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A Blast At A Funeral?
“R. Hamnuna Came To Daramutha…”
(Moed Kattan 27b)



R. Hamnuna, on our daf, came to the town of Daramutha and found that the shofar was sounded to announce a funeral. Seeing the people going about their business, he assumed they were deserving of the ban for not attending to the dead person, until they explained that there was a Chevra Kaddisha that took charge of burials, thus allowing them to continue engaging in their work

Throughout the Gemara, we find several other references to the custom of blowing shofar at funerals (Megilla 29a; Kesubos 17a; et. al). We also find that it was customary to play flutes. The Gemara tells us that even the poorest Jew should have no less than two flutes 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 the funeral to call people to come pay their respects. R’ Shlomo ben HaYasom (Moed Katan) agrees with this practice, comparing it to the custom of other religions (lehavdil) to ring bells to announce their funerals. Tosefos HaRid (Kesubos, ibid) writes that the shofar and the flutes served both to announce the funeral and to accompany 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, in order that the angel of death not overcome them with his accusations. Just as a shofar is blown on Rosh Hashanah, that the Satan not accuse us, so is it 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, this custom was still practiced. Ma’avar Yabok (3:10), one of the classic texts on the laws and customs of mourning, writes that in Italy it was customary to blow shofar as they carried a body to burial, based on the Zohar.

Rav Shem Tov Gagin writes in Kesser Shem Tov (p. 665) that Sephardic 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 Hachayyim, a collection of the burial customs of Jerba, writes that when an elder or Torah scholar would die, they would blow tekia, shevarim-terua, tekia, as on Rosh Hashanah, and recite the thirteen Attributes of Mercy.


Shofar Symbolizes the Resurrection

Some explain that the shofar symbolizes the resurrection and the ultimate redemption, when the great shofar will be blown (see Aruch VI, p. 259). It is interesting to note that ancient tombstones were found in Rome bearing engravings of a shofar.


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.