10 Years of Shabbat

For me, one noteworthy thing about the year of 2020 (other than the fact that it sucked because of the pandemic) is that I hit 10 years of “keeping” Shabbat.

Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay

Admittedly, definitions are everything. Even in my most observant days, there are things I never kept. Like I always ripped toilet paper on Shabbat. I suppose I could have pre-ripped it, but I never did. It just seemed stupid, that the otherwise holy observance of Shabbat would be broken completely by a piece of toilet paper.

Toilet paper: The undoing of Shabbat and 2020? Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Actually, even the language of “breaking Shabbat” bothers me. Like you could keep Shabbat for 99% of the day, or keep 99% of the rules, but mess up on 1% and Shabbat is broken and shattered, like a Christmas ornament that fell on the floor and splintered into a million worthless pieces. The 99% that you kept means nothing.

Metaphor for a broken Shabbat? Image by AlchemillaMollis from Pixabay

But even setting aside the toilet paper, there were weeks over the years that due to circumstances (travel, weddings, deadlines, relative in hospital, etc.) that I compromised/broke Shabbat. I don’t always think I made the right decision on what to compromise, and sometimes, I wish I had chosen against keeping the halachot that I did keep.

And as mentioned in previous posts, I participate in Zoom services on Shabbat and Yom Tov. The Conservative movement issued a teshuvah allowing the livestreaming of services on Shabbat. Orthodox considers this a halachic violation still. But I started using Zoom on Shabbat before the Conservative movement okayed it and would have done it even if they hadn’t. Honestly, it’s one of the better parts of Shabbat for me these days.

So perhaps it is more accurate to say that I self-identified as Shomer Shabbat for 10 years, even though my practice didn’t always reflect this. A so-called vegetarian who didn’t always keep it, if you will. I had a cousin like this.

Still, 10 years of mostly keeping Shabbat should feel like an accomplishment. I did make the lifestyle changes. I gave up long weekends. I gave up hobbies, trips, socializing that conflicted with Shabbat. I told my bosses and worked around it (The non-Jewish bosses/HR were exceptionally accommodating; the Jewish bosses/HR gave me the hardest time). I spent all those Saturdays doing nothing but Shabbat, and all that other time during the week to prep. I took all that time off from work for Yom Tov. I was active in the Jewish community. I never really succeeded in hosting guests for Shabbat meals, but I tried and had limited, mild success with this. So I should be proud of myself. 10 years.

But it’s bittersweet because truthfully, I would like to quit. I kept Shabbat for 10 years and now I would like to stop. And when I look back now on those 10 years, although there was a lot of good that came out of keeping Shabbat, there’s also a lot that feels like wasted time. When I compare what I accomplish in a week/weekend to what my non-Shabbat-observant sister accomplishes, it is pitiful. I realize it’s a bad idea to compare in general, that my sister is a much more industrious and competent person than I am generally, that even without Shabbat, I sucked at time management.

It’s just…10 years is a long time.

40 comments

  1. Ok – in no particular order:

    A) Why don’t you just stop? Is it because of your husband? What’s his preference?

    B) In Israel, it’s somewhat more natural because our weekend is Fri/Sat… on the other hand, those of us who observe Shabbat don’t have a weekend. We’re either preparing for Shabbat (Fri) or observing it (Sat), and then it’s back to work the next day. It’s tough. I miss Sundays.

    C) If I were single and didn’t have a child at this stage of my life, I might very well stop observing Shabbat. It’s hard for me to know… but I could imagine it.

    D) I’ve had a very up-down-and-all-around relationship with Shabbat over the last… twenty years since I first learned about it.

    E) I don’t do the toilet paper thing. And there are things I do now that I didn’t use to do like washing dishes with a non-Shabbat-friendly sponge on Saturdays.

    F) Despite not being super committed to halakha at this point, I do love tradition, and… well… I feel averse to breaking Shabbat publicly. I wouldn’t casually go to a movie theater on Friday night (I think) even if I were left entirely to my own devices.

