Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews -- For those who like their news and truths frank and sharp

Are you sure you do not observe Shabbat?

Firstly, the Rabbis teach us that Gentiles are not allowed to keep Shabbat. That is not so difficult because the laws for not violating it are so complicated that observance is impossible unless one studies and practices them for years. The reason for this Injunction is that all of Creation should do its specific task. If you really want to keep Shabbat, first become a Jew. So you can say that a Gentile can keep Shabbat by not keeping it.

Jews must keep Shabbat. And although Judaism is not a religion of all-or-nothing, you can’t keep Shabbat a little, as one cannot be pregnant a little. (Except as the partner of someone pregnant.) You need to abide by all the rules – there are hundreds, each with small details and intricacies, and they also intersect.

NB: Shabbat has two kinds of laws: Injunctions and Commandments. The latter instruct how to rejoice in Shabbat. In a way they are more important than the Prohibitions because we say every Shabbat morning before the meal (Exodus 31:16): You, the Children of Israel, shall keep the Shabbat, [which means] to make the Shabbat for [the benefit of] their children, [which will be as] an Eternal Covenant. That means: If you make something out of the Shabbat – and not just observe it – your offspring will celebrate Shabbat too, forever. Yet, celebrating Shabbat cannot compensate for not keeping it.

Now, keeping Shabbat is very central in Judaism. More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews. Praying, Jewish family life (not intermarrying) and kashrut (dietary laws) are very important too, but Shabbat beats them all. So, a Jew not keeping Shabbat laws is a big deal.

I have noticed for years that there are Jews who call themselves non-observant because they don’t obey all the Shabbat rules. However, some of them could be called somehow observant after all. How so?

There are two kinds of Injunctions in Judaism: Biblical and Rabbinic. They have in common that they both should not be violated. But their goals are different. Biblical Prohibitions are Divine Demands. You didn’t observe them, you disobeyed the Creator. But Rabbinic Prohibitions are fences around the Biblical ones. An example: Jews are not allowed to write on Shabbat. [Except physicians saving lives. Saving a life always goes before keeping Shabbat.] The Rabbis have forbidden us to move pens and blank sheets of paper – since the only thing you could do with them is violate Shabbat. Now, there is a problem with such fences.

These fences were erected for safeguarding. That we shouldn’t accidentally come to violation. They are designed to keep the Jews Jewish. But nowadays we see them sometimes work the opposite way. Some Jews violate only Rabbinic Prohibitions – and that is Biblically forbidden too – and therefore call themselves non-observant. Instead of keeping these Jews in, here they keep Jews out. That is a problem.

No Rabbi has permission to allow any Jew to violate a Rabbinic Prohibition for those finding it too difficult. And no observant Jew should think that I make light of Rabbinic Injunctions – Heaven forbid. And yet, some people who violate them might return to the fold if we make clear that the purpose of some laws is to keep Jews in, not to push them out.

Now, if you have any Fear of Heaven, you don’t want to ignore, to live without Rabbinic Injunctions. Any move could make you a Shabbat violator – a status most hated by G^d. But I’m here talking about Jews who are already violating Shabbat. Can’t we tell them about the fence character of many of the laws?

An example: Someone loves to wake up to classical music. So their alarm on Shabbat morning switches on the radio. For them, that is Shabbat – a day set aside. They are celebrating Shabbat, no doubt. But they also violate it. Especially if they listen to an Israeli channel, profiting from Shabbat violations by other Jews. They hold themselves as non-observant.

The Sages teach us not to regard yourself evil. The reason is obvious for me. Calling yourself wicked opens up all the doors to the evil inclination. If you are evil, all is allowed, no? Correspondingly, one shouldn’t call oneself a smoker. How could one stop if this is who one is? You’re a person who smokes. Likewise, if you in some ways violate Shabbat, try to find ways to violate only Rabbinic Injunctions. Not that you are allow to, but they’re meant to keep you in, not to push you out! Don’t listen to your radio – switch on a CD player with your favorite music. Also: try to increase your celebration of Shabbat to help you stop the violation.

