An Update On Shabbat

When I think about things I struggle with in Judaism, it’s useful to bucket them into categories.

  1. Practical
  2. Philosophical
  3. Societal

I posted last year about wanting to quit keeping Shabbat after keeping it for 10 years. My struggle with Shabbat falls into the Practical category. I had no issues with Shabbat from a Philosophical or Societal perspective. I believe in Shabbat as paying tribute to G-d creating the world in six days, something I could believe in and actually, I do not find it difficult to reconcile this belief with scientific evidence of evolution. And I found Shabbat to have a largely positive benefit from a societal perspective. I had many positive experiences celebrating Shabbat with the community.

But the practical aspects weren’t working. I never got good at the time management skill to prepare for Shabbat properly, even after keeping it for so long. However, at least the Shabbat experience was good.

The last few years were a real struggle. I was really feeling the weight of the missed opportunities as a result of keeping Shabbat, the other things I could have been doing instead. Then COVID killed the communal Shabbat experience I really enjoyed. Then lousy marriage killed the remaining joys of Shabbat.

Struggling with Shabbat. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Trying…

I/we tried to make it a better experience. Bought good food from the local kosher restaurants rather than dealing with cooking. Livestreamed or Zoom Shabbat services. Went to in-person services when that became an option. Were guests at someone else’s Shabbat table when that was an option. I hosted some Shabbat guests for a meal. Visited my family, which, although my family is not Shabbat-observant, the ridiculous conversation alone makes the Shabbat/Yom Tov experience that much more entertaining.

This helped. There’d be a few more hours of positive experience. But it wasn’t enough.

So, after 10 or 11 years of keeping Shabbat (or perhaps more or perhaps less – it really depends on when you start counting), I gave myself permission to quit.

What Does Quitting Really Mean?

This is an extremely good question and one I haven’t fully answered for myself. Thus far, it’s allowed for freedoms like meeting up with my secular friends for dinner at a restaurant, going on vacation where keeping Shabbat in full (or honestly, really at all) would not have been a feasible or desirable option, and even more mundane stuff like watching TV, shopping, writing, and cooking food on Shabbat rather than dealing with the mad rush (and inevitable failure) to have everything ready before candlelighting.

I also haven’t figured out how open to be about no longer keeping Shabbat. Many of my local friends know, but some still don’t, and I’ve felt oddly embarrassed about telling my non-local friends. My parents mostly know, but I feel very uncomfortable about telling my siblings. Husband specifically asked that I not tell his family, and I agreed. I haven’t decided what, if anything, to say to Boss/Coworkers at NewJob (I never said anything to them about Shabbat in the first place when I joined in May; I might not say anything at all). I don’t think my job really deserves my Friday evenings and Saturdays, but I can’t honestly claim to have a valid reason for not working if the business need came up. Honestly, my whole history of Jewish observance and the office is worth a separate blog post; I’m not going to get into it now.

Anyway, quitting keeping Shabbat is not really the same as quitting a job where you walk out the door and don’t come back. It’s more like quitting vegetarianism. You don’t quit vegetarianism and immediately have an exclusively carnivorous diet. You still eat vegetables, and some days, you might still prefer to eat the vegetarian option.

To be fair, I’ve never been a vegetarian, so perhaps some former vegetarians become full-on carnivores and never look back. But even these stock photo steaks have a sprig of parsley. Image by vika-imperia550 from Pixabay

Guilt?

Oddly, I really don’t feel guilty. I’m not entirely sure what I believe about the role of G-d, divine punishment for sin, etc. But I don’t feel particularly guilty. I kept Shabbat for about a decade, and I’m done. If G-d is happy with that, great, and if not, well, I still can’t bring myself to keep 25 hours of Shabbat every week anymore. I think I got to the point where that fear of missing out, the profound sense of failure every Friday night, and the excruciating tedium of Shabbat were harder feelings to bear than the guilt of not keeping Shabbat.

