Posted on: January 23, 2011
I’m two classes into my second trimester of my conversion classes. We’re spending this term going through the Jewish Holiday cycle, starting with Shabbat. I’ve read so many books on Shabbat and just finished up Entering Jewish Prayer by Hammer and still feel a little lost, but inspired by Shabbat.
One of you lovely readers mentioned trying to have a real, traditional, halachic Shabbat and I wondered this weekend if I could take on that challenge as well. We learned in class that the Talmud, not the Torah outlines the 39 types of work that are forbidden on Shabbos: Carrying, Burning, Extinguishing, Finishing, Writing (hard one), Erasing, Cooking (harder), Washing, Sewing, Tearing, Knotting (I can’t even knit!), Untying, Shaping, Plowing, Planting, Reaping, Harvesting, Threshing, Winnowing, Selecting (no selection of movies to watch), Sifting, Grinding (there goes baking) Kneading, Combing, Spinning, Dyeing, Chain-stitching, Warping, Weaving, Unraveling, Building, Demolishing, Trapping, Shearing, Slaughtering, Skinning, Tanning, Smoothing, and Marking.
There’s a really amazing loop-hole when it comes to the electricity part. Apparently, there are conservative rabbis who argue the whole “electicity=burning” thing because the scientific lingo involved with electricity actually doesn’t have anything to do with a flame being kindled. I failed Chemistry 3 times in college and never took Physics so I don’t know exactly what the rabbi was talking about. But those of you who know the science behind electricity know what they’re talking about. In any case, because electricity isn’t actually burning I can have lights and my computer. Therefore, if I wanted I could watch a movie that was picked out before Shabbos and put in my computer before Shabbos I could. I won’t (I don’t think) but the option is there. Honestly, most of those 39 don’t apply to my every-day life but there are others that seem problematic no writing, no cooking, no washing, no selecting, no combing.
One of my favorite themes in Heschel’s book on Shabbat is the distinction of time on Shabbos. He talks about Shabbat being one of the only times that we can control time when time is usually the thing we can never control. On Shabbat we can “control” time because we take time to notice it, to stop, to pause, to exist in a holy space in holy time. Usually when I take time for myself I spend it writing but it would be nice to take that time to read. It would be nice to take that time to reconnect with friends, with my partner, with my family, maybe with God on a deeper level. Even though it was written decades ago so much of Heschel’s book makes sense in 2011. In thinking of when I could take this Shabbat Challenge- I’m planning it, trying to figure out which weekend I have off from work and what other things could conflict with scheduling Shabbat, scheduling time with God I’m astounded and reminded that time is something we cannot control. What does it mean that I have to schedule a truly meaningful Shabbat? I immediately have a mystical thought and try to remember to see God in everything, in every moment, at every time but the red marks already on my February Calendar remind me that I often don’t make time for God, to truly appreciate Shabbat and perhaps the only time to truly appreciate the essence that should be Shabbat needs to be scheduled in like a bill payment or doctor’s appointment. Is that sad or is it reality? How do the Orthodox do it or do they have the same problems and issues around observing Shabbat in a traditional way.
It looks like in two weekends, February 4-6th, I have time off of work so that will be my Shabbat Challenge. I’m excited but mostly anxious…can I really observe Shabbat wholly and traditionally? Am I ready? This semester the rabbis leading the class vary weekly. The rabbi who lead on Wednesday said something that really struck a chord with me. He said that being a Reform Jew doesn’t mean that you’re a less-traditional or less-observant Jew but that you’re a Jew who is informed and makes the decision to do or not do something. I’m paraphrasing but it made sense to me. I’ve been struggling the last few weeks with the choice to convert Reform for that very reason. I didn’t want to be a fair weather Jew, or less-than a Jew but I struggled with the prospect of taking on an Orthodox conversion because I don’t believe that the Torah can be taken for its word. I don’t want to take this “Shabbat Challenge” just for the hell of it, and just because I’m “supposed” to but rather to experience it. I spend most Shabbats at shul for an hour and a half and maybe we’ll light candles and maybe we’ll have challah but I’ve never gone to Saturday morning service. I’ve never spent the day without the distractions of life to actually enjoy the one time in the week I have to reflect. That, I’m looking forward to.