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Since I'm mostly ignorant of such practices, what _can_ one do on the sabbath?

I assume it's not the case that your entire day is consumed by worship/ceremony/Judaism? Do you spend any time pursuing hobbies? Are there gray areas, where it is open to interpretation whether or not an activity constitutes work?

Perhaps you unplug completely and do no computing or telecommunication for the entire sabbath, but is that universal?




For those who are more traditional, the norm is to not use any electricity, from lights to microwaves to cellphones.

Part of the time is spent with worship (usually about ~45 mins Friday evening, ~2 hours Saturday morning, and ~15 minutes Saturday evening). It is traditional to have a large meal with family/friends for dinner Friday night and Saturday lunch, and often these meals can go on for 3-4 hours (as a side note, meals without phones with everyone fully engaged in the conversation are great, my wife and I instituted a no phones at meals initiative outside of Sabbath as well).

As for Saturday afternoon, I personally get a lot of reading done and when it's nice I'll go for walks with family/friends or hang out with friends indoors. Lots of my friends get together for board game groups as well. Because those who observe Sabbath don't drive, everyone in the community lives within walking distance of the synagogue and therefore walking distance of each other as well.

This was especially great in middle/high school -- most of my closest friends are still my friends from my neighborhood growing up. We spent so many hours on Sabbath together talking and hanging out without the distractions of phones or movies or video games and grew so close over that time spent together.

Edit to clarify the electricity comment: you can leave stuff such as lights on or use a timer set beforehand, so you're not stuck in the literal dark for a lot of the time :p


It also sounds like the perfect antidode to social isolation, eg having to meet with people who live nearby, nobody on a hard schedule, common activities and practices, etc.


In Germany almost every shop is closed on Sundays, with a similar idea behind it. Only the most necessary jobs are done (firefighters and hospital workers) and there is free time for everyone to relax. Now just to tone down the electricity usage.. (but actually Sundays is a good day to use electricity in your home because the commercial use is so much lower)


My problem is laws dictating it. Perhaps I want to open my store on Sunday: why is it government’s business? Shouldn’t freedom matter? When I was in France, mandatory closing was horrible. It isn’t like I can go to the French equivalent of Home Depot during the work day. There is always Saturday, but effectively limiting by law to one shopping day per week is ridiculous. It should be the choice of the business owner and the consumer what they’d like to do.


There is more than just the owner and consumer involved here. it also includes any staff that the owner employs.

If you, as an owner, decide that you want to open 7 days a week, and you have staff that are happy to do 6 days and want/desire the 7th day off, what do you do in relation to those staff? Sack them? Employ others for that 7th day who are willing to work on that day and keep the others on for the other 6 days? Pay penalty rates for the privilege of having your business open 7 days a week?

I have come across many owners that would have no problems just straight up sacking people who are not interested in killing themselves for the business owner. They expect you to work under all and every condition that the business owner puts in place - seeing that since they have given someone a job then that employee is owned by the owner. I have even worked for some such people.

As the business owner, are you willing to work 7 days a week in your own business at the expense of your family life, health, relaxation, etc? These questions need to be carefully considered in a very personal way for there are much broader consequences than you may think.


I think most 7day employers like retailers having rotating staff rosters, so that the employees will be doing 4-5 day weeks only.

In fact perhaps having a mandatory closed holiday may mean that many people wouldn't have the jobs they have now.


It's not like the population will buy more things if you open one more day though (not sure how online shopping plays into this). So your revenue will just be spread out over more time, and your costs will be higher since you have to keep the shop open one more day. </speculation>


This is not just speculation. I live in a US state that recently allowed liquor stores to be open on Sundays. Biggest opponent of the law change? Liquor store owners. No increase in revenue, increase in employee and operating costs -- no win for them. That pressure to open if the neighbor shop is open means almost every liquor store is now open on Sundays.


True in part but there are still a significant number of employers that do not do this and expect you to comply to their whims and directions.

In terms of a mandatory closed day, how does the historical information align with the current information in relation to unemployment or under-employment?


Ridiculous argument. There are laws governing how many employees can work a week and no employee can be made to work 7 days per week. The only solution for an employer is to arrange shifts between different employees and this is how it works in practice.


