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In speaking about our friends of other faiths, President Gordon B. Hinckley stated, “Look for their strengths and their virtues, and you will find strength and virtues that will be helpful in your own life.” As keeping the Sabbath day holy has become a profound point of emphasis over the past three years, our apostles have followed this prophetic admonition by repeatedly pointing to our observant Jewish brothers and sisters as a model of “delighting in the Sabbath.” Most notably, in a 2015 General Conference address, Elder Quentin L. Cook recalled the Jewish Sabbath celebration he and his wife Diane attended in the home of their friends, the Abrams. Elder Cook’s eyes gleamed as he related their experience:
It began by blessing the family and singing a Sabbath hymn. . . . The most poignant scriptures read . . . were from Isaiah, declaring the Sabbath a delight, and from Ezekiel, that the Sabbath “shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God.” . . . The overwhelming impression from this wonderful evening was of family love, devotion, and accountability to God.
For nearly 20 years, we have had the joy of interviewing and learning from 200 American Families of Faith—31 of these have been observant Jewish families. One of the many “strengths and virtues” of observant Jewish families is the way they strive to keep the Sabbath (Hebrew: Shabbat) by making it a joyous holy day. We were so impressed by what these faithful families taught us about the meaning and activities of Shabbat that we recently published an article referring to Shabbat as “the weekly family ritual par excellence.”
Yes, we confess an admiration, even a “holy envy” for how our Jewish friends observe the Sabbath (from sundown on Fridays to sundown on Saturdays) but neither we nor Elder Cook are alone in our respect and admiration. In a BYU class we teach called Family Life in World Religions, we read a book called How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, by Blu Greenberg, an Orthodox Jewish wife and mother. Blu teaches that the Sabbath is a joyous holy day and that “ordinary experiences often become sublime because of the special aura created by Shabbat.” (p. 28). Our students are always inspired with how Jewish families combine the seemingly disparate processes of both avoiding a number of activities that are fine on other days but not the Sabbath—and also in engaging in unique activities that help make the Sabbath day joyous and spiritual.
One of our Orthodox Jewish colleagues wrote to us a couple of years ago:
Our [electronic] devices are so addictive that some Orthodox young people are having a hard time turning off their phones on Shabbat, to the concern of their elders. . . . One of the key healing functions of Shabbat in our era for observant Jews is that devices (phones, computers, tablets, etc.) are turned off for the full duration of Shabbat. This is crucial to the sanctity and peace of the day. . . . Shabbat offers a day of rest to the brain as well as the soul.
Four “Orthodox young people” were interviewed offered their perspective of Shabbat.
Josiah (19-year-old son): For me Shabbat is the pinnacle of everything . . . . We all spend time together. We have three meals together. We play [games].
Nate (20-year-old son): I don’t know if there’s any particular practice . . . that’s . . . more meaningful than [Shabbat] to me personally.
Tobi (17-year-old daughter): I think [Shabbat] is really nice because it’s consistent. It’s not changing at all . . . and I kind of like that. . . [I] tell my friends [that] I’m eating at home tonight . . . and I really like that consistency, that we all sit at the table together and say the prayers.
Zvi (20-year-old son): Shabbat has always been the thing that I keep doing for the family’s sake, because whether or not I care about it for religious purposes, it’s such a big deal on a family level that that’s not something you can cut out.
These emerging adults (a group often a bit distanced from family) emphasized that they valued Shabbat because it provided opportunities for them to spend time together with their families—even though it costs them their devices for a day. An Orthodox couple, Alissa and Yigal, related their Shabbat traditions of unplugging, singing, and dancing with their children:
Alissa: For sure Shabbat observance [is meaningful to us]. . . . We light Shabbat candles and we are not on the computer and we don’t drive anywhere. [We] don’t talk on the phone or go shopping or do weekly things, and that is very important personally and as a couple. . . . [N]ow that our older daughter is bigger, we incorporated singing together on Shabbat. . . . [R]ecently, we had friends over and we all started singing together, and they said, “We don’t sing well.” But all of us are tone deaf . . . [the quality of the singing is not] the issue. It[‘s] . . . the energy. Singing religious songs is really significant to me.
