Sabbath Manifesto

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According to the Book of Isaiah, you should honor the Sabbath "by not doing your usual ways" (58:13). And what's more usual than checking your email, scrolling through your music collection, and texting the night away? Modern technologies are pretty miraculous--you can chat with friends half way across the world, instantly download any song you want, and tell the universe what you thought of the latest James Bond movie--but having them on 24/7 means you might not have time to appreciate just how amazing they are.

Technology also tends to include two actions that have traditionally been big no-nos on the Sabbath: using electricity and writing. Exodus 35:3 says, “You shall not burn a fire in your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.” Some Jews consider turning on and off electricity to be similar to lighting a fire. This is because electronic devices create a spark when they are switched on or off (it used to be that the sparks were often visible--now they're typically too small to see or feel). Plus, when a light (or any other electronic object) is turned on, a circuit is created, which violates another of the traditional Sabbath prohibitions, which asks us not to create anything on the day of rest.

Many of the rules about Sabbath restrictions come from a list of 39 actions that the Mishnah forbids from being done on the Sabbath. Why these 39? Because they were the actions that the Israelites needed to do when they were building the Tabernacle. Even though the Tabernacle was important for the Israelites, they had to stop construction on it on the Sabbath. Writing and erasing were among the 39 things prohibited--two things it's almost impossible to avoid doing when you're using technology. Think about how often you type--even just one word--into your phone or computer. That's an act of creation, too.

In the first century C.E., Philo, the spokesman of the Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria, explained that the Sabbath is a way to recharge, saying, "Its object is to give man relaxation from continuous and unending toil and by refreshing their bodies, with a regularly calculated system of remissions to send them out renewed to their old activities." In Alexandria at the time, most weeks were full of physical labor. Today, our days are crammed with technology, and though it may not always seem like "unending toil," using technology can be really draining. It's our minds, not our bodies, that need to be renewed.

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