She draws me;
Jews' age-old decree;
Through her we
are set free
for our holy day weekly ~
we simply can be
I don’t blog on Shabbas (the Sabbath)
According to most traditional interpretations of Jewish religious law, Jews are forbidden from using electronic devices (such as computers, cell phones, etc.) on the Sabbath. This has its benefits and its drawbacks.
When an apikoros broke Shabbat,
The old rabbi just sighed, "Oy, mein Gott!
If you think it's alright
To switch on the light...
Well... it would seem I forgot the crock-pot!"
A quick explanation
There are many religious restrictions associated with Shabbat (the Sabbath) in traditional Judaism, including not using electricity and not cooking on Shabbat. The phrase “breaking Shabbat” means desecrating Shabbat by breaking any of these many restrictions.
An apikoros is a Jew who informedly rejects the tenets of traditional Jewish faith and probably does not live according to the tradition. An apikoros would have no problem “breaking Shabbat” by flipping a light switch on or cooking on the Sabbath.
A traditional stew called “cholent” is often served on Saturdays. The idea behind this dish is that it must be prepared before Shabbat and put in a crock-pot on low heat to finish cooking overnight on Friday (during Shabbat). By the time Saturday (still Shabbat) rolls around, the cholent is thoroughly cooked – ready to be eaten for Shabbat lunch!
The humor in this limerick is that the old rabbi is not only prohibited from cooking on Shabbat himself – he is also forbidden from benefitting from another Jew’s desecration of the Sabbath. Technically, if the apikoros cooks food on Shabbat, and if the rabbi knows of this, the rabbi cannot eat that food. And, as you may have guessed already, suggesting that another Jewish person desecrate the Sabbath is also religiously verboten.
In this limerick, the old rabbi is knowingly suggesting that the apikoros turn on the crock-pot with the cholent inside, thereby both cooking food and actively making use of an electrical device on the Sabbath. Seems that this old rabbi is a bit of an apikoros himself!
Some say that the word “cholent” may have come from the French “chaud” (hot) and “lent” (slow).
She draws me;Jews' age-old decree;Through her weare set freefor our holy day weekly ~we simply can be
I was recently exposed to the shadorma form of poetry by Kerfe and Lauren. As always, I had to give it a go… this is definitely one of those short forms that challenges us to pack as much as possible into every word. Quite lovely, really – I enjoyed this form!
I drank an expensive bottle of red
wine from Moldova. It was subtle; smooth;
Kosher wines must be produced exclusively
by Sabbath-observant Jews; open bottles are rendered
unkosher if even touched by gentiles; this feels to me like racism.
Such delicious wine.
The quadrille is simply a poem of 44 words (excluding the title), and it can take any form. This week’s challenge was to use the word “wine” in a quadrille.
An enactment was put in place in Talmudic times to prevent Jews from consuming wine that had been used for idolatrous purposes. The religious prohibition was extended, such that even if a Jew knows that a particular gentile is not going to engage in idolatry, it is still prohibited to drink wine that was touched by them.
On Jewish holidays I must
draft poetry in my head
For lack of laptop, I dare trust
my memory instead
This Passover, I did not just
hanker for leavened bread
Still, all last night, I long discussed
the Exodus instead...
And now I type, ere neurons rust,
and soon I'm off to bed!
Recently, I’ve been watching a lot of movies online, which I haven’t seen for many years. It amazes me how little I remember of them; in many cases, it’s as though I’m watching these flicks for the first time all over again. Among them has been a popular cult classic, which I watched years ago (in 1998) when it was first released: ‘The Big Lebowski’.
This movie is full of hilarious moments and running gags.
One of these is that of supporting character Walter’s (John Goodman) commitment to his Jewish conversion, which he underwent back when he married his ex-wife. This character is a right-wing veteran of the Vietnam War with an explosive temper and propensity towards violence (he probably suffers from PTSD); and he is also, unexpectedly, as he puts it: shomer fucking Shabbas!
From a Jewish perspective (mine), one of the elements that makes this so hilarious is just how accurate Walter’s description of traditional Shabbasobservance (I pronounce it ‘Shabbat’, btw, as it is pronounced in modern Israeli Hebrew) really is. Have a quick listen to this Jewish Supercut of the Big Lebowski below. For those of you who haven’t seen this movie, the word ‘roll’ in this context refers to bowling, which is the main character’s recreational activity of choice.
