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Theodor Reik:



The Shofar (The Ram’s Horn)



In: RITUAL, Four Psychoanalytic Studies

By Theodor Reik





Copyright 1946 by Theodor Reik

All Rights Reserved

First Evergreen Edition 1962

Manufactured in the United States of America

This edition published by arrangement with International Universities Press, Inc.







Wer weiss! Der Baum glaubt auf zu Dir zu rauschen—

Und doch ist's nur Dein Sturm, der durch ihn weht—

So—sprichst—vielleicht aus mir—Du—zu Dir selber . . .

Zwiesprach von Dir—mit Dir—ist mein Gebet!

BEER-HOFMANN. Jakobs Traum.




SOME little time ago I was present at a gathering of

people who were greatly interested in music, and

the conversation turned on the origin of musical

art. As the various theories put forward did not seem to

throw much light on the subject, one of those taking

part in the discussion suggested that perhaps the sagas

and myths of ancient peoples could give some account

of the beginnings of music. He observed that a certain

measure of truth is often concealed in these produc-

tions of human phantasies, and that the expert student

may be able to interpret their drift.

Volume I of Ambros’2 History of Music was consulted,

and furnished a bewildering abundance of myths de-

scribing the discovery of music among the Indians,

Chinese, Egyptians and Greeks.3 The common feature

in these myths is that in them all the invention of music

and of the first musical instruments is ascribed to gods

and demi-gods: Orpheus, Arion, Hermes, Osiris, Athene

and Marsyas—everywhere it is a god who communi-

cated his sufferings to human beings by means of sounds.

But it was pointed out that there is one exception to this

rule, and that the people upon whose religion and ethics


1 Read before the Vienna Psycho-Analytical Society, January 5, 1919.

2 A. W. Ambros, Geschichte der Musik, 3. Auflage, Leipzig, 1887, Bd. I.

3 Two books by Engel, Musical Myths and Facts, 2 vols., London, 1870, and

the Music of the Most Ancient Nations, London. 1864, give a detailed review of

this material. Some allusions to myths of present-day savage peoples concern-

ing the origin of music are found in Richard Wallaschek's Primitive Music

London, 1893, p. 259.








rests the greatest part of our civilisation had no myth

of the origin of music, and did not derive it from God.

The invention of the oldest musical instruments is men-

tioned briefly and casually in the Bible, and ascribed to

an ordinary mortal named Jubal.

'And how does our scriptural authority explain this

striking exception?' said our hostess, turning to me with

friendly irony. The prohibition of images in the Old

Testament immediately occurred to my mind, but was

rejected—unjustly, as we shall see—and I had to admit

with some shame that I could not give any explanation

of this peculiar fact.

This was the rather trivial cause of my interest in the

origin of music. My investigations gradually took me

far away from my starting-point, but eventually brought

me back to it after a long though not circuitous journey.

I feel sure that the wide and surprising prospect that

will be opened up will compensate somewhat for the

tediousness of the journey.

In Genesis iv. 21, it is said that Adah bare Jubal, and

that *he was the father of all such as handle the harp

and organ'. This tradition is interesting for several

reasons: its deviation from other myths has already been

mentioned, but its brevity, which contrasts with the

more elaborate stories of the origin of music, is also

worth noting, and, further, the name of the first musician

is significant. The name Jubal is from the same root as

j6bel hiv,1 which signifies ram's horn or trumpet; so that

the name of the inventor is identified with that of an

instrument which is of importance in a religious cult.

Attempts have been made to interpret this fact, but


1 This etymology, as well as the fraternal relationship of Jabel and Jubal in

Genesis iv., might yield far-reaching conclusions as regards both the original

meaning of the Cain-Abel story and the genealogical tree of the primitive family, if the following elucidation were taken into account.

Tradition in the Orient still maintains that Jubal was a Canaanite. This

tradition, according to Chadrim, Voyage en Perse, tome v. p. 69, exists at the

present time in Persia and Arabia, where the musicians and sinners are called

Kayne, i.e. descendants of Cain. Has not the obscure memory of an old deed of

violence connected with the invention of music persisted in this derivation?

Perhaps a comparison of the myths of Marsyas, Orpheus and other heroes of

the first musical art would yield a number of surprising results.




THE SHOFAR              223


without success; it still remains obscure. It may be

pointed out that some investigators have tried to recog-

nise Abel, Cain's unfortunate brother, in Jubal. The

brief statement in Genesis has, therefore, only added a

new problem to the previous one.

