HHD Reflection 5777 – Day 9

11 October 2016 – 9 Tishri 5777

Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein
High Holy Days 5777


Preparing for High Holy Day sermons I usually start by seeing if I can read into the Hebrew designation of the new year a hidden theme. תשעז didn’t seem to offer any obvious links except an obscure Talmudic reference to shatnez, that arcane ruling in the Torah that forbids the mixing of wool and linen in a garment. Hardly the stuff of inspiration for Liberal Jews.

But then I looked at the year expressed in numbers – 5777, and the triple seven stood out. I know that this might seem like desperation, a jaded rabbi looking for another theme for a sermon or an article, but the repeated sevens did give me an idea. Yes, we Liberal Jews know the world was not created 5777 years ago, that it was not created in 6 days but we have always held dear to the importance of the seventh day, of Shabbat being vital to our identity as Jews.

In 1992 the late Rabbi John Rayner authored the “Affirmations of Liberal Judaism” and number 18 (of 42) declared “We affirm the importance of Shabbat: the sanctification of the seventh day as a day of rest and joy, study and worship, which may be observed by cessation of work and positive acts of celebration, such as the kindling of lights, Kiddush and Havdallah“. Rabbi Pete Tobias expands on this in “Liberal Judaism: A Judaism for the Twenty-First Century.”

Claude Montefiore, one of the founders of Liberal Judaism wrote in 1923: “I am profoundly convinced of the necessity of the observance of the Sabbath. Any Liberal Jew who on Friday evening goes to a concert, or visits the theatre, or has a dinner-party in his house, any Jew who rides to hounds, or works without compulsion, incurs, in my deliberate opinion, a grave religious responsibility. He is wounding Judaism….”(Liberal Judaism p 256).

Maybe a reflection of the upper class circles in which Montefiore moved! Riding to hounds on Shabbat is far from our mind, but we do have many challenges as we try to define what are the parameters of our Shabbat observance. We have long ago decided: “it is fine to drive to synagogue on Shabbat rather than park round the corner, to switch on the lights and the kettle…” But is it right to do the weekly shop at the supermarket, to send emails or play golf? Let our children go to school friends late Friday night parties? Hold a Friday night fundraising event in shul or an A.G.M after kiddush?

Another founder, Rabbi Israel Mattuck wrote: “The spirit of the day is to be the chief guide in deciding what we should do, and what avoid doping on the Sabbath. Anything which would make us forget that it is the Sabbath day, or destroy the feeling that is associated with it, should not be done” (The Essentials of Liberal Judaism, 1947,p 153)

But in our ever busier modern world, what will make us remember the Shabbat, what tends to make us forget the Shabbat? Worth thinking about in our personal and in our congregational lives in this year with a triple reminder of the seventh day.

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