How Do We Know How Many Times to Blow the Shofar on Rosh HaShanah?

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How Many Shofar-blasts Must be Sounded on Rosh Hashanah?

By Meir Loewenberg

Hearing the blast of the shofar is the central mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah. Maimonides notes this in his chapters on the Laws of Shofar with these words:

It is a positive mitzvah of the Torah to hear the blast of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, as it is stated (Numbers 29:1): "it shall be a day of blowing the shofar for you." [Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shofar 1:1]

The (almost) universally-accepted practice today is to blow 100 shofar-blasts on Rosh Hashanah. But this was not always the case and even today is not the custom of all communities. The Torah does not tell us the exact count of shofar blasts that we must sound on Rosh Hashanah. All that the Torah provides is a vague description of Rosh Hashanah as "a day of teru'a" (Numbers 29:1) or "a remembrance of teru'a" (Leviticus 23:24). The Sages of the Talmud also do not mention our practice of 100 shofar blasts. And in the subsequent rabbinical literature many different practices are noted. Here we will attempt to trace the development that led to our 100 blasts.

9 blasts. The original Torah requirement calls for blowing only nine blasts - three Teru'ot, each of which is preceded and followed by a Teki'ah for a total of nine blasts. The number 9 is derived from the fact that the Torah has three verses that mention teru'ah and another verse that indicates that each teru'ah needs to be preceded and followed by a teki'ah blast - this makes for a total of 9 blasts (TB Rosh Ha-shana [= RH] 33b-34a). Though some of the Sages indicate that the requirement of nine blasts is of rabbinical origin, the halakha indicates that this requirement is Biblical (Rambam, Hilkhot Shofar 3:1, Tur OC 590, and Shulchan Arukh OC

27 blasts. In the third century CE Rabbi Avahu of Caesarea decreed that the three sets of Teki'ah-Teru'ah-Teki'ah be repeated three times, each time with a different type of Teru'ah because of a doubt about the sound of the Torah-required Teru'ah sound (whether the sound was like the current Shevarim, the current Teru'ah, or both of them together). Therefore, for the first set we blow three times Teki'ah- Shevarim -Teru'ah-Teki'ah, the second set consists of three times Teki'ah- Shevarim -Teki'ah, and for the third set we blow three times Teki'ah-Teru'ah-Teki'ah. Thus, Rabbi Avahu's decree tripled the total number of blasts to 27. By the time the Talmud was redacted, Rabbi Avuha's decree had been universally accepted. Rambam explains this option as follows:

Over the passage of the years and throughout the many exiles, we are no longer sure as to the exact nature of the teru'ah which the Torah mentions. We do not know whether it is similar to wailing of weeping women (i.e. a terua, or nine short blasts), or the sighs of a person who is deeply distressed about a major matter. Or perhaps it is a combination of the two - sighing and the crying which will follow it. Therefore, we perform all three variations. [Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shofar 3:2]

30 blasts. The 27 blasts that Rabbi Avahu decreed include three Shevarim-Teru'ah sounds; many rabbinical authorities consider these as two separate sounds and therefore count a total of 30 blasts and not 27. Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel (known as the Rosh, Germany-Spain, 1250-1327) noted that the count of 30 or 27 blasts depends on whether one is required to take a breath between the sounds of Shevarim and Teru'ah of the Shevarim-Teru'ah or whether the two sounds are blown with one breath.

40 blasts. The Talmudic Sages (Rosh Hashanah 16b) noted that a set of 27 or 30 blasts is blown before Musaf ("Meyushav") and another (full) set is blown during the repetition of Musaf ("Me'umad"). Some require that this second set also consist of 30 blasts (see below), but Rabbi Yitzchak al-Fasi (known as the Rif, Algeria-Spain, 1013-1103) explained that after the full set of 30 blasts was blown before Musaf, only 10 additional blasts need to be blown during the repetition (Teki'ah-Teru'ah-Teki'ah for the first intermediate blessing (Malchuyot), Teki'ah-Shevarim-Teki'ah for the second blessing (Zichronot), and Teki'ah-Shevarim-Teru'ah-Teki'ah) for the third (Shofrot). This makes for a total of 40 blasts. The practice of 40 blasts is mentioned already by the She'iltot (the first halakhic compendium after the completion of the Talmud, early 8th century CE, Babylonia) and by other Rishonim as the commonly accepted practice in most places of their times. Rabbi Eliezer ben Nathan (known as Ra'aven, 1090-1170, German) suggested that these 40 blasts symbolize the 40 days during which the Torah was given to Moses; while Moses was on Mount Sinai the blast of the Shofar was heard constantly.

