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The Five Minute Rabbi Part Two

06/13/2023 08:50:51 AM


Rabbi Rudin

Don’t Read- Listen!

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This is part II of a mini-podcast series on the laws of Shabbat observance in Conservative Jewish practice.  For reasons that will soon become clear, let’s call this program:

Carry On!  It’s Moshe Rudin and Welcome to the Five Minute Rabbi

The second longest tractate in the Talmud is the one that describes the laws of Shabbat. One hundred and fifty seven densely packed pages of discussion, stories, laws and regulations. And all for one purpose: to enjoin us to take one day a week and devote it to ourselves and our loved ones: or maybe more properly, our higher selves, our spiritual selves.  ששת ימים - כל מלאכתך:ויום השביעי שבת לה' אלוקיך- Six days to do all of your work- and the seventh day: Shabbat to Adonai, your G-d.

So how does this come down to laws of carrying stuff? Carrying things from place to place is one of those prohibitions that sets Shabbat apart. No carrying - not in the public domain like a road, parking lot or public land and not between public and private domains like from the street to a house or vice versa. Within a private domain, like in your house, of course you can carry - just don’t get carried away. Shabbat is not a day for moving furniture. But what’s the connection? So what if I carry things? Let’s say I want to bring a chocolate babka with me to a friend’s house. Or the caterers at my child’s Bat Mitzvah want to bring in their food and trays? Don’t these things actually add to Shabbat rather than detract? So why are they prohibited?

I think the essential answer is in the following classic quote from my mother. She would say: Don’t be a schlepper. Schlep is one of the juiciest Yiddish words to have jumped to American English, or at least to Jewish American English. Literally it means carry, but the connotations are untranslatable. To schlep means to drag along, to convey from place to place in the most agonizing, troublesome and painful way. Sometimes the hardest thing to schlep is yourself as in - Last week I had to schlep all the way out to the Island - what a cholera! 

So… no Schlepping - On Shabbat, we see ourselves as unencumbered. We don’t stride purposefully, we stroll. We don’t run or march, we perambulate leisurely. And… we don’t schlep.

Like many things in Judaism, we have come up with workarounds to permit people to say carry handbags and Talleisim to Shul, or food to friends’ houses. Carrying is forbidden in the public domain but allowed in private spaces. So if you want to carry between houses or to synagogue, all you have to do is convert the public space of your town or neighborhood into a private space. How do you do that? By enclosing your town or neighborhood through a system of connecting fences, rivers and sometimes even wire strung between trees, houses and telephone poles into what is called an Eruv. This in effect converts the public sector into an enclosed private sector. This is how many Orthodox communities manage. 

For us Conservative Jews, we make a distinction between private and public use and say this: If a person wishes to carry personal property into the synagogue on Shabbat for their own use, that is their choice. 

But objects, food, equipment and anything else designated for public consumption or use - flowers for the Bimah, serving pans and food for the caterers, it all must be done before Shabbat. Our florists, caterers and entertainers are well used to this and do a great job arriving beforehand and making deliveries for the next day. It actually adds excitement and anticipation.

I’d like to make a pitch for adopting hilchot tilul, the non-carry laws based not on Jewish law but on soul survival. It says in the Mishna that Rabbi Haninia says: a person must examine the contents of his clothing and pockets on the eve of Shabbat before sunset for one might forget and go out having carried. Rav Yosef says: this is the great central principle of Shabbat. In other words, can we, one day of the week, relinquish all of the tasks and burdens, obligations and distractions that detract from pure experience, pure rest and enjoyment of this literal gift from G-d of Shabbat?

Next week, we tackle the measure that some say preserved Conservative Judaism and others say destroyed it - the Takanat HaNehiga, otherwise known as the Driving Allowance. To parody Bruce: Can you find Shabbos behind the wheel of your 69 Chevy?  Let’s discuss next week right here on the five minute Rabbi. 

For this coming Shabbat: Don’t be a schlepper - and I’ll add to that breathe, stretch, walk free, expand-

Shabbat Shalom!

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784