Talmud pages

Shabbat 36

Trumpet or shofar?

Today’s daf hits on one of my favorites: linguistics and the development of vocabulary and language. I love learning about the origins of words. For example, did you know that the reason a person is referred to as the chairman of a board is because chairs were limited so only one person was guaranteed a seat? The board was an actual board of wood that was propped in front of the chairman (the forerunner of today’s table).

Today’s daf begins with a discussion about the permissibility of moving some items that are muktzeh — items which may not be touched or used on Shabbat. These are the exceptions to the muktzeh rule. The starting point is a discussion regarding the possibility of moving a shofar (normally muktzeh) on Shabbat:

A shofar belonging to the community is also suitable to feed water to a poor infant whose sustenance is provided by the community.

Because the shofar is used as more than a musical instrument — because it is used to feed a poor child who is on the community dole — it may be moved on Shabbat to perform that function. The daf continues to seemingly expand the types of muktzeh objects that may be moved on Shabbat:

And furthermore, that halacha which was taught: Just as one may move the shofar, so too one may move the trumpets.

Then it gets complicated. It seems that the Gemara knows of other teachings that contradict this statement. For instance:

Moving trumpets is contrary to that which was taught previously that there is a difference between moving the shofar and moving the trumpet.

The Gemara attempts to explain how these conflicting sources came to opposite conclusions. Ultimately, we settle on the following:

Rav Hisda explains, their names changed since the Holy Temple was destroyed. That which was called trumpet was called shofar in later generations, and that which was called shofar was called trumpet in later generations. The earlier teaching that was cited employed the style that switches trumpet and shofar, and they were mentioned in that order. 

In other words, the sources are not contradictory — the objects experienced changes in nomenclature. What was a trumpet is later known as a shofar and vice versa. And the confusion is not without important ramifications:

What is the practical halachic difference whether a shofar is called shofar or trumpet? It is significant with regard to the halachot of shofar of Rosh Hashanah. On Rosh Hashanah one fulfills his obligation only by sounding a shofar. If one comes today and asks what instrument he should use to sound the requisite blasts, he should be told to use a trumpet.

Practically, the rabbis need to keep track of the history of language used. It applies to the shofar and trumpet and also to other items mentioned throughout today’s daf including willows, palm branches, large tables known as petoratas, types of animals, names of locations, etc.

Hope you enjoyed today’s journey through language as much as the rabbis did. See you tomorrow as we head back into the topic of cooking on Shabbat!

Read all of Shabbat 36 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on April 11, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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