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