Walter: I DON’T ROLL ON SHABBAS! … Donny:How come you don’t roll on Saturday, Walter? Walter: I’m shomer Shabbas. Donny: What’s that, Walter? Walter: Saturday Donny, is Shabbas. The Jewish day of rest. That means I don’t work, I um, don’t drive a car, I don’t fucking ride in a car, I don’t handle money, I don’t turn on the oven, and I sure as shit DON’T FUCKING ROLL! Donny: Sheesh Walter:SHOMER SHABBAS! … Walter:Shomer fucking Shabbas! … Donny: Hey Walter, if you can’t ride in a car, how do you get around on Shabbas—
Shomer fucking Shabbas!
Yes, really: We don’t flip light switches
Living in Jerusalem, as I do, it’s entirely normative to observe Shabbat. The weekend in Israel falls on Friday and Saturday (Shabbat begins at sunset on Friday), and most who do not observe Shabbat have at least a general concept of what it is.
In principle, I would describe Shabbat as a day during which those who observe it refrain from engaging in physically creative activities (although procreation is encouraged). We aim to avoid causing physical changes to the world and focus ourselves, instead, upon spirituality, family, and the intangible.
The specifics of the restrictions that apply to the traditional Jewish observance of Shabbat were developed by our sages throughout the course of many centuries, and they are based primarily upon those physical acts that were necessary for the construction of the portable Tabernacle, which God instructed the Israelites to build after they had left Egypt.
Without getting into much detail, the Sages determined that there were a total of 39 categories of physical labor that cover the many restrictions of the Sabbath. One of these 39 categories is: the lighting of a fire, and another one is: the extinguishing of a fire.
Now, modern technology, and electricity in particular, was a game changer for the rabbis. When electricity entered people’s homes, the rabbis had to decide whether or not to permit its use on Shabbat, and ultimately the accepted mainstream ruling in the Orthodox Jewish community became that a spark of electricity is like a spark of fire, meaning, for example, that it is forbidden to flip light switches on and off on Shabbat.
Of course, from a scientific perspective, this is nonsense. Electricity is not fire.
A popular idea is that creating an electric spark is like lighting a fire, which is halakhically prohibited on Shabbat. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman recounts that he was approached by young rabbis who asked him, “Is electricity fire?” The renowned physicist responded that electricity is not a chemical process, as fire is.
Regardless, this religious ruling took root and remains the norm today among the vast majority of Sabbath observant Jews. I do not flip light switches on Shabbat; I do not use my phone; I do not use my computer; etc.
I don’t blog on Shabbas
The lived experience
Growing up as a secular Jew, I knew nothing of these Shabbat-related norms, which is why it strikes me that some of you may find this intriguing. Actually, I first began thinking about writing this blog post after creating a Twitter account for myself in order to publish daily micropoems in 2021. After all, January 2nd was a Saturday:
To be honest, I am not interested in getting into the nitty gritty of Jewish religious law. Rather, I simply want to provide a sense of what our lived Shabbat is like. We have many religious restrictions, but the one which I think would be the most obvious to an outside observer is the limitation on using electricity.
From a technical perspective, it is very simple: instead of flipping light switches on Shabbat, we set timers for all of the electric devices and appliances that we need. Lamps and fans are set to timers, for example, as is our electric hot plate (‘platta’ in Hebrew) for heating up food for Sabbath meals. The food itself must be prepared before Shabbat but can be warmed up on the Day of Rest. Essentially, we cannot cause physical changes on Shabbat, but if we set timers before Shabbat, that’s kosher because the cause of the physical change occurred before Shabbat. Simple, right?
But providing you with this technical illustration is not my reason for writing this blog post. What I really want to do is describe, briefly, the impact of this lifestyle upon our family life.
Like many of you, my wife and I spend most of our days behind computer screens; also, our six-year-old loves watching Disney movies and other videos, having screen time with her extended family in Russia and the USA, writing prose and poetry on a computer, and playing the video games installed on her children’s camera (clever marketing idea, right?).
It’s not that we don’t do other things; it’s just that our telephones and computers occupy a tremendous amount of space in our lives. And – they serve to separate us from one another because we often end up interacting with our electronic devices instead of interacting with one another.
On Shabbat, on the other hand, we spend all day together (especially this last year of global pandemic when we haven’t gone to synagogue and haven’t been invited to friends’ Sabbath meals), and the quality family time is priceless, especially from a parenting perspective. We play card and board games, read books, horse around in the bedroom, etc., and I am certain that this unplugging is very healthy for us all. Of course, we do all get to missing our shows and news websites during those 25 hours every week, but I cannot think of many other facets of traditional Jewish life that have come to be so relevant in this modern era.
