Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Genius of Judaism: the Sabbath


[lighting the Sabbath candles on Friday afternoon, from Minhagim (Customs), published by Solomon Proops, Amsterdam, 1707]

Today, the concept of a seven day week including at least one day of rest is universal. However Judaism invented the Sabbath.

7 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 8 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; 9 but the seventh day is a sabbath unto the LORD thy God, in it thou shalt not do any manner of work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; 10 for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested on the seventh day; wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20)

For an Orthodox Jew, all life comes to a halt one day in every seven. Nothing involving electricity, fire or internal combustion may be used. Cars, lights, computers and telephones become untouchable. Food may be removed from the stove but not put on it. We may read by a light, but not turn it on or off. Cars, planes, buses, etc. are off limits. Writing is prohibited. Shopping is prohibited.

This means that regardless of how busy a Jew is, regardless of how much stress he is under, he will rest and relax, without fail, once the sun sets on Friday until dark on Saturday evening. He will have time to spend together with family and friends, without the distraction of television or telephones. He will have time to pray and study Torah and contemplate spiritual priorities. Only an actual danger to human life can take precedence over the Sabbath. The spiritual, mental and social benefits of the Sabbath are immeasurable.

I recall one Sabbath I observed 11 years ago. My wife was expecting triplets, three boys, when, in the middle of the pregnancy, her water broke. This happened on a Friday morning. She was hospitalized for several days before delivering the babies, who died immediately because of their extreme prematurity. In any case, I spent that Sabbath next to her bed in the maternity ward. On Friday, friends had brought us the customary Sabbath foods, such as challah and kugel. I made Kiddush. It was a very sad time; however even in the midst of it we still found peace and meaning in observing the ancient traditions together.

The Sabbath is a queen, a bride, God's special gift to the Jews. It must be experienced to be appreciated. In the midst of the craziness of life, the Sabbath preserves our sanity.

37 comments:

badrabbi said...

The concept of a day of rest is nice. The Torah prescribes a day of rest, and imposes it on even one's slaves so that it perniciously condones slavery while at the same time imposing the Sabbath day.

But, be that as it may, the concept of Shabbat is not so controversial even amongst us heathen. What we as secular Jews object to, though, is the burden of not utilizing electricity or use of engines. Nowhere in the Torah does it tell us not to use electricity. So why is it banned?

Nowhere does the Torah tell us that we can not sit in our cars and visit our parents or family for a Shabbat meal. So why is that banned?

Nowhere does the Torah ban the use of TV. So why is that banned?

'Resting' is made more difficult when you can not use your stove to make tea, when you can not even touch any electric appliance, when you can not adjust your thermostat, when you can not touch your oven to heat your food. I do not think that God ever intended this. I do think that these rules are typical examples of the perversion of religious rules by the rabbis.

And while Shabbat can be a beautiful day of rest and enjoyment, it is in fact turned into a day with numerous and tedious rules, most of which asinine. For example, when in the bathroom on Shabbat, an orthodox Jew is not allowed to tear bathroom tissue to wipe his behind. Is this consistent with the concept of Shabbat?

badrabbi said...

Also, I am curious: Let's say that a Jewish country like Israel suddenly became an Orthodox such that all its inhabitants were very religious.

Who then will run the power plants on Shabbat? Who will run the water treatment centers? Who will run hospitals? Who will maintain guard against its enemies? Who will run the police system?

Who, in short, would run the country in these modern times, if we as Jews are supposed to rest with our children and our maidservants?

Remember the surprise attack by the arab nations on Israel on Yom Kippur in 1973, which literally nearly wiped the country of Israel off the map. Imagine if the country were to completely rest 52 times a year, without guard!

jewish philosopher said...

The Torah says you may not "work" on the Sabbath, without explaining what that means. The Talmud defines exactly what "work" means in this context. I believe that the Samaritans and Karaites have even stricter definitions. So what exactly is your definition of "work" based on, other than convenience?

jewish philosopher said...

"Imagine if the country were to completely rest 52 times a year, without guard!"

