The most famous ritual object connected with the High Holy Days is a ram’s horn. The ram’s horn, or shofar in Hebrew, is an ancient musical instrument that is blown like a trumpet.
Shofars come in various sizes and shapes, though they’re always curved. People who are good at playing horns usually can figure out how to get a strong sound out of a shofar, and in many synagogues, different community members volunteer to do some of the shofar blowing.
During synagogue services for Rosh Hashanah, there are several points during which someone will sound the shofar according to a prescribed series of blasts. On Yom Kippur, the shofar is not sounded, except to mark the holy day’s conclusion.
The sound of the shofar is memorable and unique. For many people, it evokes a variety of feelings. Its origins go back to ancient rituals in Jerusalem. In antiquity, shofars were also used to send urgent messages across great distances.
The shofar only sounds when the air is blown out, unlike the blower, who must first take a deep breath. This is symbolic of a Rosh Hashanah tradition: one must go inside oneself to repair before emerging and improving the world. Learn more about shofars and videos of people blowing them here.
Return to the Guide to the High Holy Days or view as a PDF.