    Liked by 2 people

    • A) It’s more that I’m trying to decide what I want to do on Shabbat. I don’t want to keep it 100%, but I don’t want to not keep it 100%. I’m not sure myself exactly what non-Shabbat activities I want to do on Shabbat. Writing? Gym? Travel? Errands? Work? It’s like I’m still trying to decide what I want Shabbat to look like.

      B) I’d miss Sundays too! it is useful to have a weekend day to do things that aren’t work or Shabbat prep.

      C) I started keeping Shabbat when I was single-ish, although it was pre-COVID and I had a lovely, supportive Jewish community so I wasn’t really that I was all by myself. If I were single now and it was COVID, I don’t think I would choose to keep Shabbat. If I were single and it weren’t COVID, well, I don’t know. It’s impossible to answer these hypotheticals.

      D) Yeah, same. I definitely felt differently 10 years ago, no question.

      E) I think there is always going to be a gap between self-identification and what people do. I’ve met Orthodox shomer shabbat women who put on makeup in non-Shabbat-friendly ways on Shabbat. I’ve met Orthodox shomer shabbat people who shower using hot water on Shabbat. I’ve met Orthodox shomer shabbat people who add water to the cholent / stir/serve the cholent from the crock pot, etc. Sometimes it’s lack of knowledge (I’ve now realized that I’ve been using a non-Shabbat-friendly sponge this whole time), and sometimes, it’s just that’s what you’re gonna do.

      F) Yeah, I also haven’t decided how I feel about violating Shabbat in public and also about publicizing my identity as a non-Shomer Shabbat person. Although I did just tell the internet, so I guess I can’t claim to care that much.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Funny but I remember the toilet paper thing as a Jewish woman shared that with me many years ago. Is Shabbat really an all or nothing kind of thing?As someone on the outside looking in I relate to different things you share. In my experience when the rituals kept going but I could no longer remember what they were for or they weren’t keeping me in touch with a deeper truth I needed to pull away a bit or find a new way to remember that truth. I think God wants our hearts engaged and it’s been good for me to stop thinking of him as an egotistical being that demands homage regardless of where my heart is at. My dad just couldn’t find peace about my rear end not being connected to a church pew even though my heart was 100% not there. I can go to church but I’m often aware of it as a practice that is wasting time. Often I feel like the environment there is a threat to my faith.

    Liked by 6 people

    • You bring up a great point about the All or Nothing concept. I don’t think it is or should be. And I don’t even think most people or most Rabbis think of Shabbat, or Jewish observance in general, as an All or Nothing. I’ve almost always learned and heard that is better to do something, one mitzvah, even if you can’t do it all, than to do nothing. But I think the language we use to describe violations of Shabbat does imply an all-or-nothing mentality.

      I think I need to do what you’ve done and take a step back and figure out what I need to do to have a better connection with G-d and Judaism. In all honesty, I don’t want to quit Shabbat 100%, but there are definitely things that I want to do differently because the mad race to get a million things done before sundown, and the scaling of expectations in order to do that, and then the sheer boredom on Friday night after dinner / Saturday afternoon just isn’t working for me anymore. I need to focus on the things that do work for me and emphasize that, and maybe stop doing the things that don’t work.

      I’m sorry about your church / Dad. The religious environment / community does have a big impact and it’s important to recognize when it isn’t working for you anymore.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one struggling with these ideas so I appreciate the dialogue. I worry that people are thinking I’m encouraging everyone to just chuck religion or that people will misunderstand and think that is what I’m doing. I’m more just looking to get back to the thing that the religious practice was pointing to. Like Shabbat is the purse/wallet that carries the truths ideas that it’s designed to communicate and remind us about – i.e.God resting and man’s need for rest etc. (I actually don’t know much about the deeper meaning of Shabbat so I’m just guessing here). I’m just getting to the point in my life where I’m like “show me the money”. I think it comes from my very unique experience of seeing professionals put my kids through behaviour therapies in which they are ritualistically following commands that make no sense and have no purpose to them. It makes me wonder if God isn’t like me saying “Just let them express what’s in their heart” or at least help them understand “why”! There’s rant number two, lol. I am starting a blog #2 where I am being a little more transparent about some of my journey. I’m keeping it a private blog but I’d love for you to check it out if your interested. http://bywayofsorrow.wordpress.com

