Times: Cultural Study of the Sabbath

Judith Shulevitz wrote an article in the Cultural Studies series in the Times, "Creating Sabbath Peace Amid the Noise." We appreciate aspects of her book on the Sabbath, as we said in a prior post.

So nu, what's in this article? Two anecdotes about Jews who have their own ideas of the Sabbath, one from a Brooklyn Heights couple and one from a Persian Jew on the Upper West Side. Then for balance, Shulevitz appends two anecdotes about Christians who observe some sort of Sabbath. Voila, we have a "Cultural Study."

We are reminded that there actually are real cultural methods for analyzing and understanding the ideas and practices of the Sabbath. We served on a doctoral committee at the University of Minnesota for a thesis that applied leisure studies theory to the Jewish Sabbath and concluded that it was in large measure a deliberate and periodic re-creation of a wilderness experience within an urban culture. That was an actual "study" with references to a literature and theories.

As we suggested, Shulevitz has produced an essay that is mostly a faux study with charming anecdotage. That's too bad because her book has a whole lot more content and thoughtfulness (although intermixed with heavy doses of personal spiritual reflections). We find it discouraging that a writer apparently had to dumb down her presentation for the readers of the New York Times.

So here is a sample from the start.
THERE are people for whom the Sabbath never went away — Seventh-day Adventists, Hutterites, Jews whose fathers and mothers never stopped walking in the ways of their fathers and mothers.

And then there are the rest of us. The Sabbath, Jewish or Christian, is a distant memory for many Americans, the recollection of a quaintly tranquil day when stores were closed, streets were quiet and festive dinners were had. The Sabbath would seem to have no place in our busy, beeping world. The very word tastes musty in the mouth, as if it were a relic from another place and time...more...
We stop here since all this is problematic to begin with. The traditional Sabbath today is practiced as it was observed centuries ago. It is a relic-Sabbath -- and it is a relic from the past. Like a Renaissance Fair or Colonial Williamsburg, some people with no musty taste in their mouths do reenact the ancient Sabbath in modern times and that is the point of it all. But what then is the meaning of the original Sabbath?

We need a lot of work on this essay, Ms. Shulevitz. More accurate description would help it. And a layer of actual academic analysis based on real social and cultural theory would be nice. And yes, even a summary of Orthodox apologetics defending the reenactment of the Sabbath in today's world would help this article.

We do like the illustration that accompanies the article.

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