I Have Come to Hate Shabbat Dinner [UPDATED]

Self-portrait of me looking sadly at the challah. Just kidding. I’m not this level of dressed up on Shabbat and I don’t make my own challah. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Shabbat dinner on Friday night is probably the least objectionable thing about Shabbat. Maybe even the least objectionable thing about Judaism. (That’s not to say that Judaism on the whole is objectionable. On the whole, I think it is a lovely and meaningful religion. But nearly every longstanding religion has some elements of nonsensical tradition or outdated philosophy or practice that doesn’t align to modern sensibilities – and Judaism, in my opinion, certainly has its fair share.)

Seriously though, who doesn’t love Shabbat dinner? When I was in college, everyone came to Shabbat dinner at Hillel. Observant Jews (there weren’t many), non-Observant Jews, non-Jews – everyone showed up. In fairness, who doesn’t love a free dinner? But I feel like Jews all across the spectrum of religiosity enjoy a festive Friday night meal in some form.

I get it. I used to love it too. I loved the sense of peace I would get upon lighting Shabbat candles. I enjoyed the company, food, conversations, discussions, zmirot. I especially loved huge, long, late group Shabbat dinners of Big Party Judaism, but even a Shabbat dinner with just my family or one or two others was great.

Now when Friday night comes around, I just feel an overwhelming sense of failure and disappointment. The failure of all the things that didn’t get done that week. The failure of not being ready for Shabbat, even in the summer when it isn’t a crazy early deadline. The failure of never making any real progress or improvement on anything. The failure of this being the case every single week.

How I feel every Friday night now. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I’m not looking for Shabbat preparation tips. I already know them all. I am well-aware of the time-money-expectations trade-off. We have certainly done our part to support our local kosher eating establishments.

I did not cook this Shabbat dinner. Photo by Jacques Bopp on Unsplash

A lot of this reflects lack of motivation. Of course I could start getting ready for Shabbat earlier in the week. I just don’t have the motivation. We scaled expectations back as much as possible. But lowering expectations lowers motivation.

So does a lousy marriage. It is really, really difficult to work up any motivation to put together a nice Shabbat dinner together when the relationship is this broken and having a pleasant conversation can be a challenge. In fairness, the lack of pleasant Friday night dinner conversation is mostly my fault. I tend to be such a terrible mood come Friday night (see above paragraphs) that I often get nasty and start the arguments myself, although it also doesn’t take much to start an argument around here.

I almost didn’t write that last paragraph because I know the obvious response from the commenters and I’m not really in the mood to hear it. Just like I’m not really in the mood to hear time management tips. (I still love you, readers/commenters! Really!) But what’s the point of having a blog if you can’t actually write about stuff.

With in-person services opening back up again, maybe I’ll try going to Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday night) services again. I used to really enjoy Kabbalat Shabbat services but with getting ready for Shabbat, the timing was always tough. But I like the idea of dinner not being the focal point of Friday night, so maybe it’s worth prioritizing synagogue attendance instead. We were streaming Kabbalat Shabbat services (such as Shabbat@Home by Josh Nelson, one of the synagogues on the My Jewish Learning link, or my hometown congregation’s Zoom services) and they were nice, but it wasn’t enough to dramatically improve the atmosphere.

Sigh. I’m barely one cup of coffee into this Friday and I’m already in a bad mood just thinking about Shabbat…

***

UPDATE:

Shabbat sucked this week, but it wasn’t entirely due to my bad attitude. We had another apartment disaster of sorts, albeit not as bad as this other apartment disaster that happened on Shabbat. I’m starting to think G-d reads my blog and enjoys messing with me when I complain too much. Sigh.

Shavua tov, y’all.