        Liked by 3 people

      • I always appreciate the dialogue with you. You have incredible insights. Your analogy is both ironic (handling money is a violation of Shabbat) and spot-on, in that observing Shabbat is intended to be the reminder and affirmation that G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. I’m touched and I’ll check out blog #2

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I am not religious so I can’t speak about faith. But a friend often tells me about self-compassion. Remember that the ideals of your religion were likely written at a particular time for a particular reason. At that time were women out in the work force or were they at home preparing for Shabbat? Think about all the things you do well and the beautiful interactions you have. Surely these too are counted and remembered. Maybe I speak out of turn. But it saddens me to think that a thing you want to love is becoming dreary and a chore. It is like people who work in an area they love only to find that the daily grind causes them to lose their passion and find all is turned grey where there used to be colour and light. But this is not some human boss you work for, driven by money or power or other human motivations. Anyway… I speak from instinct, not from knowledge so I hope I don’t offend.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Thank you for your words, and no, you do not offend. I feel I should clarify that the rules of Shabbat are for both men and women, and in my household, there isn’t an uneven breakdown of household labor that is driving resentment.

      That said, the current model of two stressed out adults yelling at each other trying to get everything for Shabbat done before sundown, including the scaling back of expectation to make that happen, and then my husband and I being too burned out and mad at each other (see yelling) to enjoy what is supposed to be the most beautiful part of the week – that model definitely isn’t working anymore.

      I definitely do need to rethink things. Bring some of the passion back. Take away the drudgery.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yes. Sorry. I wasn’t commenting on your husband. I just know that women in general have taken on careers but that that time when women might have done chores at home has not been found elsewhere. So I just meant, at the times the rules were laid down, did somebody at home have more time for such things? I just remember watching an Islamic woman doing a TED talk about the wearing of hijab and burkah. She explained the history of that requirement. Put in historical context, it made total sense. But in the modern age it is less applicable. She wasn’t saying women shouldn’t dress in that way. She was just attempting to relieve the pressure. Anyway, best of luck!

        Liked by 3 people

      • Ah, I see what you are saying. I don’t think that the rules of Shabbat were necessarily easier because of a traditional setting or breakdown of labor. The “work” that is prohibited on Shabbat includes tasks involved in field work, making curtains, building, baking, among many others. The rules apply differently now because of technology and rabbinic interpretation, for example, driving a car is prohibited because the internal combustion engine is lighting a fire. But even back then, Shabbat would have required everyone to adjust their schedules, same as today. My husband and I are especially bad at time management, but most people find a way to make the preparations work. But it might just be time to accept that the current experience is just not working for me and adjust and adapt.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. “Comparison is the thief of joy” but I understand how hard it is not to compare. I had no idea what Shabbat was. Had to google. It sounds like a lot of work and a lot of rules and if you kept to it mostly then that is quite an achievement. I was raised a strict Catholic and eventually gave it all away. I do miss some of the rituals though I no longer believe. Why do I mention this? Hmm perhaps because if you don’t enjoy the ritual of Shabbat, if the overall net effect is negative why keep doing it? I can’t imagine a God would encourage suffering. But then, what would I know, I’m not religious anymore.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Sorry for the lack of explanations (bad habit) and I’m touched by the googling. It is a lot of rules! And then so many other rules derived from the 39 categories of work…. It’s a lot. I do want to rethink my Shabbat observance, but even though I wrote this post, there are aspects and rituals that I still want to keep. I don’t think I want to give the whole thing away. But just maybe not keep it for a full 25 hours. I don’t know; I’m still figuring it out. I’ll admit that I haven’t done that much thinking about what I imagine G-d wants. I’m not sure any of us quite know what G-d wants. I know that I would rather have a religious experience that brings me more joy, and I hope that is what G-d wants. Thanks for sharing a bit about your background as well.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I’d be interested in knowing what drew you to keep it.
    Mechallel shabbat doesn’t mean breaking it although that’s how it’s often translated. What it really means is the opposite of mekadesh shabbat- which means to uplift, raise, use the day as one of connection.
    Let’s put aside whether Judaism is true here because I don’t know. The purpose of Judaism, of the halacha, is connection. Halacha comes from the route word means the path, the way. The mehalech a person follows is the direction, the way. Anyways got sidetracked. Whst it’s about, is, god saying this is me, by doing this or not this you’re becoming more like me and connecting.
    The purpose of the world is to connect. So there’s no such thing as breaking shabbat. And you get to define yourself as keeping it because you do whatever you do or not because you do whatever you do. As my rabbi said to me, you choose what you identify with.

