Live from the Lilith Blog 1 of 2

October 26, 2011 by

Skipping Shabbos and Drawing Lines

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It’s 4pm, and I am sitting with my friend at a T.G.I. Friday’s in Philadelphia. I have chosen not to think of the day itself as Shabbos. I am skipping Shabbos day, you see; it’s just Saturday.

We’re looking to split an appetizer and then a dessert. She points out something on the menu, and I see that (like almost everything else on the menu) it includes meat. “Oh, I can’t eat that,” I say. She knows that I don’t eat non-kosher meat, but didn’t realize that particular dish wasn’t vegetarian.

I hesitate.

Because what’s the difference when my observance level is in flux lately, anyway? Where is the line? Why don’t I eat non-kosher meat? I decide to not order a dish with meat in it: I don’t want to deal with whatever feelings of guilt I may feel while eating it, or afterwards. Better to explore one big Jewish challenge at a time, starting with Shabbos—one week at a time.

See, I love Shabbos, I really do. I don’t want to give it up. But it is unclear now what the shape of that day will look like… where the lines are. The line used to be halakha, Jewish law, but I am no longer convinced that is the right metric for me for Shabbos, or for the Jewish life I want to live. Frankly, I’m not sure it ever was. I just don’t know, though. Picking and choosing is a slippery slope.

The night before, I was desperately clutching an umbrella against a roaring rain, making my long watery way to Friday night services. The rain was falling so thick and fast and loud that I couldn’t help but holler into the storm; my clothes, meanwhile, were hopelessly soaked. It would have been normal and completely understandable to turn around or to wait. I kept going.

The sky was still just a little bit blue, and I rationalized my use of an umbrella—which isn’t used on Shabbos by certain traditional Jews, no matter the weather. “It’s not really Shabbos yet,” I thought. I thought about buying a poncho sometime that would cover me from head to foot. I thought about whether or not I believed I was actually breaking Shabbos (if it was already Shabbos) by using an umbrella… and if I would actually walk thirty minutes to shul in the crazy rain if I couldn’t use one.

Most of all, I was confused and a little amused by my determination to play by the familiar rules when I knew that the following day I would break all of them. Would I use technology? Check. Spend money? Check. Travel to another city with my best friend who would be coming from out of town so that I could spend as much time as possible with her? Check, check, check.

When I finally got to shul—a group I had never been to, hosted by a rabbi I had never met—the Friday night prayers and songs were a relief not so much from the rain, but from my own racing thoughts. My skirt dripped onto the wooden floor; I took off my soggy shoes and wet glasses, opened my prayerbook, found the right page, and began to sing.

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  • Sarah

    I think there’s value to knowing what rules you’re breaking (no matter how much it matters to you that you’re breaking them). Clearly the system means something to you or is connected to your identity, even if it’s not integral right now. It can be helpful to have a structure that frames our experiences and our processing of those experiences. We don’t have to buy into or love that structure, but I find that it helps guide the questions I ask myself and what sorts of things to think about before, during, and after various experiences. (I could also understand if someone wanted to argue that there are aspects that are not addressed in this framing and that it is missing something. I may feel that way but no examples come to mind right away. I feel pretty strongly that everything is in Torah somewhere. Hafokh ba v’hafokh ba v’kula ba – Ben Bag-Bag used to say: turn it and turn it and everything is in it.)

    Also, if keeping shabbos on Friday night is meaningful, then do it! There is value in every shabbosdik experience, even if it is not the traditional 25 hours.

  • JG

    What are you picking and choosing from, though? Some people carry umbrellas on Shabbat. I feel I see so many friends get sidetracked with “rules” they learned from rabbis, while those rabbis may subscribe to certain minchagim that don’t work for everyone. Ultimately the Torah is very basic: you shall keep the Shabbat. Whatever that actually means has been open to interpretation for thousands of years. So are you really breaking Shabbat, or are you interpreting it differently? And if you are breaking it, then are you doing so for the sake of the breaking? The sense of freedom it gives? Rebellion? Something else? I really love this post. There’s so much here!

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  • Guest

    Thanks. Now I have something to thing about.