Sunday, January 19, 2014

Shabbat Confusion

Israel, as its founding document says, is a Jewish democratic state.  As most of world has experienced, there is a constant tension between those freedom and religion.  For example, many American cities had Sunday laws, similar to the Shabbat by-laws in Israel, closing stores on Sundays, not exactly freedom of occupation.

A tourist travelling in Israel on a Saturday would be forgiven for not quite understanding what exactly Shabbat means.  Depending on the place, the roads and shopping centers may be completely empty or packed to the gills.  Is Saturday a day of rest or not?  The answer is as unclear as in regards to other aspects of Shabbat behavior.  For example, is it okay to have a child’s birthday party on Saturday keeping in mind that some of families keep the Sabbath?  When my daughter was small, parties were during the week.  Today, I am not so sure.  Many but all people avoid talking about money on Saturday, at least with strangers.  Most Sabras do not call people they don’t know on Saturday, but most will use a telephone.  Workers strive to avoid working on Saturday to spend time with family and friends. In other words, Shabbat is a day of rest (from work at least) but not a restful day for many Jews.

Shabbat remains different from the other days of the week but not in any uniform way.  While some people keep the Sabbath according to the book, others less religious keep some of the spirit out of respect or self-interest.  In this sense, Israel is Jewish and democratic, every Jew “respecting” the Sabbath in his/her own way.

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