Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors

Who Needs Sabbath?

posted by Brad Hirschfield

Who Needs Sabbath?  We all do.  We all need a Sabbath — one that nurtures the body and the soul. But as religious leaders tend to spend more time defining what that means, convincing others to share their definition and condemning those who don’t share it as missing out on the having a “real” Sabbath, most people can’t imagine that Sabbath is for everyone and that it can look different from person to person and community to community while still remaining an authentic Sabbath.

Sabbath is a method or a value more than it is a rigid recipe or fixed practice. That may sound odd coming from a traditional Jew whose Sabbath observance is defined by many rules – rules which include many fixed practices and which prohibit all kinds of behaviors deemed to violate the Sabbath. I love that Sabbath and feel with all my heart that it achieves its goals, but it is the goals which need to be achieved and there have always been many ways to do that depending on the time and place in which Sabbath was observed.

Sabbath as described in the Hebrew Bible bears little outward resemblance to contemporary Jewish practice, and even among contemporary Jews, there is a wide range of what is experienced as Sabbath observance. The constant among all that change is, or should be, about a very simply idea: whoever you are, you should take about 15 percent of your time each week to remind yourself that you are more than that which you achieve or accomplish.

Sabbath was a radical innovation when it was introduced some 2,000 years ago, and it remains a radical concept to this day. No matter what happens, that you exist as you are, is worthy of celebration. No matter what anybody says or does to you, you are an infinitely valuable creation endowed with inalienable dignity, the right to be free and to enjoy a measure of rest on a regular basis. That has been the essence of Sabbath, in Jewish tradition at least for millennia, and while I may understand how that is accomplished in very specific ways, the ways are not the issue – feeling those feelings and connecting to the sacredness of our existence, are the issues.

If someone wants to know why I Sabbath as I do, great! I am always happy to explain because I love it and because it works. But in this crazy world, moving at a pace and filled with demands that make increasingly difficult for people to feel their own true value, however one gets to that place of rest, what the book of Exodus describes as being re-souled, is the thing upon which we should all be focused.

Hitting Kids IS NOT A Religious Act, No Matter what Anybody Says

posted by Brad Hirschfield

If you don’t know the names, Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz, Lydia Schatz, Michael Pearl, or the book, To Train Up A Child, you should.  These are the names of two parents convicted, respectively, of murder and manslaughter in the case of their 7 year-old daughter, and the self-proclaimed minister/author of a book which teaches the biblical foundation and moral virtue of hitting kids. We need to know their names because they are part of real problem – the problem of sacralizing child abuse, of beating children as a religious act.

Hitting kids is bad enough, but when people hide behind scripture to justify it, it is especially grotesque – it scars the children, and it scars the tradition which justifies it.  Tragically, this is going on, it must be stopped, and it is precisely those of us for whom the Bible is a sacred and life-centering text that must take the lead in stopping it.

As is always the case, it is those closest to a tradition that should bear the greatest responsibility for it when it is being abused.  We cannot simply distance ourselves from “those crazy people”, because “those crazy people” are using the same books we hold dear to commit atrocities, so who better than those who turn to (some of) the same books, to take on the responsibility of addressing the abuses committed in their name?

The notion of hitting children should simply be repugnant to people, and the scientific evidence against the practice is overwhelming.  Kids who are hit, fare no better, and often fare far worse than children who are not.  Of course for some biblical literalists that argument will not suffice.

The literalists will quote chapter and verse beginning with Proverbs 13:24, One who spares the rod, hates his child.  (The commonly heard, “spare the rod, spoil the child”, by the way, does not actually appear anywhere in the Bible – it’s an expression based on this verse.)  But, as I often wonder with such approaches to the Bible, why are such literalists not stoning those who they deem to be Sabbath violators as is demanded by Exodus 31:15, for example?  The answer, of course, is that they don’t want to kill people for violating the Sabbath, but for whatever reason, actually want to hit kids and delight in finding a biblical “justification” for it.

Prosecutors in the case against the Schatz’s could not make an additional case for legal liability against Michael Pearl, whose book was among those found on the Schatz’s shelves and which appears to have served as an inspiration to them in “understanding” the religious value of corporal punishment.  Frustrating as that may be, that is probably as it should be given the importance of freedom of expression and the chilling effect upon it were it possible to hold Pearl legally culpable for the death of Lydia Schatz.

Legal liability and moral responsibility however, are two different matters and there is no doubt that Pearl bears a measure of the latter whether he realizes it or not.  Of course, the real challenge is not to Michael Pearl, it is to the rest of us, especially those who own Pearl’s book, believe, or teach, that hitting kids is a religious act.  This is no longer a phenomenon about which any of us can plead ignorance, and we all bear a measure of moral responsibility for every slap and punch.

