Saturday, June 30, 2018

Secular Hilchos Shabbos

Shabbos is one of the components of Jewish culture that I think has great intrinsic value. This is especially true of Orthodox Shabbosim, which force one to pause, to disconnect from the headlong race of day-to-day life with its never-ending to-do list. It's no accident that kiruv workers often use Shabbos meals to introduce potential baalei teshuva to frumkeit. Shabbos really is a wonderful institution.

What is it about Shabbos that makes it valuable, though? It's not the endless list of "shalt nots" that many people, especially kids, experience as suffocating restrictions. Nor is it the religious goals of remembrance of Creation and connection to God, though that plays a role for many religious people. What makes it valuable to me is the way it punctuates the week and gives it structure. It's one day a week to step back from my to-do list and spend time with family and friends. To put on nice clothing, to eat better-than-usual meals that have been prepared in advance off of nicer-than-usual dishes, to not worry about cleaning up immediately, to read, to relax, to spend hours socializing and playing with my kids.

For Shabbos to work, it needs to be consistent and somewhat binding, if only in the sense that one makes a commitment to stick to the rules one has decided on. Otherwise it becomes too easy to do just this one important thing, or just run that errand - it won't take too long - and the value of the day evaporates as our to-do lists assert themselves. Given that what makes the day valuable is the break from routine, the gravitas of and enjoyment from fancy things, and the time  spent with family and friends, what would be the rules for a Shabbos built with those goals in mind instead of the religious strictures that have evolved over the millennia?

A few suggestions:
  • Thou shalt observe the Sabbath from 6:.30 PM Friday night to 6:30 PM Saturday night.
  • Thou shalt honor and lend gravitas to the Sabbath with finer-than-usual clothing, food, and tableware.
  • Thou shalt not consume electronic media on the Sabbath.
  • Thou shalt not engage in business on the Sabbath.
  • Thou shalt not run errands on the Sabbath.
  • Thou shalt not prepare meals on the Sabbath; only add necessary last-minute touches and heat dishes as necessary.
  • Thou shalt feast on the Sabbath; Friday dinner and Satruday lunch thou shalt make special.
  • Thou shalt begin Sabbath meals with a ritual of some sort. Kiddush is traditional, but any similar sort of ritual will serve. (Rituals surrounding meals have been shown to increase enjoyment of those meals.)
  • Thou shalt not travel on the Sabbath for more than an hour in any direction from the spot  where you are when the Sabbath begins.
  • Thou shalt not travel in a vehicle on the Sabbath except for the purpose of socialization.
  • Thou shalt not be productive on the Sabbath.


  1. I would like to point out that observing Shabbas is a luxury many can not afford or be able to indulge in.

  2. I very much like that last one ��

    And hm, maybe if I tried shabbos without electronic media, I would get in some of that pleasure reading, that huge pile of books I've been collecting over the last couple years and haven't had much time for...