The Sceptic Blog

Random thoughts of a random chappy

Shabbat UK – A Grump’s Eye View

with 2 comments

1. This week thousands of people in the UK, and hundreds of thousands world-wide, took part in what looks set to be an annual event to bring normally non-observant Jews closer to Shabbat observance and community participation.

2.  What could possibly be wrong with that?

3.  Nothing, except … that it may possibly give some people a misleading view of what Shabbat observance is about.

4.  The Talmud records that if every Jew keeps Shabbat twice consecutively, the Messiah will come.

5.  Why require two Shabbatot?  The organisers of this week’s Shabbat UK will probably be able to testify to how difficult it is to engage lots of people to do it just once!

6.  The point is, that Shabbat observance is not about the Shabbat day itself, it is about how our Shabbat influences the week that follows and is shaped by the week that precedes it.

7.  To come together once a year to bake challos, try not to drive to shul, and invite guests to the Shabbat table, is all terrific stuff – excellent for the community, great for engagement, and simply a lovely experience: but it’s not Shabbat.

8.  Shabbat is a continuum: on Friday night it reflects a softening retreat from the harsh realities of the previous 6 days (hence the word “boh” in the feminine singular in the Friday night prayers); on Shabbat morning it reflects a strength of purpose to concentrate on a day of spiritual re-charging (hence the word “bo” – masculine singular); on Shabbat afternoon it reflects a preparation for the 6 days to follow and connection with the endless series of 7-day cycles that are the essence of Shabbat observance (hence the word “bam” – plural form – even in those nuschaot which do not use the word “Shabbatot” at that point).

9.  Shabbat is not a novelty, or a single event of high spiritual excitement.  Shabbat is a way of life, a participation in a cycle that repeats itself endlessly and sublimely, irrespective of whether we keep it fully, partly or not at all.  “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the Jews”: this famous epigram is about Shabbat observance as an individual expression of a person’s unshakeable relationship with God, and not about Shabbat as an opportunity for community growth.

10.  So a lovely idea, and a lovely occasion: but let people who have tasted it remember that they have not yet tasted the real thing – that will come if they put their ‘phones down and turn off the television and put away the car next week, and the week after, and the week after …  And as the Talmud says, once all Jews have observed a week with a Shabbat at each end, enriched by spiritual preparation and crowned by spiritual fulfilment, then the Messiah will come; or, rather, he will already be here.


Written by Daniel Greenberg

October 25, 2014 at 6:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Ah, Daniel, and there was me thinking I alone couldn’t quite “get” what patronising irreligious people was all about!

    You are of course 100% right (for once) but out in “the sticks”, this was almost certainly a wonderful opportunity to engage with people who don’t normally keep much of a shabbat. Our problem was that, not without precedent, we in the NW London “bubble” lose sight of what most Jewish communities are really like. Incidentally, I think that Rabbi Goldstein was quite clever in having his event in South Africa at the start of his spring/summer. For us in the northern hemisphere, having it now creates a problem in that for many who may have been inspired this past shabbat to keep more, there will be a massive reality check when they realise that to keep shabbat properly next week means leaving work on Friday at 2.30!

    And, btw, are you unware that the “official” mingag anglia (actually, I believe, minhag Hamburg) as evidenced by the Authorised Daily Prayer Book and almost universal in Anglo Jewry before ArtScroll, doesn’t have the boh-bo-bam sequence you mention?


    October 27, 2014 at 3:39 pm

  2. Just noticed that you were back after a little break! Shabbat UK for whom? Those who are far from being religious might have found it all a novelty, go to Shul, enjoy the service and sermon, get invited for tasty meals. Great! And next Shabbat, back to Brent Cross. So they can’t tick the box. Those who keep Shabbat; a good idea to strengthen their observance and focus on Shabbat, but that’s all. So we are left with those in between, who may go to Shul on Friday night, come home, perhaps even make Kiddush and Hamotzi, have their dinner and then switch on the TV. Might even go to Shul Shabbat morning and off to Brent Cross after the service. Why all this wavering? Because that is how they grew up and have never given any thought to change – or have never been encouraged to change. Comes along Shabbat UK as an “injection” and they see that there is more to Shabbat than what they do at present. For some, it may work for one week and then back to “normal”. But for some it may be that the injection gets through. Perhaps 5% of those who took part in Shabbat UK, perhaps less. Don’t you think it was worth while for them? Finally, when we say that if everyone kept two Shabbatot, Mashiach would come. I think it’s simply because one week would be a novelty, two would be a habit. Shabbat has to be a habit not a novelty to have it sink in.


    November 11, 2014 at 6:44 pm

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