Sabbath Practice as Political Resistance: Building the Religious Counterculture

A family prepares to break challah at a Shabbat dinner. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel described the Jewish Sabbath as a “palace in time” that allows individuals to “lay down the profanity of clattering commerce.” Credit: Creative Commons/David Starkopf.

One thing Abraham Joshua Heschel and Karl Marx had in common, aside from having both been spectacularly bearded Eastern European Jews, is the shared insight that time is the ultimate form of human wealth on this earth. Without time, all other forms of wealth are meaningless. It is this insight about time—patently obvious but frequently forgotten—that makes keeping a Sabbath day both spiritually profound and politically radical. To reclaim time is to be rich. To reclaim a full day every week is to be among the 1 percent. Sabbath practice is also one of the most unambiguously articulated of all the commandments in the Hebrew Bible (even making the top ten!), and yet very few of the “people of the book” actually keep a Sabbath—only traditionally observant Jews, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Mormons (except for Mitt Romney). Perhaps keeping this particular commandment is just too hard.

Surplus Time in a Capitalist Society

While Marx certainly did not intend to write a spiritual text when he wrote Capital in 1867, he ended up producing a work that has survived into the new millennium precisely because it speaks such deep spiritual truths about the meaning of human life. Marx’s books are still on the shelves at Barnes & Noble because we recognize ourselves and our modern woes in their pages. Like Scripture, they have long outlived the debunking of their factual details. Marx wails a prophetic lament on behalf of his society. He holds up a mirror, showing how human time—human life—is broken down, appropriated, and devoured by the “boundless thirst” of capitalism. He describes the “despotic bell” of the workplace that wrenches people (mere “personifications of labor time”) from their homes. In capitalism, free time is a waste or, at best, the necessary evil of preparation for more productivity. Marx describes how technology, rather than freeing us from labor, creates an increasingly frenetic pace of work—the need to milk more and more value from a human hour to “close the pores” of time.

Certainly we recognize this phenomenon today: that somehow in our high-tech world, we are all feverishly, dizzyingly busy. Because exactly as Marx described, any surplus time created by labor-saving technology is immediately sucked back into the system to create more value—more money, more goods, more innovation. We, the people, never actually receive the surplus time as time. Indeed, although the labor movement has brought us the weekend, we typically spend weekends in a flurry of acquisition, preparation, consumption, and productivity. Stopping is not an option. This is almost as true for the wealthy as for anyone. While the wealthy could technically “choose” to stop working or work less, they generally don’t. There’s always a mortgage (or a few) to pay and status to maintain, things to buy, and, perhaps most important, a general lack of anything better to do. Once we’ve been dehumanized long enough by the insatiable engine of secular acquisition and achievement, it’s hard to go back.

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Ana Levy-Lyons currently serves as senior minister at the First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn in New York City. As a writer, preacher, and activist, she works to manifest the revolutionary promise of Jewish tradition. Visit her blog: religious-counterculture.blogspot.com. Email: analevylyons@hotmail.com.
 

Source Citation

Levy-Lyons, Ana. 2012. Sabbath Practice as Political Resistance: Building the Religious Counterculture. Tikkun 27(4): 16.

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One Response to Sabbath Practice as Political Resistance: Building the Religious Counterculture

  1. Steve Lewis November 19, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    It’s too bad that Judaism has lost the Celestial Torah’s meaning when it abandoned the astrological linkage to the earthly Torah. How many Jews today are taught that Sabbath worship is Saturn worship, that Jews were commanded on point of death to worship God on Saturn’s Day? It’s all part of the ancient Star Wars where gods had their heavenly realms, seven of them stacked one on top of the other with the highest heaven, 7th Heaven, the realm of God Most High, EL Elyon, which is how EL got that title.

    Now you’ll say but it’s commanded that Jews not worship anything in the sky but that was for Gentile consumption and not really true since without the astro-theology religious systems already in existence, Judaism would have no theology of its own creation. Everything is borrowed from Gentiles and remade to make it look like Jewish originals. Even the Torah. It’s a long story that I can’t begin to explain here but do know I teach Celestial Torah Christianity which recovers for ALL humanity, not just Jews, the sublime spiritual meaning behind the Celestial Torah. You may wonder why I link Christianity to the Celestial Torah. Well, that is because the whole Messiah-Christ-Anointed One concept comes from the Celestial Torah which is why one can know for certain Jewish rabbis never learned it. If they had, they would forced morally to recognize Christ fulfills the Celestial Torah’s demands of the Messiah and not David. But the Star of David? That’s Saturn’s star, a celestial reminder of what has been lost by Jewish priesthoods thinking they could capture the Celestial Torah all for the Jewish people alone. That’s why Christianity happened. To begin to restore “all things”. Celestial Torah Christianity at: Http://biomystic.org/celestialtorah.htm

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