Celebrating the Sabbath in Darkness Continued

December 27, 2013

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, December 27, 2013. 

Celebrating the Sabbath in Darkness Continued

Last week I talked about the Karaites and their insistence on extinguishing all flames before the Sabbath – inconvenient and freezing cold indeed in the dead of Lithuanian winters. Yikes! In the days before timers and computerized thermostats, this was indeed challenging for conventional orthodox Jews in Eastern Europe.

So… how did they survive in the freezing and dismal days of the winter? As usual, pre-technology Jews were particularly inventive about coping with the halachic (legal) complexities of the Jewish tradition. Stoking stoves so they would stay warm longer, using oil lamps which would burn throughout the night, and eating food that was kept warm at the baker’s shop were some of the solutions in the Jewish arsenal. Since baker’s stoves couldn’t be allowed to go cold because otherwise they would be difficult to reignite in the winter, Jews often brought their pots of food to the baker to be kept warm until Shabbat lunch. The best known of these uniquely Jewish delicacies was the “Cholent” a kind of stew made from potatoes and/or beans, with perhaps some meat such as “flanken” (beef pot-roast). The food would simmer all night, and appear hot and steamy for lunch.

Since non-Jews are not considered bound by traditional Jewish Law, a non-Jewish friend or employee might be asked to light the fire on the Sabbath – or in more recent times even to turn on the lights! Oddly enough, Elvis Presley, one of the most famous non-Jews, helped a synagogue in Memphis when he was a teenager by making sure the lights were turned on and the heat was regulated.


Shabbat Shalom.