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Aspiring to Shabbat: A New Book for Shabbat

The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) Press, the official publisher of the Reform Movement, is releasing a 25th anniversary edition of a guide for Shabbat practice titled, Gates of Shabbat: Shaarie Shabbat, A Guide for Observing Shabbat.

This new edition is a completely revised and updated version of the 1991 guide for Shabbat observance. The book was edited by Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro, Rabbi Emeritus of Sinai Temple in Springfield, who shares his thoughts on this new edition.


By Mark Dov Shapiro


Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro

I think Shabbat is an aspiration. I think Shabbat is also a brilliant, healing, gracious gift from our tradition.

But for most modern Jews, Shabbat is also not a given. They/we “aspire” to the possibility of a day set aside. They/we pretty much know what the world might feel like if we could enter the “gates of Shabbat,” but it somehow doesn’t quite happen as much as we might wish it to be so.

All this is why I’ve taken a journey over the last few years to update a book about Shabbat which I created back in 1991.

The revised book, which is called Gates of Shabbat, was published this summer.

To be honest, when I was first asked if I wanted to revisit the 1991 Shabbat book, I wasn’t sure what else I wanted to say about Shabbat that wasn’t already in the existing text.

Then I began to think and I realized that, although Shabbat remains Shabbat, the world around Shabbat has changed substantially in these last 25 years. A changed world has to inspire new ways to engage the seventh day, and that is what emerged as Gates of Shabbat, Version 2016.

Here are a few of the developments that I responded to as I developed the new book.

First, I noted that technology has transformed our lives in ways we couldn’t have anticipated years ago. If we were “busy” in 1991, we are busier still today. We are plugged in 24/7. We are bombarded with news and connections to the world that have a life of their own. Is it for good or is it all for bad?

As a Reform rabbi, I’m not willing to issue a blanket NO against all technology on the seventh day. Instead of that, I propose that we Jews need to be “intentional” about technology. We need to proceed creatively and carefully. In the box next to this article you can see how Gates of Shabbat proposes a way to maintain Shabbat alongside our electronic world.

Here’s a related development. As a result of the Internet, we communicate differently.

A new kind of “literature” has developed. People blog. People tell stories. People share first-person narratives about their experience in ways that were not a part of our lives earlier.

The new Gates of Shabbat does the same. I’ve assembled 14 original reflections from both laypeople and rabbis. Each small essay offers readers a new and personal way of encountering Shabbat. One mother of young children describes how she posted an invitation for Friday dinner on her Facebook page and suddenly found herself connecting with and hosting friends from all parts of her life for wonderful Friday evenings. She calls her essay Friday Night Meatballs!

Another writer, who is a law professor, describes how his Shabbat takes shape around Torah Study on Saturday mornings at his synagogue. Torah Study is something he does as an adult. It reminds him that Judaism isn’t only for children.

Here are his words: “Torah study is the punctuation that marks the end of my week.

It is the centerpiece of my Shabbat. During the week I study law to feed my body; on Shabbat I study Torah to feed my soul.”

And, of course, the world has changed insofar as new family constellations have become part of the landscape. The new Gates of Shabbat speaks to those who are married with children, but it also speaks to households without children, to same-sex couples, to singles, and to a new growing population – those who are retired.

Here is a question that just didn’t occur to me 25 years ago: What does Shabbat mean for retirees who are more less “free” every day? Finally, these last 25 years have seen a new dimension of Jewish life emerge. There has come to be renewed interest in classic matters like spirituality and faith. Meditation and mindfulness are part of our new vocabulary. As a result, the new Gates of Shabbat introduces texts from Chasidic literature. Readings from Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi are part of the mix.

You can even find several places in the new book entitled, Creating Holy Moments. They are designed to help readers slow down, pause, and really savor the reality of quiet moments.

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