Culture

Christians, Atheists, & Pagans Should Take a Sabbath Like Orthodox Jews Do

“Second, more than any other commandment, the Sabbath Day reminds people that they are meant to be free. As the second version of the Commandment — the one summarized by Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy — states, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt.” In other words, remember that slaves cannot have a Sabbath. In light of this, I might add that in the Biblical view, unless necessary for survival, people who choose to work seven days a week are essentially slaves — slaves to work or perhaps to money, but slaves nonetheless. The millionaire who works seven days a week is simply a rich slave.” — Dennis Prager, from his fantastic 10 Commandments video series.

So given the success of last week’s discussion about the myriad of ways to interpret the meaning of Genesis 9, the story of Noah cursing Ham’s son Canaan, I’ve decided to start a regular weekly series on Sunday presenting and discussing a variety of Bible-based mysteries.

This week’s subject for debate and inter-faith dialogue: what is the best way to observe the fourth commandment, to set aside one day a week that is holy? Does one particular group or theological denomination have better ideas and interpretations on this subject than others?

While for many of these Bible mystery questions I’ll just pose the question or lean in one direction or another, on this subject I do have a position that I’ve come to embrace more over the past few years that I’ll offer forward today: the seemingly radical approach that Orthodox Jews take to the Sabbath — a whole day of the week, sundown to sundown, of not even driving a car or using electricity and devoted solely to family and one’s spiritual development as a community — is the ideal that everyone should pursue for a whole host of reasons.

I don’t think the American Protestant Christian standard of just going for an hour long church service each week and then treating Sunday like any other day really cuts it.

Next: considering some insights from a book that I’ve been reading, Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbathand posing some inter-faith questions based on it. 

1. How important do you think it is to come to understand the Bible in its original language? I want to learn more Hebrew over the next 10 years, to the point of eventually becoming fluent. Who wants to join me?

2. What is the connection between the Sabbath and negative theology? Does silence express a deeper reality for grasping the nature of God?

3. Can we understand the Sabbath and its accompanying spiritual practice and self-discipline as a tool for transcending civilization?

4. Does time exist? How are we to understand time and what does it mean to make time “holy” or “sacred”? Is making time holy the first step toward making space — and ourselves — holy?

My New Year’s Resolutions from this year, the sixth was to begin dipping my toe in more Jewish mystical ideas and their corresponding practices in Kosher lifestyle (such as Sabbath, prayer, and diet):

For next year I’m going to try and take these ideas a step further. My wife and I have talked about the idea of trying to figure out how we can arrange more of a weekly sabbath into our routine. It’s been something we’ve dabbled in some weeks — often making Saturdays more of a slower, resting day than we’d otherwise intend. (Though admittedly I’m not yet going for a full 24 hours each week without work. Something to pursue for 2015…) What about you?

5. Is there a better routine you would like to plan for 2015?