Sabbath desecration is permitted to protect human life. What do you think happens now if a woman goes into labor on Saturday (as my wife did two years ago)?

david said...

The issue with the day of rest as the Jews see it is that it is more of a chore then most other days of the week. Something I would be interested to know is exactly how many rules would the Orthodox Jew need to know in order to define work and thus ensure he keeps the Sabbath?

You should also read Mark 2:23-28.

jewish philosopher said...

Work is defined by our tradition from God at Mount Sinai.

badrabbi said...

Since there is no clear definition of 'work', the rabbis had to essentially derive a definition. They reasoned that to make an alter, people had to work to do it. The Torah details the work involved in making an alter, such as cutting draperies, hammering wood in place, setting wood, etc. The rabbis reasoned, then, that whatever was defined as work in making an alter would then be classified as work.

I will not go into it too much, but the logic is flawed. It is true that to make an alter, some 'work' is involved. But the list of tasks in making an alter is not all encompassing. Nor are all the tasks necessarily work. It is true that the act of cutting fabric might be work, but it does not translate that tearing bathroom tissue is the same act. Yet the rabbis ban all of it in a blanket ruling.

When you squeeze common sense out of a given tradition, as the rabbis have done, strange rules come about. For Shabbat, the whole concept of 'rest' has been turned on its head, which instead of providing rest, leaves a typical orthodox Jew bored out of his skull, yearning for the day to be over.

jewish philosopher said...

The rabbinical point of view is that God didn’t just forget to explain what “work” means. Rather, He explained it very precisely, and this was transmitted orally until it was written finally in the Talmud.

Regarding whether or not the Sabbath is boring is a matter of personal taste. If you enjoy quiet good times spent with family and friends, the Jewish Sabbath can be very invigorating. On the other hand, some people can only have fun using methamphetamine or torturing innocent children, for example, and they might find any mainstream lifestyle boring.

badrabbi said...

"Rather, He explained it very precisely, and this was transmitted orally until it was written finally in the Talmud"

Rabbi Stein, we may have talked about this in the past, but I think you are under a misconception. Let's see if we can clarify things:

The Talmud, as you know, is a vast document. In it, there are many categories of information, as are summarized below:

1. Torah concepts that supposedly were handed down orally from moses to teacher to student.

2. Torah concepts that have arisen as a result of 'minhag' or tradition, which were made official.

3. Torah concepts that were derived by biblical exegesis. Here, rabbis read passages in the Torah and derive stuff from them. These derivations were not handed down from Sinai. Rather, they have been gleaned by rabbinic logic, derived from words of the Torah.

4. Stories or fables that people have kept over the years which are in some way related to religion.

5. Rabbinic disagreements are arguments.

I think it is fair to say that even an ardent Orthodox Jew would agree that items 3, 4, and 5 above are not handed down from Sinai.

Now, the 39 categories of 'work' have been DERIVED from the Torah, and thus fit the 3rd category. You go ask your rabbis, Jacob, and they will agree with me. These categories are not handed down from Sinai. They are, therefore, rabbinic in nature. To say they were "transmitted orally until it was written finally in the Talmud" is misleading.

I would venture to guess that people had refrained from work, not farming, making fire, etc., but had no idea that there were 39 categories of 'work'. The rabbis came along and imposed their idea of what work constituted, which is OK. But when we see now that some of these decrees are antithetical to common sense, we should object and change them.

jewish philosopher said...

Well, Bad, I want to point out that in 31 years of Judaism, no rabbi has ever suggested that I do anything dangerous, unhealthy or illegal.

Having said that, certain things I have been asked to do are uncomfortable and/or embarrassing - for example, wear a skull cap in a place where no one else does, pray when no one else is, fast on certain days, etc.

I personally have found the Sabbath to be extremely pleasant. One has to plan for it, however. One should seek out friends and neighbors who also are Sabbath observant, inform ones employer in advance, buy food and cook it on Friday, etc. etc. Clicking on the links in this post may provide more detail.

badrabbi said...

JP I have no problem with your last comment. However, you totally ignored my previous arguments.