It would certainly be appropriate to see whether we

cannot reach an explanation by investigating the func-

tion of music in ancient Judaism. We know that its most

important and most frequent use was in connection with

the religious cult. The reports about the function of

music come, however, from a relatively late period, and

we have, therefore, to fall back on hypotheses as to the

pre-Jahvistic period of music, and these can only be

supported by indefinite and meagre allusions in the Bible.

If we may believe such an eminent authority as Hugo

Gressmann,1 music among the Hebrews was used in sor-

cery earlier than in religion. The bells on the vestments

of the high priest tinkled when he went into the Holy

Place in order that he should not die. Gressmann doubts

whether the belief that the sound of bells as a protection

against the wrath of God is primitive. In ancient times

bells and similar musical instruments were probably used

to drive away demons which take up their abode in or

about the Holy Place. Wellhausen found such bells used

as an apotropaic amulet among the heathen Arabs.2

Similar beliefs are found in every corner of the world.

In the Bacchanalian feasts, the Saturnalia, and the

Lupercalia, it was thought that the sound of cymbals

and bells drove away malicious demons who might im-

pair the fertility which the ceremonies were intended

to promote. Demons appear to hate sounds made by

blowing and the sound of large and small bells. The

Chinese from time immemorial beat the tamtam and

rattled chains in order to drive into darkness the dragon

who wishes to devour the son and heir. Among the Abys-

sinian Christians the sistrum is used simply as a demon


1 Hugo Gressmann, Musik und Musikinstrumente im Alten Testament,

Giessen, 1903, S. 5.

2 Reste arabischen Heidentums, 2. Auflage. S. 165.








rattle. According to Gressmann the same idea is still ex-

pressed to-day by the Catholic priests when they recite

the formula for the consecration of church bells. Gress-

mann's explanation of these phenomena is certainly sug-

gestive though not complete. He abstracts from them a

defensive mechanism which is common to other protect-

ive rites or customs. Thus the Arabs call the moaning

of demons heard in the desert ažif al ğinn—an expres-

sion used also of musical instruments—and according

to its intensity compare it with thunder, the sound of

cymbals, beating of kettle-drums, ringing of bells, and

other sounds. The noise which the ğinns make is driven

away by the noise of human beings.' We shall return to

these homoeopathic methods.

The story of the conquest of Jericho seems to record a

magical application of music. In the tradition which has

come down to us, the noise of the trumpets is a factor

which merely accompanies a marvel of Jahve's omni-

potence. What is the purpose of the noise? Perhaps it

was originally a magic representation of the falling of

the walls of the fortress which imitated the event it was

intended to produce. Robertson Smith believes that the

blowing of trumpets in the temple can also be explained

from the point of view of magic—perhaps the imitation

of thunder.1

Gressmann thinks, however, that an older though in-

distinct idea is also involved, and that the blowing of

trumpets originally had the same object as the crying

aloud and calling out of the priests of Baal on Carmel.2

The Deity, who has so much to do and is perchance

occupied elsewhere, has to be called loudly in order to

attract his attention. Such an indelicate method of call-

ing attention to oneself seems to us very improper, but

it is certain that a similar tendency originally existed in

prayer. Silent prayer is quite a late phenomenon. When

Hannah uttered a silent prayer in the temple, the priest

considered her action so extraordinary that he thought


1 Robertson Smith, The Religion of the Semites.

2 I Kings xviii. 28. Gressmann, ibid. S. 9.






THE SHOFAR              225


she was intoxicated. The principle to be observed in

intercourse with the Deity was originally—the louder

the better. One does not speak with God, one cries (אmק),

or calls out to Him (קצs).1 Hosea2 is the first to reject

the crying-out, with the rite of self-cutting and scratch-

ing, as heathenish, and to demand instead a cry of the

heart to God. Incidentally it may be remarked that the

phrase 'It sounds like a Jewish school', which originated

in the Middle Ages and has obtained such peculiar popu-

larity in our beloved city, and which referred to the loud-

ness and confused medley of voices in the temple, thus

finds its historical explanation. The original purpose of

the praying, which was really a crying to God, has be-

come lost to the popular consciousness, and only occa-

sionally breaks through in wit, as, for instance, in the

following anecdote. An old man during the service on

the Day of Atonement rebukes one of those praying, who

is beating his breast very violently and very loudly con-

fessing his sinfulness and remorse, in these words: 'Young

man, force will do nothing with Him up there'. We must

admit that Gressmann's work affords us a good deal of

light, but it has yielded nothing really definite as to the

origin of music in ancient Judaism.

Perhaps the present Jewish religious cult will help us.

