The Sabbath Is an End in Itself, Not a Path to Inner Peace

March 21 2019

In his 2011 book The Gift of Rest, then-Senator Joseph Lieberman extolled the virtues of the Jewish Sabbath, focusing on its ability to give respite in the present age of ’round-the-clock work and technological interconnectedness. Contrasting the book with Abraham Joshua Heschel’s celebrated The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man, Shalom Carmy notes that Lieberman succeeds better at conveying some of the burdens of Sabbath observance—for instance, in relating how he once trudged four miles to the Capitol in torrential rain to cast his vote on a Friday night. Carmy nonetheless raises questions:

Many of Lieberman’s observations about the natural human good of Sabbath rest can seem attractive to people looking to deepen their private and communal lives. Nonetheless, one can raise three skeptical questions. First, as we all know, the day-of-rest ideals of domestic and communal togetherness do not appeal to all individuals, families, or communities. For the Jew, the laws of Sabbath must be obeyed, and the social practices that form around them are hard to avoid, even by those who are not attracted to or enchanted by them. We all know this, but we do not always factor in the gap between the ideal and the reality, a gap that more often than not is overcome only by the power of obligation rather than good intentions.

Second, at least in my experience, the beauty of the Sabbath and its restrictions grow with familiarity and habit. The songs, the food, the rhythm sustain us to the degree that we take them for granted. . . . A lifetime of observance molds patterns of meaning and pleasure. Lastly, as Lieberman notes openly when he praises the opportunities and quality of Sabbath intimacy in married life, it doesn’t work unless you believe your observance is obligatory. It is not sufficient to adopt the Sabbath as one passing therapy among others. The day is an end in itself, not the means to other ends such as attaining inner peace or building strong relationships. . . .

Recovering our intimate relation with God, building community with family and friends, and freeing ourselves from dependence on mechanical connectedness and informational flooding require patience, persistence, frequent inconvenience, occasional suffering, and the consciousness of being commanded. Few of us look forward to long walks in drenching rains, but without the readiness to do so when it is demanded, the prospect of “heaven and everything else” [promised by Heschel] is liable to remain wishful thinking.

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More about: Abraham Joshua Heschel, Joseph Lieberman, Religion & Holidays, Sabbath

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat