Sacrifices for Shabbat?

I was delighted to see that sjewindy at A Humanistic Jew in Indianapolis left a pingback this morning to my post, Why Can’t Jews Get Married on Shabbat? entitled Jewish? Want a Saturday Wedding? Find a Humanistic Jew. He’s right about that; a humanistic Jew is one of the alternatives if you want a Saturday wedding.

However, I have an issue with something in his summary of my post, and I think it merits a post of its own. He wrote, “traditionally this [foregoing weddings on Shabbat] is a sacrifice Jews have made.” [emphasis mine]

Jews went out of the sacrifice business in 70 CE, when the Romans pulled down Herod’s Temple and burnt the broken fragments. As a Reform Jew, I am not praying for or looking forward to a restoration of that edifice, although there are folks in other movements of Judaism who are. (There’s another post for another day.)

Things I don’t do on Shabbat are not sacrifices in any sense of the word. For example, I don’t do my shopping on Shabbat. That is my practice because the day is a break from acquisition. I’m not sacrificing shopping in the way a Catholic sacrifices eating chocolate for Lent. I’m taking a break from shopping because it’s a distraction from Torah and relationships with people, and those are the focus of my sabbath.

I draw my boundaries around Shabbat differently than a halakhic Jew (a Jew who regards the contents of the medieval codes as a binding set of rules given by God and handed down through the generations.) For me, Shabbat is a day to refrain from creation and acquisition, a day profoundly different from the other six, a taste of the world as it should be. It is absolutely not a day for sacrifice in the sense of “going without.”

One of the most famous descriptions of Shabbat is in Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath. He describes Shabbat as “a cathedral in time.” It is time set aside for openness to the numinous, when we put away anything that might get in the way of that activity. While Heschel himself was a halakhic Jew who kept Shabbat in the classic fashion, keeping Shabbat in the 21st century means different things to different Jews.

Sjewindy and I are largely in agreement. There are lots and lots of different ways to be Jewish. But sacrifices? Not since 70 CE, and never on Shabbat!

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

6 thoughts on “Sacrifices for Shabbat?”

  1. Reblogged this on A Humanistic Jew in Indianapolis and commented:
    It’s not a makhloket, really–it’s a davar akher. 🙂

    Ah, the imprecision and semantic degradation that is English! Where I meant sacrifice as “trade-off” alone (which I thought was pretty clear in context), Rabbi Adar brought the other, “avodah” meaning–service in the Temple through sacrificing animals, oil, wine, and produce–in.

    Now you can see the little semantic shifts we all use to write midrash and sermons! (I’d argue that there are several semantic shifts in Rabbi Adar’s post: she moves from “avodah” to trade-off and back as the discussion went from my comment to the Heschel idea and back again, no? Lawyers with philosophic and rabbinic training are the most annoying lawyers of all! 🙂 )

    Rabbi Adar and I both know that lots of Jews regard the halakhic restrictions of Shabbat–or the traditional conduct they engage in without participation in the full halakhic regime (not that it can be done perfectly anyway)–as a set of trade-offs. Some Jews do not see any trade-off (sacrifice?) because they believe themselves commanded to take these actions. Even then, some of these decisions are reluctantly made and produce stress. Hopefully those making the trade–and Shabbat observance in all its forms is in most situations an exercise in opportunity cost–see greater benefit in observance than in non-observance. (Otherwise, why make that trade absent external compulsion?)

    Then again, the “avodah” meaning isn’t in itself wrong at its core for many–it’s just that rabbinic interpretation has fritted away at what “avodah” can be permitted mean in certain contexts. Of course, on a more realpolitik view of it…

  2. Oh, the semantics of the debate of who is right and who is more right! Shabbat, to me is, as my favorite Hebrew School teacher taught me, the time to be present in Hashem”s creation without the distractions of other everyday life activities. Yes, growing up in an orthodox community, there were the Halakhic restrictions, but more importantly being with my teacher after Shul and learning to be present was the greatest gift of Shabbat I grew to learn and love.

    1. Dawn you are correct as that is exactly what I got from my teacher. He was such a gift! As I have matured, this spirituality has grown into the my Shabbat of “being present to appreciate the Devine.” Thank you for recognizing this. Shabbat Shalom.

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