Shabbat, Ahad HaAm, and Tiffany Shlain

August 11, 2017

The turn of the last century Jewish philosopher Ahad HaAm (1856 – 1927) once said, “More than Israel has kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept Israel.” Ahad HaAm himself is often called the “secular rabbi.” He wrote almost entirely about Jewish identity even though he himself was not religious in any way. His regular Sabbath observance was gathering intellectuals on a Friday night for discussion and debate. It was kind of a salon in Odessa of a hundred years ago. Ironically, while he was smoking cigars and engaging in discussions with his guests, his wife would be lighting Sabbath candles in the other room! Even though he didn’t observe the Sabbath in a religious fashion – he still observed it in his own secular way! He was right about Shabbat keeping the Jewish People, of course. Throughout the centuries, Jews have developed all kinds of ways to observe the Sabbath in religious and cultural ways. Schul & prayer. Sabbath dinners with lots of rituals. Family Friday night dinners with little or no ritual. And more.

The essence is making the Sabbath different than the other days of the week. I always tell students who aren’t ready for an observant Sabbath to simply try not wearing a watch on the Sabbath. It actually makes a huge difference! Try making the Sabbath a special day for being with your family. Have a special dinner on Friday night. Or . . . even order a pizza.

Tiffany Shlain is a San Francisco filmmaker and pioneer in the field of modern social media and video. She invented the “Webby Awards”— awards for videos posted and distributed on the internet. She is a advocate for a “screenless Shabbat.” Brilliant. Her idea is for the 24 hours of the Sabbath, unplug all screens: televisions, computers, phones, tablets.  Everything. It allows us to focus on the day, and on each other, rather than the distraction of constantly staring at screens. This is an actual major idea in today’s Jewish life. Look up “unplugged Shabbat,” and you’ll see hundreds of articles about how to sustain a media free Shabbat.

To see a video Tiffany made about screenless Shabbats, click here:

Shabbat Shalom