I don’t even feel guilty even with this being High Holidays and the season for repentance for one’s sins. Honestly, I’ve not felt much introspection around the High Holidays in a long time, or perhaps possibly ever. My High Holidays experience really just feels like busy-ness – family and community obligations. I’m largely ok with this. But yeah, deep personal introspection and repentance is not a significant part of my High Holiday Experience.

Guilt over not keeping the various “Thou shalt nots” is not something I have been feeling. Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

But…

So no, I don’t feel guilty. But I also don’t feel happier.

To clarify, I feel happier engaged in activity than not. Seeing my secular girlfriends whom I hadn’t seen in ages at that restaurant on Friday night? Far happier than having a sad Shabbat dinner at home and not seeing them. Going on vacation was far better than not going.

But a humdrum Saturday afternoon spent in some Shabbat-violating pastime instead of reading? Not any happier.

47 comments

  1. It’s interesting that there’s even an issue about telling people, though I get it, especially regarding work, if you’ve previously been unavailable then. My youngest is orthodox and does all the things to an OCD degree, but she claims to enjoy it. She has a happy marriage tho & is only 28…

    Liked by 3 people

    • it’s entirely possible that she remains happy with it – a lot of ppl do (ppl that I personally know)… It seems to me to have a lot to do with personality, with family, and with community (I suppose all of that is obvious, actually, sorry).

      Liked by 3 people

    • I’ve been keeping Shabbat for about twenty years to an Orthodox level (I’m not sure if that’s an OCD level) and I still enjoy it a lot. I don’t know how I would function without it, to be honest. A lot depends on being able to keep it the way you want, though. I’ve had Shabbats alone and clinically depressed where I was thoroughly miserable and waiting for it to end. I also generally don’t do the cooking unless my parents are away, which is probably cheating, although I do help with other preparations (I generally cook during the week).

      Liked by 4 people

    • So you bring up a really interesting and important point. There is a huge range of Jewish observance, and a huge range of different types of Jewish communities. My own community, family, and marriage is one where I can drop observance with relatively little consequence. However, there are plenty of more insulated communities where this absolutely wouldn’t be an option. It’s not an accident though that I don’t live in one of those insular communities; I chose my more liberal, accepting community for a reason!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I would make a terrible Jew. I am so undisciplined. I couldn’t even be a good Methodist. I admire you for your convictions, honoring and keeping the law as best you can. I doubt it was ever easy for anyone past or present. We like to think that life was simpler for our ancestors in days gone by, but there were a whole different set of circumstances and anxieties for our ancestors to deal with, and much, much more difficult circumstances for your ancestors as compared to mine. My undisciplined, go with my inspirations at any spur of the moment MANtality can see how the flexibility you gain from your decision is a good thing. My practical sense of responsibility can see how difficult that decision must be concerning your sense of responsibility to your faith, family and community .

    Liked by 2 people

    • Shabbat was definitely not easier for our ancestors. We have so many technological advances that make the asks so much easier, and yet, I still couldn’t manage it.

      I don’t particularly care for the language of “good Jew”, “bad Jew” etc. so no, I don’t think you would have made a bad Jew. But it is fair to say that I’m not the only person who does / would struggle.

