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What is Shabbat?

What does it mean to celebrate Shabbat? According to the 20th century rabbi and philosopher Abraham Yehoshua Heschel, it means to set apart one day a week for freedom: a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction; a day for being with ourselves; a day of independence from external obligations; a day on which we stop worshiping the idols of technical civilization; a day of armistice in the economic struggle and with the forces of nature.

In his book Shabbat, Heschel states: The meaning of Shabbat is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.

In the tempestuous ocean of time and toil there are islands of stillness where we may enter a harbour and reclaim our dignity. Abraham Yehoshua Heschel

Abraham Yehoshua Heschel writes that In the tempestuous ocean of time and toil there are islands of stillness where we may enter a harbour and reclaim our dignity. The island is the seventh day, the Shabbat, a day of detachment from things, instruments, and practical affairs as well as of attachment to the spirit.

The Purpose of Shabbat

More than a day of rest, Shabbat is a resetting of all ties and relationships. David Hartman teaches that the moment I am forbidden to pluck a flower, that flower becomes a "thou" to me with a right to existence regardless of its possible value for me. In this way, Shabbat is a time of being close to all living things. Shabbat is the time when we relinquish control and practice just being in the world.

The setting of the sun ushers in a unit of time where the flowers in the field stand over and against me as equal members of the universe. David Hartman

In the same way as we're forbidden to work, we are also forbidden to employ others to work. That means that all the relationships of power between people, necessary for the running of society, are suspended on Shabbat. Every week we catch a glimpse of that world, where there are no masters and no servants, just human beings in harmony with the rest of the natural order. This is what we celebrate on Shabbat.


What does the Alternative Shabbat Experience offer?

  • Grassroot participation
  • Hands-on Judaism
  • A dynamic community
  • Pot luck food
  • Friends - old, new
  • Opportunity to share and learn
  • Alternative views on the parasha
  • Lots of lovely singing
  • A community
  • Egalitarian framework