The crafting of Shofars is an ancient art that hasn’t changed much for thousands of years. Every Shofar starts out as a raw horn of an animal. There are several types of animals whose horns can me made into a Shofar.
The most common Shofar is made from the horn of a ram, that is a male sheep that is at least a year old. The very long curvy Shofars that are known as Yemenite Shofars, are made from the horn of the Kudu, a type of antelope found in southern and eastern Africa. Neither of these types of horns is available in sufficient quantities in Israel. The raw horns are brought from countries in southern Africa where the animals are raised for meat production. In theory, you could make a Shofar out of the horn of a Bull. However Jewish law prohibits this in order that the Shofar not ‘remind’ God of the sin of the golden calf.
Every Shofar manufacturer has to maintain good relationships with growers of these animals in Africa in order to ensure that they will get good quality horns that will not crack or split. Also it is extremely important to get horns from herds of animals that have been checked to be disease free. Once the horns arrive in Israel, the manufacturer inspects them and sorts out which ones are fit to make into Shofars. A very large percentage of the horns end up being discarded at this stage. This is because Jewish law requires that every finished Shofar be completely intact without any cracks or holes. It is prohibited to patch a Shofar that has a hole or crack. Any horn which is not in extremely good condition will not be intact at the end of the production.
An animal’s horn is made of an outer layer of hard keratin, filled with soft bone tissue. Keratin is the same material that our bones and hair are made from. In order to make a horn into a Shofar, the bone tissue needs to be removed from inside the horn. This is done by letting the horn sit for at least a year. By the end of the year, the tissue inside has dried, shriveled and decomposed. It can usually be removed in one solid piece.
The horn is now sterilized by heat to kill any bacteria that may be present inside.
Now we are left with a hollow horn that is ready to be crafted into a Shofar. Usually at least some part of the Shofar needs to be straightened in order to drill the mouthpiece. This is done by carefully heating the Shofar and bending it. Many Shofars break or split at this stage and end up being discarded. The very tip of the horn is sawed off and a hole is carefully drilled to form the mouthpiece.
The Shofar is now polished to the desired finish. This is one part of the process where modern machinery is very helpful. Extreme care has to be taken not to over polish the Shofar to the extent that a weak spot is created where it can crack. There are different types of Shofar finishes. Some are fully polished to a very high gloss. Others are left partially unpolished in order to display the natural look of the horn.
At this point, the Shofar is tested to determine if its sound is good. If necessary, the mouthpiece is adjusted by widening the hole until it produces a loud, clear sound.
This is a short summary of the work that goes into creating a Shofar. There are many details to this work that are trade secrets which we won’t write about here. All of the work on the Shofars we sell is done in Israel by Jewish craftsmen with years of experience in making Shofars. As a final step, we also test and inspect each Shofar that we sell to make sure that it is of superior beauty and sound.
Writen by: The Great Shofar