A Blast At A Funeral?
“R. Hamnuna Came To Daramutha…”
(Moed Kattan 27b)
R. Hamnuna, our daf relates, came to the town of Darumatha and heard the shofar blown to announce a funeral. Seeing people going about their business, he assumed they deserved a ban for not attending to the dead person until he was informed that a Chevra Kadisha took charge of all burials, thus allowing everyone to continue working.
Throughout the Gemara, we find several references to the custom of blowing a shofar at funerals (e.g., Megilla 29a, Kesubos 17a). We also find that it was customary to play flutes. The Gemara states that even the poorest Jew should have no less than two flutes played at his funeral (Kesubos 46b). Sorrowful tunes were played to create a fitting atmosphere for the burial procession.
The Purpose of Shofars
Rashi (Kesubos 17a) writes that shofars were blown to announce funerals and call people to come pay their respects. R’ Shlomo ben HaYasom (Moed Katan) agrees and compares this practice to the custom of other religions (lehavdil) to ring bells to announce funerals. Tosefos HaRid (Kesubos, ibid) writes that the shofar and flutes announced the funeral and accompanied the eulogies.
To Protect the Living
Others explain the custom of blowing shofars based on the Zohar (Shemos 196b) which states: “Come and see: Not for naught did our predecessors enact the custom of blowing shofars as they brought the deceased to burial. This not only honors the dead, but also protects the living – so that the angel of death not overcome them with his accusations. Just as a shofar is blown on Rosh Hashanah so that the Satan not accuse us, so too it is blown whenever the attribute of judgment hovers, such as at times of death.”
The Custom Today
Today, it is no longer customary to blow shofars at funerals. Hundreds of years ago, though, this custom was still practiced. Maavar Yabok (3:10),a classic text on the laws and customs of mourning, writes that in Italy it was customary, based on the Zohar, to blow a shofar as a body was being carried to burial.
R’ Shem Tov Gagin writes in Keser Shem Tov (p. 665) that Sefardic communities in London would blow shofars when a noted Torah scholar died, both during the preparations for his burial and in the graveyard (see also p. 672). Artzos HaChaim, a collection of burial customs in Jarba, writes that when an elder or Torah scholar would die, someone would blow tekia, shevarim-terua, tekia, just like on Rosh Hashanah, and recite the thirteen Attributes of Mercy.
Shofar Symbolizes the Resurrection
Some explain that the shofar symbolizes the resurrection and ultimate redemption when “the great shofar” will be blown (see Aruch VI, p. 259).
It is interesting to note that ancient tombstones in Rome bear engravings of a shofar.