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Shabbat, Babylonians, Tacitus, and the Communists

February 14, 2014

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, February 14, 2014.

Shabbat, Babylonians, Tacitus, and the Communists

Of course, for the western world, Jews, Christians and Muslims, the very idea comes from the Ten Commandments. The Jews brought the Sabbath to the world based on the idea of a universal Sabbath as commanded by God. (See last week’s Shabbat Message.) The Babylonians had a similar idea... 7, 14, 21, and 28 days after the new moon signifying the month, would be a day of rest. It wasn’t a universal day of rest, of course: slaves could not rest. It was the Roman historian Tacitus (56 C.E. – 117 C.E.) who actually disapproved of the Jews observance of the Sabbath. According to Tacitus, the fact that the Jews alone refused to work every seventh day, was proof that they were a lazy and primitive people.

In Russia, in the early years after the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks, too, disapproved of Sabbath observance. They objected to it on anti-religious grounds, but they also objected because they felt that the people would not be sufficiently productive taking off on a regular basis. In 1919, the Russian communists established the “Subbotnik” – a Sabbath in which the people were expected volunteer to help with the basic infrastructure work. (The volunteers themselves, were also called Subbotniks.) Volunteers joined the road cleaners, park maintainers, rubble disposals and other non-glamorous yet necessary tasks. On the first all-Russian Subbotnik, May 1, 1920, Lenin, himself volunteered to help clear rubble from the Kremlin.

Shabbat Shalom

Also, click here to listen to my interview on Lake Effect with the director of The Whipping Man. Join me on March 2nd at 2:00 PM the REP for the Jewish Community Performance of The Whipping Man. Use code REP when ordering for the March 2nd date and get a 20% discount.