Shabbat Shalom

Good Shabbes, as we say here!

First and foremost I want to thank all my friends and strangers who have commented on this blog and otherwise given me priceless feedback about my spiritual journey! Your comments and feedback are extremely valuable for me.

On a less joyous note (but still kinda funny) I want to say that I got a threatening comment on this blog! They threatened to “ruin my reputation” unless I pay them 0.5 bitcoin or stop my blog. They promised to do that through sending millions of scam e-mails and ads featuring my address They said they want to do that in order to “protect believers”. Oh my. Well, I deleted the comment and didn’t act on it. It was quite different from a regular scam-e-mail.

Back to Shabbes! The last letter of שבת (sh-b-t) is  ת which is sometimes pronounced as [t], but in Ashkenazi “tradition” (dialect?) is pronounced as [s] (not always though, but in the word Shabbat/Shabbes, yes). Vowels are missing and have to be guessed…

Shabbes starts with sunset on Friday night and ends around two hours after sunset on Saturday (the religious definitions is that three stars can be seen in the night sky, and I have no idea how does that compute with cloudy weather).

There is a book in the local library about all the do’s, don’t’s and other rules of Shabbat and they take up… around 400 pages. A sample…

  • You can’t touch a pen.
  • You can’t create or destroy written text, which implies that you can’t rip open a chocolate bar’s wrap at a place which contains text.
  • You can wear wrist-watch only if it can be classified as jewelry and something you would wear not only on Shabbes. Actually, you can wear it, if you don’t walk outside of the territory of your house. What is “the territory of your house”? Hang a rope around a large territory including your house and declare that that’s your “territory”. There is a rope hanging all around Manhattan so that Jews could carry stuff around on Shabbas. There is someone checking every week that the rope is properly hanging and they are posting online that “yeah, all good, you can carry your sweatpants.” But you still can’t carry a pen, just so you make no mistake about it. Generally you shouldn’t carry or touch anything if it is not for the purpose of Shabbes. Like I think you can touch a pen, if you are removing it from the dinner table in order to eat.
  • You can’t shower. I took a good shower just before…
  • You can’t drive.
  • Turning electric devices on or off is forbidden. This implies also that you shouldn’t do anything that would influence the amount of electricity used by some device. Like, automatic doors and motion detectors in general are a no-no.
  • I thought the rule is that you can’t even be in a vehicle let alone drive it, but apparently that’s false. Technically you could be in the bus, BUT… hold on to your chairs: if you step into a bus and it drives, the contribution of your weight has increased the amount of gas that is burned. Since it is forbidden to burn anything, you are breaking Shabbas. Same goes with the famous Shabbat-elevator.
  • You could drive a bike, but if it breaks, you can’t fix it.  I think fixing anything is forbidden. Wiping the floor is forbidden. Don’t spill coffee. If you spill, don’t clean. Wait, I like it!!
  • You don’t have to press the button, but your weight will contribute to electricity usage by the Shabbat-elevator, so it turns out that orthodox Jews won’t use them.
  • However, if it is your only option (say you want to get to the synagogue and you are 89 years old and can’t walk the stairs), then Shabbat elevator is a better option than a regular one.
  • You are exempt from any rules if breaking them is required to save a life or otherwise proceed with urgent health-related matters. This includes for example calling 911, driving ambulance, using an electric thermometer etc, etc. You don’t even have to consult your Rabbi in such a situation – for obvious reasons.
  • You can’t open an umbrella, because it is classified as “building a tent” and that’s explicitly forbidden.
  • You shouldn’t do anything that could look like you are breaking Shabbes. So technically, could open your umbrella before Shabbes and justify carrying it on your “territory” (see above), BUT people will think you opened it on Shabbes, so forget it. Use a raincoat. Wearing stuff is OK.
  • …not just anything though. I think you can’t wear anything that has a sewing needle attached to it and the needle has a hole in it… but that’s super advanced stuff and I am not sure about it.
  • There will be no pictures from this shabbes 😉
  • Hmmmm… that makes me wonder if there could be (i.e. are) shabbat-cameras? A camera doesn’t necessarily need to use electricity… Google: apparently not, creating pictures is considered writing, enacting a chemical change (on the surface of the film) is also a no-no.
    …you get the idea 😉

Disclaimer: I am only a student of Judaism, so I might have made some mistakes above. Don’t take my word for it and come to study in a Yeshiva for your selves.

Oh no, now I feel the need to tell you why Shabbes is THE BEST!! 😀

  • You get to sing a Shabbat song. Not as if we weren’t singing three times a week at a farbreinging anyway. Here is a picture from yesterday:

    Farbreinging last night with Rabbi Wolff, father of Benyamin Wolff my Rabbi in Helsinki.

  • Eating and drinking with friends in a relaxed atmosphere knowing that you couldn’t rush anywhere even if you wanted to, you can’t stress over anything, because everything is taken care of before Shabbat. Meals are pre-cooked, tables are pre-catered etc, etc. Just talk to your friends about intelligent stuff (=Torah), eat, pray, drink etc.
  • It is a holy day. I think if you do all that properly, you will feel it.