    Why DID you choose to identify as shomer shabbat? What did it give to you then that it’s not giving to you now? How can you introduce whatever that was into your life in other ways today?

    Anyways, this has ended up as a monologue….

    Liked by 3 people

    • I love your long, thoughtful comment Eliza. Your reframing of mechallel Shabbat really helps.

      I became Shomer Shabbat for the wrong reasons and it’s actually rather embarrassing. Everyone else was doing it, so my social life had already started transitioning in that direction. And then one day, I got in a (minor) argument with my mother (an incredibly lovely and a way better person than I am) who asked me about a family event on Shabbat that I had previously agreed to go to. And I got annoyed and said something like “Fine, but this is the last week I go somewhere on Shabbat. From now on, I’m shomer shabbat”. And she was surprised and incredibly respectful and accommodating (and we made up quickly after the minor argument, and I had a wonderful time at the family event) and the rest is history.

      Even though my initial reasons were stupid, I did genuinely enjoy a lot of Shabbat and the community experience of Shabbat. Shabbat meals with others. Zmirot. Onegs. Services. Torah discussions. Seudah shlishi and more zmirot. Board game marathons. I didn’t grow up completely non-observant, but keeping Shabbat meant leaving time for a richer communal Shabbat experience. I like reading or napping or taking walks as much as the next person, but they’re more take-it-or-leave-it for me and I don’t need 25 hours of that.

      Even before COVID, Shabbat had turned into two busy, stressed out, burned out adults bickering at each other (I only post the hilarious conversations from my marriage on my blog, but frankly, they are not that representative of the reality) trying to put together the lowest expectation, lowest-effort Shabbat possible, and still being too burned out to enjoy it. And with COVID, anything communal has completely dried up.

      Still, there has to be a way to bring the passion and spirit back.

      Boy, talk about a monologue!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I appreciate it.

        So there’s some things you enjoy. And some you don’t – mainly the stress?

        There definitely is a way to bring the passion and spirit back.

        Choosing what you’ll do will help. Making a list of what you like, what you don’t, how you’ll change what you don’t, what you will do, what you want to out on a backburner for now… you always have a choice.

        Where do you want to be in 5 years? In 3 years? In a year? To you want to be shabbat observant then? How much so? What parts so you envision in your life then?

        Discussing it with hubby may help if you want to decide together. Or you both do what works for you.

        Re not being stressed on Friday. You can cook and clean on Thursday. Or any day.

        Love, light and glitter

        Like

      • Thanks hon. Yes, there are ways to make Shabbat more spiritual. I have to admit that even this week, which admittedly did not get off to a great start, we actually had a really good Torah discussion over dinner. And although it feels a little silly with only two people, there’s nothing that really stops us from doing zmirot, and that is something I miss from big Shabbat dinners pre-COVID. Trying to think about what I want long-term is a lot more stressful, but certainly looking at little ways to add more spirituality into Shabbat now is a good baby step I think.