For this we also learn that it is wrong – and not pious – to try to make all Injunctions come out Biblically. Not only not trying to force people to keep Shabbat, and trying to accommodate them not keeping it, but also trying to make their level of observance sort-of kosher for them. To use an umbrella (where there is an ‘eruv) is mostly a violation of a holy custom. To walk in shoes with flashlights or write sms messages is only a Rabbinic Infringement. Many Rabbis agree that to switch on or off TL or LED lights is really only a Rabbinic Violation. How many young people from religious homes are bored on Shabbat, start using their mobile phone and then assume that they are now secular?!

It’s good to be a fanatic for oneself, since Shabbat Observance is an all-or-nothing, but make sure that well-meaning zealousness does not result in pushing away Jews who are not where we are. We need Rabbis teaching this. They’re smart enough. Now, let them show they care enough.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, an almost daily blog contributor to the Times of Israel, and previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. He often makes his readers laugh, mad, or assume he's nuts—close to perfect blogging. He's proud that his analytical short comments are removed both from left-wing and right-wing news sites. * As a frontier thinker, he sees things many don't yet. He's half a prophet. Half. Let's not exaggerate. He doesn't believe that people observe and think in a vacuum. He, therefore, wanted a broad bio that readers interested can track a bit about what (lack of) backgrounds, experiences, and education contribute to his visions. * If you don't know the Dutch, get an American peek behind the scenes here: * To find less-recent posts on subject XXX among his over 1600 archived ones, go to the right-top corner of a Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". One can find a second, wilder blog, to which one may subscribe, here: * Like most of his readers, he believes in being friendly, respectful, and loyal. Yet, if you think those are his absolute top priorities, you might end up disappointed. His first loyalty is to the truth. He will try to stay within the limits of democratic and Jewish law, but he won't lie to support opinions or people who don't deserve that. He admits that he sometimes exaggerates to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * Sometimes he's misunderstood because his wide and diverse field of vision seldomly fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what some love about him. He has written a lot about Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (including basic statistics), Politics (Israel, the US, and the Netherlands, Activism), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA+, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust, and Jewish Liberation), the Climate Crisis, Ecology and Veganism, Affairs from the news, or the Torah Portion of the Week, or new insights that suddenly befell him. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim, Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. * One of his rabbis calls him Mr. Innovation [Ish haChidushim]. Yet, his originalities seem to root deeply in traditional Judaism, though they may grow in unexpected directions. In fact, he claims he's modernizing nothing. Rather, mainly basing himself on the basic Hebrew Torah text, he tries to rediscover classical Jewish thought almost lost in thousands of years of stifling Gentile domination and Jewish assimilation. (He pleads for a close reading of the Torah instead of going by rough assumptions of what it would probably mean and before fleeing to Commentaries.) This, in all aspects of life, but prominently in the areas of Free Will, Activism, Homosexuality for men, and Redemption. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, and disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. He aims to bring a fresh perspective rather than harp on the obvious and familiar. He loves to write encyclopedic overviews. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds should be disputed. In short, his main political positions are among others: anti-Trumpism, anti-elitism, anti-bigotry and supremacy, for Zionism, Intersectionality, and non-violence, anti those who abuse democratic liberties, anti the fake ME peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, pro-Science, pro-Free Will, anti-blaming-the-victim, and for down-to-earth, classical optimism, and happiness. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to parents who were Dutch-Jewish Holocaust survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork. He grew up a humble listener. It took him decades to become a speaker too. Bullies and con artists almost instantaneously envy and hate him. * He holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam) – is half a doctor. He practices Re-evaluation Co-counseling since 1977, is not an official teacher anymore, and became a friendly, empowering therapist. He became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids non-violently. For a couple of years, he was active in hasbara to the Dutch-speaking public. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's being a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. He lives with his library in Jerusalem. Feel free to contact him. * His writing has been made possible by a (second-generation) Holocaust survivors' allowance from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having an original peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me. * His newest books you may find here:
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