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October 10, 2015 | 27th Tishrei 5776
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Shabbat Programming Activities

See also Alternative Worship

  1. We are considering moving some of our temple programs to Shabbat day in order to make the temple itself a center of Shabbat activities and to attract a wider cross-section of our diverse congregation. We do not plan for these activities to "compete" time-wise with our worship offerings. Rather, there will be some sort of community Oneg following services which will serve as a transition to non-worship activities. The day would conclude with a highly participatory Havdalah service.

    Our hope is that congregants who are not regular worshipers will be attracted to these activities, will gradually learn to recognize Shabbat as a special day, and may come to understand the role which more traditional observance could play in their lives. Understandably, there has been much controversy about what is and is not an appropriate activity for Shabbat day.

    Suggestions, ordered from the most universally accepted (at the top) to the most controversial (at the bottom) include:

    • Torah Study
    • "How to Worship" courses or "Learning Services" (teaching about the prayers and the structure of worship services)
    • Other "adult-learning" classes (Jewish history, Judaica, Celebrating Holidays)
    • Book clubs (reviewing books of relevance to Judaism or by Jewish authors)
    • Festival-related craft activities for religious and day school children (eg: Menorah-making, etc.)
    • Film clubs (Films relevant to Judaism with post-film speaker/discussion groups)
    • Social Action (organized "Mitzvah-day"-like projects to visit the sick, clean-up local beaches, paint-out grafitti in blighted communities, collect food or clothing for donation, etc.)
    • Sports activities on the Temple's school grounds, such as softball games, basketball games, etc.

      What are your thoughts about the idea in general? What activities on the list do you think are appropriate or inappropriate? What other activities might you suggest? Has your congregation tried such programs on Shabbat day? How was it received? Has it helped to build community or increase participation in more traditional worship activities? I look forward to hearing both lay and clergy perspectives.

    (1400 families)

  2. Twice a month, following the Shabbat morning service, we have a Lunch and Learn. This is a bagel lunch which costs £2 per adult followed by a study session. Once a month it is the parashah for that week; the other week the participants decide on what they would like to study; this has been the various haftorot, Ten Commandments, different Prophets, etc. People can stay for lunch and leave before the study. We hold an occasional series called "Let's Celebrate" on a Shabbat afternoon. This is aimed at parents with children under three years old who want to learn how to 'put the fun back into Festivals'. We have also held Family Education programmes on Shabbat afternoon. Our dance group, Rikud, meets Shabbat afternoons. Our youth clubs also meet Shabbat afternoons.

    We feel that any appropriate Jewish activity is fine for Shabbat.


  3. The congregation I grew up in had "Shabbaton." I don't know how often but I recall them as full day (sometimes even Friday-Saturday) events that included, to the best of my memory--Jewish crafts, study for various age groups (i.e. kids and adults), music, meals and finishing with Havdalah. My memory of how it worked exactly is foggy. (I remember learning elementary macrame on one... this was in the late 70's early 80's!) Over the years, what I do remember very clearly is a very strong sense of community Shabbat as a very, very positive experience.

  4. I'd agree that pretty much anything that is related to text study, worship study, etc. would be OK, even if it does involve writing. Most Reform Jews do not self-restrict in that way. Branching out to something a little more secular but still decidedly shabbos-dik, like reading/book group seems like a clever way to bring the Shabbat concept of menucha to more secular pursuits. And, frankly, since most Reform Jews do not shy away from using electricity on Shabbat, I don't see a problem with a film discussion club, either.

    And having various activities conclude with Havdalah is really a nice idea.

    Sports and social action are a lot more if-fy. Of course bikur cholim is always appropriate on Shabbat, again, even if it involves driving, since most Reform Jews do drive on Shabbat. If there's a non-driving component (or there are some walking-distance sick people) then even more observant congregants can participate. Same with food/clothing bank stuff--the sorting can be done on Shabbat, and I suppose so can delivery to the extent that it feels "bikkur cholim-ish". But personally, I think that graffiti painting and cleaning and planting would be very un-shabbos-dik. I have occasionally done these sorts of things on Shabbat, but I think it sends the wrong statement to the community as to what Shabbat is (and is not) if the congregation itself is sponsoring the activity. I know that tikkun olam is a really strong value in our tradition, but I think that unless there's a strong "pikuach nefesh" argument in favor of the activity at hand and it can't be done at another time (an anti-war rally where the entire world is watching, and there is global participation; helping a family clean up after having been burnt out of their apt.), then I think the activities are best scheduled for a Sunday.

    As to sports, I can picture a little light frisbee throwing (for example) in the context of, say, a synagogue picnic, but cannot quite go as far as supporting competitive, break-into-a-sweat relay races or a game of softball--feels too un-shabbos-dik.


  5. Several years before I arrived at my current congregation, they formed an ad hoc committee and put together a policy on Shabbat and Festival Activities. It was outstandingly well done, and shows some of the best aspects of Reform Jewish decision making (and I can say that because I had nothing to do with it). A copy for anyone interested is available from our executive directors at
  6. Jun 2006 Digest 101

                I also believe the issue is in part relevance and how to make ritual Judaism relevant to modern American lives.