I would also like to deal with your following sentence: "If you enjoy quiet good times spent with family and friends, the Jewish Sabbath can be very invigorating. On the other hand, some people can only have fun using methamphetamine or torturing innocent children, for example, and they might find any mainstream lifestyle boring."

JP, are these the only choices? Either you spend a Sabbath as an Orthodox Jew or you are doomed to torturing innocent children? These are the only 2 options you see? The Orthodox Jews or amphetamine crazed child torturers?

I am just curious, do you see your own logical fallacy? Do I even have to point it out to you?

Let me give you an alternative: I spend Sabbaths with my family. We enjoy a nice time, sit in our car and go to visit relatives. We watch TV on Sabbath, we play ball games with our children. We use the stove to heat our food. We use bathroom tissue, we talk on the telephone and say hello to our friends. We uncork a nice bottle of wine and enjoy it. We read interesting novels. We go to restaurants.

These are all activities that your orthodoxy would stone us for. These are all restful activities that make us happy; yet your rabbis look you in the eye and impose a penalty of death for. Now you might say that you community doesn't actually carry out this penalty, but this is only so because, thank goodness, you do not have such authority.

david said...

JP, I am curious first of all where I can find the definitions of work written down so that I may take a look. I would also be very interested to know how you as an orthodox Jew interpret them, especially regarding issues such as TV, cars and light switches all of them having come along well after the Sinai revelation.

I think people may find this article interesting. This was from a Sydney paper a bit over a year ago. It really, in my view, highlights how far from the mark the orthodox idea of "rest" is.

http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,20938465-5001021,00.html

jewish philosopher said...

David and Bad, the word "work" as in not doing any work on the Sabbath, can be defined in endless different ways, however I don't think that any definition has more validity than the Talmudic one, which most Jews have been using since ancient times.

Bad, when Jews did have the authority to stone other Jews, how many were put to death? Almost none? Check it out.

David, I think clicking on links in this post will help with more details on the Jewish Sabbath.

DrJ said...

Why were all of the Talmudic/Rabbinic pilpul regarding the laws of the Sabbath not written down BEFORE the time of the Mishna?

Answer 1: All of these details were known to Jews in Biblical times, as transmitted from Moses, but they were PROHIBITED from writing any of them down, thus explaining the deafening silence in the Bible regarding "oral law", and despite Jews having written hundreds of other scrolls and books during biblical times

Answer 2: Most of these laws didn't exist.

(They were invented/embelished by the Rabbis and/or introduced into tradition, during the latter part of the second temple period)

You readers decide which is more logical.

My question illustrates that even Jews have to engage in irrational self-delusion.

jewish philosopher said...

Bad, regarding death penalties, compare the ancient rabbis to the 18th century English government.

DrJ, what's your suggestion? If you want to follow the even harsher Samaritan or Karaite codes, that's fine with me.

DrJ said...

JP:What's my suggestion?
Stop believing that Talmudic Judaism is God given and that its laws are a divine imperative.
Realize that the orthodox Judaism that has decended to us in our day is a remnant of ancient Jewish customs, and that many if not most of its laws have no bearing on us today whatsoever.
The Rabbis of the Talmud were bold enough themselves to realize the same thing, that much of the Torah was no longer relevant to Jews at that time, and therefor set about to radically change it.
JP, like it or not, this is the honest truth about Judaism, and you know it.

jewish philosopher said...

So you’re suggesting that the Torah was indeed given by God at Mount Sinai, and initially everyone was observing it, however at some point a group of people called “rabbis” succeeded in convincing most of the Jews that what they were doing was all wrong and they should really be doing something else.

This theory sounds a little shaky to me and I think history contradicts it.

DrJ said...

JP: "So you’re suggesting that the Torah was indeed given by God at Mount Sinai, and initially everyone was observing it"

No I'm not suggesting that at all. You have black and white thinking errors. Can't you think of the alternatives? Do you think that 600,000 Jewish males in the desert, or during the first kingdom, all wore tefillin? Chances are that they wouldn't even recognize what we today call "tefillin". The tanach itself says that the Jews weren't observing the Torah-- idol worship, adultery, murder--all manners of sin-- were the norm rather than the exception. In Nehemia it says that they never heard of succot and hadn't observed it since Yehoshua's time.

