Each community has a certain shape and sound of Shofar appropriate for its people. The various communities preserved their unique traditions, which stemmed from various sources in each and every region.
Jewish Communities in Spain
Jews in the Spanish Diaspora used a flat and straight Shofar with a low pitch. Zvika Bar-
Sheshet, the Shofar maker, explains:” in the past Jews were not allowed to carry a Shofar nor use it, and it was necessary to smuggle it hidden between the body and the trousers’ belt. The straight shape made hiding it possible”.
The Sephardic communities preserved the straight, low pitched Shofar. Many people believe that the Shofar’s sound announces victory and success, and it symbolizes the approval and acceptance of the prayer.
Jewish Communities in North Africa
To this day, the Jews in North Africa preserve their traditional shape of Shofar as it was used in the Spanish Diaspora. It is a straight Shofar with a low sound, and it creates a strong echo when blown, until objects around start shaking… the low sound results from a short hole between the mouthpiece and the sound box
Spanish Communities which migrated to Europe (Sephardic Style)
After the Expulsion from Spain, some of the communities migrated to Central and Eastern Europe. In their new land they could not find proper horns for making Shofars like the ones they knew before. They had to use ram horns from a new type which required drilling a long hole from the mouthpiece to the sound box. The sound produced from such a Shofar is very high. Jews who came from those communities still use Shofars with a very high, thin, and weeping- like sound. This Shofar is bent, and not straight original Sephardic Shofar. This bending symbolizes, as people in those communities believe, the human heart, which should, be bent before the Lord on that day.
Jewish Communities in Holland and Italy
In Jewish communities in Holland people used Shofars made of a goat’s horn, and that custom is still present in some places. Why did people prefer goat horns to ram horns? One of the reasons is that the production of Shofars from the horns of goats which are common in those areas is much easier than using ram horns, because goat horns are straighter in comparison with the rams’ twisted horns.
Jewish Communities in Poland
In the Polish Diaspora Jews preferred, like their brethren in Spain, a straight shaped Shofar, but with a weeping and choked sound. Why prefer a choked sound? Some would relate it to the history of the Jews of Poland: in earlier times, the Poles used to blow horns when going out to war. Thus, when the Jews blew their Shofars on Rosh Hashanah, the Poles would be afraid that a war broke out…and it infuriated them. In order not to raise their anger the Jews “choked” the sound of the Shofar.
Communities of Yemen and Iraq
In the past, the Yemenite Jews used two types of Shofars: a Shofar made of a ram’s horn, and a long spiral Shofar made of a bushbuck’s horn. The Jews of Yemen and Bagdad did not use to straighten the horn and then drill a hole in it, but rather, cut the horn all the way to the hollow part. This type of Shofar produces a low echoing sound. Some Jews in Yemen would also use the horn of an ibex, which was a common animal in their area. This horn is very long, and there is no need to drill a hole in it, thus, making the Shofar from it was easier. Some of them used to decorate the Shofar with precious stones.
To this day, Yemenite Jews use the long and spiraled, roughly bent upwards Shofar. As previously said, the Shofar’s deep sound, sounds like an echo arriving from distances, somewhere away in the desert. Some people think that the Yemenite Jews preferred the strong echoing sound because Abraham had sacrificed the ram at a mountain, and echoes remind us of the mountains.
The Israeli Shofar
The Shofars familiar to us today in Israel, are the most common in the Jewish world (about 80%). They are easy to produce and they are relatively inexpensive, about 50 to 300 shekels each. Skilled Shofar makers know how to make a Shofar that would produce any required sound, provided there is no special demand regarding its shape.
Moroccan shofar – the shape and sound were preserved the way they were in Spain before the Expulsion. From the Bar-Sheshet Shofar collection
A Shofar made from a goat’s horn, in the process of making. From the Bar-Sheshet Shofar collection
A Shofar from Poland. From the Bar-Sheshet Shofar collection
A Yemenite Shofar made from a raw, not straightened ram’s horn. From the Bar-Sheshet Shofar collection
Above: an Iraqi Shofar made from a polished but not straightened ram’s horn. From the Bar-Sheshet Shofar collection
Left: Ibex horn which was used in certain Jewish communities in Yemen for making Shofars. From the Bar-Sheshet Shofar collection
Israeli Shofar made from a ram’s horn. From the Bar-Sheshet Shofar collection