The A B C’s of buying a Shofar

The Shofar is a very primitive, majestic, and simple musical instrument.  Mentioned in the Bible numerous times, it was used by the early Hebrews to give signals during a battle, or to call the Hebrews into battle. Later it was also used in conjunction with the announcement of a Holy Day, Biblical Festival, and at times as part of celebration and ritual. A Shofar is usually made from the horn of a ram (a male sheep) but sometimes it comes from a domestic goat or mountain goat, an antelope, or certain species of gazelle.

Are there different kinds of Shofars?

There are TWO basic kinds of Shofars: Rams horns and Yemenite Shofars. The Ram’s horns are the more traditional style, generally in the shape of “J” and are smaller than the Yemenite Shofars. The Yemenite Shofars, made of gazelle antler, are more slender than the Ram’s horns, and considerably longer consisting of several curves.

How do I measure or grade a Shofar?

All Shofars consist of curves and bends. It is the length and compactness of the curves and bends that determines the tones and notes. Therefore, for centuries the way Shofars have been measured is by following along the outside curve(s) of the horn, from mouth-end to horn-end. Since Holyland Marketplace buys only Kosher Shofars direct from Israel, we purchase them using that standard, and sell them in the same way.

A Shofar generally comes in 3 grades of finish: totally natural, half-polished, and fully polished. This is purely about preference, and in no way affects the sound or quality of the horn. Natural means that the Shofar has not been smoothed or polished at all, except around the mouthpiece area. Half-polished means that much of the horn has been polished, but the remainder left natural (most people prefer this grade). Full-polished means all parts of the Shofar that CAN be polished, have been. Some parts of a Shofar cannot be polished as they are naturally deep-grained, and to “polish” that part of the horn would ruin it.

Some Shofars are available decorated and/or engraved or painted with various symbols. This is over and above the 3 grades of finish.