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.”

Read more at Tablet

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


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount