Sunday and the Sabbath

Here’s another ridiculous story about religious people putting their rights and beliefs before everyone else’s. An Orthodox Jewish couple are claiming that a light which turns on automatically when you walk past means that they can’t leave their holiday flat on the Sabbath, which, they claim, constitutes a violation of their human rights. As much as I think this case could have been solved with a short conversation and a little compromise, I’m fed up of people using human rights legislation to help them get over mild inconveniences. The Human Rights Act 1998 has to be the most abused piece of legislation in British history.

I’m fed up of the world giving unwarranted prestige and respect to beliefs that don’t deserve it, just because people call them religious. Here we have people who “can’t” walk out of the door because doing so will make a light turn on, and that would constitute work, even though they have done nothing more than they would be doing within their flat on the other side of the door. But they can open the door to go out of the flat, that’s not work, even though they’re moving an object. How can we take this belief seriously? Why do we treat this belief with anything but the ridicule it deserves? Yes, there are people who hold them, I’m not suggesting we should ridicule the people, but when it comes to a choice between a legitimate view with a practical aim (saving energy) and a looney fringe belief that’s based on a text that’s thousands of years old, there’s only one way the decision should go. Of course as we’ve seen with the Simon Singh case, courts don’t care about establishing the truth or a reasonable outcome, they only care about making a case and fitting it around the law. Nevertheless I hope a judge along the way throws this case right out the window.

A friend of mine was recently in Tel Aviv, and he was telling me about all the devices they have to get around not working on the Sabbath. Most electrical devices will be used with timers so that although the work is still getting done, it was initiated the day before, so that’s ok. Elevators would either have a gentile pushing the buttons on the Sabbath, or they would simply go up and down and call at every floor on the way. I think it’s pretty obvious that both the timers and this elevator system actually mean more energy is being used, more work is being done. There are also lots of rules which allow Jews to do certain things on the Sabbath, essentially just made up by rabbi’s using really tenuous interpretations of the Talmud. Here’s a list of things you can’t do even within an eruv (a community area set up purely to get around the rule that says you can’t carry things across a property line), just to demonstrate the kind of thinking that goes towards these kinds of beliefs.

Though a valid eruv enables people to carry or move most items outdoors on Shabbat (in the absence of other restrictions), a variety of other prohibitions still apply. These prohibitions, by Rabbinic decree, include:

  • since writing and lighting fires are prohibited on Shabbat, writing utensils and matches cannot be carried (muktza).
  • similarly, opening an umbrella is considered by some to be analogous to erecting a tent, a kind of building activity [4], within one of the activities prohibited on Shabbat (namely: building). Since umbrellas cannot be opened, they are considered muktzah and cannot be carried.
  • to protect the sanctity of Shabbat, one cannot perform typical weekday activities (uvdin d’chol).
  • to protect the sanctity of Shabbat, one cannot carry or move items in preparation for a post-Shabbat activity (hakhana).
  • playing ball or other similar sports, considered a weekday activity, is prohibited within a community eruv. Many authorities prohibit ball-playing on Shabbat even indoors.

So I struggle to see why we give these beliefs credibility when they don’t even take them seriously themselves. They undermine the rules every time they make use of one these rules to get around it, or they use a timer. They’re clearly just abusing the wording of the rule rather than following it’s spirit.

But this isn’t limited to just the Orthodox Jewish people, oh no. I’ve got a few friends who live up inthe Hebrides, and they’ve got religious fuddy duddies telling them what they can and can’t do. The whole place shuts down on a Sunday, they can’t do anything, they can’t even hang their washing out on the line in case they get the scorn of the community. You hear stories from old people about how in the old days the shops would all be closed on a Sunday and the pubs would have to take a break for a few hours in the middle of the day and close early, and you’d think ‘wow, things were so daft back then, how outdated and antwacky can you get?’ They still have that there! They still live under that regime of nonsense!

I’ve brought this subject up with a few Christian friends of mine and most of them have agreed with me. But one of them in particular came back with the sarcastic retort “yeah, because it’s great to work all the time and have no day of rest”. I hope this argument doesn’t hold any sway with you because it’s a huge straw man. Noone is arguing in favour of working 24/7, but why should everyone take the same day off, and why on a Sunday? Enforcing a rule like that just restricts choice, noone can work and noone can do anything, even if they don’t want to rest. Religious groups will often make it seems like the rest of the world is persecuting them, even humanists do it sometimes. But in reality it’s usually just that they’re losing a privilege and a prominent position that they’ve enjoyed without good reason for a long time. Hopefully that’ll continue on into places like Lewis and Harris, and this ridiculous case will be thrown out.

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4 Responses to Sunday and the Sabbath

  1. James says:

    I think Jesus would (probably!) have agreed with you here… He was always getting in trouble with the religious leaders of the time for not keeping the Sabbath rules they had set up. The whole point of a Sabbath was to guarantee a day of rest for the people in Israel so that they didn’t overwork, i.e. it was to give them freedom to rest one day a week. But later religious leaders took it and made it something that restricted their freedom, which sadly continues down to the present day. Jesus came to bring freedom, not restrict it.

    “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)
    “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” (Colossians 2:16)

  2. grammarking says:

    Actually, I’m not saying that really. I don’t think Jesus has any scriptural basis for saying that Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. All you have to do is look through Exodus, it’s very clear.

    Exodus 12-17 – Then the LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.

    ” ‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.'”

    I think it’s pretty obvious that the Sabbath was made for God (eg “my Sabbaths”), not for man. The Sabbath clearly wasn’t to give people ‘freedom to rest’, since if you do anything you’re to be put to death. Doesn’t sound like freedom to me.

    So what I’m saying is that they’re making all these stupid rules to get around it, which means they’re not even taking their own beliefs seriously, so why should the rest of the world who recognise that their beliefs are ridiculous?

  3. grammarking says:

    Of course, all this demonstrates the problem with a static morality and the benefit of an evolving ethic informed by science. You can’t always apply stone-aged morality to modern day problems.

  4. […] act of God? The regime of nonsense up in the Hebrides are demonstrating their fundamentalist side once again. The first Sunday ferry […]

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