Here, however, we meet with an unexpected obstacle;

kettle-drums, trumpets, zithers, flutes, triangles, cym-

bals and many percussive, wind, and string instruments

which sounded at the great feasts of the ancient Jews,

and enhanced their solemn mood, these are all silent


1 It may at once be premised that not only do the expressions of the prayer

change their form in the course of cultural development, but parallel with them

the utterances of the god for whom they are intended. Jahve spoke in one way

to his votaries in the primitive time, and in another way to those who held a

deeper belief. Jahve on Sinai appears to the people in the burning thorn-bush

with the sound of trumpets and earthquakes, but manifests himself to Elijah

in another way; the Lord is not in the strong destroying wind, nor in the earth-

quake nor in the fire, but in the gentle breeze (I Kings xix. 11-13).

Michael says:

Da flammt ein blitzendes Verheeren

Dem Pfade vor des Donnerschlags;

Doch deine Boten, Herr, verehren

Das sanfte Wandeln deines Tags.

(Prolog im Himmel.)

2 Hosea vii. 14.





since that 9 Ab., August 17, A.D. 70, upon which date

the fate of the Jews was decided for two thousand years.

One instrument only has been retained by the un-

fortunate people in their dispersion and condemnation.1

This instrument, however, is a remarkable one, and the

puzzles it offers will now be our theme. At the outset it

must be pointed out that we are stepping into the most

obscure region of the Jewish liturgy, a terra incognita

comparable to a primitive forest, reverently avoided by

the science of religion, rich in confusing, mysterious,

frequently even uncanny characteristics, but in which

our curiosity is strained to the uttermost. It will demand

our closest attention to remain sure of our bearings.




The shofar is not only the sole primitive instrument

which still plays a part in the ritual of Judaism, but it is

also one of the oldest wind instruments known. Professor

Steintal has expressed the opinion2 that the shofar

shows 'that quite in our neighbourhood, I might say

among us, things are found which are prehistoric. . . .'

The horn of the antelope and primitive bull, and

hollowed-out tusks of the mammoth are found as wind

instruments in prehistoric burial-places.3 While all other

instruments had undergone technical improvements the

shofar has retained its prehistoric simplicity and crude-

ness. But our interest in the shofar, which is already

awakened by its antiquity, will be increased when we

leam that it is not a musical instrument. It is said4 that,

'no melody can be played on it and that it cannot pro-

duce different sounds'. Hipkins5 states, however, that


1 No importance need be attached to the modem and assimilative use of the

organ, etc., in the Reform Service.

2 Apropos of a report concerning the discovery of a shofar (Verhandlungen

der Gesellschaft für Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte, 1880).

3 Carl Stumpf, Die Anfänge der Musik, Leipzig, 1911, S. 35.

4 Realenzyklopädie für protestantische Theologie.

5 A. J. Hipkins, Musical Instruments, etc., Edinburgh, 1888, p. 12. The very

few sounds which can be produced from the shofar also testify to its extreme age.

Compare Wallaschek's remarks (Primitive Music, p. 151) on the sounds of other

primitive instruments. 'An ancient pipe from the stone age (illustrated by


THE SHOFAR              227


three sounds can be obtained by blowing the shofar.

Busch's theory of the relationship of music to noise

suggests itself here. We shall see that the remarkable

characteristics of this primitive instrument afford only a

suggestion of the many and important problems which

arise from its function in the rite.

However, we must not anticipate, but first of all leam

what a shofar is and what it looks like. The accompany-

ing illustration portrays three examples of the shofar,

and gives some idea of this peculiar instrument. Its chief

features are its shape and the material of which it con-

sists. In shape it is always curved, the hom of all animals

except the bull may be used for it. The Talmud1 and the

Shulhan 'Aruk2 give the reason for this exception,

namely, to avoid awakening the memory of the fatal

episode of the golden calf. The shofar may be engraved

but not painted. The Mishnah Rosh ha-Shanah (iii. 3)

distinguishes two kinds of shofar; that used at the New

Year's Feast was made from the horn of the wild goat,

the jadi, with the mouthpiece covered with gold, and

that used on Fast Days was a ram's horn with the mouth-

piece covered with silver. The shofar used in the syna-

gogues at the present time has no ornamentation; and

Adier is quite right in assuming3 that 'it probably re-

presents a more ancient form than the instrument de-

scribed in the Mishnah’. A shofar that has been broken

and stuck together must not be used; but if it has merely

had a hole in it it may be used provided that the hole

has been effectually closed so that the sound is not

impaired.4 Originally women and children were for-

bidden to hear the sound of the shofar; this prohibition,

however, has been forgotten, and now they usually wait

to hear it blown. Besides this curved hom, the straight


Fétis) shows the first four tones (i.e. one of the equal halves) of the diatonic scale. An instrument from ancient Mexico called by Baker, Shalmei, has the first five tones of the diatonic scale in major . . .', etc.

