Why I’m not “unplugging”

tomorrow, apparently, is the “national day of unplugging.” In honor of the weekly Jewish celebration of the sabbath, a group of young hip Jews (courtesy of Reboot) have nominated tomorrow as a national day of sabbath observance. The qualities of the day are outlined in 10 point “Sabbath Manifesto.”

It’s gotten some play, and its an interesting effort to reinvigorate the ancient, if hardly radical tradition of observing the sabbath by taking a day off. Ummm, by my calculation, it was the sabbath about a week ago!

But you can count me out this week. Here’s why:
1. I’m pretty sure there was already a Sabbath Manifesto. It is in the Bible (Exodus 31: 12-17). And on Wikipedia. And, it hasn’t changed much in about 1800 years. The Communist Manifesto I get — it was introducing or formulating a new way of understanding the workings (or failings) of capitalism, and envisioning a new world. So what good, exactly, is a manifesto for a thousand-year-old message?

2. There’s nothing Jewishly radical about celebrating the Sabbath. If anything, its just about the most traditional thing you could do (next to not worshipping idols, not making graven images, and not coveting your neighbor’s ass). It’s in the top ten commandments, for goodness’ sake. There is little new in this effort to raise consciousness about the sabbath and its relative goodness, other than the branding (which seems so perfectly not in the spirit of the sabbath that its almost laughable).

2a. Ironically, the Sabbath Manifesto looks a lot like this which has been around since 1987, and is scheduled to be enacted (GASP) TONIGHT! March 19, 2010. Two ways I can celebrate shabbat in one week? It’s like manna from heaven. Shabbat Across America is a project of the National Jewish Outreach Program, which describes itself in the following way:

NJOP consistently breaks the mold when it comes to promoting Judaism, using cutting-edge marketing techniques to convey the vibrancy of Judaism and to attract those Jews who are not currently being reached by conventional efforts.

(sounds a little like Reboot, frankly). But of greater concern to me is the overtly and avowedly religious operationalization of what “Jewish” means for the NJOP, and the ways in which the National Day of Unplugging echoes that, as well. Both cases seem like fairly narrow manifestations of what it means to be Jewish, as defined in particularly — and particularly religious — terms.

3. There seems to be a failure of ways to imagine a radical expression of Judaism in both cases, and both Reboot and NJOP end up promoting a deeply normative, Biblical conservative, and religious framework for being Jewish. This, to me, is a serious problem because, in this case, both efforts masquerade as radical, while promoting deeply conventional views of Jewish life and celebration.

True, it would be a “good thing” for all of us to unplug one day a week, and spend more quality time with our loved ones, to give the earth a break and so on. But I won’t be unplugging this weekend, thank you because I’m not interested promoting this whole Sabbath thing as something new or radical, as an opportunity for “outreach,” or even somehow innovative. It’s deeply, fundamentally, and even beautifully old school. But let’s not turn the sabbath into something its not.


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7 responses to “Why I’m not “unplugging”

  1. This campaign also strikes me as being derivative of Reboot co-founder and refugee Douglas Rushkoff’s 1999 Adbusters piece, “The Sabbath Revolt,” wherein he wrote, “[The Sabbath] is our way of disengaging from the corporate machine, unplugging from the matrix, and considering whether we would rather have a communal barbecue pit at the end of the block. It’s not time off; it’s time ‘on.’ It’s a sacred space for the living.”


  2. I love that your two prooftexts for the prior existence of a Sabbath Manifesto are the Bible and Wikipedia. There’s something so…simultaneously right and wrong about it.

    I would agree that the word “Manifesto” (as in “Communist”) might be missing its usual gravity in this particular context. And as a “language person,” I’m not overly fond of frivolously overdramatic language; but as an occasional branding and marketing person, I understand the appeal of a dramatic or grandiose hook.

    But perhaps in arguing your point above, you’ve disengaged from the group of Rebooters who are unplugging, thereby unplugging yourself from that mainframe and going off that particular grid, thereby buying into the concept as you’re opting out of it.

    At any rate, whether you’re old-school or new-school or outta school so long the word “school” looks plain wrong – I’m wishing you a restorative weekend.

    • Thanks for the note, Esther. indeed – the current use of the “manifesto” is lacking its necessary punch, and thus part of my discontent with the current efforts.

      As far as your reframing of my unplugging from said mainframe — um, I think I agree ,but your technobabble is hard to follow. I’m not opposing “unplugging” as a thing. I agree that it exists, I’m just not sure about its utility in this context (no electrical pun intended there… sorry).

  3. ep


    i think you are mistaken in casting reboot and the sabbath manifesto as radical. there is nothing at all radical about reboot. in fact, what they do is pretty tame. the only radical jews left are those throwing shit-filled diapers at israeli police.

    and hey, just how many blogs do you have?

  4. jonvoss

    yeah, that and there’s a whole lot of basketball to watch.

    always nice to hear/read your thoughts. but always better with beverages and good food.

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