Thursday, January 10, 2008

Shabbos, Elevator Pitches, and Family

R' Yakov Horowitz has a very interesting and positive piece from a story that happened in an elevator that he put up yesterday. Excerpt:

It was Thursday evening and I was visiting a family member who was on the eighth floor of Maimonides Hospital in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, New York. In the lobby, I boarded the elevator, which was filled with individuals comprising a wide range of ethnic and religious backgrounds. One floor up, several people disembarked from the elevator, and two women walked in – an Oriental nurse and an Orthodox woman who was a regular volunteer for the local Bikur Cholim. They walked in mid-conversation, with the nurse finishing a description of her plans for Saturday and Sunday. She then turned to the volunteer and asked her, “So, what are you doing this weekend?”

The frum woman responded with a 100-watt smile and said, “You know, the nicest thing about being Jewish is our Shabbos. For 25 hours, I get to turn off my cell phone and email. I just enjoy my husband and children, unwind from the week – and try my best to get closer to God.” The elevator bell rang for her floor and she exited with the nurse she was conversing with. As she walked out, all of us still on the elevator heard her say to her friend, “You can’t imagine how much I look forward to Shabbos all week long.”

Silence reigned as we rode up the next few floors, but it was quite evident that her words had a powerful impact on all those who heard it. In fact, as the only Orthodox Jew remaining in the elevator, I got a few meaningful glances from the other passengers who were obviously mulling over her words.

He proceeds to discuss the story, and it well worth reading. R' Gil Student at Hirhurim wondered about the idea that Shabbos is a great time for family, noting that R' Saadia Gaon didn't list it as one of his secondary reasons for Shabbos:
R. Sa'adia Ga'on (Emunos Ve-Dei'os 3:2) lists the following logical reasons for Shabbos and holidays, which he believes is generally about obedience to God but has secondary reasons as well:
  1. to rest from work
  2. to spend time acquiring wisdom
  3. for extended prayer
  4. to meet with others to study religion
I find it noteworthy that he did not include in his list anything about family gatherings and spending time together. He did add "and other similar things" but I find it farfetched to think he meant spending time with one's family.
It's certainly an interesting discussion, and R' Horowitz thought it was a good question and responded in comment #9 on his own piece as well as on Gil's post.

Personally, I'm not sure that they're not one and the same. For many, rest from work is spending time with one's family. It is this family time which allows them to truly relax and enjoy the Shabbos. Moreover, as shown from R' Horowitz's piece, it is this family time which nowadays seems to have one of the strongest effects on people's strengthening of religion.

More to say, short on time. Will add in the comments later on.


  1. I'm just not entirely sure that Shabbos is actually restful or relaxing, at least not for those who are preparing tons of food and serving it and cleaning up afterwards. A lot of women (and some men) that I see on Shabbos seem to work pretty hard during those restful hours!

  2. Wow, I can't believe I didn't see this and post it earlier!
    Oh, wait. I did.

  3. Shoshana - Some people enjoy it! :) Again, more to say later...

    Diana - I know, I saw yesterday! :)

  4. Ezzie - first of all, it's great to see you "back". Second, I think that Chazal did not see the need for Shabbat to bring the family together because the family in those times was together anyway (all week!). Our modern society, where the adults work far away from their homes, and where the kids have all kinds of afterschool activities away from home (instead of helping out at home!)makes Shabbat so special for families.


  5. I'm also not so sure that Shabbos was originally meant to be a time to spend with family. Families used to spend almost all of their time together- they lived, ate, and worked together. The lack of time to spend with one's family is a modern problem: the mothers are working outside of the home, children spend very long days in school, parents often need to travel for work, teenagers spend tons of time with their friends...
    I think that viewing Shabbos as "quality time" is a response to these issues (albeit a very positive response, in my view.)

  6. I don't know when I would see family and friends if it wasn't for Shabbas. No offense to R' Saadiah Gaon, but what time period did he live in? I think most people nowadays would cite family time as one of the top advantages to Shabbas. It also allows for community involvement. Many people only attend shul on Shabbas, or at least the kiddush that allows for socialization.

  7. " No offense to R' Saadiah Gaon, but what time period did he live in?"

    Maybe intellectuals get more pleasure out of wisdom and study than family gathering.

  8. many a great Rabbis do not have guests on Shabbos or at least one meal on Shabbos as they are so busy it really is a crucial time to conect with kids. And as much as kids like guests they like the attention of kids.

    As far as cooking and cleaning... hire cleaning help, the cooking is tons of fun- especially seeing everyone enjoy it.

  9. Re: Rav Saadiah Gaon

    Let's be careful not to confuse what was written and what is being read into/learned out.

  10. To all - I somewhat agree with all of you. I'm essentially trying to say that *nowadays*, R' Saadia Gaon's first reasoning would include 'family time'. 'Tis a good point that he wouldn't have included it in his day because the family was always so close together.

    What I really wanted to discuss was what I touched on at the end.

    I think it would be safe to say that Shabbos has a very strong effect on people's "frumkeit" [and certainly their relationship to Judaism] in the long-term. This is true both among people who grow up religious in terms of their relationship to Judaism, and among those who are not religious. For some, it can result in them becoming "ba'alei teshuva", for others, it simply strengthens their Jewish ties. For those who have bad or even perhaps lonely experiences on a consistent basis, it can easily give them a very bad taste for Shabbos and therefore religious Judaism as a whole.

    It is for this reason that I think that one commenter at Hirhurim (if not many) made the point well in asking why it makes a difference if it is "in the sources" as a secondary reason for enjoying Shabbos. As 'daat y' summed up: "Halacha is not changing here. But reasons that give 'ta'am' to the mitzvot always have relevance." [ta'am = taste]

    I think one can argue that today spending time with one's family would be an important reason to list, or even perhaps something that is important *to* do on a Shabbos. I could understand the argument - certainly on a personal level - that for some people, Shabbos is a time they want/need for other pursuits (learning, reading, extended prayer, et al), and that family time would take away from this. Perhaps this is why Gil is choosing to 'stick with the [existing] sources' for himself. Nevertheless, I think that many people would gain tremendously by spending Shabbos with family (and I'd add friends as well).

  11. I haven't read the rest of this post yet, but I just had to comment on the opening sentence. . .Rabbi Horowitz put up an elevator yesterday?

  12. jstein - I noticed that too. Hehe. Is that considered a dangling modifier or just an awkwardly constructed sentence?

    (My grammar nitpicking scares me sometimes.)

  13. I HATE ENGLISH MAJORS. Just saying. (Except those of you whom I love, you know who you are.)


    V'hamayvin yavin.

  14. Ezzie, Ezzie, Ezzie. It's futile to try and make me feel bad. I *will* keep on correcting your grammar. You should appreciate this, by the way. I am teaching you rudimentary aspects of the English language that somehow slipped your brain (maybe it's because they taught them in class but you weren't actually *there* when it happened...? :P), for which you should be unbelievably grateful! Just kidding, you always sound smart, and you're always right, and you never lie ;).

  15. Sigh, theapple, if we're into correcting...something can slip by the brain or slip out of the brain but it can't slip the brain.