Selected Halachos Related to Shofar on Rosh Hashana
By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.
For final rulings, consult your Rav.
A BASIC UNDERSTANDING OF THE TEKIOS
One of the most important mitzvos of Rosh Hashanah(1) is the Biblical
command to blow the shofar. Although the significance of this mitzvah has
been expounded at length - Rav Saadiah Gaon enumerates ten different reasons
for blowing shofar(2) - still many people are unfamiliar with the basic
procedures involved: how many blasts are sounded, how long or short must
they be, etc. While the tokea and the makri (the individual who instructs
the tokea which blast to sound) must be thoroughly versed in these intricate
laws(3) - since it is they who determine if a particular blast was invalid
and must be repeated - still it is important for the entire congregation to
have some degree of familiarity with the general laws governing this
THE BASIC MITZVAH
The Biblical command is to blow three sets of blasts on Rosh Hashanah. A
set of blasts means one teruah sound preceded and followed by a tekiah
sound. Thus, the sum total of blasts which one is required to hear on Rosh
Hashanah is nine - six tekiah sounds and three teruah sounds.
The tekiah sound was always well defined and agreed upon by all
authorities - a long, straight (without a break or pause) blast. The teruah
sound, however, was not well defined and the Rabbis were unsure of how,
exactly, it was supposed to sound(4). The Talmud(5) describes three
Three short, straight blasts - what we commonly refer to as shevarim;
Nine(6) very short, staccato blasts - what we commonly refer to as teruah;
A combination of both of the above sounds - a shevarim- teruah compound.
To satisfy all of the above opinions, the Rabbis established that the three
sets of tekios be blown in three different ways, alternating the teruah
sound in each set. Thus we blow tekiah shevarim-teruah tekiah (TaSHRaT)
three times; tekiah shevarim tekiah (TaRaT) three times; tekiah teruah
tekiah (TaSHaT) three times. All together that adds up to thirty different
blasts - eighteen tekios, three shevarim-teruahs, three shevarim and three
teruahs. This is the minimum number of blasts that every adult male(7) is
required to hear on Rosh Hashanah. These are called tekios d'myushav, since
the congregation is permitted to sit while they are being blown. In
practice, however, it is universally accepted to stand during these
[A person who is in dire circumstances (a patient in the hospital, for
example) and is unable to hear (or blow) thirty blasts, should try to hear
(or blow) 10 sounds, one TaSHRaT, one TaRaT and one TaSHaT(9). No blessing,
however, is recited over these blasts.]
In addition to these Biblically required blasts, we blow sixty more. Thirty
more are blown during Musaf, ten each after the malchiyos, zichronos and
shofaros divisions of Shemoneh Esrei. Every adult male is Rabbinically
obligated to blow or hear these blasts in their designated places in the
Musaf service. They are called tekios d'meumad, since one is required to
stand while they are being blown(10).
In addition, it is customary to blow forty more blasts for a sum total of
one hundred blasts. While this custom is based on several early sources(11)
and has been almost universally adopted, there are various practices
regarding when, exactly, they are blown. Generally, these blasts are blown
towards the end of and after the Musaf service, and one must refrain from
speaking(12) until after all one hundred sounds have been blown.
HOW LONG SHOULD EACH BLAST BE?
The length of a tekiah, both before and after the teruah, must be at least
as long as the teruah which it accompanies(13). Thus, since it takes about
2-3 seconds to blow a shevarim or a teruah, the tekiah before and after must
be at least 2-3 seconds long. Since it takes longer than that to blow the
combination shevarim-teruah sound, the tekiah which precedes and follows
these sounds must be longer as well. Most congregations allot about 4-5
seconds for each of these tekios. The makri is responsible to keep time.
[It is important to remember that each tekiah must be heard in its entirety
no matter how long it takes. If, for example, a tekiah is blown for 7
seconds, which is much longer than required, the entire 7 seconds' worth
must be heard by the congregation. Care must be taken not to begin reciting
the yehi ratzon until after the blast is concluded(14).]
