Part III: May a woman blast shofar on behalf of others in Elul? - Matan - The Sadie Rennert

Part III: May a woman blast shofar on behalf of others in Elul? Rabbanit Debbie Zimmerman

Elul 5783 | September 2023

Topic : Elul , Shayla ,


We have a shofar at home and my daughter taught herself to blow it when she was young. If she has the opportunity in  Elul – in a school assembly or youth minyan – can she blow shofar for others?


On one foot:

Shofar in Elul is fundamentally different from shofar on Rosh HaShana. It is a custom and most halakhic authorities agree there is no individual obligation to hear it. There are several reasons for shofar in Elul, but it is generally agreed that the practice is not related to the mitzvah of shofar on Rosh HaShana; therefore there is little reason to object to women sounding shofar for men in Elul because this would not fulfill a man’s obligation on Rosh HaShana.

While generally considered a custom, in the last couple of centuries there are many who claim there is a communal obligation to sound the shofar. Since women are exempt from certain commandments and are not counted in the quorum to make a minyan, some may claim women have a different role in the community and should not act as leaders to fulfill communal obligations. We advance one halakhic model to allow for women to fulfill certain communal obligations based on custom, such as shofar in Elul, based on Meiri’s explanation that Torah reading is a communal custom and even those not obligated can lead the community.[1]

Outside of regular community prayers there’s little reason to differentiate between sounding shofar in Elul, and woman may sound the shofar for other women or men in other settings, such as a school assembly. Regarding women sounding the shofar after communal prayers in Elul, we note that there are valid reasons both to permit or object, and so it should only be done with the community’s agreement.

Comparing Elul and Rosh HaShana

In Part II  that most halakhic authorities view the rabbinic enactment and resulting custom to blast shofar in Elul as a communal obligation; one who misses hearing shofar with a minyan is not obligated to seek alternative shofar blasts. This fundamentally differs from Rosh HaShana blasts in several ways. Shofar on Rosh HaShana is a biblical mitzvah for individuals.

The gemara lists shofar among the positive, time-bound mitzvot from which women are exempt. Even though women do not have a biblical obligation, they have taken this mitzvah upon themselves; this has created its own form of obligation – one that differs from that of a man – which we’ve discussed in a previous teshuva.[2]

Halakhically “anyone that is not obligated to do something may not fulfill another’s obligation.”[3] Therefore, a man who is biblically obligated to hear shofar can’t fulfill his obligation by listening to a woman blast shofar. Shulkhan Arukh and Rema rule that women may blast shofar to fulfill their own obligation – and therefore the obligation of other women as well.[4]

May a woman sound the shofar for individual women or men in Elul?

If shofar in Elul is an individual requirement, then, regardless of her obligation, a woman should be able to sound the shofar on behalf of women – herself or others.[5] But can women blast shofar on behalf of men?

As women and men have equal requirements to do teshuva it seems they should have the same requirement to hear shofar in Elul. And since we rule that people with the same obligation can fulfill one another’s obligation, women should be able to blast the shofar on behalf of men.

Yet there are several reasons to oppose this idea. Chiefly, we already noted that rabbinic enactments are modeled after Torah counterparts (if they have them). Several halakhic authorities rule that the enactment of the shofar blasts should follow the Biblical rules. Therefore, Bach teaches that the Elul blasts should follow the same pattern of the ten basic blasts on Rosh HaShana.[6] Similarly, Shut Shevet Kehati rules that one doesn’t fulfill the obligation if a child blasts the shofar or the shofar is not kosher.[7] As we will see, it seems these opinions were not accepted, perhaps precisely because shofar  in Elul is already fundamentally different from Rosh HaShana because it is a communal mitzvah.

As we will see, there are also good reasons not to model shofar in Elul after shofar on Rosh HaShana. Perhaps foremost is that the enactment was related to the shofar blasts on Rosh Chodesh Elul in the desert and not those of Rosh HaShana.[8] Additionally, as halakhic authorities such as Magen Avraham note, we purposely don’t blast shofar the day before Rosh HaShana to separate between the voluntary shofar of Elul and the obligation on Rosh HaShana. There are other differences between the two. The obligation to hear shofar on Rosh HaShana is only during the day; many sources note a custom to sound the shofar at night as well.[9] Likewise, in Elul we do not recite a blessing before the shofar blasts and we only blast tekia – shevarim/terua – tekia, not enough blasts to fulfill the obligation on Rosh HaShana. Furthermore, we rule that if there is a mistake with the shofar blowing in Elul there is no need to repeat it.[10]

Finally, as Tzitz Eliezer notes, a person who was not able to hear shofar with a minyan does not generally seek out alternatives. This reality leads Tzitz Eliezer to the conclusion that shofar in Elul is a communal obligation, not individual, and sounding shofar in a home, or in general outside of synagogue or communal setting, is clearly not included.

As we’ve seen, there’s little reason to differentiate between the obligation of individual men and women to hear shofar in Elul. Outside of a minyan our main concern is misunderstanding – so if those around understand that a man does not fulfill his Rosh HaShana obligation to hear shofar if it is sounded by a woman, it seems that a woman may blast shofar for men in Elul.[11]

May a woman fulfill a communal obligation of shofar in Elul?