53 comments

  1. For me Shabbat is really a state of mind, and most times, my mind isn’t in the right state. If I could just imagine that everything I want to get done is done and truly enjoy Shabbat, I’d be so much happier. But – there’s always a corner in my mind reminding me of all the stuff I’ve yet to do. Trick of the yetzer hara. I think this mind control thing takes a lot of practice. I’m still working on it. As for my self esteem, I think about the poster I saw in my kid’s preschool many years ago. It was an illustration of a little boy sitting with his head on his folded hands. The caption read: ‘I know I’m something, cuz G-d doesn’t make junk.’

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ll get no inspirational words from me lol

    This part, though: “what’s the point of having a blog if you can’t actually write about stuff” is what resonates. If you can’t be your full self here, then where can you be?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I read the Shabbat explanation. Very interesting. Secular me was blown away by the layers of ritual This immediately struck me as demanding and full of expectations that need to be met. On the other hand, I appreciated the emphasis on the way these rituals bring people together. There is value in this, but I wondered if it is proporionate to the work involved. Is there an irony here? All this work devoted to delivering on ritual in the name of having a day of rest? I guess what to you is completely normal strikes me as somewhat contradictory, but I acknowledge my lack of understanding regarding the overall context. One more thing to say. This post read as highly personal emotionally intelligent and honest, maybe even brave as far as making such statements where others in your community can read them. Do your expressions of a sense of disappointment or failure have a dose of courage mixed in amongst them? Of course, I don’t know if that is true. However, it does strike me as an implicit resource available to apply toward constructive change if you so choose.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for such a thoughtful comment. You touch on an interesting point. Shabbat (the Sabbath) is generally thought of as the day of rest. But the reality is that the ideal Shabbat experience – filled with religious services, long festive meals involving preparations and perhaps additional guests socializing, Torah study, etc. – it’s actually a rather busy day and not very restful at all! I mean, it would be considered perfectly within observance of the laws of around not working on Shabbat to just skip all of that and sleep the entire day. But that isn’t really seen as ideal observance.

      My community is not so religious that I’m going to be shunned for speaking badly about my own Shabbat experience, when Shabbat is considered such a good thing overall. But I also think it’s worth writing about the gap between expectations and reality. I also want to clarify that I don’t speak for everyone. Many people really deeply enjoy the experience of Shabbat, even with everything that is involved. Anyway, I have no real ambition to change the community or the religion, just to vent about my own present experience.

      Thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts!

      Like

    • We take the word “rest” literally, but it is not “let’s sleep for 25 hours, because we’ve worked all week”. It’s taking a rest from materialism and from the world, and connecting to the Source of the World and to our souls. People don’t usually feel connected to spirituality (or even well-rested) after 25 hours of sleeping, binge-watching and munching on chips. (At least I don’t, although I keep on trying it out – maybe next time I will 😉 )
      The rituals enhance our world with deep spirituality in order to get a rest from the rat-race, a rest from the consumerism, a rest from the world.
      That being said, I ain’t there yet – I often just catch up on my sleep and resent the forced meals. But I appreciate the concept behind it and strive to live that way.
      Totally focused on one aspect of this entire post and its comments, sorry;)
      @JYP, I’m sorry it sucks! I hope having guests will make it somewhat better.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This is a great explanation, R. Shabbat is really intended as a day of spiritual rest which isn’t necessarily the same as physical rest. Yeah, I too seem to be set on trial and error when it comes to pursuit of spirituality via junk food and binge-watching.
        Interesting to hear from others not crazy about the meals on Shabbat. Is that because of the preparations? The guests? Thank you for understanding.

