Ask Gila about Buying a Shofar

 

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“ON THE MORNING OF THE THIRD DAY THERE WAS THUNDER
AND LIGHTNING, AS WELL AS A THICK CLOUD ON THE MOUNTAIN,
AND THE SOUND OF A SHOFAR SO LOUD THAT
ALL THE PEOPLE WHO WERE IN THE CAMP TREMBLED”
EXODUS 19:16
                                                                           

Ask Gila about Choosing a Shofar

  • We recently bought a shofar from e-bay.  It is a beautiful instrument that we have wanted to own for a long time.  We received the shofar in a lovely navy blue bag with Hebrew writing on it.  According to the lady who sold it to us, it reads “Blow the trumpet at the appointed time.”

    We are very pleased with it except for the fact that it has a terrible odor.  We e-mailed the seller and asked for advice on what to do about the smell.  Her response was that all real shofars smell as ours does.  She said she had heard of someone using gravel and vinegar to remove the smell, but did not go into details beyond that.

    Is it true that shofars do have a strong smell to them?  If so, could you help us by telling us what we could do to eliminate some or all of the smell?  We would love to learn to use it, but as you can see it’s not very inviting.
    Gary & Eva Hancock, Melbourne, Florida
I myself have never owned, blown or cleaned a shofar.  But my friend Sylvia from Shoreline, WA, who was in a group of pilgrims I guided several months ago, is a shofar expert.  While we were on tour she checked out every single shofar we saw and then went down into the storerooms to inspect and test those not yet on display.  I even sent her to a dusty shofar “factory” in the industrial section of Jerusalem.  The following advice is from her website, www.eaglevine.net

The shofar comes from the horn of a ram (a male sheep) or goat or antelope (kudu). The Yemenite Jews did not have sheep or goats, so they used the horn of the antelope.  Most animal horns can be used, except for the cow, which is reminiscent of the golden calf.
 

Yemenite shofar from the horn of an antelope

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Testing a Yemenite shofar from the horn of an antelope

 
Scripture tells us that a ram was caught in the thicket at Mount Moriah and sacrificed instead of Isaac.  The first blowing of the shofar was when God called the people to worship at Mount Sinai.  The first shofars would have been ram’s horns, which were available only after the death of the animal.  Horns are made of live protein like fingernails and hoofs.  The smell is caused by blood-eating bacteria that remain within the shofar.  Here's how to reduce or eliminate the smell.
 

1. Make sure that you are wearing old clothes, for the bleach can spot good clothes.
2. Plug the mouthpiece with an earplug and finger cotton.
3. Fill with scented bleach and wedge so that the large opening sits upward.  Be careful of the outside finish.
4. Leave for about 20 minutes – no more, for the bleach is very drying.  Then pour out the bleach.  If the odor is very bad, then you may have to repeat the process for a shorter time.
5. Rinse with water.  You may want to put in some peroxide to see if it will bubble more out of the bone.
6. Rinse again and then put alcohol in to help dry it.  Use brushes and pipe cleaners in the openings.
7. Fill with borax and leave for a time. (Sylvia says she has left the shofar for a couple of days, even.)  Afterwards, make sure you get all the borax out, using the brushes and pipe cleaners.
8. Finish by rubbing oil inside and roll the oil around to cover the inside and rub it on the outside.  Oil your shofar periodically as it was living protein and this will keep it from cracking.

Sylvia wrote me that she thinks the younger the animal, the more blood-eating bacteria are left in the bony structures.  She nicknames the smell shofartosis.
 

A ram with its horn

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

A ram with its horn

 

If you already have a shofar like Joshua, do you have a sling like David??
Check out the "traditional" sling that killed Goliath

 
"The Slingshot that Killed Goliath"

THE SLINGSHOT THAT KILLED GOLIATH

Just kidding.  But this “traditional” slingshot, woven in Bethlehem, David's hometown, makes a singular gift for anyone who wants to emulate David, and have fun doing it!  Use it as a visual for Sunday School Bible classes and as a prop for David and Goliath skits.  The slingshot is accompanied by a three-page commentary on the famous duel: the geographical setting, its historical roots and the “smoking sling.”

The slingshot comes without the stone – but to give you a sense of size, the stone is 2.5 inches in diameter, similar to the real size of the stone David would have picked up from the river bed.  The stone that hit Goliath’s forehead was not a pebble!

 

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I also asked my friend Moshe Falkof to share his expertise on this question.  For the past 30 years Moshe ends the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) prayer service in the synagogue at Kibbutz Ketura with a mighty blast of the shofar.  In his words,

“Referring to the smell – no, it is not the smell of beautiful calfskin leather or a good steak.  The authorities on the issue recommend vinegar or baking soda for removing odors.  Pour the vinegar into the shofar, or dissolve baking soda in water and pour into the shofar.  Rinse and repeat.  If necessary, let sit overnight in the vinegar/baking soda solution.

Eliminating a strong odor is important, because such an odor might lessen the honor of the mitzvah (commandment), violating the principle that “mitzvot should not be contemptible in your eyes.”  And if the odor is very bad, it’s forbidden to say a blessing in its presence.  I might add that the treatment also softens up the horn, leading to a less harsh sound."

Shofars from rams' horns

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Basket of shofars from rams' horns

Maintaining a Shofar
  • What kind of oil do you put on the outside of the shofar?
    Pastor Charles, Atlanta, Georgia
According to one expert who has been selling shofars on Jerusalem’s Cardo for three decades,  “There's no need to put oil on the outside of the shofar cause it's a bone, a natural material.  To improve the sound, pour arak [a Middle Eastern stiff drink with a licorice flavor] or lemon juice inside.  Block the small end and shake the liquid inside. Then let it drain out. A shofar is for blowing and the most important thing is to maintain it for its sound.”
Kibbutz Ketura Shofar-Blower Moshe Falkoff adds, “Any light oil, such as a thin coat of olive oil, might shine the horn a bit.  But I don't think it is necessary.  Cleaning the inside with vinegar, which is a very weak acid, is a good thing from year to year.  The important thing is to prevent breaks or cracks that would make the shofar unkosher [ritually unclean].  I continue to bring my message (a different one each year) via the shofar at the High Holidays.  It is a very serious responsibility.”

Copyright 2006, 20016 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

Holy Places where you might want to blow a Shofar

Tel Jericho

Joshua burnt the Canaanite palace at Hazor

Let's tuck a prayer request into the Western Wall

Looking out from Tel Jericho

Joshua at Hazor

Western Wall

Let's talk about Armageddon at Megiddo

Robinson's Arch in the Western Wall

Shofar blowing on the Temple Mount is forbidden

Armageddon!

Robinson's Arch

It's forbidden!!!!

How Kids Lived in Bible Days:  a book for kids and about kids -- ideal gift for kids and grandkids age 5 upwards!

How Kids Lived in Bible Days

Stories for and about kids:

  • Abraham and the Idols

  • Zira's first day at School

  • Be a Myrtle, not a Thorn!

  • David's Wild Ride

  • Abigail Finds a Spring

  • The Lost and Found Doll

  • Joshua's Journey to Jerusalem

  • The Lame Boy and the King

  • Lucky Lucian

  • Plus puzzles, projects, mazes and riddles!

Have fun reading to your kids or grandkids!


GILA YUDKIN TCHERNIKOVSKI 64A JERUSALEM ISRAEL
gila@itsgila.com

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