Yes, there are laws that govern this. My point is that the person I was responding to was implying that only he, as the owner, and the customer were affected by his choice to be open. The effects are much larger than just him and the customer. So it is not a ridiculous argument as such. What works in practice will vary quite considerably to your idealised view. I have worked for such owners and was glad to see the last of them.

Irrespective of any laws that are in place, there are still many owners who will threaten sackings if people do not obey the owner's whim and decisions as to the hours the employee is to work. If that means that the employees are expected to be there 7 days a week then there are many owners who will sack their staff for only wanting to work 5 or 6 days a week. There are many employees who do not feel that they have any control over this and simply comply because they feel powerless and locked in. But that is a side issue here.


Just to play devil's advocate, why shouldn't the decision be up to the community that provides land and infrastructure to the business on the terms of following local regulations?

I'm not sure it's so cut and dry to assume that the individualist "free" "market" approach is always optimal. What are we optimizing for? If we're optimizing for freedom, freedom for who to do what? Freedom from what?


Ultimately it is up to government to set the rules by which businesses operate, because market forces (and shitty business owners) tend to maximize profit at the expense of everything else. Government dictating certain bounds means that businesses which want to do things that don’t maximize short-term profit - like paying employees a living wage, not dump pollutants into rivers, or manufacturing non-contaminated foods and drugs - aren’t competing against businesses which are willing to burn down the world for profit.


I'll advance a more American/Individualist comment for perspective.

Government should be limited in what it can control. Let the people and social norms make the decisions. The problems with government are worse than those of the free market in the long run, because they create friction and power imbalance between what people want and what another entity tells them is OK.

If your core value is the Government is too strong a force to be allowed to do much anything, then this makes sense. (Personally, it makes some sense to me -- limit the power of the gov't then the worst thing a Trump administration can do is deadlock. Imagine if he had more power?)


what right do they have to decide which day you can work or not? Asia has thriving commerce in comparison with Europe precisely because there is no fixed day to close and you can always go out and find something open.


> When I was in France, mandatory closing was horrible.

You get used to it. It's not like French people can't buy stuff the other 6 days of the week.

> It should be the choice of the business owner and the consumer what they’d like to do.

Not that simple as there are several externalities. Suppose you're a business owner and your competitor opens on Sunday. You suddenly have no other choice than opening on Sunday as well.

I appreciate the convenience of shops being open all the time when I travel to the US or Asia. But I believe it makes a lot of people miserable and it's not a necessity.


It's not even remotely true that "[o]nly the most necessary jobs are done" on Sunday; restaurants have no restrictions whatsoever, just to pick one example.


Electrical power stations, security guards, newspapers (they work on Sunday to print the news for momray mornkng), tv and radio, isps, hotels, airports, trains, small shops.

It's basically just big shops that close. Anachronistic practice that makes no sense.

Go to Jerusalem on a Saturday and you'll see what "not working" means. Still plenty of people working though.


Don't they have quite large non-Jewish population that keeps working?


This is in response to someone equating Sundays in Germany with Saturdays in Israel. Even in Israel though things don't shut down.


Unless you need to do something on a Sunday which depends on other people being available (I was delayed checking out of a hotel because reception opened late, without it being mentioned, which made me miss my train, and then flight since there wasn't a backup train on a Sunday).


> In Germany almost every shop is closed on Sundays, with a similar idea behind it. Only the most necessary jobs are done (firefighters and hospital workers) and there is free time for everyone to relax.

This was how it was in the UK when I was growing up in the 70s and early 80s. Not much traffic on the roads and a noticeably slower pace of life.

I don't want to go back to that, because with hindsight there were downsides to it, but as an adult I miss that simplicity for myself and my children.


There's nothing stopping you starting your own tradition in your own family, before your children get too old.

When my daughter was younger, and got her own phone we made a point of telling her (and observing) that there should never be a phone out while you are eating with people. And that it was rude to ignore people and be on your phone when in company.

She's now in her early 20s, and is hardly glued to her phone at all. She'll arrive a a persons house (or back to our house) and just dump it and her keys etc. on a table and ignore it unless it sounds a notification. It's so refreshing to see that when you know that most 20-somethings are welded to their phones 24/7.

Everything you teach kids shapes their view of the world going forward. Make Sunday a quiet day again. Create quality family time. Your kids may protest now, but they'll thank you when you are older.

NB. Also from UK, and I too miss the quiet Sundays we used to have.


