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September 2, 2016 3:05 am

Let Us Violate Shabbat in Order to Sanctify It

avatar by Nathan Lopes Cardozo

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Tel Aviv. Photo: Wikipedia.

Tel Aviv. Photo: Wikipedia.

Shabbat is serious business, not only because of its halachic requirements but also because of its magnificent and majestic message. To violate it is not just a transgression, but a tragedy. Its desecration undermines what it means to be human and to be a real Jew. It deprives mankind of its own sublimity.

It is not the renouncement of technical progress that Shabbat requires but rather the attainment of some degree of independence from an ever-increasing race and cruel struggle for our physical existence, in which we are all involved and that denies us embracing the presence of an eternal moment.

There is only one sanctity that is even greater than Shabbat, and that is the holiness of the human being. When we have to choose between these two sanctities, Jewish law is clear: The human being takes precedence.

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If it is true that the Tel Aviv Light Rail and the speed train connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem will indeed save countless human lives by having people switch from car to rail, then Halacha will without any doubt demand of us to work on Shabbat to complete construction as soon as possible. Any postponement would be a terrible violation of Halacha itself.

But as Jews, let us make it into a celebration. We can observe Shabbat while working on this holy day. Instead of asking non-Jews to take our place, let us gather as many religious Jews as possible to join in this undertaking and do this work in the spirit of Shabbat and Halacha. Here are some suggestions:

We can organize shacks at the work sites where some people will make Kiddush and where a special Shabbat atmosphere will be created and tasteful Shabbat meals, kept warm according to the laws of Shabbat, will be served. There will be alternate minyanim where the workers can hear the reading of the parsha and say their Shabbat prayers in shifts. Participants can sing Shabbat songs and someone can say a nice d’var Torah informing everyone of the great mitzvah they are performing by working on the holy Shabbat so as to save lives.

Let us give all the workers colored Shabbat helmets and ask all others who stand by to give instructions to wear nice kippot.

There can be flags and ribbons flying and large posters displayed at the work sites proclaiming: “The people of Israel shall keep the Shabbat, observing the Shabbat throughout the ages as a covenant for eternity.” “And one shall live by them [My laws] …. and not die because of them.”

Let us make a Jewish celebration out of this. We can show our fellow Israelis and the world that we love Shabbat but that it will not stand in the way of the sanctity of human life. It will actually advance our spirit and commitment to Judaism. We can reveal that Halacha can deal with the requirements of a modern democratic Jewish state in an unprecedented way.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Let us not fail to live up to the challenge of making us all proud to be committed Jews.

After all, is it not Shabbat that made us Jews and that now gives meaning to the State of Israel? Why, in fact, be Jewish if not for this great institution called Shabbat?

Sure, some of my readers will say that these suggestions are insane. But remember what philosopher and writer George Santayana once said: Sanity is madness put to good use.

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  • Jay Lavine

    By the way, although I don’t mean to get involved in all the political Sturm und Drang going on, the Jerusalem Post has reported thusly about the statement released Saturday night by Netanyahu’s office: “The statement said there was no reason for the work to be performed on Shabbat in the first place and that it could have been done at another time without hurting the religious population or public transportation users, including soldiers on their way to and from bases.”

  • Jay Lavine

    I usually think of pikuach nefesh as referring to a more immediate and probable danger. I wouldn’t want to depreciate our most important holiday to a mere cultural event. I do agree, however, with not hiring non-Jews to work on Shabbat. The Shabbes goy concept as currently practiced was originally a fringe idea that took hold because of expediency, an example of consequentialism winning out over deontology, not the norm in Judaism.

    Finally, I would hold that “proud committed Jews” is an oxymoron. Judaism teaches self-respect and self-esteem tempered by humility, not pride.

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