The Jewish High Holy Days start Sunday evening with the beginning of Rosh Hashana and end with Yom Kippur, which begins at sunset on Sept. 22.

A Facets of Faith column from 2004 concentrated on the shofar, the ancient instrument that is a prominent visual and aural symbol of the ceremonies.

Here’s a look at some of the information from that column.

Shofar is the Hebrew word for ram’s horn. English translations of the Bible translate the word as trumpet, cornet and horn.

The shofar has been in use about 6,000 years, making it the oldest-known form of horn in continual use.

The instrument is made from a ram’s horn or made of metal shaped like a ram’s horn. The horn of sheep or a goat is boiled until soft, hollowed, then shaped slightly, making a mouthpiece on one end. After it hardens, it is a natural wind instrument. It has a sounding air column about 2 feet long, which gives it a high, shrill sound. It can be heard great distances and was designed to make noise, not music. It can play two notes, not very accurately, so it can’t play melodies.

Scripture rarely mentions shofars with other instruments. One of the places it does is 1 Chronicles 15:28, “So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouts, with the sounding of rams’ horns and trumpets, and of cymbals, and the playing of lyres and harps.”

Scripture lists many uses of the shofar:

As a general signaling device. Watchmen used it to communicate. The sound could mark the new moon, danger or the death of a dignitary. Israel continues to use the blowing of the shofar to mark the beginning of the Sabbath.

On important sacred occasions as a part of worship. Then, as now, it signaled Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It was especially used as a call to repentance and to awaken Jews to the service of God.

On the sacred occasion of the moving of the ark of the covenant.

To mark the coronation of kings. Modern-day Israel continues this when it uses the shofar at the swearing in of the president.

To signal battle and to signal peace.

Got goats?

More than a goat’s horn was used in the ancient High Holy Days. Two goats were chosen by lot for a ritual Jews performed on the Day of Atonement. One goat was sacrificed to God on the altar to purify the Temple from the sins of Israel. Those sins were transferred to the second goat, that was driven into the wilderness, carrying off the sins of the people. This ritual is described in Leviticus 16, and is the source of the term scapegoat.

A reminder

Each week, Facets of Faith highlights some aspect of religion. Send topic ideas to: Leila Pitchford-English, The Advocate, P.O. Box 588, Baton Rouge, LA 70821-0588 or email

SOURCES: Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of World Religion, Wendy Doniger, editor; World Book; Being Jewish, Ari L. Goldman; An Introduction to Judaism, Jacob Neusner; World Religions, John Bowker; The Bible Almanac, J.I. Packer, Merrill C. Tenney, William White Jr.; Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary