Shabbat (Hebrew for “cessation [from work]” or “resting”) is Judaism’s first and most sacred institution. The concept is based on the biblical story of Genesis (creation of heaven and earth in six days) in which God rests on, blesses, and makes holy the seventh day.

Shabbat begins just before sundown on Friday and ends just after sundown on Saturday. It prohibits 39 categories of activities related to farming, hunting, building, creating, writing, and starting or ending fires. The most common restrictions today relate to electronics and transportation and both are prohibited not explicitly but rather due to the creation of small sparks involved in both activities.

As its name suggests, Shabbat is intended to be a day for people to spend time with family, friends, and others, and to eat, sleep, read, sing, and pray as they wish.

Almost none of this I knew before yesterday.

If it has not been evidently clear, I am not a very observant Jew. I appreciate my ethnicity, but fundamentally I do not believe anyone should be born into a set of beliefs, regardless of what they are. People should have the opportunity to develop their own beliefs, especially in the modern world with such easy accessibility to so many varying perspectives. I do however believe among other things in the power of faith, the practice of discipline, and the abidance by certain principles.

As such, I would over time like to develop a set of principles to follow that in many ways I believe will looks and feel somewhat like Shabbat. For starters, it will probably be based around Sunday instead of Saturday because that is more naturally aligned with the way weeks work in America and most of the world outside of Israel (where work weeks are typically Sunday through Thursday). Second, I would rethink the prohibitions to align less with the original categories and more with what I believe was their intent which was to prohibit the doing of things that we have to do during the rest of the week. For someone like me, these prohibited activities might include email, use of Microsoft Office or similar applications, and going into an office. Lastly, and importantly, I think the encouraged activities could remain very much the same. The contrast between the continued relevance of these activities as they were initially written versus those that were initially prohibited alone suffices to show the timeless importance of them. Think about how valuable and relevant it remains to spend time with family, friends, and others, and to eat, sleep, read, and practice spiritualism or mindfulness (more broadly than to necessarily sing or pray). Compare that to the modern relevance of one of the prohibited categories, “marking hide”.

I am not quite there yet, but one day I hope to start regularly if not religiously  observing a Sabbath of my own. It may look and feel a little or a lot different than Shabbat, but the intention will be similar.

A Jewish friend once told me something that I interpreted as this, “part of Judaism is living by seemingly random rules you do not know the reason for, but you live by them because you have faith in the rule book”. This, I think, is what makes it very difficult for me to have faith in any one religion, though I appreciate various aspects and intents of many of them. 

I wrote earlier this week that I would post controversial opinions that I hold today but may change my mind about tomorrow. One of them is that I personally think the prevailing religions across the world are outdated. Many people agree with this but then in abandoning the concept of religion they also abandon all practices of faith. I believe a good future for all peoples of the world will require some sort of faith in humanity.