline and face toward the four sides of the world, toward the east, toward the west toward the south, and toward the Dipper, for it is proper that those who are in all parts (of the world) should all bring their first-fruits and new (offerings) to this one altar, and sacrifice victims to God, the Father of the world. In the third place, (this is said) symbolically, for in place of defensive weapons He has given a crop of horns to animals which grow horns. Just as the (animals) to be sacri¬ficed, (namely) the ram, the ox, and the goat, repel their enemies with their horns, so also did He wish to rebuke the impious who presume to offer sacrifices, by teaching that the divine Logos opposes and repels the enemies of truth, goring every soul as if with horns, and showing up in their nakedness its unclean and unworthy deeds, which a little while before it had been concealing. For these reasons the horns are not to be placed upon (the altar) from outside, but by His command are to be united to the altar itself to extend it, since sacrificial animals have their horns growing out of themselves.”
Samuel Belkin, Some Obscure Traditions Mutually Clarified in Philo and Rabbinic Literature, Source: The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 57, The Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Volume of the Jewish Quarterly Review (1967), pp. 80-103. University of Pennsylvania Press, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1453486. Accessed: 05/29/2011