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Sabbath for everyone

Shmuley Boteach, THE JERUSALEM POST Dec, 10, 2007

The Friday night to Saturday night sabbath of the Bible applies to everyone, says the author; it's not just necessary for Jewish continuity, it's the key to a wholesome future for all humankind.

Jewish education is the secret to Jewish continuity. Agreed. But is that enough?

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on Jewish schools to immunize youth against assimilation. But I remember all too well how, as rabbi at Oxford University for 11 years, scores of religious Jewish students arrived with yarmulkes that were taken off after a few weeks of immersion in a non-Jewish environment because they felt uncomfortable being different.

Which leads to the following conclusion: Jewish education is utterly incomplete without the even more potent ingredient of Jewish pride.

At Oxford we imparted that pride with the most potent tool at our disposal, namely, the Jewish students' non-Jewish friends becoming excited about Judaism. We attracted thousands of non-Jewish students to listen to Jewish luminaries like Elie Wiesel and Simon Wiesenthal and persuaded non-Jewish world leaders to lecture to teeming auditoriums on Jewish values.

Most of all, we excited non-Jewish students about Shabbat. Our Friday night dinners were filled with students from all over the globe who fell in love with the sense of family and community that only a Jewish Sabbath dinner can impart.

The world has become so technologically dependent that it scarcely knows any peace. Cell phones ring on dates, TVs blast in the background of family dinners. And the car is always ready to whisk us away from the boredom of the home to the excitement of the shopping mall. But the Sabbath is a return to the salons of old when human beings appreciated the enlightenment that came from passionate conversation without the insurance against boredom provided by DVR's and Blackberries.

THE NEXT great Jewish campaign, and the one that would create the most Jewish pride, should be the universalization of the Jewish Sabbath. Friday night must be turned into a national family night wherein families are encouraged to light candles, invite guests, and refrain from the use of all electronic distractions.

Studies show that fewer than 17% of American children have regular dinners with their parents. And hospitality is likewise a dying American institution, except for the celluloid guests who invade our homes from TV.

It is no surprise, then, that America has become the land of reality TV where young people are prepared to be exploited to win their 15 minutes of fame, denied as they are the security that comes from unconditional, parental love. The extreme example of this, of course, is the celebrity world itself, where many Americans find their role models.

A recent Vanity Fair article discussed how Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton share a common childhood feature of having been pushed, primarily by their mothers, to be performers from a young age. They were taught to aim for stardom at any cost. What they got in return was attention without love, parasitical paparazzi in place of devoted family members, red carpets rather than warm hugs.

The result for each was tragic and devastating. Much of America is focused on whether and how they can heal. The remedy is the Sabbath.

The Jewish community should reach out to them to become ambassadors of a family day. It would come with the caveat that they cannot represent a holy day by desecrating it with unholy behavior. They would have to agree to clean up their act. But in return, they would be rehabilitated both in the popular imagination by representing something wholesome, and in their own lives as well. We always heal ourselves by bringing healing to others.

Moreover, Friday night should also be promoted as marital love night. The Talmud says that the Sabbath is the perfect time for husbands and wives to be physically intimate. As a day of rest, husbands and wives can take their time to truly enjoy and appreciate each other.

America is a country of platonic marriages, where a third of couples have become utterly sexless. And why should we be surprised when TVs are providing most of the entertainment in the bedroom. But just imagine if American couples could be persuaded not to watch TV on Friday nights. With the television off, romance has a fighting chance.

WHEN NAPOLEON Bonaparte invaded Russia in 1812, the vast majority of great rabbis supported the cause of Czar Alexander against the French Emperor. They did so even though Napoleon had given the Jews rights while the czars had brutalized them, in the belief that emancipated Jews would abandon Judaism in hordes.

Of course, that's what tragically happened. In the past 200 years, the vast majority of Jews have become secular, paying lip service to a tradition that their ancestors were once prepared to die for. But is Judaism really so impotent that it cannot sustain the commitment of its adherents? I submit that we have defanged a great faith by creating a false dualism consisting of a Jewish and a non-Jewish world, which has in turn given countless Jews the opportunity of migrating from one to the other.

The light of Judaism was designed to radiate far beyond the walls of self-imposed Jewish ghettos. Its message, especially that of the Sabbath, was universal. While Jewish rituals were reserved for Jews, the core of the Torah's values were meant to be kept by all nations. And that is especially true of the family and communal orientation of the Sabbath.

Hollywood is a noisy place. It's flashy, glitzy, and it cries out for attention. How better to heal it, and all who obsess over it, than with the serenity and silence of the Sabbath.

The writer's upcoming book is The Broken American Male, And How to Fix Him.


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