An Economics Lesson from Rosh Hashanah

(Hemera)

The Jewish New Year is announced by blasts on a ram’s horn (shofar). Many people use much larger horns instead (a kudu, for example). This year, as part of the religious service, a woman picked up the ram’s horn to blow a few sounds, and not much came out—a few feeble toots. After squeaking out half the required notes, she switched to the kudu horn—she switched to additional capital. With the larger horn she blasted the entire congregation out of their seats—truly wonderful sounds.

Even in a religious service we can observe that the marginal product of labor is enhanced by additional capital—even in this context labor and capital are complements in production.

(HT to AB)

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  1. Sam Bejar says:

    The guy in charge of blowing the Shofar in my congregation in Mexico City, used a regular ram’s horn and he didn’t miss a note. Actually, he was so good at it that many of us joked that he was some sort of a Shofar’s Louie Armstrong. He didn’t need any additional capital to excel at what he did. In my opinion, the woman from your congregation could have done it OK with a regular Shofar if she simply had practiced more before the High Holidays…

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  2. hiccamer says:

    While I enjoyed the analogy, the Kudu horn is significantly more difficult to sound. Perhaps this strengthens the analogy in bringing it to reality: you can do more with the additional capital, but it still must be you that does.

    best,
    dbd

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  3. Good Golly says:

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  4. Michael Chusid says:

    I fabricate shofarot and have taught thousands of people to blow shofar, and have published a three volume compendium of shofar information, so I believe I can address your comment with some authority.

    1. The size (length) of a shofar is not related to the ease of blowing nor the intensity (volume) of its sound output. Each instrument is unique, and the results produced will vary depending upon the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual condition of the blower in the moment.

    2. A long kudu can cost less than a medium to large ram horn. This is related to supply more than demand; modern animal husbandry practices favor polled (hornless) breeds, and most males are slaughtered while still lambs.

    Sounding shofar is a spiritual practice that may respond to rules outside of typical marketplace economics. Perhaps “Not by might and not by power, but by spirit alone.” (Zechariah 4:6) is the operable rule.

    Yet, even by marketplace rules, your interpretation may be flawed depending upon the criteria for value used to measure the production. According to the laws of Jewish spiritual commerce, as codified in Talmud, the value is not in the production of sound but in the activity of hearing. When effective, the hearing provides a stimulus that can move a listener to undergo a transformation, such as a commitment to improve his or her behavior.

    From this standpoint, the “feeble toots” on the ram’s horn may have been more effective than the “truly wonderful sounds” of the kudu. The shofarist’s struggles to emit a sound expressed the “brokenness” of the spirit that is often a precursor to transformation.

    Additional information on these issues can be found at http://www.hearingshofar.com.

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