Thursday, May 12, 2011

Common Question: What Can't You Do on Shabbat?

I get this question a lot, as I imagine many of you do. I've finally hit on an answer that I like to use on friends. I have yet to try this on someone I don't know as well, but I would try it out.

What are you not allowed to do on Shabbat?

I don't use electricity, but I may have a light on a timer. I don't cook. I don't adjust the thermostat because that would be affecting electricity (or burning oil, as the case may be). I don't use hot water because that would cause "cooking" when the new watter flows into the water heater and heats up. I don't tear toilet paper, so I use tissues instead. I don't do any garden-related things because all "farming" related stuff is out

But what I DO is eat great meals (cooked in advance or put together cold), read good books, talk with people, take walks, and enjoy the day of peace. I always take a nap. I could play card games or some other games too, but I'm a napper/reader/walker.

The Theory:
When there is so much emphasis on the minutiae of Shabbat restrictions, people naturally gravitate towards the "negative" side of Shabbat. The focus is misguided, I think. It's easy to focus on the "bad," even when there is so much good staring you in the face.

I think most Jewish law sounds strange at best and awful at worst when taken out of context. Orthodoxy is really a system, not a collection of pieces. That was my "Ah HA!" moment when everything made sense. When I have difficulty with some area of halacha, I often find that it is my perspective that is out of whack.


  1. The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret says:

    Generally, I find having teenagers is frustrating, but Shabbatot these days are a real kick in the pants (skirt?). My teenagers have friends they're really tight with, and I like having them come over for meals or more often, just to hang out. I make sure we have cookies or cake and cold drinks, and especially "garinim"--sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, etc. They sit around on our porch, in our living room, or at the dining room table for hours, just hanging out and joking around.

    They are happy, they're home, and I get to meet their friends. Our house has become a favorite Shabbat hangout, My daughters have several non-religious freinds who ask to be invited. What we lack in formal holy atmosphere we make up in warmth, at least for these years.

  2. That's a great answer!