There is no way to bring Lydia Schatz back, or to undo the damage to her still living siblings, or any of the other children who are beaten in the name of God.  We can however do everything in our power to put a stop to the practice.  For the sake of these kids and for the sake of the traditions we hold dear, that is what we must do.

Sabbath: Why We All Need One and How To Have One

posted by Brad Hirschfield

We all need a Sabbath, one that nurtures the body and the soul.  But as religious leaders tend to spend more time defining what that means, convincing others to share their definition and condemning those who don’t share it as missing out on the having a “real” Sabbath, most people can’t imagine that Sabbath is for everyone and that it can look different from person to person and community to community while still remaining an authentic Sabbath.

Sabbath is a method or a value more than it is a rigid recipe or fixed practice.  That may sound odd coming from a traditional Jew whose Sabbath observance is defined by many rules – rules which include many fixed practices and which prohibit all kinds of behaviors deemed to violate the Sabbath.  I love that Sabbath and feel with all my heart that it achieves its goals, but it is the goals which need to be achieved and there have always been many ways to do that depending on the time and place in which Sabbath was observed.

Sabbath as described in the Hebrew Bible bears little outward resemblance to contemporary Jewish practice, and even among contemporary Jews, there is a wide range of what is experienced as Sabbath observance.  The constant among all that change is, or should be, about a very simply idea:  whoever you are, you should take about 15% of your time each week to remind yourself that you are more than that which you achieve or accomplish.

Sabbath was a radical innovation when it was introduced some 2,000 years ago, and it remains a radical concept to this day.  No matter what happens, that you exist as you are, is worthy of celebration.   No matter what anybody says or does to you, you are an infinitely valuable creation endowed with inalienable dignity, the right to be free and to enjoy a measure of rest on a regular basis.  That has been the essence of Sabbath, in Jewish tradition at least for millennia, and while I may understand how that is accomplished in very specific ways, the ways are not the issue – feeling those feelings and connecting to the sacredness of our existence, are the issues.

If someone wants to know why I Sabbath as I do, great!  I am always happy to explain because I love it and because it works.  But in this crazy world, moving at a pace and filled with demands that make increasingly difficult for people to feel their own true value, however one gets to that place of rest, what the book of Exodus describes as being re-souled, is the thing upon which we should all be focused.

Demonstrations in Israel Represent New Phase in the Life of a Nation

posted by Brad Hirschfield

Thousands of people remain in the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and others are taking to the streets in other major cities across Israel.  Unlike protest movements in other parts of the region, there is not even a hint of violence or potential violence.

This is not a movement created by a broken system, as much as one created by the awareness that with success come new challenges, challenges from which a healthy society must not shrink if it hopes to continue being as successful as Israel has been.

The current demonstrations in Israel lack focus, and there is no real agreement about what the protestors really want.  What is clear however, is that for the first time in Israel’s history, the demonstrations are NOT about security, terrorism, or anything of that sort.  This is a movement not about threats from outside of Israel, but about the quality of life within Israel.  That alone is a magnificent achievement.

It’s hard to know how, if at all, today’s murderous terror attacks which left 7 dead and 31 injured in the south of Israel may affect the protest movement or its participants.  We will have to wait and see.  On that front the only things that matter now are securing the country, caring for the wounded and grieving with the families of those who were murdered.

And whatever direction the protest movement goes, it has already evoked some rather inspired and inspiring thinking from young leaders across the country – people who are both idealistic about the future and fearless when it comes to asking tough questions about how to achieve that future.  Among them is a friend of mine named Gild Perry, a leader in the Dror Israel movement and author of a powerful letter addressed to Jews world-wide, and to all people who care about Israel.  In fact, it is a letter for all people who care about what it means to establish secure and ethical democracies for the 21st century.

Here is a bit of Perry’s letter, the rest of which can be found on the Jerusalem Post site where the letter appeared when it was also published in the paper:

The State of Israel is a miracle, a social and national phenomenon unlike anything the world has ever seen. The Jewish people, who throughout the generations obligated themselves to a strict moral code of social solidarity, have established an exceptional state based on the essential Jewish values that aided our survival through 2,000 years of exile – “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” and tikkun olam (repairing the world).

I am writing to you because something has changed in Israel. I am not speaking about the conflict. I am speaking of the rift that has broken down the solidarity within the country and compromised our ability to survive as a small state in the Middle East…

Israel’s’ challenges are not so unique, but its response may be, if not unique, at least an important model for the world.  Certainly Perry’s approach is and I hope that people will listen to him and to other intelligent voices articulating a path to a better, more secure and more humane future for all of Israel’s citizens and for the world.

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