Sounds of the shofar mark start of Rosh Hashanah

Wednesday night marks the start of Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year.

The holiday is filled with tradition, but the sounding of the shofar is perhaps its most unique custom. Each year, volunteers from the congregation blow into a simple ram’s horn to announce the start of Rosh Hashanah.

It’s one of the few holiday rituals the Torah spells out, said Rabbi Linda Holtzman with Mishkan Shalom Synagogue in Roxborough.

“It’s very much a symbol of telling people to ‘wake up, pay attention, a new year is starting. Look back at where you’ve been and figure out the ways you can change direction,” said Holtzman.

Over the course of the holiday, the shofar is sounded 100 times over several sessions. Each session features a mix of four notes. A series of short blasts are usually sandwiched between two long blasts.

“It kind of mirrors humanity,” said Holtzman of the sounding pattern. “We feel whole when we’re born and then we go through lots of times when we’re broken and we hope for wholeness.”

Anyone that is 13 – considered in the religion as the age of responsibility – and older can blow the shofar during services.

The shofar is also part of Yom Kippur – the Jewish Day of Atonement. During that holiday, just one long note is played to signal the end of the two High Holy Days.

Rosh Hashanah ends at sundown on Sept. 30.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.