The Curious Case of the Shapeshifting Shofar


  • Duration:

    • 60-80 minutes

  • Grade and Levels:

    • 9-10 any level; 11-12 lower and middle levels

  • Teaching Context:

    • Stand-alone pre-Rosh Hashanah class

  • Background:

    • Students have just begun working on reading skills and preparing for the High Holidays.

  • Learning Targets:

    • TLW develop in his/her Talmud reading skills.

    • TLW reflect on and personalize the experience of hearing shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah.

Lesson Plan

  • Teacher Instructions:
    • After creating a Sefaria sheet with the instructions outlined below, the teacher uses the "Assignments" feature under the file tab to assign a copy to each student. After each student completes the assignment, the sheet is automatically submitted to the teacher. (In this case, the teacher can erase the underlined sections below.) Alternatively, if not all students have access to digital devices, a teacher might opt to print the sheet for some or all students, add in lines to the sheet where relevant, and have them complete the assignment by hand.
  • Student Instructions:
    • After your teacher introduces any terms and/or concepts that will help you learn the Gemara independently, create your own Sefaria sheet in which you study the Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 26b individually or in chavruta.

[For weaker classes - first line, just until ״.יעל פשוט״

The teacher may also need to walk students through how they can log into Sefaria, create their own source sheets, find the relevant page of Gemara, and add the Mishnah to their sheets. Alternatively, the teacher can simply create a sheet for each student using the assignment tab.]

מתני׳ שופר של ראש השנה של יעל פשוט ופיו מצופה זהב ושתי חצוצרות מן הצדדין שופר מאריך וחצוצרות מקצרות שמצות היום בשופר ובתעניות בשל זכרים כפופין ופיהן מצופה כסף ושתי חצוצרות באמצע שופר מקצר וחצוצרות מאריכות שמצות היום בחצוצרות שוה היובל לראש השנה לתקיעה ולברכות רבי יהודה אומר בראש השנה תוקעין בשל זכרים וביובלות בשל יעלים:

MISHNA: The shofar that was used on Rosh HaShana in the Temple was made from the straight horn of an ibex, and its mouth, the mouthpiece into which one blows, was plated with gold. And there were two trumpets, one on each of the two sides of the person sounding the shofar. The shofar would sound a long blast, whereas the trumpets would sound a short blast, because the mitzva of the day is with the shofar. And in contrast, the shofarot used on public fast days were made from the curved horns of rams, and their mouths were plated with silver. There were two trumpets in the middle between the shofarot, and the shofar would sound a short blast, whereas the trumpets would sound a long blast, for the mitzva of the day is with the trumpets. Yom Kippur of the Jubilee Year is the same as Rosh HaShana with regard to both the shofar blasts that are sounded and the additional blessings that are recited in the Amida prayer. Rabbi Yehuda disagrees and says: There is a difference between the two days: On Rosh HaShana one blows with horns of rams, whereas in Jubilee Years one blows with horns of ibexes.

Where appropriate, students should start by using the Hebrew-only version. If they are unsure as to a word’s meaning, they can use a print dictionary, or right click on words that they’re unsure about in order to utilize Sefaria's built-in Jastrow feature.

  • Highlight any key phrases (munachim) on your Sefaria sheet in light blue.
    • [Obviously colors can be modified, as well as word categories and language used to denote them.]
  • Identify any other words you don’t know by highlighting them in green.
  • Add both sets of words to the running lists you've started to compile over the course of the year. These should appear in your regular Talmud class notes.
  • After reading and translating the Mishnah, summarize the basic dispute in Mishnah:

Next, read the Gemara's analysis of the question of bent versus straight shofarot:

במאי קמיפלגי מר סבר בראש השנה כמה דכייף איניש דעתיה טפי מעלי וביום הכפורים כמה דפשיט איניש דעתיה טפי מעלי ומר סבר בראש השנה כמה דפשיט איניש דעתיה טפי מעלי ובתעניות כמה דכייף איניש דעתיה טפי מעלי:

The Gemara asks: With regard to what principle do these tanna’im disagree? One Sage, Rabbi Yehuda, holds that on Rosh HaShana the more a person bends his mind and humbles himself by bending in prayer, the better. Therefore, a curved shofar is sounded as an allusion to our bent minds and bodies. But on Yom Kippur, the more a person straightens his mind and prays with simplicity, the better. Therefore, a straight shofar is sounded. The other Sage, the anonymous tanna of the mishna, maintains the opposite: On Rosh HaShana, the more a person straightens his mind and avoids any crookedness, the better. On fasts, on the other hand, the more a person bends his mind and humbles himself, the better.
  • Now read Sefaria's English translation, and find one word (aside from the term "Rosh Hashanah" that is not translated 100% literally. Anyone who emails the corrects answer to your teacher wins a special prize.
  • [Teachers: This is, of course, only if giving special prizes fits with your educational philosophy. The correct answer is מעלי, which, although generally used to mean better, literally means "is raised."]
  • To end this class, the entire class uses the Socratic Seminar pedagogy to analyze the text, with a focus on the question, what is the symbolism of bent versus straight shofar on Rosh Hashanah?
    • Afterward, write your final understanding of the symbolism of bent versus straight below, including the logic behind your understanding.

    • Also, how does this new understanding of the symbolism of shofar impact your understanding of the mitzva?

  • After Rosh Hashanah, consider circling back and having students in engage in a reflective exercise.