I think the sound of the shofar is beautiful. I love what it has come to represent – Jews (even the least observant amongst us) gathering for the High Holidays. But I have actually never heard the sound of the shofar during my synagogue’s high holiday services. 34 years and counting!
And I hope that never changes.
Quite simply, Karaites generally maintain that there is no commandment to blow the shofar on the High Holidays. [1.]
Let’s look at the first of the High Holidays, which the Torah calls Yom Teruah but most people refer to as Rosh Hashanah. [2.] By way of background, Rabbanite Jews blow the shofar on their Rosh Hashanah based on, among other reasons, a connection the Talmud makes between the holiday and the ram (or goat) that God sent for Abraham to sacrifice instead of Isaac. [3.]
The Torah does not actually tell us the purpose of Yom Teruah. And the Yom Teruah passages make no connection to the Binding of Isaac. But Yom Teruah‘s proximity to Yom Kippur (considered the holiest day of the year) and Sukkot (one of the three haggim) suggests that Yom Teruah is to be a day of awakening prior to these two important holidays.
The phrase “Yom Teruah” is generally translated by Karaites as “Day of Shouting,” as in shouting in prayer. (See, e.g., Joshua 6:5; Psalms 47:2.; Psalms 100:1.) But the word “teruah” may also refer to a trumpeting sound. (See Numbers 10:5-6.) So it is conceivable that Yom Teruah is intended to be celebrated by the sound of the shofar .
Karaites historically (and today), though, generally do not think this is the most natural reading of the text. By way of just one illustration, unlike Yom Teruah, elsewhere in the Tanakh we are commanded to make a “teruah” specifically with a shofar. (See Leviticus 25:9 (discussing the Year of Jubilee).)
One verse in Psalms mentions sounding the shofar on all new moon days, which Yom Teruah is, and also on the full moons of the haggim. (See Psalms 81:4.) [4.] Karaites generally interpret this verse a reference to the historic use of the shofar to announce these (and other) important Jewish calendrical events. That verse does not use the word teruah, and, in any event, is not the reason Rabbanites blow the shofar on their Rosh Hashanah.
Today, I’m often asked whether it is “okay” for Karaites to wear tefillin or blow a shofar on Yom Teruah, even though the Torah does not command this. I won’t here express any opinion as to whether it is halakhically okay. But I note that movements do not survive by adopting the customs and traditions of other movements – especially of majority movements.
In my opinion, the greatest threat to Karaism is the desire of many Karaites to harmonize with Rabbinic tradition. While the Rabbinic tradition is rich and beautiful, it just isn’t the Karaite tradition. I wrote about this previously when I wondered whether Karaite Judaism would even survive another generation.
I wish everyone an awakening Day of Shouting.
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 The word “shofar” refers to horn of an animal, usually a ram or goat. In Assyrian, the word “shapparu” refers to a wild goat. For the purposes of this discussion, I will assume that when the Tanakh speaks of a “shofar,” it actually intends to convey the horn of an animal, rather than a generic horn or trumpet.
 “Rosh Hashanah” is often referred to as the Jewish New Year, but it actually falls on the first day of the Seventh Month of the Hebrew Calendar. Perhaps, I’ll discuss this in a future post.
 See Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashanah 16a. According to the Talmud, the shofar blown on Rosh Hashanah was that of a goat. Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 3:3.
 Perhaps in the future we can discuss whether Karaites may derive their laws (as opposed to traditions and customs), from Prophets and Writings, as opposed to the Torah.