A teruah is at least nine short blasts (beeps), although in practice, many
more beeps are sounded when the teruah is blown. No breath may taken between
the short beeps; they must be blown consecutively.
Each shever should be about three teruah-beeps long. B'dieved the shever is
valid even if it is only two beeps long, provided that all three shevarim
are of that length(15). No breath may be taken between each shever; they
must be blown consecutively(16).
SHEVARIM TERUAH - HOW IS IT BLOWN?
There are two basic views of how to blow the shevarim-terurah combination.
Some opinions hold that no breath may be taken between them and even
b'dieved, a breath between them invalidates the blast. Others hold that a
breath may be taken as long as it takes no longer than the split second that
it takes to draw a breath. The custom in most congregations is to do it both
ways; the tekios before Musaf are blown with no breath being taken between
the shevarim-teruah, while the tekios during and after Musaf are blown with
a break for drawing a breath between the shevarim-teruah(17).
MISTAKES WHILE BLOWING
There are basically two types of mistakes that the tokea can make while
blowing shofar. The most common is that the tokea tries but fails to produce
the proper sound. The general rule is that the tokea ignores the failed try,
takes a breath, and tries again(18).
The other type of mistake is that the tokea blows the blast properly, but
loses track and blows the wrong blast, e.g., instead of shevarim he thinks
that a tekiah is in order, or instead of teruah he thinks that a shevarim is
due and he blows the shevarim. In that case, it is not sufficient to merely
ignore the wrong blast; rather the tokea must repeat the tekiah which
precedes the shevarim(19).
When a tekiah needs to be repeated, it is proper that the makri notify the
congregation of that (by banging on the bimah, etc.), so that the listeners
do not lose track of which blasts are being blown.
As there are different views and/or stringencies pertaining to various
aspects of tekias shofar, one who wishes to be extremely particular in this
mitzvah may blow (or hear) additional blasts after the davening is over in
order to satisfy all opinions. These include the following hiddurim:
There are several ways of blowing the shevarim sound; while some blow short,
straight blasts, others make a slight undulation (tu-u-tu).
Some opinions maintain that l'chatchillah, each shever should be no longer
than the length of two beeps(20).
Some opinions hold that when the shevarim-teruha sound is blown, there may
not be any break at all between them (even if no breath is taken); the
shever must lead directly into the teruah(21).
Some authorities insist that the tekiah sound be straight and clear from
beginning to the end, with no fluctuation of pitch throughout the entire
1. This year, the shofar is blown only on the second day of Rosh Hashanah as
the first day is Shabbos.
2. The most fundamental reason to perform this mitzvah, however, is simply
that Hashem commanded us to do so.
3. Mateh Efrayim 585:2.
4. While the basic definition of a teruah is a "crying" sound, it was unclear
if that resembled short "wailing" sounds or longer "groaning" sounds.
5. Rosh Hashanah 33b.
6. There are Rishonim who hold that a teruah is three short beeps. B'dieved,
we may rely on that view to fulfill our obligation (Mishnah Berurah 590:12).
7. The obligation of women regarding tekias shofar was discussed in The
Weekly Halachah Discussion, pg. 532-534.
8. Mishnah Berurah 585:2. A weak or elderly person may lean on a shtender or
a table during these sets of tekios (Sha'ar ha-Tziyun 585:2).
9. Based on Mishnah Berurah 586:22 and 620:7. See also Mateh Efrayim 586:7
and Ktzeh ha-Mateh 590:1. See, however, Mateh Efrayim 593:3 who seems to
rule in this case that three TaSHRaTs should be blown.
10. Mishnah Berurah 592:2. B'dieved, one fulfills his obligation if he sat
during these tekios; ibid.
11. See Mishnah Berurah 592:4.
12. Asher Yatzar, though, may be recited; Minchas Yitzchak 3:44; 4:47.
13. This is based on the minimum length of time required for the teruah, not
on the actual time it took to blow a particular teruah.