Moral of the whole story..? Keeping shabbas is great as far as I am concerned. The biggest downside which may hold me back from committing to it is for example that there is immense difficulty related to going to concerts for example. Can’t go to a concert on Friday night? Errgh. Can’t really go to a restaurant either. I think that can be arranged if you agree with the restaurant that you pre-pay everything (can’t handle money on Shabbas). Oh, but kosher restaurants aren’t open on Shabbas. Oh, but going to a non-kosher restaurant while still keeping Shabbas is somewhat hypocritical and that’s the last thing I want to be. Kosher food is a completely separate issue on which I’ll have a blog-post later.


6 replies
  1. Dominic Reichl
    Dominic Reichl says:

    The power of social pressure boggles my mind and frightens my heart. I am sorry to say this because I know that the purpose of your posts could not be further from the effect they have on me. Still, I shall speak honestly. My interest in spirituality and mysticism almost made me forget how much I abhor religion. Somehow this post put Hankering’s comment, encouraging hostility towards religion, into a new light. Though as long as religious rules and traditions do not hurt anyone, I guess I do not care. Lastly, could it be that a rule’s impact on social bonds grows with its ludicrousness?

  2. Hank
    Hank says:

    Singing and eating with friends in a relaxed atmosphere… yes, religions surely have evolved to be attractive. Even the fact that there are some super strict rules that modern people can laugh at, can be seen as one way that religion has evolved to propagate itself: young rebel minds like yours can maintain their self-image as a rational and thoughtful person. But this should not be an issue today, should it?

  3. Anssi
    Anssi says:

    I have been wondering what it is like to talk intelligently about Torah? Are discussing moral dilemmas? interpretations? Is it interesting? Can you give an example?

    • Vadim
      Vadim says:

      That’s all we are doing here. Sometimes it is very interesting and sometimes a little boring. It is so detailed that it looks almost like pure mathematics. I will try to delve deeper into those things in my posts later. I think so far I have been concentrating more on my own struggle with religion.

      Here is a quick example: We had a lecture about what to do when someone dies. Among other things Judaism is strongly against cremation of the body. That was the number one worry that the lecturer said we should have. It is more important not to cremate than to even bury at a Jewish cemetery. As always, the real reason is because “God commanded so”. But we discussed a lot how it fits Jewish values. The dead should be treated with honor and dignity. Cremation is not seen as such. Also here is an interesting comparison the lecturer gave. Suppose a famous baseball player dies and leaves behind a baseball bat with which he won a famous game etc. Imagine now that someone wants to destroy the bat in a wood chipper. The fans would object! Now, if his bat is so valuable and so honored, then why not his body? Etc.., you can imagine how the discussion continues. Another point, in fact, is that Judaism does not require a coffin; we want the body to naturally dissolve and “return” to the ground. So in fact it is more ecological than cremation which has a large carbon footprint.

  4. 0tt0
    0tt0 says:

    “The dead should be treated with honor and dignity. Cremation is not seen as such. Also here is an interesting comparison the lecturer gave. Suppose a famous baseball player dies and leaves behind a baseball bat with which he won a famous game etc. Imagine now that someone wants to destroy the bat in a wood chipper. The fans would object!”

    I think there’s more subtlety going on here. Were you to burn the bat along with the body, it is a different story. It is not a sign of disrespect to the bat (or the batter) to place the bat on the funeral pyre. Quite the opposite in fact, don’t you think?

    If you were to place the bat in the grave and the body decays, is taken over by mold, liquefies…yet the bat, being of solid, hard wood, lacquered and painted, stays almost pristine… That does not seem quite right, either.

    The egyptians placed items of value in the tomb, but also attempted to preserve the body by embalment. So there you again don’t have this contrast of the body perishing and the item remaining. If the body perishes, perhaps by fire, it seems emotionally appropriate the totem perishes along with him.

    We have a coffee machine at the department. It is a big espresso making thing with a touch screen, that grinds the beans and will steam your coffee…which no longer works. We have talked of giving it a “viking burial” by dousing it with gasoline (pinched from our instrumented research cars) and torching it.

    It would be a wild, dark, pagan send-off – which is why I’m not really for it – but not a disrespectful one. The humour comes precisely from the idea of bestowing this archaic, elemental, honour on this modern, digital machine (whose purpose moreover is something as everyday and unassuming as making coffee – torching a car or a viking boat, indeed a baseball bat, seems more appropriate).

    So it’s not that burning is a sign of disrespect, I don’t think. There is more going on here. But it is perhaps at a symbolic level a pagan rite so I can see why it is frowned upon, taught against, and “not seen as [honorable and dignified]”?

    As a relic at a museum, acting as a vehicle of remembrance and physical connection – that has value, too. This you forgo (or lose) if you burn it.

    Anyway, there is variety in what is considered honorable treatment of the dead (in some cultures you eat them, in others you skin them and hang the skin on the wall). There may be deeper issues in how you think and feel about death and the dead that have to do with which particular one of them you find appealing or (un)dignified?

    “we want the body to naturally dissolve and “return” to the ground” – what do you want to do with the bat?

  5. Veronika
    Veronika says:

    Read the post with a great interest and a smile on my face. Love your way of thinking, making comparisons and self-irony.
    I wonder how does the Shabbat look from women’s perspective. For instance, is taking caring of your own children considered to be a work? Since personally I get tired a lot with the little ones and there is no realistic possibilities to avoid the daily obligations to focus on rest and philosophical thoughts.


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