Yigal: Definitely singing together is important. . . . Also another thing is kind of minor, but [it] is really beautiful. . . . [O]n Friday night right after we light candles, we create a little dance with our kids and us. We dance for a minute or two while singing Shabbat songs. They love to do it and it’s such a good thing. There are so many reasons why we love [our Shabbat dance]. Number one, we love it because we made it up. . . . So that is why I love the dancing because it’s something that we love doing and our children love doing. It injects our Judaism and our family with a sense of joy with the traditions.
Another mother and father explained:
Linda: [Shabbat] brings you to the closeness of the marriage and the family, things like lighting Shabbat candles, or being together during Shabbat. During Shabbat you . . . get that special feeling . . . that kind of closeness, that sense of unity.
Saul: There’s a special meaning to Sabbath traditions when you’re doing it [as] a family.
For these Jewish families, Shabbat is not somber, but a true “delight.” Candles, prayers, food, music, dancing, and singing breathe life and energy into the Sabbath. There was, however, a softer but sacred element of Shabbat that we turn to next.
In addition to the sacred but joyous reverie, another meaningful Shabbat practice mentioned by several participants was children’s blessings. Few rituals capture and reflect the passing on of an intergenerational legacy of faith and the deeply held Jewish value of v’shinantam l’vanecha (“you shall teach your children”) as richly as the Shabbat blessings of children by their parents. Indeed, Shabbat has been referred to as “an intergenerational chain going back through history.” Several parents established traditions in their homes of blessing their children on the Sabbath, as illustrated by the comment from the following Reform couple:
David: We [specially] bless the kids . . . on Friday nights.
Rebecca: The blessings that we do on Friday night . . . I never even knew existed as a child. It is a special time when the parents bless the children. It is a beautifully wonderful and tender moment that we have really come to [love] and our children have come to expect. [It’s] not just that we put our hands on their heads and bless them . . . each of us says something to each child about something that we’re proud of that they’ve done this week. [The Shabbat blessing is] just a wonderful thing.
Another Reform couple discussed Shabbat blessings of their children in detail:
Scott: Most Friday nights we do a blessing with the kids, and bless them, and whisper what they did good for the week in their ear, and they look forward to that.
Julie: In . . . the Torah, there’s a blessing where Jacob blesses Joseph’s two sons, right before he dies. He’s an elderly man, and he blesses Ephraim and Manasseh. . . . It’s a blessing in Hebrew, but it [says], “May God bless you and keep you. May his light shine upon you and be gracious unto you.” It’s the priestly benediction, so we say that blessing, and then we do whisper something [extra] in each of their ears. . . . It’s [often] some kindness that [they] did. It’s to [help them] . . . always remember that the things that we told them that we were proud of them for were things that were acts that God would be proud of you [for]—how you acted to somebody else [with] kindness [and] honesty . . .
For Rebecca and David, for Scott and Julie, there seems to be a sacred but also a pronounced child-centric emphasis with Shabbat. What does this mean for children in such families? One daughter, from another family, explained:
Hannah (17-year old Conservative daughter): The rest of the week [is a] totally different time. [When] we have Shabbat . . . [it is] different. We don’t have to worry about the rest of the world. The rest of the world goes on, but we are here with our family and our religion. That’s just . . . it’s our time.
Note the demarcation of both time and space in Hannah’s description: There is “the rest of the week” and there is “the rest of the world,” but on Shabbat, Hannah explains, “[W]e are here with our family and our religion. . . it’s our time.” With three “our” references in one phrase, Hannah places her own adolescent stamp of familial we-ness and unity on Shabbat. Perhaps no description, however, was as rich and vibrant, as a Conservative Jewish mother’s.
Sarah: When we take the time out, when we light the candles Friday night, that’s a time that I feel really close to (my children). . . . When we sit across the table from each other, my husband and I, and the Sabbath candles are lit, and I see the kids, there is something I get from that that is so deep. It’s just a feeling that [all is right in the world] . . . it doesn’t matter what else is going on. Right in that circle . . . it’s awe-inspiring.
Sarah’s husband Daniel later emphasized, “I don’t know that the Sabbath meal is a religious experience for most people, but for me it’s the heart of religion.” As we have noted elsewhere, for Sarah and Daniel, “the heart of their religion beats strongest not in the synagogue, but around their family dinner table—which according to Jewish tradition represents a sacred altar, a place of communion between God and His children.”
