There is no question that the most familiar symbol of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is the shofar, or ram’s horn. One of the earliest musical instruments, the shofar’s call is intended to awaken the individual to personal responsibilities, both ethical and ritual. The commandment to sound the shofar is found in Leviticus: “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts” (Lev. 23:24), and in Numbers: “You shall observe it as a day when the horn is sounded” (Num. 29:1).
The shofar may be the horn of any animal ritually acceptable according to biblical law. The ram’s horn is a figural reminder of the story of the akedah, the Binding of Isaac, when Abraham was permitted to spare Isaac and sacrifice a ram in his stead (Genesis 22:13). This portion from the Torah is read in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, which falls this year on September 19 as the year 5781 begins.
When artist Mark Podwal drew objects from the B’nai B’rith collection of the Skirball Museum for an exhibition in 2017, he asked to work with a shofar with a relatively flat side for inspiration. Like the modern bugle, the shofar lacks pitch-altering devices. Anyone who has ever tried to blow a shofar can attest to the yearning for valve stems and finger buttons, which Podwal has cleverly added to this bugle-like shofar. The carved inscription on the original shofar reads: “Blow in a big horn for our freedom.” The other side of the shofar is inscribed:” To listen to the voice of the Shofar.”