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Day of Rest

Judith Shulevitz’s new book considers the Sabbath throughout the ages and in her own life

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Vincent van Gogh, The Siesta (after Millet), December 1889–January 1890(Collection Musée d'Orsay)

  Judith Shulevitz grew up in a house divided; mom observed Shabbat, and dad did not. She’s not the only one. What for some is a meaningful respite from the daily grind is, for others, an antiquated and oppressive ordeal. Indeed, the Sabbath has always raised questions and posed challenges for those who observe it, Jews and Christians alike. In her new book, The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time, Shulevitz, a journalist and cultural critic who has been a columnist for the New York Times and Slate and is a contributing editor to Tablet Magazine, explores how the Sabbath has been understood over the course of millennia and how Sabbath observance affects social and familial relations, ethics, civic life, and individual well-being. Vox Tablet spoke with Shulevitz at her home in Manhattan about how the Sabbath has influenced her, her children, Jesus and his disciples, and Supreme Court justices, among others.

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Good stuff and beautiful illustration. My view is that every Jew should be encouraged to celebrate Shabbat in his/her own way. I think ‘no work’ is by far the most important point. Who can argue against that? Part of the problem is that many think that you HAVE to obey/observe hundreds and hundreds of rules,regulations and nuances thereof. They may all have value but to someone new observing the Sabbath, they may well see these as somewhat obsessive. So anyone ‘resting’ in any way is still keeping it holy in their particular personal way and this should always be respected and even encouraged because as they enjoy the observance they may choose to observe more. Let everyone sanctify the Sabbath in their own way. Agree with political perspective. People have been exploited for centuries without a day of rest. Jews should be deeply proud of this mitzvah.

Jeff Carpenter says:

Thank you for your conversation, Judith and for your insightful and gracious remarks on historic Judeo/Christian observances of the sabbath. The concept of encouragement to observe, rather than a requirement to keep, has strengthened my family for several generations; I see my own children being stronger in their faith, in a freedom to remember the sabbath, than in strictures to keep it holy. Time for a re-read of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s _The Sabbath—

God's child says:

pushing for blue laws is not a good thing, there will result persecution of those that do not fall into line with these laws. Be careful what you wish for because it is coming sooner then you think

John Trainor says:

In various interviews, Judy Shulevitz is unmistakably speaking on Sunday ENFORCEMENT. What about religious freedom? What about liberty of conscience? I choose to observe a day other than Sunday as the Sabbath. If her suggestions were put into practice I would be forced to keep two Sabbaths. Such action would be directly contrary to the principles of this government, to the genius of its free institutions, to the direct and solemn avowals of the Declaration of Independence, and to the Constitution. The founders of the nation wisely sought to guard against the employment of secular power on the part of the church, with its inevitable result– intolerance and persecution. The Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” and that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office of public trust under the United States.” Only in flagrant violation of these safeguards to the nation’s liberty, can any religious observance be enforced by civil authority.

Judy Shulevitz quotes:

But one of the things I argue in the book is that, one of the ideas, the political ideas, that is sort of embedded in the Sabbath, is the idea that as a society we have a right to take control of our time, and say that maybe as a democratic society, we want to decide to bring back some rules about what can and can not be done one day a week.

It’s just as difficult to envision the Sabbath surviving the current speeding-up of everything without some generally enforced slowdown.

What we’d learn is the immense usefulness, to society, of a structured period of non-productivity, as well as the need to enforce that pause. Putting teeth into a neo-Sabbath might involve legislation–tougher laws…

The Sabbath is an extraordinary piece of machinery for creating solidarity and fellow feeling, and it sort of works. There’s a four step program for creating community, that the Sabbath does. Imagine that you are a social engineer. Imagine that you wanted to create a particularly cohesive society. How would you do it? Well, one thing you would quickly do is you would put everyone on a common calendar…The first thing you would really do is set aside one day in which everybody could sort of come together, be free from their work and would come together. And the second thing you’d do is make that day is the same for everyone – that everyone could come together, everyone could not work at the same time – and the third thing you would do is make it habitual so that everyone did this regularly.

Leah says:

I found it disturbing that Shulevitz shows such enthusiasm for “Mark” and appends “Christ” to Jesus’ name. That does not seem to be in keeping with a *Jewish* philosophy.
As for her idea that you can be selective about Shabbat — you can, just don’t expect it to last into the next generation. Once it’s not “G-d’s Law” but “Judy’s Law”, most kids find that a whole lot less compelling.

start to transport anxiety of your health! jibe out this side

Always fascinated with the Sabbath. Love the Vincent photo u included!

While I agree with the content in Day of Rest – by Vox Tablet – Tablet Magazine – A New Read on Jewish Life , I think the buoyant sentiment around today is a result of a false set of circumstances. The demand for consumer finance is still weak and there is no significant improvement in the housing market. The developed nations are surviving on their governments ability to just borrow and spend into their economies which is unsustainable. Regards, Ayako Vondrasek.

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Day of Rest

Judith Shulevitz’s new book considers the Sabbath throughout the ages and in her own life

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