A few tips to keep in mind from a Judaica store owner
Beginning with the Hebrew month of Elul, the sound of the shofar can be heard every morning coming from synagogues and homes in Jewish neighborhoods around the world. On the High Holidays themselves, the shofar will be blown by experts trained not only in producing a moving sound, but in the complex halachot (Jewish laws) of the shofar. During the month of Elul, it is customary to blow the shofar every morning, and many also practice in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah. As such, shofar sales soar.
Standing behind the counter in his bright and airy Judaica store on Long Island, Yossi Gurevitch clearly knows his customers. They banter pleasantly as he guides them through towering displays of honey dishes, Jewish books, mezuzahs, High Holiday items and more.
With Rosh Hashanah around the corner, there is a prominent presentation of shofars—expertly crafted ram’s horns—to be blown in celebration of the New Year. Between customers, in English sprinkled with Hebrew and Yiddish, the native of Kfar Chabad, Israel, shared some insider tips on how to select the best shofar.
Q: What’s the most important thing to look for when purchasing a shofar?
A: First and foremost, make sure that the shofar you get is certified kosher. It should be sold in a reputable store, bearing a label from a reliable rabbinic organization. In recent years, there has been talk of people producing authentic-looking shofars from synthetic material or covering over significant blemishes in ways that render the shofar unkosher.
Now even if a shofar started out kosher, you want to make sure it is still OK. You want the sound to be produced by air coming in through the narrow end and whooshing out the wider end. If there are cracks or other holes, discard the shofar—and please let me know about it, so I can remove it from the display—and keep on looking for the one that’s right for you.
You also want to make sure it is at least a tefach (handbreadth) long, but you will rarely see such a small shofar on the market that you need to really worry about that.
Q: Assuming kosher authenticity, there are still so many shofars to choose from. How do I know which one is right for me?
A: Every shofar gets sold eventually; there is no right or wrong one. The most important thing to check is the narrow opening. Make sure that it is not sharp since you will be pressing it against your lips. Also make sure that it has a nice shape that feels good to your mouth. The shofar is not blown from the center of the mouth (like a trombone), but from the right side.
The shofar should naturally curl upward when you have it in blowing position. Generally speaking, a bigger shofar is easier to blow with less strain on your lips. It will probably produce a deeper sound as well. But some people like the higher pitch, so get what works for you.
Those really big shofars on the market are made from kudu horns. While they are valid according to many halachic authorities, they are not ideal (and invalid, according to some).
You want to get a shofar from a ram’s horn, which serves to recall whenAbraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac (but was dissuaded by G d at the last moment) and sacrificed a ram in his stead.
Q: Does the color matter?
A: No. It is simply a result of the color of the ram. Black, brown, white or any combination is equally kosher.
Q: How much do you think I should be paying?
A: A decent shofar may cost you between $45 and $100, with larger ones costing more. If you want to invest in a shofar you will use for the rest of your life, it is probably best to disregard the price tag if you can, and concentrate on finding one that you can blow easily again and again.
Q: Do you mind if I try out a shofar right here in the store?
A: By all means! We understand that you cannot be expected to purchase a shofar without first giving it a “test drive.” So feel free to toot away. Try different shofars and find one that feels right for you.
Even if a shofar produces an initial blast that feels right, try to blow a full sequence of 30 blasts, and see how that works. Note that there is a minimum length for the blasts, with the long tekia lasting as long as the shevarim (three blasts), terua (nine staccato blasts) or shevarim-terua that it frames, and you may not always pause for breaths.
Can you get the whole thing out with ease? If yes, you’ve probably found your shofar. If not, keep on digging.
Q: Any final thoughts before I complete my purchase?
A: Even if you have a great shofar and are confident that you can produce the proper tones, don’t miss out on praying with the community in a synagogue. First of all, this will avail you to the spiritual advantages of communal prayer. Secondly, there are many laws surrounding the proper sequencing and pace of the shofar blasts.
If you do need to blow for someone who cannot get to synagogue, make sure to study the laws and practice blowing, so that you are up to the task.
Oh, and let me wish you and your readers a shanah tovah—a happy, healthy and sweet new year!
By: Menachem Posner