Monday, July 13, 2015

I Agree with Skip Moen, "More and, More and, More and, More and, More!"

A note from Jeff Morton: I have never been led to duplicate Rabbinic traditions, dress like a 1st century Jew, approve of religious do's and don't's in the Orthodoxy of Israel....I am watching what Adonai Tsavuot, Yahweh, my Elohim is doing and what he poured into Israel's seed (Jacob) in order to set apart a people. God said, "Israel would be a light for the nations" No power in creation will cause this to be...not true! The thing to comprehend here is not the Jewish people but rather, their Mochiach. I happen to know a resurrected Israel, and a resurrected Savior! Nevertheless, Torah is alive because of what the Jews have done and because of what Yahweh is still doing! THY KINGDOM COME is still the plan

Isaiah 42:6 I, Yahweh, have called You for a righteous purpose, and I will hold You by Your hand. I will keep You and appoint You to be a covenant for the people and a light to the nations,

The men in our men's group are now reading Skip Moen's book Guardian Angel....Wow, amazing!
Thanks Marty for sharing this with me!

Razor’s Edge Shabbat

Funny thing about a razor. No matter which way you move it, it cuts. That’s the way I am feeling about the wonderful discussion concerning activities prohibited on Shabbat. Now that Shabbat is over (for me), I thought I would write a few of my own thoughts (and spill a bit more blood).
Today, while I was reading a book by Jonathan Sacks during my quiet time on Shabbat, I saw a lizard trapped between the window and the screen. Of course, left alone the lizard would die in there. In fact, several already had. So I got up, went outside, removed the screen and freed the lizard. Now this sort of activity required me to get tools, lift things, do something creative and perform an action that would be considered manual labor. But I am sure (I hope) that you will agree that saving the life of even a lowly creature like a Florida lizard was worth violating the strict application of rabbinic Shabbat prohibitions (at least some of them).
That little lizard got me thinking about Shabbat in general. I decided to investigate where the ideas that we typically associate with prohibited actions come from. Of course, as soon as I starting thinking about this topic, my mind starting writing these words that you now read. I had not committed them to the computer screen but I was obviously composing them in my thoughts. Was that a violation as well? It was “creative” activity, even if it was only mental. Is there really a significant difference between composition in your mind versus composition on paper?
That raised a few other cultural questions. Shabbat is a time of fellowship, study and communal involvement. But I live in the country. It is simply not possible to spend time with other followers on Shabbat without driving. So that violated the prohibition concerning electricity (“kindling a flame” interpreted as closing a circuit), travel and probably carrying. Does that mean that I should refrain from seeing anyone on Shabbat? Should I just determine that I will not attend a Shabbat service because I would have to drive to it? Shabbat restrictions on travel might work in an environment where I canwalk to the synagogue, but that hardly fits any environment I know in America other than orthodox Jewish neighborhoods.
Of course, there are other technical considerations. I get my water from a well, so no human being is involved in delivery of water to my house on Shabbat. But that isn’t true for a lot of people. Public water supply requires human monitoring. If I turn on the faucet in my city home, am I contributing to the labor requirements of those who monitor the supply on Saturday? And even if no one is on that job, doesn’t the use of public water imply that I have engaged in a business transaction, even if I don’t pay for the use until later? The same can be said for the power grid.
Suddenly it all becomes far too technical. I am reminded of Yeshua’s remark that the Shabbat was made for man, not man for the Shabbat. Haven’t we ignored that implication? We are so preoccupied with the details of what is permitted and what is restricted that we have lost sight of the overall picture. Shabbat was never supposed to be a constrictingweb. It was intended to provide rest and reflection, not casuistry.
So I decided to investigate exactly what the Torah says about Shabbat. First I looked here:
What I found is rabbinic tradition. There were no specific verses listed regarding the exact activities prohibited. The list of 39 was the development of rabbinic thought. So I looked further.
The Bible does not specifically list those labors that are prohibited on the Sabbath, although it alludes to field labor (Exod. 34:21; Num.15:32-36), treading in a winepress and loading animals (Neh. 13:15-18), doing business and carrying (Isa. 58:13; Jer. 17:22; Amos 8:5), traveling (Exod. 16:29-30), and kindling fire (Exod. 35:2-3) as forbidden work.