Regardless of whether or not there was a revelation (I don't believe there was), clearly jewish practice and laws evolved greatly over time.

JP: "however at some point a group of people called “rabbis” succeeded in convincing most of the Jews that what they were doing was all wrong and they should really be doing something else."

Again black and white thinking. How do you think all religions start, including the ridiculous modern religions like mormonism? It starts with kernel of beliefs, some of which may be true. Over tens to hundreds of years it gets embellished, modified, and refined. Its a gradual process, not just overnight. A key aspect is claims that can't be disproven. (like life after death) Jewish history in fact corroborates this process of evolution of the religion.

jewish philosopher said...

DrJ, I think you are doing what all other atheists do. You accept as axiomatic that God does not exist. This belief is based on emotion rather than logic or reason. It is therefore unquestionable and cannot be debated.

From this starting point, it’s clear that Judaism was made up by people at some point. You cannot give any plausible, detailed scenario of how that could have come about (as I can easily give regarding Christianity, Islam or Mormonism, for example), however that doesn’t really matter since you simply know that there is no alternative.

Personally, I have a different, I think more open minded, perspective.

DrJ said...

JP: "DrJ, I think you are doing what all other atheists do. You accept as axiomatic that God does not exist. This belief is based on emotion rather than logic or reason. It is therefore unquestionable and cannot be debated."

This is a hollow attempt to falsely portray the lack of belief in god as axiomatic and/or dogmatic. As many comments have been made on this subject, I will not repeat all of the arguments here. But even if one does believe in God, Allah, Zeus, Mazda or whomever, the belief in the Torah (Oral or Written) as being authored by a perfect God of Israel is illogical and unreasonable. It is a book that underwent many changes (even in the hebrew writing) and reflects fallible human authorship.

So accepting that God wrote the Torah is axiomatic, dogmatic, and emotional and not based on reason or logic.

jewish philosopher said...

"the belief in the Torah (Oral or Written) as being authored by a perfect God of Israel is illogical and unreasonable"

Care to prove this?

DrJ said...

God regrets- flood etc

God makes mistakes--offer to make Moses a new nation, etc

The Torah makes mistakes (anachronisms, contradictions, errors)
The Torah borrows from surrounding culture's gods, laws, and customs. ie the name of God EL, priests, etc

God mysteriously "disappeared" after the time of the prophets. Does he talk to you?

The torah's morality is flawed (albeit appropriate to its time): polygamy, slavery, ethnic cleansing, witch and adulteress burning, animal cruelty, religous persecution of minorities.

The talmud's logical rules are flawed-- Gzeira Shava, Hekesh, etc.

The talmuds morality is flawed (statements about women, slaves, cripples, non Jews)

The talmud is full of errors about physics, anatomy, astronomy, zoology.

The talmud believes in ghosts, evil spirits, etc

Judaism as a failed religion-- as a numerically small, disappearing people.

Is this enough, JP?

jewish philosopher said...

Genesis 6:8 said that God was unhappy that He had made man. So?

Exodus 32:14 says that after Moses' prayers, God changed His mind about killing the Jews. So?

"The Torah makes mistakes (anachronisms, contradictions, errors)" Where?

"The Torah borrows from surrounding culture's gods, laws, and customs. ie the name of God EL, priests, etc" Proof they didn't borrow from Jews?

"God mysteriously "disappeared" after the time of the prophets. Does he talk to you?" Hardly mysterious. We stopped listening so He stopped talking.

"The torah's morality is flawed" Based upon what standard? DrJ's??

"The talmuds morality is flawed" Ditto.

"The talmud's logical rules are flawed-- Gzeira Shava, Hekesh, etc." How?

"The talmud is full of errors about physics, anatomy, astronomy, zoology. The talmud believes in ghosts, evil spirits, etc" And rabbinical literature today is full of today's science.

"Judaism as a failed religion-- as a numerically small, disappearing people." Maybe quality is more important than quantity. A diamond the size of a olive is worth more than a boat load of shit.

badrabbi said...

