Sunday, December 2, 2007

Living by Religious Time

A while ago I disagreed with a column penned by Jay Michaelsen in The Forward. Now I want to agree with one. This time, he argues for observing the Shabbat according to season, i.e. early on Friday in the winter, late into Saturday in the summer. Actually, I wouldn't have thought there is any other way possible, but obviously I'm uninformed on that. Anyway, Michaelsen's column contains all sorts of interesting points, about Shabbat, about observance in general, and about belief vs. practice.

Btw, the whole issue is an American vs. Israeli one. In America, the surrounding society doesn't have Shabbat, so observing it at its extremes causes problems, hence the need to tinker with its schedules. In Israel, whether you're orthodox or not is irrelevant: The Shabbat starts according to sunset. Just to give an example: an army unit sending its soldiers home for Shabbat has to allow them to get there before sundown, be that 4pm or 8pm, and even if all the soldiers in the unit are Druze.


Lydia McGrew said...

I hate to admit ignorance, but sometimes it's the only way to find out stuff. :-)

So, dumb question: The linked article refers to squeezing in a hurried meal before Shabbat in the winter, where sometimes things are so rushed (because of early sundown) that the meal consists only of bread.

My very limited understanding of these things is conditioned partly by things like seeing "Fiddler on the Roof" a zillion times, though that's not all my evidence. (My husband and I had a wonderful Friday evening Shabbat meal at the house of one of his very Orthodox philosophy students many years ago.) I was under the impression that the Shabbat meal had to be _prepared_ before sundown but is usually _eaten_ after or just about at sundown, and that this is no problem, even if it's very elaborate. And after all, people have to eat _on_ Shabbat, so obviously it's okay to eat full meals (not just bread) so long as they are prepared ahead of time. So what's he talking about? Why would a Friday evening meal be so scanty in the winter? Is it just that people have been at the office or something up until the last minute, because of early sundown, and hence didn't have time to prepare more, or something?

Yaacov said...

I think he was referring not to the Friday evening meal, but to the late Saturday afternoon one.

The idea is that it's not permissable to cook on Shabbat. So the Friday evening meal, which tends to be large, is prepared Friday afternoon at the latest, and then everyone can enjoy it together since it's already cooked. There is a second large meal sometime around noon on Saturday (there are different systems for this, so it's anywhere between late morning to mid-afternoon). If it's a cooked meal (often), the cooking was done the previous day. (Warming things up on Shabbat is alright, if done the right way). After all that, when you can't eat anymore anyway, some people insist on eating what's called "the third meal" (Seudah shlishit), late in the afternoon of Saturday. If this is 7pm on Saturday, this makes a wee bit of sense; if it's a 3pm, it doesn't. So even people who insist on fitting in this additional meal most often eat very little: say, some bread and sardines. I go to a talmud shiur (study group) late shabbat afternoon, and the "third meal" is basically the peanuts and watermellon that gets served there.

Lydia McGrew said...

Okay, got it; thanks for the clarification. I was probably reading carelessly.

I've always wondered if there is, esp. in traditional households, a difference between how much of a break from work Jewish _women_ get on Shabbat and how much men get. It seems like the traditionally female tasks of, say, feeding and changing babies, dressing and entertaining young children, etc., are things that _must_ be done on any day of the week, whereas going out to a job is something from which you can take a day off.

I suppose that if you were on a farm, giving the animals food and water would be another thing that would have to be done on any day, but in a more urban environment, the "non-negotiables" seem to fall more in the traditionally female than the traditionally male realm.

But I'm speaking here from almost total ignorance, really.