Allusions are not the same as direct prohibitions. After all, the Bible does not  allude to the prohibition against murder. That is as plain as it could be. So why are the prohibitions concerning Shabbat not equally as plain if they are so important? I kept exploring:
A comparison between rabbinicial Sabbath legislation and the data of the Bible, Apocrypha, and Pseudepigrapha must establish the fact that the Talmudical conception of what is implied by Sabbath “rest,” with the practical determination of what may and what may not be done on that day, is the issue of a long process of development. Even the commandment (“remember”) in Exodus presupposes the previous existence of the institution; indeed, tradition assumes that the Sabbath law had been proclaimed at Marah, before the Sinaitic revelation (Rashi on Ex. xv.; Maimonides, “Moreh,” iii. 32; Sanh. 56b). The restoration of Sabbath observance in Ezra and Nehemiah’s time in no sense transcended the Pentateuchal ordinances. By “no manner of labor” (Ex. xx. 10, Hebr.), as the context shows, were indicated domestic and agricultural occupations (comp. B. Ḳ. v. 7). The special mention of plowing and harvesting, and probably the direct prohibition of kindling fire, the explicit mention of which the Rabbis attempt to explain away (Shab. 70a), suggest that, in the main, field- and household-work were covered by the Biblical idea of labor (Ex. xxxiv. 21, xxxv. 3). Carrying of loads “in and out” can not be held to be an exception (Jer. xvii. 21-22). Probably Jeremiah’s censure had reference to carrying to market the yield of field and farm, or the articles manufactured at home (comp. Amos viii. 5). It is just this that Nehemiah deplores (Neh. xiii. 15).
The Maccabean rebellion marks the beginning of an altogether different conception of the term “labor.” The rigorists regarded self-defense, even against a mortal attack, as included in the prohibition (Josephus, “Ant.” xii. 6, §§ 2-3). The stricter construction, then, must have been devised among the Ḥasidim, Mattathias representing the broader view. That for a long time the question of what was permitted in this direction on the Sabbath remained open is shown by a comparison of I Macc. ix. 34, 43; II Macc. viii. 26; Josephus, “Ant.” xii. 6, § 2;xiii. 1, § 3; 8, § 4; xiv. 10, § 12; xviii. 9, § 2; idem, “B. J.” ii. 21, § 8; iv. 2, § 3; idem, “Contra Ap.” i. § 22; Ta’an. 28b, 29a; ‘Ar. 11b. Rabbinical law is still busy debating in Shab. vi. 2, 4 whether weapons may be carried on the Sabbath, and what are weapons and what ornaments. Some latitude is allowed soldiers in camp (‘Er. i. 10; Dem. iii. 11), and such as had gone forth carrying arms on the Sabbath to wage war were permitted to retain their weapons even when returning on the Sabbath (Yer. Shab. i. 8; ‘Er. iv. 3; 15a; Maimonides, “Yad,” Melakim, vi. 11, 13).
Now I realized that the “long process of development” actually might have been responsible for nearly all the prohibitions we believe God instituted concerning Shabbat. That took me to the text itself. I determined directly from the text that the following are prohibited:
  1. no work (but without a definition of what “work” actually means) – Exodus 20:10
  2. no cooking – Exodus 16:4-5 and 16:22-24
  3. no gathering – Exodus 16:23-30 and Numbers 15:32-36
  4. no plowing or harvesting – Exodus 34:21
  5. no kindling a fire – Exodus 35:3
Other than these specific prohibitions, I found some allusions and other verses about prohibited actions. They are:
  1. no travel – Exodus 16:29
  2. no carrying a load – Jeremiah 17:19-27
  3. no selling grain for profit – Amos 8:5
  4. no doing your own “pleasure” – Isaiah 58:13-14
  5. no treading wine presses – Nehemiah 13:15
  6. no bringing sacks of grain or loading donkeys – Nehemiah 13:15
  7. no selling food – Nehemiah 13:15-18
These required further investigation. What I discovered is this:
  1. Exodus 16:29 is about remaining in one’s “place,” that is, within the space of the family residence of the tent rather than going out to gather manna on Shabbat. It is a prohibition that parallels YHVH’s provision of the double portion of manna on the day before Shabbat. It is not about traveling. It is about the restriction not to be involved in ignoring the double provision on the previous day by going outside to gather manna on Shabbat. Rabbinicextension of the idea might be applied to travel, but the text doesn’t say that. It says not to leave the householdbecause ample food has already been provided. Rather than being about a journey, it is about daily food collection.
  2. Jeremiah 17:21 clearly informs all who come through the gates of Jerusalem prior to the Babylonian captivity “not to carry any load on the sabbath day.” Of course, like the other prohibitions, we need to remove the purely cultural circumstances. We aren’t entering through the gates of Jerusalem prior to the exile, but the idea of carrying a load on Shabbat still stands. So here we have a clear prohibition, unless of course, it only applies to those entering Jerusalem’s gates. But the problem still remains. What does “load” mean? A book? A dish? Ten pounds? One hundred pounds?  Again, left unspecified.
