Stories We Tell: The Sultan's Horns

Judaism has a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, of passing down stories from one generation to the next. To carry on that tradition, Stories We Tell, from, will share a new story with you every Thursday. Whether you listen while driving to work, preparing Shabbat dinner, or taking your kids to school, each episode will give you a new story to reflect on and discuss with the people in your life. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life.

The sultan hated getting haircuts because of his big secret: He had horns on top of his head! He was so afraid that people would find out that he threw every barber who cut his hair in prison. Finally, the only barber left in town was summoned to the sultan. Would he be thrown in prison like the barbers before him? Rabbi Mark Kaiserman retells the story. For a written version, see The Sultan’s Horns in “The Jewish Story Finder” by Sharon Barcan Elswit.

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[URJ Intro] Welcome back to Stories We Tell, a podcast presented by For those of you that are regular listeners, you know that each week we share a story to reflect on a bit through shabbat or through the rest of the week. As some other podcasts do, we're actually just about to take a little bit of a hiatus for just a few weeks to collect a few more stories.

In the meantime, we'll be sharing some of our favorite stories that have already run. For those of you that have heard them, we think you'll like them again. And for those for whom they are new, we think you'll love them for the very first time. This week, we're going to hear a story from Rabbi Mark Kaiserman, the rabbi of the Reform Temple of Forest Hills. He shares with us "The Sultan's Horns."

[Rabbi Mark Kaiserman] Don't you love getting a haircut? Don't you love that fresh clean feeling as the barber cuts your hair and puts a warm towel on your neck? Well, there was one person who didn't like getting haircuts at all. He was the sultan of his land. He hated haircuts.

Do you know why? Because he had a secret. On the top of his head were two horns. Horns, just like on top of a goat's head. The sultan didn't want anyone to know about his horns, so he always wore a hat, and he grew his hair really long.

But sometimes he still needed a haircut. When that time came, he sent his guards out to town to find a barber in the kingdom. When the barber reacted to the horns or said anything about them, the sultan threw him in prison.

As time went by, people started to notice that all the barbers were disappearing. Finally, there was only one barber left. And his name was Naftali. When the guard showed up, Naftali knew it was finally his time. He promised he would do whatever he could to make sure that he didn't have the same mysterious fate of all his fellow barbers.

He was brought to a private room in the palace, and he was told to cut the sultan's hair. Naftali noticed the horns right away, but he didn't say anything. He cut, and he trimmed, and he combed, and he didn't say a word. Do you see anything unusual? the sultan asked. Naftali said nothing and just continued to cut and trim and comb. Nothing at all.

Naftali stayed silent as he finished the haircut. The sultan had had enough. I know you have seen my horns. But you've also shown you know how to keep a secret, so I will let you go. But if you tell anyone about them, it will be your death. Naftali swore he would keep it a secret and raced out of the palace as fast as his legs could carry him.

For the next few days, Naftali was in such pain. He wanted to tell someone, anyone, about the sultan's horns. It weighed on him. He wanted to tell his wife, but he didn't say a word. He wanted to tell his brother, his sister, his neighbor, but he didn't say a word. He even stayed awake every night worried that he might talk in his sleep.

Finally, he couldn't take it anymore. He ran out of town into the hills. He came upon a cave. He went to the mouth of the cave. And he whispered into the cave, the sultan has goat horns. And then he felt much better. And he walked back to town, the weight lifted off his shoulders.

But back at the cave, Naftali's words were echoing into the caverns. The sultan has goat horns, goat horns, goat horns. The sultan has goat horns, goat horns, goat horns. The words bounced back and forth across the tunnels. And then they came out of every hole and every opening in the city. The whole town heard at once, the sultan has goat horns.

The sultan heard it, too. He had his guards bring Naftali to him. I told you not to say anything, the sultan yelled at him. But I didn't say a word. I only told a cave. Naftali was shaking with fear and told the sultan the whole story of what happened.

When the sultan heard this, he realized he couldn't keep his secret forever. It was going to come out. Plus, everyone in town really needed haircuts. So the sultan let Naftali go and all the imprisoned barbers with him. Although his secret was out, the sultan insisted only Naftali give him haircuts in the future. And he always knew that secrets can only stay hidden for so long.

[URJ Outro] We hope you enjoyed Rabbi Kaiserman's version of "The Sultan's Horns." And I'm wondering have you ever had a secret that eventually came out? What did you do about it? If you want to share that with us on social media, we'd love to have you do so.

And thanks for listening to Stories We Tell. If you enjoyed this week's story, please subscribe and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can always find new episodes every Thursday on And don't forget to visit to learn a little bit more about Jewish rituals or culture or holidays and more. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. And until next week, l'hitroat.