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  4. I know I am late to this post and I come with no suggestions or tips. Just an overwhelming urge to offer you a hug through the internet. I think COVID has made it extra tough for couples (families) already struggling with their relationships. Throw any other kind of problems on top of that (like depression) the I can understand your sense of failure and lack of motivation. I love festive and celebratory side of religions and I enjoyed reading about Shabbat but even before I got to your paragraph about how you hate it I could feel the pressure. A big party every week? Who can keep up that level of preparation and joy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually, in some ways, I’d rather prepare for the big party. Then the preparations feel worth it and there is more joy and excitement. I’m a big extrovert. The exercise of making plans for Shabbat week after week when it’s going to be just two people who can barely tolerate each other is more draining for me. I can’t work up any motivation for that. It’s like, I’m a caterer not a cook. I’m not an amazing chef, but I will make a ton of food for a party of a potluck where there is a bunch of people, but if it’s just me, or just me & husband, I barely feel motivated to make pasta.
      Internet hugs right back at you.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can kind of relate to this, in that I’ve been staying with my parents for the past year (despite the fact that I am still paying rent on my apartment in another city several hours away… it’s complicated), and they can be a lot of drama (I mean, so can I, obviously). We do family dinners just about every night, and sometimes it’s fine, but a lot of times it’s not. It’s an issue all week, but the gap between expectations and reality is never stronger than during Shabbat dinner. My situation’s a lot easier than yours in that I’m free to leave anytime, with no dire consequences or ruined relationships, but the thing is going back to live in my own probably means, for the time being, having Shabbat dinner, and just about every other dinner, alone, which seems worse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ” the gap between expectations and reality is never stronger than during Shabbat dinner.” – yep, I think this is pretty spot-on.

      I have thought about the fact that the alternative to current relationship situation is not necessarily an improvement on the Shabbat dinner front.

      I definitely hear you re: living with parents. I’ve done it, and at times it was great and at times, it was awful, and I’m not sure I could do it for an extended period of time again.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Low expectations are nice. And I can barely manage those. You know Stuart Danker, right? He wrote a post once about the smallest unit of effort which I thought was brilliant. I hope Friday night went well. I myself keep up my most basic practices, even if I have to force myself when I’m feeling dry, because it gives me a sense of at least a little discipline that I did it. Hope the new job is going well, too.

    Anyways, I totally understand the not wanting advice and encouragement or compliments. Sometimes you wanna rant freely and not be concerned about people thinking you’re soliciting these comments. Although I will say, I’ll take that any day over the mansplainers. 😫 I never believed it was real–I just thought, oh get over it–until it happened to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I can see that it would be hard to invest any kind of energy and enthusiasm for Shabbat meals with someone who you keep arguing with. I had an analogous situation many, many years ago (not with a spouse, obviously). I don’t have any advice (I’m not sure if that’s good or bad). I hope you have as good a Shabbat as you can.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. In one of the lectures on the history of Christian theology, the professor stresses that all religions have inherent anxieties and the anxieties are different for each religion. You nailed it with “But nearly every longstanding religion has some elements of nonsensical tradition or outdated philosophy or practice that doesn’t align to modern sensibilities – and Judaism, in my opinion, certainly has its fair share.” You have laid out some of the anxieties that go with your religion. Especially in light of the modern sensibilities of life, work and relationships.

    Liked by 2 people

      • The Catholic church profligated so much anxiety that it’s hard to sort good out of the evil it has wrought. The Protestants promulgated their own anxieties in defying the Catholics, and each varaity of Protestantism has its own set of anxieties.

        There are so many peculiarities when it comes religion. We had Jahovah’s Witnesses who worked for us. We celebrate staff members’ birthdays each month. I was helping one of our JW staff with a computer problem one day when the call for everyone to go to the conference room for the birthday celebration came over the intercom. The JW was visibly disturbed over the very thought of celebrating birthdays. I asked her why the JWs didn’t celebrate birthdays. She said because Jesus didn’t celebrate birthdays. I asked her how she knew that Jesus didn’t celebrate birthdays. She said because it doesn’t say he did in the Bible. I asked her if she could show me anywhere in the Bible that mentions Jesus going to the bathroom? I told her I know for certain she could not. Therefore, since it doesn’t say anywhere in the Bible that Jesus ever went to the bathroom, she should not go to the bathroom either.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah, extrapolating religious prohibitions from text that doesn’t mention them outright is…an interesting exercise, I think. I feel like (in my humble, non-scholarly opinion) this is how we get that masturbation is prohibited, that married women need to cover their hair, that men cannot listen to women sing, and other laws I do not keep, in part, because I think the oft-cited text source is pretty dubious (but also because I really just do not wish to keep those). I like your Jesus & bathroom example

