The Sabbath as practice for death

The writer and critic Judith Shulevitz has a new book about the meaning of the Sabbath.

bookPaintingComboThe book, “The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time,” explores not only the meaning of a day off from everyday stuff, but the difficulty of making it happen.

Slate.com has a fine, ongoing dialogue on the book and the subject that includes Shulevitz, Slate senior editor Dahlia Lithwick and the liberal Catholic nun and scholar Mary C. Boys.

Lithwick brings up a provocative storyline in her first post to the other women:

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Perhaps the hardest part of Sabbath is quite literally the unplugging. If we turn off the televisions and the BlackBerrys, something might happen, and we might be the only ones who didn’t know about it. I wonder what you both think about the ways technology makes us feel connected to one another in ways that Sabbath once did. One of my favorite writers, Jon Kabat-Zinn, has described meditation as a sort of practice death. You get to drop out completely for a little while and discover that life tumbles by just fine without you. I have come to think of Sabbath the same way: as a practice death. Judith, you describe the seventh day as “God turning his back on us to occupy himself with something even more important to him than we are.” I wonder if that is—forgive me the fanciful notion—a sort of practice death even for God?

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The Sabbath as practice for death.

Shulevitz, who writes in her book primarily from her Jewish perspective, responds in the ditigal “book club:”

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There’s nothing whimsical at all about the notion. The rabbis thought so, too; they called the Sabbath a foretaste of paradise. Thomas Shepard, the first great Puritan preacher on this side of the Atlantic and still one of the greatest theorists of the Sabbath, said that you prepared for the Sabbath as you prepared for heaven, and when the Sabbath came, you died for a day. This was to him a good thing, which shows you how different the Puritan vision of death was from ours. If you “died” right, you got to rest with Christ and “lie in his bosom all the day.”

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Shulevitz also notes: “The flip side of this amusingly morbid metaphor, however, is that to practice death, you have to remove yourself from life. The Puritans withdrew from the worldly pleasures, and we withdraw into the eerily silent world of the unplugged household.”

It’s a nice conversation to be “part of.”

Slate.com, by the way, also has a very funny piece by Emily Yoffe about taking a turn as a “motivational dancer” at a modern bar mitzvah.

If you don’t know what goes on at a modern bar mitvah or why motivational dancers might be needed, give Yoffie a shot.

She writes:

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I ponied across the floor and acted as if the adult couples wanted me to dance with them. A few guests commented on my efforts. “You have such spirit,” said one, which I took to mean, “You’re embarrassing yourself.” Another said, “You have so much energy,” kindly leaving off “for someone your age.”

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.