1 Mishnah Rosh ha-Shanah, iii. 2.

2 Orah Hayyim, 586.

3 Cyrus Adier, 'The Shofar. Its Use and Origin', Annual Report of the Smith-sonian Institution, 1892, p. 442.

4 Mishnah Rosh ha-Shanah, iii. 6.










FIG. 2


FIG. 3


The illustrations are taken from the Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institu-tion. 1892, p. 440. Further illustrations of shofars are to be found in the Jewish Encyclopedia.


FIG. 1.—Shofar of the great Synagogue. Aldgate, London.

FIG. 2.—Shofar which was exhibited at the Anglo-Jewish Exhibition. Probably

from the time before the banishment of the English Jews (1290).

FIG. 3.—Shofar with inscriptions.









THE SHOFAR               229


variety and the trumpet are also used as wind instru-

ments in the ancient Jewish cult. The difference lies only

in the shape and material. The hom as an old and con-

secrated instrument is found as κερατίυη and σάλπιγξ among

the Greeks, and as lituus and buccina among the Romans.

The hypothesis is supported by numerous facts that

these instruments have all evolved from a simple horn

of an animal, and have been perfected by technical

improvements and the use of bronze, silver and gold.1

The primitive blow-hom, the progenitor of all these

improved types, was gradually superseded by them, and

remains only in the form of the shofar and the signal

horn of primitive peoples. In Hebrew there are two

words for the horn of the same animal, keren and jôbel,

which originally denoted the animal itself. Adler has

referred2 to a similar ambiguity of the Hebrew keren,

the English horn, and the Latin cornu—words which

denote both a wind instrument and the horn of an

animal; the German horn and the French cornet have the

same double meanings.

Now that we have a general idea of the shofar we may

pass on to its use in ancient Judaism. The law-giving on

Sinai3 was consummated amidst lightning and thunder

and the terrifying sounds of the shofar. Abraham ibn

Ezra believes that the Jews did not know of the shofar

until the revelation on Sinai, and were far more terrified

by the unusual sounds than by the storm that accom-

panied the revelation. In ancient Palestine the shofar

was used for a summons or alarm. The people were

assembled together by means of its raucous sounds when

laws, orders and institutions had to be proclaimed. It

proclaimed the year of Jôbel, which takes its name from

the horn. The sound of the shofar was heard at every


1 The Egyptians also had a similar bent horn called chnue which was blown

at sacrifices. The Greek κέρας was made out of the horn of a bison or similar

animal. The above supposed development of the horn instrument is confirmed

by Varro, De lingua lot. v. 117: 'Ea(cornua),quae nunc sunt ex aere, tunc fiebant

e bubulo cornu'. The matter is discussed further by Johann Weiss, Die musika-

lischen Instrumente in den Heiligen Schriften des Testaments, Graz, 1895, S. 92.

For similar instruments among uncivilised people see Cyrus Adler, ibid. p. 448.

2 Ibid. p. 450.

3 Exodus xix. 16-19 and xx. 18.






solemn procession. When the A ron Elohim, the Ark of

the Covenant, was transferred to the new city of Zion,1

David and the whole House of Israel conveyed the ark

of Jahve amid jubilations and the sound of the shofar.

The prophet Ezekiel2 knew it as a signal horn:

‘2. Son of man, speak to the children of thy people,

and say unto them. When I bring the sword upon a land,

if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and

set him for their watchman:

‘3. If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he

blows the trumpet, and warn the people;

‘4. Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet,

and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take

him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.

‘5. He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not

warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh

warning shall deliver his soul.

‘6. But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow

not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the

sword come, and take any person from among them, he

is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require

at the watchman's hand.'

In Jeremiah,3 too, the shofar proclaims danger, and

this fact is expressed in the same simple and deeply

impressive manner as in the last quotation:

‘19. My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very

heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my

peace, because thou hast heard, 0 my soul, the sound of

the trumpet, the alarm of war.'

In the Bible we read that the sound of the shofar, the

blare of the horn, the teru'ah was heard in the melee.

Job speaks of the Kôl Shofar in describing a battle.4

The shofar serves, therefore, to terrify the enemy, as

did the barditus of the ancient Germans.5 Indeed its

terrifying purpose is the most prominent feature of its


1 2 Samuel vi. 15, and I Chron. xiii. 7-9.     2 Ezekiel xxxiii. 2-6.