          Liked by 1 person

        • The way I understand it (but I could be totally wrong) masturbation is a man’s sin. Women don’t spill their seed on the ground. In the middle ages homosexuality among men was a capital offense, but there were no laws forbidding women from having sexual relationships with each other. I know the Catholic Church has a real problem with masturbation, and a lot of evangelicals are totally messed up when it comes to sex. There is a lot of misogyny in religion. In the beginning, Christianity was very attractive to women because it offered an escape and independence from the patriarchy of paganism. Unfortunately, by the end of the second century, men were starting to push back against women leaders in the Christian church. It started with 1st and 2nd Timothy (pseudo-Paul), and by the 4th Century the male dominated orders had taken hold.

          I don’t know if this had much to do with Catholicism or not, but when we lived in Spain, we met several expat American, Canadian, British and Australian women who had been married to Spanish men. Had been married is the key word. I never met an expat woman in Spain while we were in Spain who was still married to a Spaniard. However, all the expat men we met who were married to Spanish women were still married. I found that to be a fascinating statistic. I thought about the Guess Who’s song “American Woman” who was too difficult for Canadians, but Canadian women were too difficult for Spaniards,

          Liked by 1 person

        • You’re right – it really is a sin on the man, similar to the prohibition on homosexual acts. But I don’t think that resulting effect of the ban on masturbation is healthy for men or women married to those men.
          Interesting re: Spain. How long did you live there?

          Liked by 1 person

        • We lived in Spain for four years. I totally agree about masturbation. In my research on La Llorona for a paper I presented on her, Rodolfo Anaya, a well known author in the southwest, wrote about how he realized later in life that monsters like La Llorona and El Kookooee were used to suppress his budding sexuality. I only knew La Llorona as the Ditch Witch growing up as a Protestant in an irrigating culture, but Anaya and other Hispanic authors who have made the same argument have a point when you consider their Catholic upbringing. Different anxieties depending on your belief system.

          I don’t know how familiar you are with New Mexico, but we have a lot of what are called crypto-Jews out here (you may know the term). Their ancestors were Spanish Jews who came to the harsh, high desert of New Mexico in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries to escape the Spanish Inquisition. They practiced Judaism in secret.

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        • Many people in my cohort who grew up in north-central New Mexico had grand parents who had what they thought were strange customs. By the 50s and 60s a lot of the Jewish heritage was not being passed on to children in my cohort. So they did not know about their Jewish backgrounds, but they were still exposed to some of the secretive, unexplained behavior of their grandparents. With genealogy becoming more popular through DNA screening, a lot of my friends have discovered their Jewish ancestry, and their grandparents behavior now makes sense to them.

          Liked by 2 people

  9. Where are these expectations coming from? It sounds, from my limited perspective, like you’re using Shabbat to tie up all the twigs of of the things that broken during the week into a bundle and then beat yourself with them. What makes a nice Shabbos meal for you? What makes one for your partner? Where can you tie together those common elements? I think of that story of the Rabbi who was asked “Can you make Kiddush on milk?” and the Rabbi handed him a bunch of money and said, “You should buy wine.”
    And his wife asked, “Why did you give him all that money, a bottle of wine is only a fraction of that?”
    And the Rabbi said, “If he’s asking ‘can I make Kiddush on milk?,’ that means he doesn’t have any meat for Shabbos. With the money he can buy meat and wine and thus celebrate Shabbos.”
    I think “tips for making shabbos more efficiently,” and “tips for not starting an argument” would be like answering that direct question, “can I make Kiddush on milk.” What do you need to purchase your meat and wine for Shabbos and set down your broken twigs?

    Liked by 4 people

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