      Liked by 1 person

        • You don’t have to apologize and I don’t think this has anything to do with “manly insensitivity” (your words, not mine). I’ve known plenty of Jewish men and Jewish women who refer to themselves as bad Jew/terrible Jew etc., so it certainly isn’t uncommon to colloquially equate observance of one ritual-oriented commandment with one’s entire character. I just don’t particularly care for the practice, regardless of who is doing it. But this definitely isn’t a “manly insensitivity” thing, as I know plenty of women who say this all the time.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. The rules around Shabbat fascinate me, mostly in the sense that they try to very literally apply what happened thousands of years ago to a world that’s very different now. It makes me wonder if sometimes the value of taking a break and disconnecting gets diminished by the need for preparation and rule-following.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. That sounds like so much work, honestly I’d think I’d start to resent it. But I guess there are as many forms of spirituality as there are people, because I’m sure many people treasure Shabbat and won’t let anyone get between them and observing it. I have certain things I do that I don’t negotiate on, but other things I don’t do (hello fasting…). Are you allowed to have a happy medium between fully observing and not observing? Is there some stuff you can do but let others go?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, I had come to resent it, and it wasn’t good. But many people really enjoy keeping Shabbat.
      I’d actually like to find more of a happy medium for myself. At present, I feel like I’ve gotten further towards non-observance than feels fully comfortable and I’m still figuring out how to balance the scale. But I definitely think I could find a place of partial observance that I feel happy with.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. In modern times, we’re not spending our Shabbat day as it was meant to be spent. After six days of work, we’re supposed to have one day a week relaxing in the comfort of family and friends. Unfortunately, many of us have families and friends all over the place. So for some, Shabbat is spent maybe going to synagogue, going home and staring at the four walls. I think it’s great that you made such a valiant attempt to bring joy to your Shabbat, ie, being guests at other’s homes and having guests at your home. As I’m reading your post, it sounds to me that you would like to observe Shabbat but you’re just burnt out, and I can understand that. Teshuva, return, is always an option. You can always start up Shabbat observance again when you’re ready. I wish you success.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. As an orthodox (and not OCD in the slightest!) Jew, I wish I could say something more positive, but this post just made me sad 😦 …
    Sad for you, for (the way I see it) not fully having understood what the essence of Shabbat really is. Although I fully get the stress of the time-management; it makes me anxious almost every week (and those other weeks I’ve probably just given up on something to make it less stressful)!
    Sad for Shabbat itself, that now has to be without you (because as it says in the Midrash, Shabbat complained that “she doesn’t have a partner” (since it is the odd one out of the rest of the week), and G-d said – Yisrael will be your partner.)
    And sad for the rest of the world, because every single mitzvah has a positive effect on the world. (No pressure 😉 )

    Writing this, I can see how narrow-minded and judgmental I sound. And I wish there was a different way to say it, so I could sound both genuine and liberal (which my views are, outside of my religion).

    And about all the guilt – although generally that is the way the High Holidays are portrayed, it doesn’t have to be that way (If you don’t know TorahAnytime.com – try it out! Ari Bensoussan has a wonderful series on Yom Kippur, explaining why it’s an awesome day as opposed to a scary guilt-ridden one!)
    The way I see it, the High Holidays are just our yearly refresh button – just checking in on who we are and where we’re at, and where we want to go. As luck would have it, G-d tells us that if we do this, He’ll definitely give us a helping hand! So no guilt (just some healthy regret here and there), just taking stock and becoming a better version of the already awesome me 😉

    Either way, may you have a wonderful year – Shana tova! And I’m sorry if this came over too preachy and ugh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This may sound odd, but actually, I really appreciate your honesty and passion, even as it is directed to me.
      I think you’re probably right that I have been missing the point of Shabbat. I actually think that deep down what I want is a reset of sorts. On the one hand, I really can’t tolerate 25 hr/week of COVID limited, crappy marriage Shabbat, but on the other hand, it would be nice to be able fall in love with the beauty of Shabbat again. But it’s been a challenge when the experience is so far from expectations. I can envision myself as resetting and coming back. Your blunt honesty and passion reminds me that there is something really important to come back to.
      Shana tova and Gmar Chatima Tova!

      Like

  7. I’m learning so much from your blog. Soooo, I looked up Shabbat. This is something that is observed weekly, like going to church for Christians? But it begins on Friday and consumes all of Saturday? Wowza! You have to be super committed to practice this. I can see why it was such a conundrum for you.

    I’m not trying to problem solve, or anything, this is just a question: could you practice it sometimes, like twice a month, or is it that you have to either be all in, or all out?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I do want this blog to feel accessible without being a Judaism 101 blog. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just that there are other resources that do it better than I could and it really isn’t the blog I wanted to write)

      Shabbat is a weekly occurrence. I don’t feel that I have to be all in or all out, necessarily. I think for me at this point, I feel less tied to keeping a certain frequency, and more about I’d keep more often if the experience is good. Like this week, there are religious services I find myself looking forward to. But I don’t feel I have it in me anymore to keep it if I’m not enjoying the experience.

      Liked by 1 person

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