Book Review – The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel


I actually finished this book a week ago, but needed some time to process before writing about it. When I told my mother I was reading this book and that I’d started regularly lighting Shabbat candles again, her only response was “yes, he has that effect”.

Rabbi Heschel was a theologian who wrote on topics of mysticism, chassidut, and other aspects of Jewish theology. The Sabbath, originally published in 1951, is a short (101 pages) dissertation on the meaning of that holiest of holies, the seventh day of the week, Shabbat, the sabbath. Split into three parts, Heschel breaks down the concept of the Sabbath as a sacred entity, apart from the rest of time and space.

Two favourite passages:

In regard to external gifts, to outward possessions, there is only one proper attitude – to have them and to be able to do without them. On the Sabbath we live, as it were, independent of technical civilization: we abstain primarily from any activity that aims at remaking or reshaping the things of space. Man’s royal privilege to conquer nature is suspended on the seventh day. (p. 28-29)

The sense of holiness in time is expressed in the manner in which the Sabbath is celebrated. No ritual object is required for keeping the seventh day, unlike most festivals on which objects are essential to their observance…Symbols are superfluous: the Sabbath is itself the symbol. (p.82)

Something you may not know about Heschel, especially relevant this year – he marched in Selma! That is him second from the right.



About sarscoff

Late 20's, Canadian, library technician, wife, dog mama, reader of all things written.
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