Is Your Shofar Kosher?
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A commonly found item in many Jewish households is a shofar. Is that shofar kosher for use on Rosh Hashanah?
The only way you can be sure that you are buying a kosher shofar is if it has a hechsher, certification certificate, physically attached to it, normally an adhesive sticker. Many shofars are sold with no hechsher on them at all. And of those shofars that have a hechsher attached, generally the hechsher only certifies the source of the raw horn. That is, the hechsher certifies that the shofar came from an animal which is kosher to have its antlers made into a shofar: principally a sheep, goat or antelope. This certification of the source of the raw horn is often based on veterinary documentation alone without any actual inspection of the horns. But kashrut certification of a shofar doesn't end here! The hechsher must also indicate who made the shofar; that it has no holes, cracks, or plugs; and that it was not treated with any glue, lacquer or other coating. What is the concern here? An understanding of how shofars are made and what renders a shofar pasul, invalid for use on Rosh Hashanah, are required to answer that question.
A horn being made into a shofar can become pasul at almost any stage of the manufacturing process. The first step in making a shofar is boiling the horn to soften it to make it workable. Next, a long drill bit is used to clean out the interior of the horn. Finally, it is twisted into shape, sanded and polished. At any point the worker can accidentally make a hole in the shofar or the shofar can crack. If this happens, the worker can easily take horn dust, combine it with invisibly-drying glue, and fill and patch the horn. He then twists it into the desired shape in a way that further disguises the defect, and then sands and polishes the horn until it both looks and sounds like a kosher shofar. Most of the shofars produced in Israel are actually made by non-Jews who are paid by the piece, not by the hour. If the shofar he's working on becomes pasul due to a hole or a crack it is a financial loss to that individual worker. To avoid that monetary loss, it is easy for the worker to hide the defect, but the defective shofar is pasul for use on Rosh Hashanah. Without on-site supervision the only way to check a finished shofar to be certain it has no such patched holes is with an x-ray!
Another commonly found problem that pasuls a shofar is coating it with lacquer. This is done by disreputable shofar manufacturers in order to make the shofars less likely to break or to hide any defects such as cracks or holes that have been filled. Lacquering a shofar or covering it with plastic urethane pasuls it as it changes the sound coming out of the shofar. Decorative silver or leather coverings similarly pasul the shofar, making it good only as a display piece and not for use on Rosh Hashanah.
The market today is flooded with shofars which are made with no kashrut supervision or having a hechsher which only verifies that the shofar is made from a ram's horn. Even some of the better kashrut supervision only checks for cracks, filled holes and lacquering after the shofar is finished, when it is very hard to detect. Purchasing a genuinely kosher shofar requires checking who made the shofar, who certified it and that the certification covers all stages of making the shofar. Note that larger size shofars are more difficult to make and more often have problems during production, thus making the larger shofars considerably more expensive than smaller ones.
An additional factor for the kosher shofar consumer to be aware of is that the international demand for shofars has increased dramatically in recent years. In fact the largest market for shofars is actually the non-Jewish consumer who has no kashrut concerns with the shofar he buys. Businesses seeing this as a money-making opportunity are capitalizing on a “horn hungry market.” Both the New York Times and the Algemeiner Journal newspapers have featured articles in recent years about shofars made from molds using a combination of plastic ply fibers and leather glue. These “perfect shofars” look, sound and are priced just right, but are not kosher.
For many people shofars were traditionally imported from Morocco, but the new king pins are in China. No matter which country your shofar comes from, be certain it has a reliable hechsher physically attached to it certifying it to be kosher for use on Rosh Hashanah.
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