Book Review: Sabbath Day Of Eternity

Sabbath Day Of Eternity, by Aryeh Kaplan

There is a fundamental flaw of logic at the heart of this book.  The author writes about the Sabbath from a Jewish perspective, specifically from the erroneous premise that the Talmud springs from Sinai and therefore offers authoritative insights on how the Sabbath is to be kept.  At both the beginning and end of the book the author bases his discussion on the Sabbath on what the Bible has to say and uses midrashic interpretation which, if not perfect, is at least generally sound and easy enough to endorse and recommend.  The heart of this book consists of discussion of the Sabbath from the Mishnah though, and it is as misguided and incorrect as anything could be coming from that source.  Obviously, one’s views of the Talmud will have a great deal to do with how one appreciates this book.  Those who have a high view of the Sabbath in general will find parts of this book to be enjoyable, but only those who have a high view of the Talmud will be able to endorse what this book has to say overall.  As is the case with many books written from the point of view of Orthodox or Conservative Judaism, this is a bridge too far.

This book is a short one at just over 50 pages.  The author begins with a discussion of why the Sabbath is important taken from scripture that states the belief that the Jews view it as the defining issue in whether or not one is observant.  After that there is a discussion of the Sabbath rest, which again takes a great deal from scripture but also includes a lot of speculations about what sort of work is or is not acceptable on the Sabbath that bears no resemblance to the biblical commands at all.  The next two sections of the book focus a great deal on the Talmud and on Jewish traditions, one of the chapters looking at Sabbath work (not talking, strangely enough, about the work that was done by the priests and Levites on the Sabbath, although this would have been helpful), and the other discussing the 39 categories of work defined in the Mishnah that, again, have nothing to do with the Bible at all except as being evidence of the manmade rules that the Pharisees were so fond of foisting on everyone else while looking for lawyerly loopholes for themselves and their followers.  After that the book ends with a discussion of the tradition of lighted candles, for what it’s worth.

Nevertheless, there is a great deal of insight to be found in this book even if the premise that the Talmud can speak authoritatively about how to obey God is mistaken.  For one, the author speaks about the importance of the Sabbath to the Jewish tradition and draws some insights from the practice of Jews about the Sabbath.  For those who want to explore Jewish rituals like the Sabbath candles or the reading of the Song of Solomon there are some suggestions here that some readers may take to heart.  Those readers who do not find the Eruv to be something ridiculous and nonsensical may find the way that the Jews define themselves as obedient to a strict law while also using loopholes as a way of limiting the strictness of those rules will find conduct that echoes the condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites in the Gospels.  Whether or not you find this book to be inspirational or hypocritical, it does present an interesting perspective on the Sabbath that has at least some relevance to the Bible, even if far more to the traditions of the Jews.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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