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Why don’t I do Homework on Saturday?

David Wilensky / Jewish Living / May 14, 2006

 May 14, 2006
Week 61
14 Iyar 5766

Why don’t I do Homework on Saturday?
By David Wilensky

Exploration of Topic
The year before I went to the Union for Reform Judaism’s (URJ) Kutz Camp was my sophomore year of high school. It was, to say the least, stressful. Seven days a week, I managed to be stressed out, one way or another. If it wasn’t the simple fact that I had to go to school Monday through Friday, then it was spending Saturday alternating between brief periods of relaxation, interspersed with less brief periods of frenzied homework; Sundays, I worked at my temple. So there you go, seven days of the week all shot with stress.

At Kutz, I learned that one of my deep-held beliefs about Reform Judaism was wrong. Prior to my epiphany, which I’ll get into in a minute, I was inclined to agree with our strict Reform forebears, who underlined the importance of following only the ethical commandments, as those were the only ones they (and, for a time, I) saw to be meaningful. I now realize that some of the ritual commandments (candle-lighting, keeping kosher, wearing tzitzit etc.) may be meaningful to some and that it is, in fact, at the core of Reform Judaism to examine these types of practices closely to see if we find meaning in them or a basis for them. Sometimes, their meaning lies in ethics, but other times, we might just find that performing these rituals adds to our lives or adds to our Jewish experience.

Traditionally, the description of work that should be refrained from on Shabbat is based on all the things that were involved in the construction of the Tabernacle (the portable ark that the Israelites carried with them through the desert). I have never built one of those and I don’t intend to, either. However, for people at that time, that may have been an accurate list of what work can entail. The list does not include math, though, and for a modern-day accountant, that is work. Therefore, I build my list of what not to do on Shabbat upon what I actually do during the week that seems like work to me.

Now for the epiphany—I realized that Shabbat, even as it is observed in the most strict sense, is not simply a day of restrictions. I am not shomeir Shabbat (Sabbath observant) in a traditional sense; that is to say that I am willing to make purchases, carry things etc. on Shabbat; I do, though, have my own observance for the Sabbath. I take a day out of my week to rebuild from the week that is ending and to refresh myself for the week that is beginning. I take a true day of rest; a day where I don’t do anything stressful, a day where I abdicate all my weekly responsibilities. I don’t do homework and I don’t answer emails related to my temple youth group board or any of the number committees I serve on at school and at my temple. It may seem self-indulgent, but I feel that having that day of self-indulgence at the end/start of my week makes the week that much more productive and holy.

I honestly believe that if the whole world took one day to relax, we would live a far better world.

Related Questions
What is work for me?
This may take some soul-searching, or at least some Sunday through Friday-searching. Consider things that you enjoy and things that seem like a burden or that often weigh heavily upon you. Carefully weigh out everything you do in the week to come to some sort of conclusion about what is work in your personal week. It may take some experimenting over several Sabbaths to find something truly relaxing.

Does a good Sabbath have to include anything Jewish?
Not on the surface, no. I don’t think that you have to go to services if you find them boring, for that is contrary to everything I’ve said here. I do go to Torah study and services almost every Saturday and have even joined the rotation of service leaders at my temple.

To go a bit deeper, I believe that any observance of Shabbat that enhances your week has Jewish content. If your stress level goes down because of Shabbat and you become a little less snippy at or agitated by other people, that is Jewish.

Taking Action
Take a chill pill!
I dare you to do it. Next Saturday, don’t do any homework; just chill out. It might take some extra time on Sunday to catch up, but I think you’ll find it is a small price to pay. You might also see about rearranging your schedule at work, if it has your working on Saturday. Even if you can’t spend all of Saturday on this, at least take a few hours for yourself.

Tell your friends to take a chill pill!
The more people relaxing on Shabbat, the better! Spread the word! Make a minyan (10 Jewish adults, considered to be the minimum number for a community)! Worldwide chill-out!

iTorah Lishmah
Your Place in Cyberspace to Explore the Lessons Further. A chance to discu
ss this week’s iTorah!!

How do you find meaning in Shabbat? Do you think we can redefine shomeir Shabbat in a Reform context, so that it includes different definitions of work?

Inspired by this week’s iTorah? Want to learn more? Check this out…

Curious what a traditional definition of Shabbat looks like? Check out the section on Shabbat at

Find out more about Shabbat and different perspectives of looking at Shabbat observance at

Get ideas for how to make your Shabbat more meaningful with A Day Apart: Shabbat at Home , by Noam Zion and Shawn Fields-Meyer, published by Zion Holiday Publishers.

David Wilensky is a junior in high school in Austin, Texas and a member of Congregation Beth Israel (CBI). He has attended fourteen North American Federation of Temple Youth – Texas Oklahoma Region (NFTY-TOR) regional events to date, including Winter Conclave (A Taste of TOR: Jews and Food), which he and his amazing Austin Temple Teens (ATT) board were in charge of. He is Prez of ATT, plans on attending the fall semester of the NFTY Eisendrath International Exchange (EIE) High School in Israel, thinks Mishkan T’fillah (the new prayer book of the Reform Movement) is the greatest thing since armadillos and wants to someday be the only rabbi ever with a pair of green cowboy boots. He also wants to sincerely thank everybody in the regular Torah study crowd at CBI for eliciting from me the statement that made me realize how well I could articulate the topic of this iTorah.

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