Tag Archives: radical Jewish

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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