Everything You Need To Know Before Buying A Shofar
A lot of emotional and literal work goes into preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The month of Elul is meant to give us time to prepare at every level for the intense spirituality, reflection, atonement, and prayer that happens during the High Holidays. And the most important piece of Judaica that we utilize during Elul, and on the High Holidays themselves, is the shofar!
If you're unsure of what a shofar is, why we blow it, or the origins surrounding this ancient ritual, check out our Shofar 101 blog post. And once you're well-versed in the history of the shofar and its significance, you're ready to start shopping for your own!
This guide will help you decide what kind of shofar is best for you, your needs, and your customs. We will explain the different types (there are several!) and what to keep in mind as you search for your perfect shofar for Elul and Rosh Hashanah 2023. Our full selection includes more than 150 different shofars, so if you aren't sure exactly what you're looking for, keep reading.
The Five Types of Shofars
There are five types of shofars that you will find on our site, which are pictured above. In order from right to left, the five types of shofars are Yemenite Kudu Shofars, Ram's Horn Shofars, Gemsbok Oryx Shofars, Eland Horn Shofars, and Decorated Shofars.
Yemenite Kudu Shofars are made from kudus, a type of antelope that is abundant in East Africa. They have been historically utilized by Yemenite Jews, and when this community immigrated to Israel, these long, majestic, spiral shofars became extremely popular because of their iconic and thundering sound.
Despite the popularity of kudu shofars, the most popular in Ashkenazi communities are Ram's Horn Shofars, which have been historically available to most Jewish communities in the Land of Israel and throughout the diaspora. These shofars are generally smaller and produce a more baritone sound. They come in a variety of sizes and natural colors, and are the iconic shofar "look" that many people associate with the High Holidays.
The uniquely straight and ribbed Gemsbok Oryx Shofars are more exotic, coming from a type of antelope that's more prevalent in southern Africa and some parts of the Arabian Peninsula. If you're looking for something truly one-of-a-kind for your Elul or High Holiday practice, this may just be the shofar for you!
Eland Horn Shofars are also less widely-used, although also originating in Africa. They have a uniquely twisted shape and boast multiple shades of brown - another gorgeous option if you're into something less common that you can show off to your family or community.
Decorated Shofars can be sourced from any of these animals, but rather than boasting a natural finish, these beautiful horns are often silver-plated or hand-painted with scenes of Jerusalem, pomegranates, the Star of David, and other classic Jewish symbols. Some can also be personalized with a custom message or name in Hebrew or English. Not all decorated shofars are considered kosher by Orthodox authorities - that is, counting for the mitzvah (commandment) of blowing the shofar for Elul, Rosh Hashanah, or Yom Kippur - so be sure to check the product description for kashrut certification if it's important to you. Either way, these shofars make for stunning works of art and can add a special touch of faith and meaning to your home décor!
These shofars will each sound and look different. One can be more commonplace in varying communities, and some rabbis have ruled that certain animal horns are preferable over others. If you're unsure, check with a local rabbi that you trust.
How To Choose A Shofar
1. Know Your Stuff
Shofars have been used by Jews for thousands of years. After the destruction of the Temple, when the Jewish people were forced into exile, different communities across the world used the resources they had to keep Jewish traditions alive. In Europe and parts of the Americas, where Jews are mostly Ashkenazi, ram's horn shofars are more common because rams, sheep, and goats were abundantly available. The iconic spiral kudu horn originates in Yemen, where kudus were readily found. Yemenite Jewish immigrants to Israel brought their tradition to the Jewish state, where the long kudu shofar has been widely adopted by Mizrahi Jews, as well as other Israelis. You can choose to follow the tradition of your community, or go with your own personal preference or style.
2. Size Matters...
The length of a shofar is not measured from end-to-end. Instead, it's taken around the curve or curves of the horn, so bear that in mind when picking a length. Make sure to look for a measurement in the product name or description, not just quantifying adjectives like 'small' or 'extra-large'. The smaller the measurement range given for a particular type of shofar, the more likely you are to find the size you're looking for.
3. Bigger Might Be Better
When you're choosing a shofar, remember that the bigger shofars have larger mouthpieces. Small mouthpieces are much harder to blow successfully and smoothly, so it's a good idea to go for a larger horn, especially if you're new to shofar-blowing! Big shofars also have more space in which air can vibrate, so you're more likely to be able to play different tones at ease.
4. Sound Check
Unlike traditional woodwind instruments, shofars do not have small holes to produce different notes when the player opens and closes a hole. A shofar creates one solid sound, but different notes can be achieved depending on how much pressure you blow into the horn. Keep in mind that bigger shofars often produce deeper notes, while smaller ones have a higher pitch.
5. And To Finish...
Shofars can be left natural, or they can be polished during production to create a sleek final product. You can also buy half-polished shofars, where the bottom-half is polished and the top has been left natural; this is more common among the Yemenite Kudu shofars. And of course, each horn is an organic product, so every shofar will have slightly different coloration and markings. Each shofar is like a fingerprint: there are no two shofars that are exactly alike. Pay attention to every detail to ensure you get exactly what you are looking for!
Keeping your shofar in tip-top shape is extremely important, because any damage can render it not kosher. We carry several shofar bags so that you can ensure your new horn stays safe.
Additionally, when purchasing a shofar on our site, you have the option to add a sturdy shofar stand if you choose to display it year-round, as well as 50ml bottles of odor-eliminating spray that will protect your new shofar while combatting the odors that naturally arise from animal-sourced products.
If You Need Some More Inspiration...
We hope this guide has clarified the nuances between different types of shofars and that you're ready to shop. We carry more than 160 shofars, all of which are crafted in the Holy Land by Israel's most experienced and finest artisans, such as Barsheshet-Ribak, a family-owned studio that has been creating shofars since the 14th century.
If you're still searching for inspiration, check out our Top 10 Favorite Shofars for Rosh Hashanah 2023. Good luck, and happy shopping!