A Bent and Curved Shofar

This is a guest post by Rabbi Michael Adam Latz at Shir Tikvah in Minneapolis.
The Talmudic rabbis, as was their wont, had a great debate over which kind of shofar to use on the High Holy Days. The Mishnaic rabbis argued that the shofar sounded on Rosh HaShanah should be “of an antelope and should be straight.”
Rav Levi argued that the mitzvah of hearing the shofar is fulfilled through the sounding of a bent or curved shofar. Rav Yehuda settled the dispute: “On Rosh HaShanah we use a bent rams horn and on Yom Kippur we use a straight (antelope) horn.”
Rashi, the great 11th century commentator, taught that being bent over is correct for Rosh HaShanah, while the Gemara explained it would best to stand as straight as possible on Yom Kippur. [Babylonian Talmud Rosh HaShanah 26b]

A bent and curved shofar for Rosh HaShanah.

A straight shofar for Yom Kippur.

As we prepare for the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, this text poses deep spiritual questions for us:

At the dawn of a new year, what keeps you bent over?
What humbles you?
To what—or whom—do you submit your work, your energy, your soul?
What would compel you to rise, back straight, eyes focused and vision clear?
What makes you tremble in fear?
What calls you to radical amazement?

In a few short weeks, the shofar will be sounded. The community of Israel will gather together in all our glorious array.
I pray the ancient sound of the shofar will reverberate within each of us, that we are moved deeper toward intense prayer, righteousness, and acts of care and compassion that make our lives, our community, and our world more whole.
My family joins me in wishing you a Shanah Tovah U-m’tukah – a sweet New Year.

(This piece was originally written for Kol Tikvah, Shir Tikvah’s newsletter.)

(Photo: Micah Coleman)