The nature of this communal obligation is debated. Those who view it as more of a custom focusing on the effect of the shofar – inspiring us to do teshuva – place few restraints on the blasts. Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky reportedly ruled that the Rosh HaShana requirements are not applicable to Elul Shofar, and even a minor may blast shofar if an adult is not available.[12]

Since the majority of poskim rule that shofar in Elul is a communal obligation, the question is whether a woman can fulfill this obligation. This is a bit more complicated. In general, the nature of an individual’s relationship to communal obligations is debated, as is the place of women in the tzibbur, community.  A full examination of these questions is far beyond the scope of this teshuva.

There are certainly reasons to object to a woman blasting shofar in Synagogue during Elul – slippery slope arguments, the concern for misunderstanding noted above, and opinions that limit the tzibbur to those who are counted for minyan. Some of these are more persuasive than others. But as few have discussed these concepts in relation to women and shofar in Elul, let’s present a halakhic model that allows for a woman to sound shofar during Elul to fulfill the community’s obligation.

Comparing communal obligations: Torah reading

Many halakhic authorities rule that the enactment of keriyat haTorah, public Torah reading, is a communal obligation. The Hakhel ceremony once every seven years is the only Torah mandated public Torah reading.[13] The Talmud explains that Moshe established regular Torah readings and Ezra expanded on his enactment.[14]

The mishnah teaches that “we do not read from the Torah… with less than ten.”[15] Some, such as Mishneh Berura, explain that Torah reading is a davar she’bi’kedusha, a halakhic category largely consisting of prayers that may only be recited in the presence of an eidah, which is defined as ten Jewish men.[16] Others, such as Ran, differentiate between the tzibbur, community, and a minyan. He explains that Torah reading is a communal (tzibbur) obligation – individuals praying alone do not read from the Torah; yet the need for a minyan specifically is a later rabbinic addition and not intrinsic to the original takana (enactment).[17]

Halakhic authorities agree women are not counted as part of the quorum necessary to recite devarim she’bi’kedusha and may not lead such prayers; this does not mean women are not part of the tzibbur, the community.[18] Several halakhic authorities mention this distinction when discussing women and keriyat HaTorah.

The beraita states that all count towards the seven people who are called to the Torah (aliyot) on Shabbat – including women and minors.[19] Immediately following we learn that the sages said a woman should not read from the Torah because of kavod hatzibbur – the honor of the community.[20] Later sources discuss the issue of kavod hatzibbur at length – this is less material to our discussion. The more pressing issue is the assertion that women can count towards the seven aliyot and read from the Torah for the community when most halakhic authorities agree women are not obligated in communal Torah reading.[21]

Meiri explains that a minor may read from the Torah because it is not a “full mitzvah” like other mitzvot, the point is to sound the Torah for the people.[22] This explains why – if not for the issue of kavod hatzibbur – women are allowed to read Torah for the community.[23]

This approach bears a certain similarity to the shofar blasts in Elul, a rabbinic enactment for a communal obligation, the point of which is the effect of the action – hearing. The relationship of women to these mitzvot is also somewhat similar – women are not obligated in the Torah mitzvah of Torah study but have certain related obligations such as Hakhel and learning the laws that apply to them, and women are not obligated in the Torah mitzvah to hear shofar on Rosh HaShana but are obligated to pray and do teshuva.

Furthermore, the main reasons to preclude women from getting aliyot don’t necessarily apply to communal shofar in Elul. Unlike Torah reading, shofar (in Elul or Rosh HaShana) is undisputedly not a davar she’bi’kedusha and it is not included in the gemara’s list of things that require a minyan.


As we mentioned above, many of the halakhic and hashkafic (philosophical) objections to women taking other leadership roles in the community are largely irrelevant to shofar, particularly because shofar can be sounded from the women’s section and the woman can remain relatively anonymous. As there are many safeguards differentiating between shofar in Elul and shofar on Rosh HaShana, it’s unlikely a man would mistakenly conclude women may fulfill their shofar obligation on Rosh HaShana. And this could easily be ensured with a quick announcement.

Women were part of the camp in the desert and heard those original shofar blasts. Women live in the city where the shofar sounds an alarm. Women are obligated to do teshuva. Women are obligated to serve their Creator. For all these reasons women should have the same obligation as men for shofar in Elul.

While we explored reasons why a woman may sound the shofar for the community during Elul, we noted that there were also halakhic reasons to oppose this. Therefore, the answer to your question depends on the community and the views of the leadership and laity alike. While we should always be careful to prevent strife in our communities, this is especially important at this time of year. In fact, one who is known to be at odds with other community members may not lead services or sound the shofar on the High Holidays.[24]

Many attempts to adopt halakhically acceptable communal roles for women are met with resistance; if those who advance these initiatives were to avoid all dispute no changes would ever be made. There are respectful and peaceful ways to work with most communities, and such disputes can generally be settled given enough conversation and time. The thirty days of Elul may not be enough time if there is not general agreement among community members. As Mishna Berura rules, avoiding dispute in this period is so important that if there’s a dispute concerning who should lead the community, one should acquiesce even if someone who is not upstanding ends up leading as a result.[25]

Therefore, outside of a regular minyan a woman may sound the shofar for both other women and men. Within the structure of a synagogue or other minyanim in the community there are several reasons to permit a woman blowing shofar at the end of prayers, but objections to this practice have merit, and so one should only do so with the community’s agreement.

For more on shofar in Elul see:

Part I: Why do we blast shofar in Elul?

Go to Part II: Part II: Is there an obligation to hear shofar in Elul?


[1] This does not include the category of “devarim she’bikedusha” which have a different status.

[2] See

[3] OC 589:1-3; Mishneh Torah Hilkhot Shofar, Sukka, and Lulav 2:2

[4] OC 589:6

[5] OC 589:6. In the beginning of the siman, Shulkhan Arukh mentions the halakhic rule that only someone who is obligated in a mitzvah may fulfill that mitzvah on behalf of another person who is obligated. Therefore, someone who is not obligated but fulfills a mitzvah voluntarily may not fulfill the mitzvah for someone who is obligated.

We generally rule that one who is not obligated can fulfill the mitzvah for others who have the same exemption and are fulfilling the mitzvah voluntarily. Therefore, when a woman sounds shofar on Rosh HaShana she fulfills the mitzvah (and any obligation due to custom or vow) for herself and other women listening, but not that of men with a biblical obligation.

[6] Tekia- Shevarim+Terua – Tekia, Tekia- Shevarim – Tekia, Tekia- Terua – Tekia. For more see

[7] OC I 185

[8] Tzitz Eliezer XII 48

[9] Sefer Minhagim d’Bei Maharam Seder Reinus l’Erev Rosh HaShana; Tur and Rema OC 581:1; Shulchan Arukh 588:1

[10] Shulchan Arukh HaRav 190:19

[11] Since a woman can blast shofar from the women’s section, most of the issues that some raise regarding women’s leadership roles are largely irrelevant. A woman blasting shofar, like all individuals who fulfill a mitzvah on behalf of others, must be careful to observe the standards and communal norms for modesty and kavod (honor), especially if done in a Synagogue or Beit Midrash (place of Torah study).

[12] As quoted in Kovetz Halakhot, Yamim Noraim 1:19.

[13] Devarim 31:10-14

[14] TY Megilla 4:1; Bava Kama 82a

[15] Mishnah Megilla 4:3. Halakhic authorities discuss whether everything on this list is considered devarim she’bi’kedusha or if some are not and there are other reasons a minyan is required. (Tur OC 55:1

[16] Mishna Berura 14:3:1

[17] Ran al haRif Megilla 13b; Responsa Ra’avan 73; Ramban Milkhemet Hashem Megilla 3a (in Rif)

[18] Reshimat Shiurim Ha’Grid Soloveitchik Sukka 38a, p. 183

[19] See Megilla 23a and Tosefta Megilla 3:11.

[20] Tosafot Megilla 21b. At this point in history the person who got an aliya also read from the Torah. One of the more popular explanations is that giving women an aliya and having them read from the Torah would make it seem like there were not enough men in the community who knew how to read from the Torah. And since men are obligated to study Torah and women are not (although they are obligated to learn how to observe the mitzvot they are commanded to do, this does not necessarily mean they must be Hebrew literate) – such an impression could embarrass the community. In this case it is not a woman taking on a public role that is the issue. The issue is based either on strictly halakhic parameters of obligation and/or on society’s expectation for certain gender roles.

[21] Magen Avraham suggests that women are obligated like men – similar to Hakhel – which is why they may get aliyot. His opinion is not generally accepted. See

Some halakhic authorities explain that at one point women were called to read from the Torah but this eventually changed due to concerns of kavod ha-tzibbur. (Ma’aseh Rokeach on Rambam Hilkhot Tefilla 12:17. Safari “HaKol Olim l’Minyan Shiva” Tarbitz 66.) Others maintain that in practice women were never called to the Torah, and this beraita is only in theory. This dispute has little bearing on our discussion as we are relying on the underlying theoretical reasoning.

[22] Beit HeBekhira Megilla 24a; Rosh Berakhot 7:20 quoting Rabbeinu Tam; Responsa Iggerot Moshe OC II 72.

[23] The minors allowed are clearly boys – since they will eventually be obligated to learn Torah and there is a current mitzvah of chinuch – to educate them and prepare them for their obligations – kavod hatzibbur is less of an issue.

[24] Shulkhan Arukh and Rema OC 581:1; Misnah Berura ibid 11.

[25] ibid

Rabbanit Debbie Zimmerman Debbie Zimmerman graduated from the first cohort of Hilkhata – Matan’s Advanced Halakhic Institute and is a Halakhic Responder. She is a multi-disciplinary Jewish educator, with over a decade of experience in adolescent and adult education. After completing a BA in Social Work, Debbie studied Tanakh in the Master’s Program for Bible in Matan and Talmud in Beit Morasha.

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