The sages who ruled against using electricity could not have foreseen this 21st century reality, and I still disagree with the logic they employed in issuing their religious rulings against it. However, truth be told, I don’t really care about that at all. Shabbat, as I have come to know it and live it, is one of the best parts of traditional Jewish life for me.
I had an unexpected flash of insight the other day regarding the following themes:
My Jewish identity
Living in Israel
Blogging on WordPress
My Jewish identity
While I only encountered Orthodox Judaism and gradually began to adopt a religious lifestyle in college, I have always strongly identified as a Jew. If I were to sort the many facets of my identity out into a hierarchy, I would put the label ‘human’ at the very top. My second tier would include: ‘brother’, ‘father’, ‘heteronormative male’. ‘husband’, ‘Jew’, and ‘son’ in no particular order.
For several reasons, the many strictures of religious Jewish life have always appealed to me. In part, I feel that I am simply being outwardly true to my core identity by presenting myself as a Jew publicly in the most apparent way possible.
Mind you, I began college more than twenty years ago; and my religious journey has had many ups and downs in the many years since. There were periods when I reverted to a secular lifestyle, and there were periods when I managed to convince myself that the God of the Torah existed and strived to follow His laws to my utmost accordingly.
I have been up, down, and all around on the spectrum of religious Judaism. However, throughout those years during which I turned back towards secularism, I always missed the outward trappings of traditional observance. The personal inconveniences of keeping strictly kosher, keeping Shabbat traditionally, praying thrice daily, etc., never bothered me ~ it was, rather, always a question of the extent to which any of these practices actually mattered.
Nevertheless, it’s important to note that while I never minded the demands that traditional Judaism made upon my life, I did find myself wishing that my religious lifestyle wouldn’t create such barriers between me and all other human beings on earth who were not attempting to live a traditional Torah lifestyle.
Living in Israel
Not religiously comfortable for all Jews
From a religious perspective, Israel is not necessarily a comfortable place for all Jews to live.
For political and historical reasons, the Chief Rabbinate is Orthodox, rather than heterodox (Conservative, Reform, etc.), and its religious monopoly over Jewish life operates with the full weight of the government behind it. For example, Jewish weddings performed in Israel outside the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate are granted no legal status (and civil marriage does not exist). Also, the Chief Rabbinate’s state-empowered religious monopoly grants it the exclusive right to certify Israel’s food establishments as “kosher”, unlike everywhere else in the world.
Also, questions of Jewish status are decided by the Chief Rabbinate for religious purposes. This decides whether or not citizens of Israel can get married in Israel at all, where they can be buried when they die, etc., etc. Therefore, Israeli citizens whose mothers are not Jewish, as required by religious law, are considered “not Jewish” by the Chief Rabbinate, and they cannot legally marry Jews in Israel without first undergoing religious conversions under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate (even if they are secular).
Religiously comfortable for me
While I 100% oppose these infringements and all others on freedom of religion in Israel, the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over religious Jewish life does not much inconvenience me on a personal level because I happen to live an Orthodox lifestyle (my wedding, for example, was conducted through the Chief Rabbinate).
Also, while I have explored and flirted with non-Orthodox religious communities, they do not feel like home to me personally. Therefore, as the vast majority of Israeli synagogues are Orthodox, my religious preferences are not marginalized in most public prayer spaces. Further, even when my commitment to my religious practices vacillates, it is always fluctuating on the spectrum between Jewish secularism and Orthodoxy, both of which are mainstream in Israeli society.
All of this is to say that I feel very at home in Israel from a religious perspective. Kosher food is – and kosher food establishments are – abundant, synagogues are available everywhere, the national holidays are my own religious holidays, etc., etc.
Living here in Israel (especially in Jerusalem) dramatically lowers the religious barriers between me and all the other people around me.
Blogging on WordPress
I have been increasingly enjoying the sense of community that I have discovered here on WordPress.
Bloggers from around the world share with – and are supportive of – one another, and for the first time since moving to Israel I have been feeling significantly less divorced from global society, which is predominantly not Jewish.
The unexpected insight that I had last week is that our virtual WordPress community grants me something not entirely dissimilar from that which living in Israel grants me: a sense of normalcy.
Of course, I am aware this comparison has many flaws. For one, every blogger chooses whom to interact with on their blog and on other people’s blogs. My virtual community is entirely self-selected and filtered according my preferences… and, of course, writing and reading blog posts is a far cry from in-person interactions… but… well…