We’re All Zocher Shabbos

By Patrick Aleph

There’s a great debate between the Shabbat observant about whether to be Shomer Shabbos (guard the Sabbath) or Zocher Shabbos (remember the Sabbath).

In a generalized nutshell, Shomer Shabbos Jews believe in observing the law for the law’s sake (or a literal interpretation). This means that the following activities would “break” Shabbat:

“ploughing earth, sowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, shearing wool, washing wool, beating wool, dyeing wool, spinning, weaving, making two loops, weaving two threads, separating two threads, tying, untying, sewing stitches, tearing, trapping, slaughtering, flaying, tanning, scraping hide, marking hides, cutting hide to shape, writing two or more letters, erasing two or more letters, building, demolishing, extinguishing a fire, kindling a fire, putting the finishing touch on an object and transporting an object between the private domain and the public domain, or for a distance of 4 cubits within the public domain” (taken from wikipedia.org).

The Zocher Shabbos, on the other hand, believe in “remembering the Shabbat” and have a more loose interpretation, citing the metaphorical aspects of Shabbos over the literal. Example: a Zocher Shabbos person will drive to synagogue for Shabbat (since the Bible pre-dates cars) while a Shomer Shabbat person would not drive because using a car requires an internal combustion engine that “creates fire”.

Recently, I have had several conversations with self-proclaimed Observant Jews on the issue on Shabbat. And I have realized that, despite what anyone says, we are all Zocher Shabbos.

There are many technologies that the Orthodox and Conservative Jewry have created to make Shabbat easier (example: timers on air conditioners and other appliances, a Shabbat elevator that opens the door and every floor so no one has to push a button, or hooks onto your belt for carrying keys so that you aren’t actually “carrying” anything). In a sense, you are cheating Shabbat, by trying to find ways “around” the actual rule: not to use your creative power to alter your environment for your own sake on this sanctified say.

Shabbat is about creating a time for the sacred to be the center of attention and removing the external forces that create the mundane activities of the work week. In this way, I personally feel that understanding Shabbat as Zocher Shabbos is to remember the “why” of Shabbat as opposed to the “how” of Shabbat.

Take it with a grain of salt, as this comes from a guy who never went to yeshiva. However, if you do take it with a grain of salt, make sure not to travel with that grain of salt farther that four cubits between 5PM on Friday and 7PM on Saturday.

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