Being Jewish means that whatever you do, there will always be some fellow Jews who think you’re not observant enough, and some who think you’re way over the top.
I’ve been having a lovely, relaxing day today. A quiet day in. My husband’s been out so I’ve had the house to myself and I could use the dining table for my sudoku without worrying about being in his way. There’s a book I’ve been reading and got so near the end last night that I decided to sit down this afternoon and finish it – reading novels in daytime is something I don’t often do, so it felt like a special treat. I’ve chatted with friends a bit and enjoyed friendly banter. I feel recharged.
Apart from reading that book (and apart from my Bible reading), everything I’ve done today has been stuff that Orthodox Judaism regards as prohibited on the Sabbath: thou shalt not write (thus, no sudoku); thou shalt not use a computer (thus, no communication with my friends, as I talk to them online) (and no, they don’t allow using the phone either); thou shalt not microwave yummy things, or use your electric kettle to make coffee.
I recognise the good intentions behind these rules. I’m just glad I have the freedom to disregard them, and to work out for myself what is or isn’t helpful to me in resting and recharging.
If I chose to follow those rules, I’d have to forgo a whole load of stuff that helps me recharge – ok, sudoku isn’t crucial, but a whole day of not writing at all would be torture for me, not just because I am a writer and if I get an idea and don’t write it down it keeps nagging me for ages (and when it disappears, that’s really painful) but also because I use writing to actually think through things, I sit down with an initial thought and start putting it into words and through the process of writing, I work out what it’s all about. Like with this post, I didn’t know where I was going to go, I just had a starting point. I journal, and it’s a way I can get in touch with my feelings and work out what’s at the bottom of a problem, why it’s bothering me. For me to go without writing is very much like asking a fish to avoid touching water for a bit.
And why? Why on earth would anyone regard writing as work? I’m sure it was quite an effort in the days of carving letters into stone, but holding a pen is not a huge effort, nor is it an effort for me to type – I do remember the days when typing was hard work, when you had to hit the typewriter keys really hard, but with computer keyboards these days, and especially for someone who touch-types, it’s a walk in the park.
Talking of walks in the park – there’s a lovely place not that far from us where I always feel really peaceful, it’s a garden that’s open to the public and is full of beauty, and outside the garden there are these open fields and a gorgeous view. I go there now and again for a bit of recharging. It’s only ten minutes by car. But if I kept the rules of Orthodox Judaism, I could never go there on the Sabbath – not allowed to drive, you see.
It’s difficult for me to see that concept of Shabbat as something positive, because all I’m seeing is a whole load of Thou Shalt Nots. It would be different if the rules seemed to make sense, but they rule out so much of what I see as restful, relaxing, recharging – I think if I was observing Shabbat in that way, I’d feel like I can’t wait for it to be over so that I could do the things I enjoy… instead of sitting here now and feeling grateful for a lovely, restful pause.
P.S. From comments both here and on Google+ I have learned that the list of Thou Shalt Nots is based on a concept I hadn’t been aware of – it’s not just about what might or might not be hard work, it’s also about creative activity. In the beginning of Exodus 35 we’re told not to do any “melakha” (the Hebrew word translated as “work”) and the next thing is the instructions for making all the elements that would go towards creating the Tabernacle, and these activities are referred to as “melakha”. So now I understand better what the idea was behind this list. For myself, I need to chew on this for a while and pray, as I want to understand what the principle is that God was trying to convey here, and how I can apply it to my own life.
And another P.S.
1. I’ve been chatting with a rabbi on Google+ about this issue and apparently the traditional interpretation of the term “melakha” is that it is any of the 39 activities listed in the description of the preparation of the Tabernacle – so it is not “any creative activity”, it is anything that’s on that list. I have not studied the list.
2. Whether or not this interpretation is really how God meant it – I don’t know. I’m not convinced.
3. I’m not sure how much of this is relevant to people who aren’t Jewish.
Also, you may want to read my follow-up post on this issue.