American Jews’ Many Efforts to Save Shabbat

Dec. 22 2021

Today, it can safely be said that most American Jews don’t observe the Sabbath in any manner, but it seems that complaining about declining Shabbat observance is itself a longstanding American Jewish tradition. Jenna Weissman Joselit writes:

During the waning years of the 19th century, a coalition of clergy and laity formed a succession of “anti-desecration” leagues, peopled by “earnest, zealous, and persevering men of honor and excellence of character.” In the 1880s, the members of the Sabbath Association, taking their cue from the abolitionists, constituted themselves a “movement” designed to influence Jewish public opinion. It sought to “induce” Jewish storekeepers to stay shut and Jewish consumers to desist from making the rounds on Saturday, while also encouraging everyone else—all those “erring Israelites”—to attend services.

When doubts about the viability and relevance of the Sabbath persisted [after World War II], the Conservative movement, then American Jewry’s fastest-growing denomination, decided after much internal to-ing and fro-ing to abolish some of the Sabbath’s traditional interdictions. It sanctioned the use of electricity, cars, and other appurtenances of modernity on the Sabbath, hoping these remedial measures might alter the course of things. They did not. Postwar American Jews remained as inattentive to Shabbos’s charms as their predecessors, leaving the newly built pews of the suburban synagogue just as empty as those of their urban predecessors.

For a brief spell in the early 1950s, the traditional day of rest received a momentary boost in popularity, spurred on by the publication of A.J. Heschel’s The Sabbath in 1951. A lyrical embrace of and salute to tradition, its emotional approach to the Sabbath, to the sanctity of time, momentarily won over many more adherents than technological access, especially after the Conservative movement’s United Synagogue made a point of distributing the text to its members as a part of its National Sabbath Observance Effort, a national campaign to highlight the Sabbath’s importance and, concomitantly, to supply young suburban Jews with the “know-how and know-why.”

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Abraham Joshua Heschel, American Jewish History, American Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Shabbat

The Significance of Mahmoud Abbas’s Holocaust Denial

Aug. 19 2022

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, during an official visit to Berlin, gave a joint press conference with the German chancellor Olaf Scholz, where he was asked by a journalist if he would apologize for the murder of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics. (The relationship between the group that carried out the massacre and Abbas’s Fatah party remains murky.) Abbas instead responded by ranting about the “50 Holocausts” perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians. Stephen Pollard comments:

Scholz’s response to that? He shook Abbas’s hand and ended the press conference.

Reading yet another column pointing out that Scholz is a dunderhead isn’t, I grant you, the most useful of ways to spend an August afternoon, so let’s leave the German chancellor there, save to say that he eventually issued a statement hours later, after an eruption of fury from his fellow countrymen, saying that “I am disgusted by the outrageous remarks made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. For us Germans in particular, any trivialization of the singularity of the Holocaust is intolerable and unacceptable. I condemn any attempt to deny the crimes of the Holocaust.” Which only goes to show that late is actually no better than never.

The real issue, in Pollard’s view, is the West’s willful blindness about Abbas, who wrote a doctoral thesis at a Soviet university blaming “Zionists” for the Holocaust and claiming that a mere million Jews were killed by the Nazis—notions he has reiterated publicly as recently as 2013.

On Wednesday, [Abbas] “clarified” his remarks in Berlin, saying that “the Holocaust is the most heinous crime in modern human history.” Credulous fools have again ignored what Abbas actually means by that.

It’s time we stopped projecting what we want Abbas to be and focused on what he actually is, using his own words. In a speech in 2018 he informed us that Israel is a “colonialist project that had nothing to do with Judaism”—to such an extent that European Jews chose to stay in their homes and be murdered rather than live in Palestine. Do I have to point out the moral degeneracy of such a proposition? It would seem so, given the persistent refusal of so many to take Abbas for what he actually is.

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Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Anti-Semitism, Germany, Holocaust denial, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority