Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Shopping on Shabbat

On one of my Rabbinic e-lists, I recently read a post from a colleague with an interesting problem. His Social Committee wants to have a New York City Shopping Day (bus trip into the city, followed by a day primarily focused on shopping), and because of logistics, they insist that it be on Shabbat.

The Rabbi was writing to ask us how we would respond to that. I wrote a response, but I'm interested to hear what all of you think, too. I'll post my response here in a little bit, but I wanted to wait to give others a chance, first.

So - comment away. If you were that Rabbi, what would you do?


Milt said...

I think his social committee needs to re-work their logistics or find a compromise. Attend services at a Manhattan synagogue, then a nice lunch, an afternoon concert and start the shopping after sundown. I can't imagine a Shabbat shopping trip under the auspices of the Temple being a particularly good idea. I know you want to foster congregational involvement but is that the best sort of involvement? Does it diminish the spiritual aspect of membership in the Temple. On the other hand, Jews doing things together with other Jews (short of attending a pig roast) is a nice thing. On the other hand, can't they find something better to do than shopping in Manhattan? I'm really not sure what the answer is but it just does not quite feel right. I'd love to hear Rabbi Jason's response.

James said...

Some people are comfortable with shopping on Shabbat and some people are not. Some people have a very strict interpretation of kosher and some people ... go to pig roasts. Most of us fall in the middle - although hopefully less of us fall towards the pulled pork sandwich side. :)

Reform seems to work by not being exclusionary. Many synagogue kitchens - and our outdoor pot lucks - are dairy only, which seems a safe compromise and makes the most people feel comfortable.

Is the Shabbat shopping trip exclusionary? If someone was uncomfortable enough to bring up the question then the answer is probably yes. If it's liable to make congregants ill at ease then having an official connection with the temple is not a good idea.

Milt has the right idea. Take advantage of the new environs until sundown.

Rabbi Jason Rosenberg said...

Here's the (too length) response I sent in:

I would absolutely oppose such an activity, and I would do so strongly.

Thinking about it, there are two basic issues here:
1) Is this trip an appropriate congregational activity?
2) If it isn't, what is the Rabbi's role? Can/should we forbid the trip? Strongly oppose the trip?

In answer to #1, I feel, without reservation, that this kind of activity seems completely and radically inappropriate for Shabbat. I suppose that there are Rabbis on this list that will disagree with that basic premise (i.e. who find nothing wrong with shopping - and on this scale, as opposed to a quick run to the store - on Shabbat). But, everything I've learned about Shabbat tells me that this is wrong, plain and simple.*

#2 gets a bit more complicated, and has much to do with synagogue politics. But, I believe that this is a case where a Rabbi (assuming s/he agrees with me on #1) has to assert as much influence and authority as possible. In terms of tactics, it's obviously going to be easier to work with some lay-leaders and get their support (of you, not the trip) before that meeting, so it's not the "mean Rabbi" who is trying to stop all of the fun. And, this is certainly a wonderful chance for some good education about Shabbat - to spread the word about WHY this trip should never happen. But, in the end, I would forbid this trip to the extent that I can "forbid" anything, and I would speak out loudly against it, to the extent that I can't forbid it.

Inevitably, any resistance that you show will be met with some version of "don't tell me how to live." That's a totally irrelevant Straw Man. I'm not saying how YOU have to live, but rather how our CONGREGATION observes Shabbat. If our congregants want to shop on Shabbat, that is certainly their right. But, for the congregation to officially endorse the activity is a totally different thing. Similarly, I'll never tell my congregants that they CAN'T skip Friday night services to go to the movies, but I'll also never cancel services so that we can all go. If they want to eat pork, that's their right, but we aren't serving it at a congregational dinner.

In response to the likely "but, we're Reform Jews," I'd say "Reform doesn't mean 'anything goes'" and "Reform Jews still care about Shabbat." Again, this is a great opportunity for education, both formal and informal.

As always, I'm very interested to hear what other colleagues will say about this!

Jason Rosenberg
Congregation Beth Am, Tampa

* someone is going to say that it's appropriate because "at least we're together on Shabbat, and we're doing something which we enjoy. Isn't Shabbat supposed to be a pleasure?" Of course, it's easy to turn that into a reducto-ad-absurdem. If that arguments holds, then how about a Friday night trip to the casino? Dog fights? Raunchy movies on Shabbat afternoon? I'm not saying that shopping on Shabbat is equivalent to those things, just that I think we'd all agree that the activity itself has to be at least somewhat congruent with Shabbat for it to be an appropriate basis for a Shabbat activity.

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?

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