There is a positive Torah commandment to hear the Shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah, as the Torah states, “A day of blasts shall it be for you.” It is forbidden to speak between the various sets of Shofar blasts and this is certainly the case during the time the Shofar is actually being sounded. As soon as one recites the blessing of “Lishmo’a Kol Shofar” (or has fulfilled one’s obligation by hearing the Shofar blower recite it), one should not utter anything until one hears the Shofar blasts.
How Many Blasts Must One Hear?
According to the Torah, it is sufficient to hear nine Shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah. Let us now discuss this further:
The Torah states “blasts” in three different contexts: “A days of blasts shall it be for you”, “A memorial of blasts, a convocation of holiness”, and “And you shall make a proclamation with the Shofar blasts”. Our Sages had an oral tradition from Moshe Rabbeinu that all of these blasts apply to Rosh Hashanah and one must sound three blasts on that day.
Every sounding of Shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah must be comprised of three separate blasts: Teki’ah, Teru’ah, Teki’ah. This is because or Sages derived from various verses in the Torah that every Teru’ah sound must be preceded and followed by a Teki’ah sound. Thus, we must blow three Teru’ah blasts, each of them preceded and followed by a Teki’ah blast, amounting to three sets of Teki’ah, Teru’ah, Teki’ah, i.e. nine blasts.
Why Do We Blow Many More than Nine Shofar Blasts?
Based on the above, one should only be required to hear three sets of Teki’ah, Teru’ah, Teki’ah on Rosh Hashanah. However, this is not what is practiced, as we shall now explain:
The Teki’ah described by the Torah refers to a flat, straight, continuous Shofar blast. Nevertheless, a doubt exists regarding what the Torah describes as a “Teru’ah” because many years have passed and the Jewish nation has been scattered in the diaspora as a result of several long exiles. Thus, we are unsure whether Teru’ah refers to a wailing sound that women make when crying, i.e. very short, continuous sounds blown one after another (what we refer to as “Teru’ah” nowadays) or a longer sighing sound one would make again and again when worried about something important (three times, what we would call “Shevarim” nowadays). It is likewise possible that the Torah-prescribed “Teru’ah” actually refers to a combination of both sounds, sighing and wailing.
Because of this is vested in doubt, we blow all of these. Thus, the proper order of blowing the Shofar is, as follows: After reciting the blessing, the Shofar-blower blows a Teki’ah, followed by a Shevarim, immediately followed by a Teru’ah, followed by a Teki’ah. This order is repeated three times. After a brief pause, the blower then blows a Teki’ah, followed by a Shevarim, followed by a Teki’ah. This order is likewise repeated three times. After another short pause, the blower resumes by blowing a Teki’ah, followed by a Teru’ah, followed by a Teki’ah. This order is likewise repeated three times. The final order of Shofar blasts necessary in order to remove all doubt is therefore thirty. (See Rosh Hashanah 34a, Rambam Hilchot Shofar, Chapter 3, Halachot 1-3, and Shulchan Aruch, Chapter 590, Sections 1-2.)
These Shofar blasts are obligatory according to the letter of the law. Besides for these, thirty more blasts are blown during the silent Mussaf Amida prayer, another thirty during the Chazzan’s repetition of Mussaf, and a final ten within the Kaddish following Mussaf.