                It is a project that I'm involved with in our synagogue. For example, how does one make Shabbat observance relevant to and desirable for modern Jews? In the last five years or so I've begun the effort to be more shomer Shabbat, and found that I would like the Temple to be more involved in this process. The idea of a day-long set of activities in the building so that those who came for Torah study, might stay for services, and might have lunch with some folks, could do some library reading and/or have some sort of conversation followed ultimately by Minchah and Havdalah…But it still has to be relevant, it needs role models and it needs to be understood in the context of religious obligations, personal development and experiential growth. I don't think there are easy answers. I think it is a critical endeavor.


    1400 families
  7. Jun 2006 Digest 101

                …role models [are] key. A congregation will only be able to go so far in any endeavor if the rabbi (and cantor, if there is one) is not invested in the activity. There are smaller congregations which do not have Saturday services at all; when trying to institute them there needs to be leadership from the top or it won't be seen as important. Just having one activity on a Saturday can be a daunting task. And for a larger congregation it can be demoralizing to get a mere smattering of people not representative of the congregation as a whole.

                I've discussed just this issue with others, and one possibility was to make Friday evening services the place for the more "experimental" things. Reform Judaism shifted Shabbat emphasis from Saturday to Friday to better fit in with the "weekend" schedule, and perhaps this is the most appropriate time for the more "reform" activities (drum-circle Shabbat, "alternative" readings of text Shabbat, etc.). In today's world, where many people would only attend one service per weekend, increasing Saturday attendance would require a re-shifting of importance, from the top down.

  8. June 2007 Digest 104

                …at [our congregation]…we have eliminated Sunday School…

                We have, on Shabbat morning, not only our wonderful, well-attended service, but we have appropriate services in class for toddlers and parents who choose to join them.

                We have Shabbat learning for children ages pre-K through 3rd grade. Older children are in services with us, and the younger children will become acclimated to the regular service by joining us for part of it and then returning to their classes for Torah study. They won't be in Tot Shabbat forever!!

                Instead of being dropped off for Sunday School, the children see their parents and all the other Jewish adults praying and learning, and they learn viscerally that Shabbat is on Saturday, and that it is central to Judaism.

                Last year, we had Shabbat programming only for pre-K through 1-2 , but this year, the next class up, Bet, have asked specifically to study on Shabbat as the family experience was not something they wanted to give up! They will come to Hebrew School on Wednesdays and study Torah on Shabbat.

                Gimel through B'nei Mitzvah meet twice weekly, Wed and Mon, and we have 1/2 hour t'filah. I am predicting, however, that when our new Kita Bet students are older, their parents will ask that they continue to have Hebrew school on Wednesdays only won't want to lose community observance of Shabbat as a family.

  9. August 2007 Digests 163 and 164

                We have a monthly "Alternative service" led by congregants. It runs at the same time the rabbis and cantor lead our weekly Bar/Bat Mitzvah…This is followed by a Kiddush. A couple of times last year that was expanded into a buffet lunch, with salads, etc.

                In discussion with the Ritual Committee, I suggested that, a couple of times a year, we might try to extend the day with some afternoon study sessions.

                … One reason for [our alternative service] is that we do have B’nei Mitzvah every week… there are only about 10 or 12 of us [congregation members] who show up most weeks for the B’nei Mitzvah. We usually go to the Alternative, which is held on the same week every month.

                A number of years ago we had bi-weekly lay-led services…that lasted for about three years. The current system is run by a team of Ritual Committee members. We have music (paid for) by a regular group of 3 or 4 people, including a couple of congregants.  We get from 30 - 45 people to each service.

                The Study session would take place after lunch (or while people are eating). It isn't intended to replace the service. I see it more along the lines of a Se'uda Shlishi that the Orthodox have. And it could have all sorts of interesting topics.

                We do have a strong Torah Study group that meets from 9 - 10:15 every week. We get about 35 people. It's led by our rabbis, who alternate teaching. We took about 7 years going through Torah, and are now working through Kings. This week we'll be continuing with the story of Elijah.

                The transfer from Torah Study to services on most weeks is not very good here, I admit. But the rabbis profess to be pleased that they get this turnout on a weekly basis for what is frequently very lively and informed discussion.

  10. August 2007 Digest 163

                …[Our congregation] has been fortunate in that it has many lay leaders qualified to lead discussion groups (study) on varying topics, as well as a book club? These are scheduled for the last Shabbat of the month after services when we also have a light dairy lunch (bagels, cheeses, etc.) sponsored by Membership Committee. We also try to observe some of the lesser holidays, i.e., Tu B'Shevat on the Shabbat close to the actual date with a luncheon using a special Haggadah developed by the congregation which includes the seven minimum (types of foods) listed in Torah--grapes, olives, etc., as well as wheat, etc.


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