Christians Try to Get Their Sabbath Back

Nov. 21 2014

Due to economic and technological changes, Sundays are ceasing to be the day of rest they once were for most Americans, regardless of religious affiliation. In response, there has been renewed interest among Christian thinkers in reviving and restoring Sabbath observance—something Jews never lost. Benjamin J. Dueholm writes:

Foreshadowed in the creation story, God’s command to rest sets Israel apart from the Exodus onward. It is a costly command. The people, their foreign residents, and even the animals must rest. The land must rest. The widow must be released from her debt—at least for the length of a night’s sleep—and from the incessant demand to work in repaying it. Isaiah rails against the abuse of the Sabbath to gain competitive advantage, which undermines the ability of anyone to enjoy rest. This mandated idleness—15 percent of life—was so costly that it had to be general and it had to be enforced with fierce penalties. But these costs all underscore the drastic, unyielding, world-shaking claim that life—even the life of an ox—is in some sense its own end and not an instrument. Idleness is sacred in the Bible because it identifies the world with a living God whose greatest gift is rest and who rescued the people from slavery in a land where no rest was allowed. . . .

“The Sabbath,” writes Abraham Joshua Heschel, “is a day for the sake of life.” And this tradition—Heschel calls it a “palace in time”—that Judaism fought so hard to preserve set up outposts in the rest of life. These outposts are what the war on leisure is dismantling. And churches—by hoping, urging, or demanding that the faithful cut back on their commitment to travel hockey leagues—risk becoming mere bystanders. The ethos of the Sabbath goes much deeper than an individual commitment to prioritize worship. It includes all of those sacred practices, both affirmations and prohibitions, that have been kept alive in Judaism and are being fitfully recovered by Christians.

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Read more at Christian Century

More about: Abraham Joshua Heschel, Christianity, Judaism, Shabbat

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