Did you kow that kohanim have a mitz­vah (com­mand­ment) to blow sil­ver trum­pets in times of joy and calamity?

The mitz­vah to kohanim to sound sil­ver trum­pets is a pos­i­tive mitz­vah com­mand­ing kohanim to sound sil­ver trum­pets at the time of sac­ri­fices in the bet hamik­dash and at any time the chil­dren of Israel are faced with a calamity.

Source of the mitz­vah

The source of the mitz­vah is found in the torah in פרשת בהעלותך;

וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל משֶׁה לֵּאמר..וּבְנֵי אַהֲרן הַכהֲנִים יִתְקְעוּ בַּחֲצצְרוֹת וְהָיוּ לָכֶם לְחֻקַּת עוֹלָם לְדרתֵיכֶם

And hashem spoke to Moshe saying..and the sons of Ahron the kohanim will sound the trum­pets and it will be to you as an ever­last­ing statute for your gen­er­a­tions

Tar­gum yerushalmi (בראשית נ,א) writes that at the time of the pass­ing of Yakov avinu in Egypt, with his son Yosef present, Yehuda lamented how the kohanim –as descen­dants of Yaakov– will at a future time sound their sil­ver trum­pets.

Trumpet bell with posuk text.

Trum­pet bell with posuk text.


Times to be sounded

At the daily offer­ing of the kor­ban olah, the kohanim are com­manded to sound their trum­pets in the בית המקדש in prox­im­ity to the table where the kor­ban fats are tem­porar­ily placed.  They are like­wise com­manded to sound their trum­pets in times of com­mu­nal strife where the com­mu­nity is seek­ing heav­enly deliv­er­ance –for exam­ple a time of war. (Sefer HaChin­uchRam­bam)

Rabbi Aki­vah says that in times of agri­cul­ture calamity, if a ship is in dis­tress at sea, and even if a sin­gle woman is hav­ing dif­fi­culty dur­ing child­birth –in any and all types of calamity– kohanim are to sound their sil­ver trum­pets.

The torah writes that the sound­ing of the sil­ver trum­pets by the kohanim awak­ens a favor­able remem­brance on behalf of בני ישראל before הקדוש ברוך הוא and thus ensures a pleas­ant deliv­er­ance.

As all duties per­formed by kohanim, the sil­ver trum­pets are sounded only dur­ing the day­time.


In the times of Ezra

At the time of the build­ing of בית המקדש השני (the sec­ond tem­ple), Sefer Ezra  men­tions the kohanim sound­ing their sil­ver trum­pets at the ini­ti­at­ing cer­e­mony;

וַיַּעֲמִידוּ הַכהֲנִים מְלֻבָּשִׁים בַּחֲצצְרוֹת וְהַלְוִיִּם בְּנֵי אָסָף בַּמְצִלְתַּיִם לְהַלֵּל אֶת ה’ עַל יְדֵי דָּוִיד מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל

And they placed the kohanim en-clothed with their trum­pets and the levi’im sons of Assaf with their cym­bals to give praise to hashem..

This posuk stands out as it likens the sil­ver trum­pet as a “gar­ment” of the kohanim. There, Rashi com­ments that the sil­ver trum­pet is “the” musi­cal instru­ment of the kohanim.

How it looked

The tal­mud spec­i­fies the the trum­pets used by the kohanim are required to be all-silver, and con­struc­tion with another metal is invalid (even בדיעבד, –post facto), from here it is inferred that the trum­pets used by the kohanim did not have valves as sil­ver is deemed too “hard” by sil­ver­smiths to use for trum­pet valv­ing.

kehuna.org's featured trumpet

The trum­pets likely had the mouth­piece as a non-removable part of the trum­pet

Dur­ing chag sukkot of the hakhel year (the year fol­low­ing the shmit­tah year), when the king would read from the sefer torah, the kohanim would be present with trum­pets of gold. (Tosefta, sotah 7:8)

Num­ber of trum­peters

The tal­mud quotes that no less than two kohanim be present to sound their trum­pets, and no more than 120 kohanim at max­i­mum.  An alter­nate opin­ion is that there is no limit to the max­i­mum num­ber of kohanim.

Sound­ing by a non-kohen

The sifri writes and most opin­ions agree that only kohanim are given the duty of sound­ing sil­ver trum­pets.  The Ram­bam writes that at times the leviim (levites) would sound trum­pets in the mik­dash (tem­ple).

In the absence of the Bet HaMik­dash

Of the ris­honim, the Ram­bam spec­i­fies that the mitz­vah of kohanim to sound their sil­ver trum­pets is applic­a­ble at times of strife.  As well, many ris­honim under­stand from the tal­mud that the mitz­vah is applic­a­ble inde­pen­dent of the bet hamik­dash1)1.

Sefer HaChin­uch spec­i­fies “אם לא תקעו בשעת הצרה בטלו עשה זו” –if they (the kohanim) don’t blow at a time of calamity, they’ve neglected this pos­i­tive mitz­vah.

Of the achronim, some poskim (magen avra­ham, be’er hetev to shulchan aruch orach chayyim 576:1, and even the ris­hon המאור הקטן to the ר“ן on trac­tate rosh hashana p. 6a) ques­tion why the kohanim ceased to sound their sil­ver trum­pets since the destruc­tion of the sec­ond tem­ple.

There are poskim (נתיב חיים to shulchan aruch orach chayyim 576:1) who write that the mitz­vah is applic­a­ble on fast days and at times of strife only in the land of Israel and not חוצה לארץ –out­side of Israel.

At the final redemp­tion

The sifri (במדבר י,ט) writes how the verse ונושעתם מאיביכם refers to the final deliv­er­ance from the armies of גוג ומגוג where the kohanim will sound their sil­ver trum­pets at the com­plete and final deliv­er­ance from all oppres­sors of בני ישראל.


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