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Women and Shofar

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What is the mitzva of shofar? Are women obligated in it? What are the practical halachot involved? Who blows for whom?

What is the Torah-level mitzva of shofar?

The Torah calls Rosh Ha-shana Yom Terua, a day of terua. We learn via the targum and a verse about the cries of Sisera’s mother that the terua is a a type of cry.

Through a comparison to Yom Kippur of the Yovel, our sages learn that the obligation of terua is fulfilled through three sets of three shofar blasts, with a terua as a sandwich between two tekiot. Since there are different understandings of what terua is (either what we call terua, shevarim, or shevarim-terua), we wind up blowing thirty blasts to fulfill the Torah obligation.

Why do we blow so much more than that?

The Talmud teaches that we should blow two sets of thirty. Ha-aruch adds that we blow a full hundred blasts because Sisera’s mother cried a hundred times.

Are women obligated in this mitzva?

Women are exempt on a Torah level, because shofar is a positive time-bound commandment. However, women’s voluntary performance of this mitzva became so constant and widespread that it is treated as a binding custom, from which a woman may not freely opt out.

What are some practical halachot for women hearing shofar?

  • A woman should hear at least one set of thirty blasts, ideally at synagogue with the congregation, and preferably before mussaf.

  • If she will otherwise feel weak or sick, she may eat beforehand.

  • It is permissible to speak between tekiot if necessary, as long as the speech is connected to the tekiot, so explaining the importance of the moment to children to quiet them is permissible.

  • Fulfilling the obligation of shofar requires intention on the part of both the blower and listener. Since we presume the blower has anyone who might hear shofar in mind, a person can fulfill the mitzva of shofar even by hearing it from outside the synagogue if she has intention to do so.

May a man blow shofar just for a woman?

Yes. It does raise some issues, though:

  • A man is ordinarily not supposed to blow shofar on Yom Tov when not for the mitzva.

  • Halacha allows for discharging another’s obligation when one has already performed the mitzva oneself, but women do not have a direct obligation.

  • Taking the shofar out into the public domain when there is no eiruv should only be done for the needs of Yom Tov.

In practice, according to many opinions, all these issues are superseded by the importance of facilitating women’s voluntary fulfillment of the mitzva of shofar. Some authorities express a preference for a man not to blow for women if he has already fulfilled his own obligation.

If the man is blowing only for women, who recites the beracha?

The woman should recite the berachot (if she usually recites them over positive time-bound commandments), since she is the one fulfilling the mitzva now, and for the man this might be considered a beracha le-vatala.

If there is a group of women, there is a halachic basis to allow one woman to recite the berachot for the group.

May a woman who cannot hear the shofar in synagogue blow for herself?

Yes! A woman who thinks she might be in this situation should learn the halachot of how to blow in advance. Some maintain that it is preferable for her to hear a man blow, since he is obligated in the mitzva.

May a woman blow for men? Or for other women?

A woman may not blow shofar for men, since she is not obligated on a Torah level.

If there is a group of women who cannot attend shofar blowing in synagogue, a woman may blow for them, since they all share the same binding custom. Also here, some maintain that it would be preferable for the group to hear a man blowing, since he is obligated in the mitzva.

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