Every Friday night at sundown, Jews across the world welcome in the weekly tradition of Shabbat. Shabbat is the day of rest in Judaism and is observed from sundown on Friday until three stars appear in the sky on Saturday. Shabbat traditionally commences with the lighting of the Shabbos candles, the prayer over the wine or Kiddush, and the breaking of the challah. Following these rituals, family and friends usually share a meal together until the candles burn low, and then walk home or go to bed. The next morning families will walk to shul, their place of worship, and then come home for an afternoon of family time and reading. At sundown on Saturday night, the ritual of Havdalah is usually observed to welcome in the working week.
This all sounds well and good to most people when you outline the positive aspects of Shabbat as I have above—the family time, time for reflection, home cooked meals—but many people cringe in today’s society when they hear that people who are Shomer Shabbos, or observant of Shabbat, traditionally follow a strict set of guidelines limiting their use of technology or tools during the Sabbath. Below is a general list of prohibited activities on Shabbat:
- Writing, erasing, and tearing
- Business transactions
- Driving or riding in cars or other vehicles
- Using the telephone
- Turning on or off anything which uses electricity, including lights, radios, television, computer, air-conditioners and alarm clocks
- Cooking, baking or kindling a fire
- Gardening and grass-mowing
- Doing laundry
While not all Jews observe Shabbat in the same way, those that are most observant will not partake in any of the above activities. This means, for those that take the above rules literally, a great deal of preparation, including pre-tearing sheets of toilet paper, preemptively turning the bathroom and common area lights on, and cooking meals ahead of time. This may seem like it is not really worth all of the trouble in today’s world, but in order to make that judgment, a greater understanding of the benefits needs to be taken into account.
In my experiences speaking with people who observe Shabbat to varying degrees, as well as my own observance on occasion, I have noticed two major themes within the benefits: comfort and connection. The majority of the comfort comes from the practice of a tradition within a group that cares about one another. This can manifest itself in the ritual of prayer or by simply being at home with ones family around a table. The comfort does not necessarily need to come from being the most observant. The connection aspect is more clearly defined than the comfort, as Shabbat seems to make connections in three ways: between people, within people, and with G-d.
Here is where the technology talk really comes in. How can people become more connected when on Shabbat they are shut off from the technology that links them to the world around them? My answer would be, because it gives people a day to cultivate relationships with those who are in immediate grasp. This is even more relevant and more advantageous now with the amount of technology that makes the world smaller but many people’s connection less sincere and visceral. Shabbat forces people to make time for those visceral connections, and also time without the distractions of technology to search within themselves.
In the few experiences I have had observing Shabbat, I didn’t even miss the technology. Anything that I had to do could wait, and I could connect in a more ‘real’ way with the people sitting around the Shabbat table, than I had with my peers under ordinary circumstances. It may sound corny, but there is a distinct warmth and calm that enters, not only ones mind, but also the physical space when Shabbat is being observed—its almost as if time slows down to let people relish the tactile world.
It seems to me that we could all stand to take some advice from people that are Shomer Shabbos—not in the religious sense—but to learn how to take time away from the immediate connections of phone, TV, and internet, and enjoy the connections that take time to build. The world might be much more productive if we simply remembered that we are human, not machine, and that we need time to rest, self reflect, and spend time with loved ones.
This is a short twenty-minute documentary about what Shabbat is and has some great quotes about why people think its valuable.