Father and son with shofar, copyright 2012, Jonathan Levine/JFNA. All other rights reserved.
Jonathan Levine/JFNA

Jerry Sherman of Framingham asks: “I was wondering why the shofar is not supposed to be sounded on Shabbat if Rosh Hashanah falls on that day?”

Imagine that you’re the shofar blower for your synagogue. You wake up on Rosh HaShanah morning, excited to get to synagogue to wow the thousands who will gather to hear you. You’ve been back and forth to the synagogue all week practicing; you’ve left your tallit, machzor, and shofar in the sanctuary so that they’ll be waiting for you when you arrive. On your way out the door, you happen to glance over at the coffee table, where, to your surprise, you see your shofar. “I thought I left it at the synagogue,” you think. But then you remember…yesterday, after rehearsing in the sanctuary, the rabbi came up to you to schmooze, you still had the shofar in your hands, and you must have taken it home with you inadvertently. No big deal—you pick up the shofar and head for the door. You’re about to step out of the house when suddenly it dawns on you. Today is not only Rosh HaShanah, it’s also Shabbat! There is a traditional prohibition against carrying ritual items, or any objects for that matter, in or out of a home, synagogue, or other dwelling space on Shabbat. What are you going to do? Everyone will be at synagogue waiting to hear the shofar, but in order to observe the laws of Shabbat, you can’t take the shofar out of your home. What are you going to do?

This is the type of situation our ancient Sages hoped to avoid by prohibiting the shofar on a Rosh HaShanah that falls on Shabbat. The Sages worried that, if the shofar was permitted on Shabbat, people might be tempted to violate Shabbat law by carrying a shofar from home to synagogue or vice-versa. Rather than risk such a situation, they prohibited any shofar blowing on Shabbat. While this certainly changes the character of a Rosh HaShanah service, the good news is that, with Rosh HaShanah being a two-day holiday, there is always at least one day when the shofar is heard.

created at: 2012-08-14Rabbi Benjamin Shalva is the rabbi at Temple Reyim, a Conservative synagogue in Newton.

Note: since 1913, the Reform movement in America has permitted the sounding of the Shofar on Shabbat. You can read their reasoning online.

For more on what to expect in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, visit InterfaithFamily.com’s Guide to the High Holidays for Interfaith Families.