A Cornucopia of Horns? Originally Published March 29-30, 2019.

Each year the ba’al toke’a (horn blower, בעל תוקע, sometimes called ba’al teki’ah, בעל תקיעה) takes out his/her shofar and begins practicing up for the High Holidays.  The shofar is sounded during the entire month of Elul at the end of the weekday morning service (be there at minyan!) except on 29 Elul.  The shofar is first mentioned in Exodus 19:13, “When the ram’s horn [yovel] sounds a long blast, they may go up on the mountain,” God said to Moses, and then in 19:16 the “very loud blast of the horn [shofar]” is heard.  That is a fairly ancient reference. 

When blown in the Temple, the shofar blower was usually surrounded by trumpet blowers.  The Talmud (RH 27a) says that the trumpet (hatsotsrah) was made of silver, while the shofar was made of a horn from a sheep, goat, mountain goat, antelope, or gazelle.  There is some mention of preferring a ram or wild goat because the horns are curved.  A cow’s horn may not be used, as it recalls ominously the golden calf.

The Bronze Age, which ran from circa 3300-1200 BCE in the Near East, thus maybe coinciding with that early shofar, brought a horn called a lur, made of bronze, often found buried in pairs in bogs in Denmark and Germany.  The word “horn” in English indicates the derivation from “cornū,” horn in Latin, from the Hebrew keren.  Arriving in Europe from Byzantium in the tenth century or so, the oliphant, from French cor d’olifant, was a horn made from an elephant tusk.  And those eleven-foot-long alpen horns were carved of wood beginning, they believe, around the 16th century.  All are blown by buzzing the lips into them.

The blasts of the shofar come from Numbers 10:5-8, teki’ah and teru’ah.  The former is clearly defined; the latter may have been a triple sound much like the modern shevarim or may have been the greater number of notes in the modern teru’ah.  Thus we blow both ways, just to be certain we fulfill the mitzvah.  Above is a page from the Great Mahzor of Amsterdam, 13th century, with shofar indication (Encyclopedia Judaica).

Why do we mention the shofar in the middle of the month of Adar II?  Because your correspondent is off to the Philadelphia Orchestra to – if they accept my sound – blow shofar in Healing Tones, a new composition by composer/jazz trumpeter Hannibal Lokumbe, as a representative of the Jewish community of Pittsburgh.  Teki’ah!