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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  1. I’m tired of trying to become more observant. There’s a part of me that thinks that God just doesn’t care if I turn on and off my lights, drive my car, handle money, tear toilet paper, etc. I am much more comfortable just relaxing and watching movies and doing the laundry on weekends. So much for a Torah lifestyle for me, huh ?

  2. BS”D
    This article is highly contradictory. You may call me a fanatic or a fundamentalist, but in the end of the day I’m just trying to be real. Anyone who is Shomer Shabbos is in effect Zocher Shabbat. By keeping with it’s laws, you come to remember what Shabbat is all about. I had many weeks where I spent it alone, davening alone, but had the most spiritually fulfilling experiences. I knew in my heart that such times of silence would shape every more “lively” Shabbat after them in a much more sentimental way, and boy, it has. Also, the logic for driving cars is NOT because cars predated the Bible. If a person wants to drive a car, then fine, he’s breaking the rules, but there is no Jewish “excuse” for it. The Torah created categories of law that fit into modern day inventions in the same way that lets say, I forbade the eating of all pasta, but penne’ had not yet been invented. Penne is still pasta.
    Get real and start trying to work out Judaism the way it’s supposed to be with love. Any more of this will lead to the utter dissipation of Judaism. I know you mean well and you’re tring to be punk…but you’re not accomplishing either end.

    A real punk Jew learns to love, and live with the rules
    any boor can pick and choose what is easy for them
    I am not here to bash you, but just to give you a broader view of things,
    because behind the nice web page, there may be much you haven’t yet
    If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to email me at [email protected]
    Truly yours,
    Asher Elbaz 🙂

    • Hey Asher,

      So I don’t think you are a fanatic or fundamentalist…any more than I am or than anyone else is here at PunkTorah. The common thread of PunkTorah people, like yourself, is a deep commitment to HaShem. And I am greatful that you are here and are sharing your passion. You are always welcome and appreciated.

      The issue that I bring up here surpasses whether or not someone should be Shomer Shabbat, which I am defining as living be the edicts of their rabbi’s understanding of halachka which forbids work regardless of the kavanot (intentions). Under the “Shomer Shabbat” platform, one can opt not to drive on Shabbat because the flying spaghetti monster doesn’t want them to, and that is perfectly acceptable. While others may say they drive on Shabbat in order to fulfill the mitzvah of making a minyan for Kaddish, but are seen as transgressing law and should have just stayed home or walked ten miles to shul like any other reasonable, responsible, faithful person would.

      The issue is not what one does or does not do. The issue is a desire to create hierarchies of Jewish life. Remember that the late Lubavitcher Rebbe himself said that one should not refer to serving the Jewish community as kiruv (outreach) because that defines one group as being “in” and another group as being “out”. And of course, the “in” crowd is no holier than the “out” crowd. Matter of fact, the great world religions often place the role of holiness on those who from the outside appear to be the least deserving.

      The second part of this is the idea that in reality, no one is Shomer Shabbat because we are all trying to find ways to skirt the law. The Shabbos Lamp is a great example. Does anyone really believe they are tricking God by not flipping a light switch? To use your pasta metaphor, it would be like outlawing pasta and then eating brown rice noodles, because clearly pasta is made out of wheat and brown rice noodles aren’t REALLY pasta.

      Just my two cents 🙂

  3. I understand, but again, the Shabbat lamp…nobody is trying to “fool G-d”
    The Shabbat lamp is a way to have light without breaking any Shabbos Halachos, and is no different than not having light at all. All it is essentially is a light that can be covered to conceal it when you go to sleep, nothing else. I don’t think anything lower of the out crowd and I’m not trying to do any “kiruv”
    I’m just giving my ideas based on G-d’s way of giving them over, there were never conditions. Rest is rest, and a refrain from creative activity, well, that’s Shabbos!
    All the best 🙂


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