In his book The Sabbath, Jewish author Abraham Joshua Heschel states that “Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time” and points out that, after creating the earth, God chose to sanctify time—the seventh day or Sabbath—rather than space (e.g., this mountain, that valley, the sun, or moon). Heschel says, “Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.” Heschel then refers to the Sabbath as a “temple in time.” Observant Jewish families sanctify time in a number of ways by creating an “island of sacred time” in a sea of secularism.
The Lord desires that we “call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord” (Isa. 58:13). He invites (commands) us to keep the Sabbath “with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and a countenances” (D&C 59:15). The words “delight” and “cheerful” suggest to us that the Lord views Sabbath observance as a path toward spiritual joy and pleasure and that He desires for us to approach Sabbath observance with an attitude of delightful enjoyment. Elder Quentin L. Cook has noted that
a most remarkable change has occurred in the Church. This has been in the response of the members to renewed emphasis on the Sabbath by . . . President Russell M. Nelson’s challenge to make the Sabbath a delight. Many members understand that truly keeping the Sabbath day holy is a refuge from the storms of this life. It is also a sign of our devotion to our Father in Heaven and an increased understanding of the sacredness of sacrament meeting. . . . [W]e have a long way to go, but we have a wonderful beginning.
We conclude with Jewish-inspired ideas for us to help us more fully delight in the Sabbath:
Seven Lessons from Jewish Shabbat:
- Orthodox Jews take a one-day break from electronic devices to focus solely on faith and family without distraction. How might doing likewise enrich our own church and family worship, our level of sacred focus, and our depth of relationships?
- Observant Jews do not discuss “the cares of the world,” including money, business, or related concerns to help make the Sabbath an “island of sacred time” and a respite from the “wrestle with the world.” This allows time, energy, and focus to discuss heavenly, eternal, and spiritual things that bring deeper delight.
- Jewish families often “share the Sabbath” by inviting guests. One way for Latter-day Saint families to make the Sabbath a delight is by inviting others into their homes. Inviting those of our friends and family—LDS and friends of other faiths—who would be particularly blessed by being with an active LDS family on the Sabbath is especially delightful.
- Jewish women usher in Shabbat on Friday just before sundown by lighting two candles. As part of this a Jewish wife solemnly prays for the Jewish temple to be rebuilt and prays for family members. To end the Sabbath, Jewish men pray the Havdalah which includes praying for the spirit of the Sabbath to linger throughout the week. We can make the Sabbath a delight by praying about things that matter most including that the joyful spirit of the Sabbath day can remain throughout the week.
- Like our Jewish brothers and sisters, we can learn that the Sabbath is the perfect time to bless our children—literally and figuratively, and to celebrate our shared walk of faith.
- Our Jewish friends celebrate both the creation of the earth and the redemption from slavery on the Sabbath. We Latter-day Saints can rejoice in the Lord and celebrate our redemption from death and sin on the Sabbath. What a glorious and joyous thing to celebrate.
- Celebrate the sacred and familial joy of life. Across many generations and many cultures, the ancestors of our Jewish friends have been persecuted and killed. Tragically, anti-Semitism is increasing across the earth and Jewish lives remain under various kinds of threats. Despite, or because of this, our Jewish friends frequently say, with gusto, the Hebrew phrase l’chaim! (to life!). The take extra care on the Sabbath day to celebrate life—particularly a life devoted to worshipping God and binding couples and families together in and through that worship. May we, as a fellow covenant people of the Lord (2 Nephi 29:5), join with our Jewish friends in joyous celebration of life and family life on the Sabbath day. Indeed, let us follow the counsel of ancient and living prophets to make the Sabbath a delight.
 Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley, by Sheri L. Dew, Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1996, p. 576
 Marks, L. D., Hatch, T. G., & Dollahite, D. C. (2017). Sacred practices and family processes in a Jewish context: Shabbat as the weekly family ritual par excellence. Family Process. DOI***
 Dave designed and teaches this course, Loren has substituted.
 All participants’ names are pseudonyms.
 Marks, L. D., & Dollahite, D. C. (2012). “Don’t forget home”: The importance of sacred ritual in families. In J. Hoffman (Ed.), Understanding religious rituals (pp. 186-203). New York: Routledge. (Quote from p. 195)
 Heschel, A. J. (2000). The Sabbath. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. (Quote from p. 8)
 Heschel, The Sabbath (Quote from p. 13).