> There's nothing stopping you starting your own tradition in your own family, before your children get too old.

We kind of do. Saturday has emerged as the "getting things done around the house" day, and for individual stuff. Then we eat together in the evening (something that isn't always possible Monday to Friday) and play board games or watch a film together. We try to make Sunday a day for family, go out somewhere or do things together at home. Doesn't always work out that way - children's homework, the weather, internet distractions, etc. But I agree that it is important to try.


Is reading a book on a Kindle or iPad fundamentally different than on paper? Is talking to Grandma who lives across the country on Facetime wrong while not talking to her at all is “better?”

It seems like mindfulness of what you are doing is more important than the means by which you do it.


As a Seventh-day Adventist (we observe the Sabbath by going to church on Saturday -- but that can lead to an entirely another discussion), I personally view it as a time to disconnect from work, and focus on God, relationships, and the nature around us.

In terms of hobbies, this is interesting a point of debate with many Adventists. Some are more 'conservative' where they won't do anything close to resembling work or hobbies (similar to some Orthodox Jews), and you have the other spectrum of people who more liberal in a sense where they will still do their hobbies (like going to movies, playing sports etc).

I think it is a personal thing to each person, but the overarching themes is really taking a day out of the week to disconnect from the trials of the world and spend a day for a mental reset however you choose to accomplish this.


Another Adventist here. One of the best things about living in a community of Adventists is observing Sabbath together. It's still meaningful and refreshing alone, but doing it with all your friends and the neighborhood is incomparably better.

My friends had a whole spectrum of things that were acceptable to do on Sabbath, but the common thread was connection. I miss that intensely, living in the Bay Area.


I wonder who does the work of cooking meals an careing for children during the religious day off?


In my experience, whomever would normally do it. Many of us would meal prep ahead of time and leave the dishes for later. I often fail at this level of preparation and just make really simple meals.


Gentile here -- what's not available on the sabbath is probably easier to define. IIRC it mostly consists of things considered to be 'work', but depending on your orthodoxy it is usually the most "active" things that are barred. e.g. cooking w/oven barred, but preparing something to eat is not necessarily barred. Activating a light switch barred, but passively enjoying the light emitted (if it were already on) is not.

> Are there gray areas, where it is open to interpretation whether or not an activity constitutes work?

Yes, but humorously (IMO) there are those who go to great lengths to create devices or methods that dodge the rules.


I was tasked at one point with certifying some aspects of a line of samsung ovens. One of the features that took the longest to validate was the sabbath mode. Normally the oven would turn off if left untouched for 12 hours. With Sabbath mode activated the oven just stay on in perpetuity until turned off. Had to try it once with it off to make sure it turned off, and once with it one, to ensure it didn't.

This way you could set the oven friday morning, and then use it all day long on the Sabbath, without having done anything that fits their definition of work. Then just turn it off once the Sabbath is over.


Always struck me as strange that cooking is not work, but turning on a oven is. Would starting a fire to cook over be considered work?


As far as I'm aware, starting a fire is what is actually prohibited, and certain modern Jews refuse to activate electric devices on the theory that electricity is a form of fire.


That "feature" should be illegal.

How do Jews justify wasting so much energy to get around a daft religious rule? If they don't want to observe it, don't observe it, don't just pretend.


One example of “cheating” is the sabbath elevator. As you said activating switches is barred, and that goes for the floor buttons in an elevator as well. So on the sabbath there are elevators that will visit every floor and thus has its buttons disabled.

I find it a fascinating view of ethics. Christians usual try to reason about why a law was made, and see their thoughts and intents as the primary means of wrongdoing, but while Jews appear to be much more beholden to the letter of the law. Basically Christians believe that sin comes from within and Jews believe sin comes from the outside world through their actions. As I understand it.


Or, in the case of Mr. Levenson from the article's first paragraph, break the rules entirely.

https://www.sefaria.org/Shabbat.122a.4?ven=William_Davidson_...


You asked this question when it was shabbat for most people but shabbat recently ended for me.

There are many things you can do on Shabbat. You can go on a walk, have a family meal, play board games (I only play board games on Shabbat), take a nap, read a book, etc. There are some gray areas, such as if you can carry something outside. Most people figured out a way to do it. No computing and telecommunication is universal with exception for life critical activities like with doctors and fire fighters.




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