DrJ;

I am in general agreement with you. I do want you to explain further though:

1. Regarding God's changing his mind, I think you are saying that an omniscient and omnipotent God would not have to change his mind, and this is a valid point. JP's comment of "so?" is obtusely simplistic. SO? So if God were all knowing, why would he regret something that he did?

2. I am aware of anachronisms here and there in the Torah, as for example, the use of a Babylonian garment in the possession of Nahor in the book of Joshua. Can you name others? I would be interested in a list.

3. What are the flaws in Hekesh and Gzeira Shava? I am curious.

4. I do not think that Judaism's numerical inferiority qualifies its designation as a "failed religion". I think the religion is as false as any other.

DrJ said...

Hi Bad,

I don't have a Bible with me here now on vacation, so I can't give you the verses, but a few saleint example of anachronisms include:
1. Pashat Vayishlach-- referring the the long line of kings of Edom "before there were kings in Israel"
2. In Avrahams wars with the 5 kings he chases his enemies to "Dan", of course unknown at the time of Avraham.
3. All of the times it uses the phrase "to this day", including referring to Moshe as a great prophet in the remote past.

4.Giving "Chavot Yair" to the sons of Menashe in dvarim, an event alluded to only much later in Yehoshua.

5. Gezira Shava uses two different instances of a word, used in different contexts, to carry over a concept from one law to another. Hekesh does the same with 2 subjects. This is inherently flawed logic. Its like saying if grass is green and frogs are green, than grass and frogs are similar in other respects as well, unless proven otherwise.

With regard to a failed religion, it would seem that the one true all powerful God, the God of Israel, who promised Abraham that his descendents would be as numerous as the stars, would do better than a fashtinkine 13 million, in a world of 14 billion, with the constant threat of extinction, and be on the losing end of the battle of ideas in the world, and remain a cloistered group. Why would the one true all powerful God be consigned to a few shleppers who live in New York and Bnei Brak? And, of course, why would He allow a holocaust?

In these respects Christianity and Islam are far more successful in influencing the world.

badrabbi said...

DrJ;

Thanks for the list of anachronisms. I did read Friedman's book "Who Wrote The Bible", in which some of these were mentioned. Just to be fair - I have to play devil's advocate here as the arguments on the believing side are weak - can you reply to the following objections?

1. The city of Dan may have been present at the time of Abraham. What evidence do we have regarding when the city of Dan was founded, and that there is not more than one city of Dan?

2. "To this day" may literally mean to this day! For example, in the last paragraph of the torah, where the death of Moses is mentioned, and where it is said that no prophet like Moses has ever lived "to this day", that might simply mean that the statement is true to this day, meaning today. No?

With regard to Judaism being a failed religion, I might suggest that the intellectual influence of Judaism has been immense in the sense that it gave origin to Christianity, and Islam, which currently dominate the world. Additionally, the Judaic moral system, for better or for worse, has been codified by the Torah, which continues to dominate Western thinking.

It is unfair to characterize a religion as 'failed' by mere standards of numbers. One might say, to echo JP's crude example, that diamonds are rather rare and subject to numerous thefts, etc. However, one can hardly call diamonds a failed substance. Ubiquity does not equal success; rarity does not constitute failure. Finally, had Hitler been able to exterminate the Jews to extinction, it would then hardly have been fair to consequently characterize the religion as 'failed'!

I agree that God seems to have reneged on his promise that if we only cut off the tips of our penises that he would make us a numerous and dominant nation. The likes of JP have to answer for God's not keeping his word (they usually answer that the failure is really ours - typical crap!). But God not keeping his words does not make our religion a failed one.

Finally, anti-Semitism is a failure of the antisemite, not of the Jews. That the anti-Semite ceaselessly attacks us is a moral failure on his part, not ours.

badrabbi said...

DrJ;

BTW, hope you are enjoying your vacation. Where are you?

badrabbi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DrJ said...

BadRabbi,

I'm here in sunny sinful Florida visiting my family.