  3. Amos 8:5 is more problematic. It is addressed to Israel in its disobedience, not merely of violations of Shabbat but of using dishonest measures (scales) to enhance profit.    The force of the prophet’s condemnation is that these people deliberately cheat others  even on Shabbat. The straightforward application is not necessarily that selling is prohibited on Shabbat but rather that any day when dishonest scales are used is heinous, especially on the Sabbath. Whether or not this is a general prohibition against buying and selling on Shabbat is not specifically made clear.
  4. Isaiah 58:13-14 is particularly ambiguous. What does “seeking your own pleasure” mean? The Hebrew haphets is usually translated “desire,” but clearly YHVH does not mean that Shabbat should be a day without desire. After all, we are to desire Him above all else on that day.       Nor can the word mean that Shabbat is to be a day without emotional attachment or joy. The context suggests that our  personal desires are to be set aside in favor of the desire for God and His ways, but that implies individual application since my personal desires may be quite different than yours.  Even this is not clear since sexual intercourse is considered an appropriate activity between husband and wife on Shabbat and that certainly involves  personal desire. So while the general principle is understandable, the actual application is still unspecified, and must remain so if the general principle is to be coherent. The passage doesn’t really help us in a communal setting. It provides no specific prohibitions.
  5. Nehemiah 13:15-28 provides very specific prohibitions. Nehemiah castigates the people for “treading the winepress,” “bringing in grain,” “loading donkeys” and “selling food” on Shabbat.       The prohibitions seem clear enough until we consider the circumstances of Nehemiah’s complaint.       Nehemiah is concerned to re-establish the unique identity of Israel after the Captivity by instituting very strict measures to ensure the people are following Torah. With this in mind, he even commands men who have married foreign women to divorce their wives and their children in order to protect the purity of the genetic lines. Given his circumstances, this might seem necessary, but for most of us today, the idea of abandoning wives and children because they did not come from the same tribal background would seem overly zealous. Nehemiah’s reforms are couched in dire political and national issues. It is difficult to determine, therefore, how much of Nehemiah’s Sabbath prohibitions are the result of Torah exegesis or the product of his desire for national identity separation. Even if we allow that Nehemiah is correctly interpreting Sabbath prohibitions, we are still left with the specific prohibitions covering winepresses, donkey loads and selling food. Only by extension can these prohibitions be used to cover  all commercial transactions.
So we might be back at the same place we started, namely, the lack of specification in the Torah concerning what is and what is not allowed on Shabbat. This problem results in considerable debate and discussion, sometimes bordering on the nearly ridiculous (in my humble opinion). For example, the following extended argument about texting or writing on the computer on Shabbat:
In addition, the following article provided some much needed clarity about the actual Hebrew words used in some of the related texts:
And finally, there is the scholarly piece by Alex Jassen, “Tracing the Threads of Jewish Law: The Sabbath Carrying Prohibition from Jeremiah to the Rabbis.” (available as a PDF file from academic resources online). Jassen shows that the rabbinic development is crucial for understanding what is typically claimed as Torah observance of Shabbat.
In the end, I realized that Yeshua’s comment is really the true guideline. Shabbat was never designed to be a web of restrictions creating endless lists of prohibitions to satisfy even the most scrupulous. Just like tithing mint and dill, Shabbat regulations seem to me to have become enormous burdens causing division, accusation and confusion to many. The reality appears to be more like this: There are very few specific prohibitions from the written Torah and even those often have cultural perspectives rarely directly applicable to believers today. The ones that are absolutely clear and contemporary are fairly easily followed. All the rest seem to be inferences made by one or another rabbinic authority, and the set of restrictions to follow becomes a matter of which rabbinic authority one chooses. But no matter what authority issues crop up, Shabbat was intended to provide a temporal respite for the enjoyment of life, God and others. Whenever our noble efforts to be as meticulous as possible not to violate God’s intention become burdensome casuistry, it’s time to step back and ask whether we are keeping Sabbath or conforming to tradition.
And now back to the research.

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