The Sabbath as Antidote to the Modern Work Ethic

Sept. 21 2018

In a time when cell phones, email, and other technological advances, combined with economic changes, create situations in which work can pervade all of life, a revival of the Sabbath might be more necessary than ever, writes William Black:

In place of an economy built upon the profit motive—the ever-present need for more, in fact the need for there never to be enough—the Sabbath puts forward an economy built upon the belief that there is enough. The Sabbath’s radicalism should be no surprise given the fact that it originated among a community of former slaves. The Ten Commandments constituted a manifesto against the regime that they had recently escaped, and a rebellion against that regime was at the heart of their God’s identity, as attested to in the first commandment: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” When the ancient Israelites swore to worship only one God, they understood this to mean, in part, that they owed no fealty to the pharaoh or any other emperor.

It is therefore instructive to read the fourth commandment in light of the pharaoh’s labor practices described earlier in the book of Exodus. He is depicted as a manager never satisfied with his slaves. . . . The pharaoh orders that the slaves no longer be given straw with which to make bricks; they must now gather their own straw, while the daily quota for bricks would remain the same. When many fail to meet their quota, the pharaoh has them beaten and calls them lazy.

The fourth commandment presents a God who, rather than demanding ever more work, insists on rest. The weekly Sabbath placed a hard limit on how much work could be done and suggested that this was perfectly all right; enough work was done in the other six days. And whereas the pharaoh relaxed while his people toiled, the Lord insisted that the people rest as He rested: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”

The Sabbath, as described in Exodus and other passages in the Torah, had a democratizing effect. God’s example—not forcing others to labor while He rested—was one anybody in power was to imitate. It was not enough for you to rest; your children, slaves, livestock, and even the “strangers” in your towns were to rest as well. The Sabbath wasn’t just a time for personal reflection and rejuvenation. It wasn’t self-care. It was for everyone.

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Read more at Aeon

More about: American society, Hebrew Bible, Religion & Holidays, Sabbath

 

Europe-Israel Relations Have Been Transformed

On Monday, Israel and the EU held their first “association council” meeting since 2012, resuming what was once an annual event, equivalent to the meetings Brussels conducts with many other countries. Although the summit didn’t produce any major agreements or diplomatic breakthroughs, writes Shany Mor, it is a sign of a dramatic change that has occurred over the past decade. The very fact that the discussion focused on energy, counterterrorism, military technology, and the situation in Ukraine—rather than on the Israel-Palestinian conflict—is evidence of this change:

Israel is no longer the isolated and boycotted outpost in the Middle East that it was for most of its history. It has peace treaties with six Arab states now, four of which were signed since the last association council meeting. There are direct flights from Tel Aviv to major cities in the region and a burgeoning trade between Israel and Gulf monarchies, including those without official relations.

It is a player in the regional alliance systems of both the Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean, just as it has also become a net energy exporter due to the discovery of large gas deposits of its shoreline. None of this was the case at the last council meeting in 2012. [Moreover], Israel has cultivated deep ties with a number of new member states in the EU from Central and Eastern Europe, whose presence in Brussels bridges cultural ideological gaps that were once much wider.

Beyond the diplomatic shifts, however, is an even larger change that has happened in European-Israeli relations. The tiny Israel defined by its conflict with the Arabs that Europeans once knew is no more. When the first Cooperation Agreement [between Israel and the EU’s precursor] was signed in 1975, Israel, with its three million people, was smaller than all the European member states save Luxembourg. Sometime in the next two years, the Israeli population will cross the 10 million mark, making it significantly larger than Ireland, Denmark, Finland, and Austria (among others), and roughly equal in population to Greece, Portugal, and Sweden.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Abraham Accords, Europe and Israel, European Union, Israeli gas