Thursday, June 02, 2005

Shabbos time and space

Thoughts on opening up tractate Shabbat (bShab 2ff):

(Yes, you can google: “As much as/Just as/More than the Jew has kept shabbos/shabbat, shabbos has kept the Jew” ...but you can’t make me say it!)

Shabbos is a day of rest – but not a day of inactivity. Yes, rabbinic law (halakhah) prohibits work. However, in theory, halakhah proscribes only that work which fits within its 39 categories (avot).

Shabbos is an ancient cultural practice that continues to mark Jews, the MOTs, as rooted in an agricultural past, with land(s) and “natural” cycles, in short: an aboriginal past. (Aboriginal idea from a 1998 conference at Hahvahd , talk by Jeremy Benstein of Tel Aviv’s Heschel Center. This idea can be pursued rather far out in a spiritual direction.)

In The Shabbat, Heschel expresses the notion that shabbos is a radical alternative to modernity’s approach(es) to time. Granted. Shabbos time is special, I feel the difference every week. And shabbos time does speak truth to power, calling into question all those not-yet-reduced (post-)industrial long working hours, overtime and speed-up. But Heschel contrasts the shabbos innovation with time to the mundane concern with space.

However, space is not neglected in Jewish thinking and observance of shabbos. Indeed, there is nothing random about the Babylonian Talmud’s (redactors’) choice to begin Tractate Shabbos with space. Much of the opening chapter deals with work that spans space. Space is rabbinically organized into four domains for the purposes of Shabbat. These 4 domains are the private, public, quasi-public karmelit, and the exempt (public) space. You can rest assured, these four domains do not map neatly onto any modern legal constructs, such as private vs. public property! Rather, the halakhic man looks at the world, especially on shabbos, through a unique spatial imaginary spun out of shabbos and many other masechtot (lit: webs).

Whoa, disclaimer time (or space). After writing these words, I looked up Charlotte Fonrobert’s fine article on the eruv (and mEruvin), a rabbinic innovation to allow carrying across domains. She states:
As the companion to the preceding tractate dealing with the laws of the Sabbath, m.Eruv. can, at least in part, be read as developing the spatiality of the seventh day of the week. Indeed, supplementing Heschel’s popular notion of the Sabbath as the “palace in time” which forms the basis of his description of Judaism as a “religion of time” versus a “religion of space” the rabbinic Sabbath has all the world to do with spatial practice and situating oneself and the community in space. (source below)
(I’ve also heard Fonrobert speak about eruv. So should my musings above be credited to ideas raised by her and otherwise floating around the ether?)

Well, Fonrobert argues that the rabbinic imaginary creates boundaries between Jews and gentiles, between rabbinic and other Jews. I had something less dramatic in mind, merely that the rabbinic imagination shapes how the halakhic Jew observes the world around them, categorizes and becomes sensitive to spaces, objects-in-spaces, and spatial distinctions/nuances. Or perhaps the sensitivity is internalized, and the halakhic guy or gal merely exhibits a rabbinicized mode of human spatial consciousness.

Ok, I’ve spaced out. Remind me to get back to the aboriginal Jew and modern technology, which is more clearly hermercurial….

Kaspit כספית

Cooper, D. 1998: Governing out of order: space, law and the politics of belonging. London: Rivers Oram Press. xiv + 242 pp. £35.00 cloth, £14.95 paper. ISBN: 1 85489 102 2 cloth, 1 85489 103 0 paper.

"From Separatism to Urbanism: The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Rabbinic Eruv" by Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert in


Post a Comment

<< Home