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Current Reads

The Seventh Day

Judith Shulevitz looks into the history of the Sabbath and its disappearance in the 24/7 world.

Book Cover There is an odd reversal of polarities when the notion of resting and setting aside a period of time for a kind of imposed tranquility is considered utopian. But of course the achievement of states-of-affairs, when the modifier “24/7” is viewed as a positive attribute implying at the least that relentless vigilance and ceaseless activity is a high value, is not a circumstance foreseen even from the frenzied optimism of the post-industrial centers of ambition.

However you view the notion of a day of rest (known in the Judeo-Christian world as the Sabbath), it is clear the world has transformed considerably in viewing what was once institutionalized. (In my home state there were so called blue laws prohibiting commerce and the sale of intoxicants on Sundays.) In The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time (Random House) Judy Shulevitz (Lingua Franca, Slate) has conjured a hybrid of a meditation-qua-memoir on this notion of taking a day off. She explains:
I was about to settle down and get married when I realized that something even bigger than husband and children was missing from my life. I wrote The Sabbath World in order to figure out what that missing thing was. The book tells the story of my search for the Sabbath, and my struggle to ascertain whether I liked it or hated it, with its promise of blissful union with God or nature on the one hand and its sometimes tedious rituals and oppressive rules on the other. But The Sabbath World is more than just memoir. It’s also the history of a good idea – the weekly day of rest – on the verge of being forgotten, and a meditation on the uses and abuses of time. I try to show that time is a moral entity, and that what we do with it affects how well we live with ourselves and others. The Sabbath is a utopian goal. It has always been hard to keep, and in a world full of smart phones and other means of incessant communication, it is all but impossible to keep.
The Sabbath World is a smart and thoughtful, good-humored investigation into a tradition that appears to have been trampled by the stampede of hyper-velocity human (though it remains to be seen if such is human) activity. Shulevitz concludes:
But the impossible seems to me to have become the necessary. I think we need the Sabbath, or something like it, to help us hold on to our humanity as we hurtle into a rapidly accelerating future.
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