November 18, 2006

Does Everything Really Have to be Open All the Time?

So, "the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston have decided to open their health and fitness facilities during the hours traditionally reserved for prayer in observance of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath," the Boston Globe reported earlier this month. It's an interesting debate: Many members who work all week want to go work out on Saturdays, but doing so violates millenia of Jewish law and custom.

As a practical matter, a majority of 21st century American Jews don't observe a traditional sundown-to-sundown day of rest, and the JCCs are acknowledging current reality.

"The centers have gone in the direction of survival," a Reform rabbi told the Globe, asking that his/her name not be published. "They have to respond to the demands of secular Jewish families, or those families are going to go elsewhere."


But I find it sad that now even Jewish organizations can't seem to hold the line and promote observance of the Sabbath.

I'm NOT in favor of "blue laws" requiring stores to close on a certain day. The government has no business legislating observance of a particular religion's belief. But I think religious organizations should try to promote spiritual growth by making it easier, not more difficult, to follow some core beliefs. 
Having started observing a day of rest in my own way during most weeks, I definitely see the benefit of slowing down and spending a day removed from the frenetic pace of 21st century life.

"During the week our work, our contributions to the well-being of our family and community are essential and necessary," Wayne Muller writes in his book Sabbath. "But Sabbath time offers the gift of deep balance; in Sabbath time, we are valued not for what we have done or accomplished, but simply because we have received the gentle blessing of being micraculously alive....
"When we cease our daily labor, other things - love, friendship, prayer, touch, singing, rest - can be born in the space created by our rest. Walking with a friend, reciting a prayer, caring for children, sharing bread and wine with family and neighbors - those are intimate graces that need precious time and attention. . . . If you work all week and forget to rest, you will become brittle and hard, and lose precious nourishment and joy. Forgetting the Sabbath is like forgetting to unwrap the most beautiful gift under the tree.

"If we forget to rest we will work too hard and forget our more tender mercies, forget those we love, forget our children and our natural wonder."

I'd suggest a compromise if the centers want to stay open during prayer time: Don't keep the entire gym open, but offer classes in gentle stretching, tai chi, meditation and yoga.

1 comment:

  1. In Cleveland, there's a compromise. The JCC is open on Saturday, but no financial transactions take place; no new memberships are accepted, the gift shop and kosher Subway are closed, the gym won't sell locks or athletic wear, and so on. It's a slow day there, anyhow.