3 Jeremiah iv. 19.      4 Job xxxix. 24.     5 Judges vii. 18-22.







THE SHOFAR               231


employment. This is evident not only from ibn 'Ezra's

belief that the shofar was first heard on Mount Sinai,

but also from the words of Amos: 'Shall a trumpet be

blown in the city, and the people be not afraid?1

To Isaiah the Lord says:2 'Cry aloud, spare not, lift up

thy voice like a trumpet, and show thy people their

transgression'. We recognise here an association, though

a slight one, of the ram's hom with sin, an association

which stands out most clearly in its use on New Year's

Day and the Day of Atonement. Isaiah's exhortation,

to which the above quotation forms the prelude, was

given, as appears from its contents, on the occasion of a

fast and feast of expiation. It becomes clear from this

connection why on the Day of the Lord, the Yom Jahve,

the divine judgement, which the prophets describe so

impressively, is always accompanied by the sound of the

shofar. Zephaniah, who foresaw Judas's downfall, pro-

claims,3 "A day of the trumpet and alarm against the

fenced cities, and against the high towers'. Joel also

proclaims the awful day,4 'Blow ye the trumpet in Zion,

and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the

inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord

cometh, for it is nigh at hand'. The hom, however, will

be heard not only on the Day of Judgement, but also on

the Day of Resurrection, of National Resurrection, its

solemn tones will sound forth:5 'And it shall come to pass

in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and

they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of

Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall

worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem'.

The shofar was also blown at the coronation of a king.

Absalom sends out spies and says:6 'As soon as ye hear

the sound of the trumpet, then ye shall say, Absalom

reigneth in Hebron'. The shofar is expressly mentioned

at Solomon's anointment and at Jehu's proclamation.7

Although the ram's hom had a multiplicity of uses it

was never employed for trivial purposes; it is always at


1 Amos iii. 6.    2 Isaiah Iviii. j.    3 Zephaniah i. 16.    4 Joel ii. i.

5 Isaiah xxvii. 13.  6 2 Samuel xv. 10.   7 I Kings i. 34, 39. and 2 fangs ix. 13.








solemn moments in the life of the people that it is heard,

and even in secular events it is only on serious occa-

sions, as in the din of battle, at the proclamation of a

law, or on the approach of danger. It seems strange that

the use of the instrument has been more and more re-

stricted until finally it is blown only at two feasts in the

religious life. The dissolution of the national state can

only in part explain this fact. During the Middle Ages

and to-day it is used on a number of occasions, though

certainly in a very limited degree, among great Jewish

communities in the East where its sound was heard in

Old Testament times. It resounds in time of danger

when an enemy or a flood threatens. According to the

Talmud the shofar sounds when a boat is sinking,1 and

when a famine or drought is impending.2 Here again the

shofar is used as a signal.3 But the blowing of the shofar

has become more and more confined to the religious


Besides the use of the ram's hom on festival days it

previously played a part on some occasions of which

only obscure traces and remnants are to be found among

the Galician and Polish Jews, for example, at excom-

munication. The great excommunication, the Herem of

the Bible, is the same kind of institution as the taboo

among the savages. The Talmud mentions the use of the


1 [The blowing of the shofar at a time of serious danger and distress occurred

as recently as 1913, when the steamship Voltwno was burned at sea on October

10, 1913. The following account is taken from The Burning of the ' Volturno'. By Arthur Spurgeon, Cassell & Company, Limited, London, 1913, p. 35.

‘The strangest part of the company on board was undoubtedly a group of

Jews. mostly Russians, who were emigrating to New York. When the Volturno

feft Rotterdam the Feast of the Atonement was near, and therefore the Uranian

Steamship Company obtained for the use of the Jewish passengers a sacred

scrool and sacred horn, so that they could hold their celebrations during the

voyage. I may add that the scrool, which is written on parchment in Hebrew

characters, was loaned to the Company for the voyage by the Rotterdam

synagogue at a cost of £ 50.

'There was a Rabbi at the head of this band of Jews, who, coming from the

interior, had most of them never seen the sea, or ships that go down to the sea.

One can imagine their horror when in the midst of a lonely ocean they found

that the ship which kept them afloat upon the water was furiously burning.

They brought out their scrool, they sounded their hom, they knelt down to-

gether on the deck and read the scrool, and recited their prayers many times

during the day.'—TRANS.]

2 Ta'anit, I6B.

3 Shulhan 'Aruk, Orah Hayyim, 376, I.