42 blasts. Rabbenu Yakov ben Meir Tam ( known as Rabbenu Tam, 1100- 1171, France; grandson of Rashi) recommended that the common practice (of his time) to blow 40 sounds be slightly altered by blowing a single set of Teki'ah, Shevarim-Teru'ah, Teki'ah for each of the three intermediate Musaf-blessings, rather than three different sets with different Teru'ot. He argued that even if Shevarim or Teru'ah alone is the correct way to blow, by blowing Shevarim-Teru'ah one would have fulfilled the Mitzvah b'Di'eved. The extra two blasts added by Rabeinu Tam bring the total to 42 sounds. This practice of 42 blasts was also endorsed by Rabbi Moses Isserles (known as the Rama, 1520 - 1572, Poland) whose halakhic emendations have been accepted by Ashkenazi Jews as authoritative (OC 590).

60 blasts. Some authorities require that a full set of 30 blasts be blown during Musaf in addition to the full set of 30 blasts that was already blown before Musaf (as was mentioned already above in the "40 blasts"). The Gemara (RH 16a-b) explains that this practice was instituted by the rabbis in order to "to confuse the Satan."

Tosafot (Rosh Hashana 33b) note that Rabbi Nathan ben Yechiel (1035-1102, Italy) wrote in his masterwork Aruch that there should be a total of 30 blasts and not 10 in the repetition of Mussaf, with 10 blasts for each of the three blessings in order to make sure that the proper Teru'ah sound has been blown. This practice of blowing 60 blasts was also adopted by Rabbi Yitzhak of Corbell (known as the Semak, died 1280, France) and is mentioned in the authoritative Mishna Berurah of RabbiYisrael Meir Kagan (known as Chafetz Chaim, Poland, 1838-1933, at 592:4). This is the practice of most Ashkenazic communities today

61 blasts. Rabbi Zarchia Halevi (known as Ba'al Ha'me'or, 12th century, Spain) has an entirely different explanation for when the shofar is blown. He writes that no blasts are blown before Musaf. The first set of Teki'ot (Meyushav) are blown during the repetition of Musaf when one is allowed to sit. The second set of Teki'ot (Me'umad) are blown after Musaf when the people stand up to leave the synagogue. At the end an extra-long Teki'ah, called Teki'ah Gedolah, is blown to confound the Satan. The total number of shofar blasts, including this extra Teki'ah at the end, is therefore 61.

100 blasts. Rabbi Nathan ben Yechiel (see above) already mentioned that the custom is to blow a total of 100 blasts. These correspond to the 100 wails that Sisera's mother cried when her son did not return from his attack against the Jews (Judges 5:28). According to the Aruch, the extra 100 blasts are blown as follows: 30 before Musaf, 30 during the silent Musaf, 30 during the repetition of Musaf, and 10 at the end of the prayers. In those Ashkenasi communities where the shofar is not blown during the silent Musaf, the missing 30 blasts are blown during the Kaddish after Musaf.

Many have found it strange that a synagogue practice is based on what the non-Jewish mother of a Jew-hating general did. Therefore, other explanations for the 100-blast custom have been brought in the literature. Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (known as the Meshech Chochmah1843-1926, Poland) cited a Midrash (Vayikra Rabah 27:7) according to which a woman who is about ready to give birth cries out 100 times -- her first 99 cries are because she fears that she is about to die, but her final cry is due to her realization that she is going to live after all. Similarly, we blow100 blasts on Rosh Hashanah -- the first 99 are blown out of fear of the judgment of the day, while the final blast is due to our confidence that God will judge us favorably. Rabbi Menachem Kasher in his Torah Shelema cites another midrash which bases the 100-blasts on the 100 wails that Sarah cried when she learned that her son Isaac had been taken away to be sacrificed at the Akeda.

101 blasts. Among many communities that follow the Sephardic rite an additional tekiah is sounded just before Alenu at the end of Musaf, making a total 101 blasts. Some say that this corresponds to the numerical value of the letters of the name Michael, Israel's guardian angel. Others suggest that this is another way to confuse Satan.

So there is a precedent for whatever number of blasts are blown in your synagogue!


Insights into the Daily Daf (Rosh Hashanah 34b), Kollel Iyun Hadaf of Yerushalayim

Menachem Kasher, Torah Shelema, P. Chaya Sarah, vol. 4, pp.920-921, n.17

Doniel Schreiber, "Defining the Mitzva of Shofar: How Many Sounds Must We Hear?"

Daniel Sperber, Minhagei Yisrael Jerusalem, 1991, vol. 2, pp.181-182, "100 blasts".


from the August/September 2013 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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