        Love, light, and glitter right back at ya!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m not jewish so it’s especially wonderful to see things from a different pov — am cheered by the comments here that I am not alone in appreciating your great post in this way 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Shalom! Thank you for stopping by my blog and commenting.
    I am enjoying reading some of your recent entries. This one in particular truly strikes home for me. My wife and I have been shomer Shabbat for about 14 years. (long story as to how that came about and what our journey has been like since) Recently we have tried to stay home, rest, and discuss Torah, just the two of us. Because, yes, the effort of gathering with others (more long story) had become decidedly non-Shabbat-like.
    I have been blessed by reading your posts and the accompanying comments.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for reading and sharing your experience! It sounds like it was quite a journey, but I am happy to hear that you and your wife have found a Shabbat observance that is working for you. I hope to find a Shabbat observance experience that works better for me than the current situation.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I found this interesting to read as someone who is (ultra-?)orthodox and still growing (I hope!:)). The black-and-white thinking, the all-or-nothing, is something I personally struggle with as well, but have learned is not really the reality of Judaism.
    If one is mechallel (literal translation: desecrates) Shabbat (because as Eliza said, you can’t really “break” Shabbat), it doesn’t negate the Shabbat that was kept.
    I mean, personally I have a hard time not pulling my cuticles on Shabbat. Usually, it doesn’t bug me too much during the week (or I’m not as aware?) but on Shabbat it’s a struggle (unless my nails are freshly done and looking awesome;)). I usually end up pulling them on Shabbat afternoon and feeling super guilty, as if my whole Shabbat was “desecrated”. But it wasn’t. I kept the 25 hours to the best of my ability, and these 2 seconds I didn’t. But then I still kept 24 hours 59 minutes and 58 seconds of Shabbat. That’s kinda awesome:).
    I don’t love my Shabbat experience right now, it doesn’t feel connected enough. But I know there’s more to it, I just haven’t tapped into it yet. Haven’t done the work to be able to. Have you ever had that experience of a “real” Shabbat you’d like to get back to, or is it all still a remnant of the “from now on I’m shomer Shabbat” (love that personality!)?
    Not sure what I was getting at, but since I typed it all up I’m just going to leave it. Hope that’s okay!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love your long reflection here, thank you! It is nice to know that there are others who struggle with finding the right Shabbat experience.

      Good to know, as you and Eliza pointed out, that “break Shabbat” is more of a mistranslation. I might not be able to manage 25 hours anymore (or even 24 hours 59 minutes and 58 seconds ;)) but it feels better to know that what I do manage counts still.

      I have had some great Shabbats over the last 10 years. Most of them were really quite lovely. I didn’t only keep it out of stubborness, haha! But I had wanted to quit keeping Shabbat (at least for 25 hours/week) pre-COVID and COVID has exacerbated my feelings. You’d think I’d want to disconnect from technology, but actually, I miss Shabbat experiences with groups of people – services, Torah discussions, meals, zmirot, etc. I’m not into reading, napping, or walks enough to do them for all of Shabbat.

      Wishing you beautiful Shabbat experiences and beautiful nails 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  9. First, Mazal Tov on 10 years of observance!

    I miss being Shomer Shabbat in the frum community, but that was a very different time, place, and me. Yet, even then, I was not free to be myself. I still love to take Shabbat to learn Torah, especially where there is an egalitarian Beit Midrash, yet I was never connected.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I read your post with interest and I think it’s commendable that you are being honest when you say you would like to give up Shabbat. I think you would end up feel bad if you did. We know that a mitzvah we find especially hard to do is probably the one we should be doing the most and will give us the most benefit. You wrote ‘When I compare what I accomplish in a week/weekend to what my non-Shabbat-observant sister accomplishes’. I think that Shabbat is not about our physical accomplishments but rather our spiritual accomplishments. When we observe Shabbat, we are working on our souls. So much is accomplished there and in ways we are not even aware of. And when we work on our souls in this manner, the results actually spill over to our mundane activities during the rest of the week. All the best, and hang in there!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you. I hear you about the spiritual accomplishments and I think it was a lot easier to feel that spiritual benefit pre-COVID. I’m much more into the communal elements of Shabbat – services, meals, onegs, zmirot, even Torah discussions with great groups/awesome speakers, etc. I don’t perceive much spiritual benefit from reading, napping, and eating for 25 hours. Shabbat in the time of COVID is rough! (although in fairness, as I said above, I started feeling more negatively about Shabbat pre-COVID, though COVID has definitely intensified those feelings). That said, I think you are right, in that the truth is that I don’t want to fully give up Shabbat. The current experience is not working for me at all, but I really don’t want to fully quit Shabbat observance either. In any case, thank you for the encouragement!

      Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.