Monday, October 26, 2009

Home Study with Temple Beth El - Shabbat

Last night we had the second round of our home study for parents whose children attend the Religious School at Temple Beth El in Hollywood.

Our topic surrounded "Home Observances on Erev Shabbat and Havdalah on Saturday evening."

For the handout, I compiled a list of all the times I could find Shabbat mentioned in the Bible - about 15 times in the Torah (Five Books of Moses), and about the same number in the words of the prophets and Writings.

The rest of the sources included essays or articles written by people from across the spectrum of Jewish identifications who have written something about Shabbat and its value.

Hillel Halkin (a secular writer who lives in Israel)

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, former professor of Ethics and Mysticism at JTS (and author of the book "The Sabbath" from which this article is based.)

This article about the Reform movement looking to bring more people into a kind of Shabbat observance

And this blog, written by Dr. Carol Ochs, Adjunct Professor of Jewish Religious Thought in Hebrew Union College.

Each of these approaches brings something to the table, and each one values a celebration of Shabbat - albeit perhaps differently from everyone else in the group.

Aditionally, the packet included pages 382 to 383 of Joseph Telushkin's "Jewish Wisdom" - a highly recommended book.


We began reading excerpts of a passage from a Talmudic text - The Mishnah of Rabbi Eliezer - who discusses why work is a good thing. We are obligated to work in order to survive. The human being works in order to create, in order to produce, in order to achieve. (As an aside, this source indirectly frowns upon those who are capable of working and do not.)

After giving six profound reasons why work and a work ethic is considered to be "great," the Mishnah explains why Shabbat is also "Great." The first reason is that it overpowers our need to create and do work. It includes many suggestions for how best to observe the Shabbat - what to do to give a person the restful and peaceful experience that makes the Shabbat experience unique.


We looked at this list of so-called universally encouraged Shabbat practices in all of Jewry. And we had our own suggestions as to how to add things, in order to get children involved - particularly to help create memories, and to help them acquire Shabbat experiences for themselves.

These include:
For Friday Night
lighting candles, blessing children, saying the kiddush, setting the table, Ignoring the Phone

For Saturday Evening
Have the kids find the three stars that indicate the conclusion of Shabbat, Say havdalah, use something that was not used on Shabbat - to mark the distinction between the holiness of the day of Shabbat, and the regularity of the rest of the week.

A key element to the radiance of Shabbat comes from the realization of its holiness. This is something we began to touch upon, and hope to explore perhaps in a future session.

All in all, we concluded that Shabbat can be a wonderful family bonding period, there are plenty of ways to experience it together, and that any observance of Shabbat a person wants to commit to should begin small and slow without expectations of an overhaul of one's persona and practices.

Participants in our small but intimate group shared the efforts they make in their own homes to experience Shabbat in some way. Coming from different upbringings and backgrounds, it is amazing to discover what a person remembers from childhood and tries to recreate when the roles are reversed, and we become parents wanting to create for our own children what we experienced when we were their age.

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