Thanks for the thoughtful responses. Your points are well taken. Certainly Christians nowadays would agree with you that Judaism is not a failed religion. I don't know what the Muslims think, but we can guess. We contributed to civilization in the same way that the Greek philosophers did. But by our own standards-- being a light into the nations, etc, etc-- we remain but a curiosity to most of the world. Also, the societies in which we live prominantly feature Judeo-Christian ethics-- but what about the East or in Africa? In most of the world most people have never met a Jew let alone care about Judaism.

"to this day"-- why would Moses be saying that to his contemporaries? To whom was it addressed when it was written? It reflects later writing.

I guess that given the nature of religion it becomes hard to actually define what a successful religion is.

jewish philosopher said...

You’re raising some interesting questions, and I’ll try to respond.

Regarding God changing His mind, I don’t think that the examples you’ve given are indications that the author of the Torah was not aware of the doctrine that God knows the future. After all, there are many places in the Torah where God predicts the future. See Genesis 15 for example.

Instead, I think that what happens sometimes is that God makes one plan, Plan A, however later something changes and He switches to Plan B. For example, God originally planned on populating the earth with the descendents of Adam. That was Plan A. Then man sinned. Plan B was to kill everybody except Noah’s family and repopulate the earth from them.

However, in the light of the fact that God knows the future, why does He need Plan A? Why not just start right from Plan B? I think that’s what you’re asking.

Well, we could take some guesses. For example, perhaps God wants to teach us something from what happened to the sinners in the time of Noah. This may stand as an eternal warning to mankind, demonstrating God’s anger regarding sinners.

Basically, however, I think we just don’t know and probably cannot comprehend why God has a Plan A or why He has any plan at all.

The Torah refers to future events (such as the future name of Dan and the future kings of Israel) because it was written with divine prophesy.

I think you may be getting a little mixed up on the Chavot Yair and “to this day” questions.

A gezirah shaveh is based on tradition, not merely logic.

Regarding God’s promises to Abraham, they is no expiration date on them. When we’re worthy, we’ll get it. How about repenting and seeing what happens?

In general, I find the arguments of Torah deniers to be very similar to those of Holocaust deniers. They also have plenty of questions and plenty of evidence, and hundreds of millions of people believe it, however when one compares the overwhelming evidence in favor of the Holocaust and the evidence against it, any fair-minded person can see that the deniers are falsifying history because of their own biases. By the same token, when one considers the overwhelming evidence in favor of Torah, any fair-minded person can see that the Torah deniers are falsifying history because of their own biases.

badrabbi said...

"perhaps God wants to teach us something from what happened to the sinners in the time of Noah"

Some lesson! He destroys all humans, all animals, all plants, everything, save a couple.

To whom was this lesson aimed at?

This would be like shooting an entire classroom to death just to teach the one remaining student that handguns can be dangerous!

Is this an example of God's omniscience?

jewish philosopher said...

"This would be like shooting an entire classroom to death just to teach the one remaining student that handguns can be dangerous!"

Bad, based on my Bible study, I don't think God is some kind of bleeding heart liberal.

DrJ said...

JP:"In general, I find the arguments of Torah deniers to be very similar to those of Holocaust deniers."

A Gezeira Shava!

jewish philosopher said...

The human capacity for self deception seems to be endless. However that doesn't absolve us from trying to live rationally.

BlackEyedP said...

I may not have much clout here - being an athiest Giy and all but I just wanted to say that I thought JP's post regarding the Shabbat was beautiful. The fact that it contained no judgement about what others should be doing, was an amazement to me. This was just a story sharing the beauty of Shabbat - a planned, quiet, family day. This ritual is one that drew me to further study Judaism. I believe at whatever level one partcipates in this tradition, it becomes meaningful because you are transforming the mundane into a "holy" act - which centers your thinking and reminds you what is truly important in life. We shouldn't pick it apart at every level - just feel the essence of what it means. Am I a crazy goy? Yes!

jewish philosopher said...

P, I also used to be a goy. Did read my profile and click on the links there?

BlackEyedP said...

I did indeed read your profile and for a *short* time felt as if I may have something in common with you (seeking). However, upon further reading I realize we are worlds apart. I still have respect for you.