Important research

My second Friday in Los Angeles, before my understanding of Sabbath had unfurled its first petals, I was at a conservative synagogue for the intimate evening service that officially welcomes the Sabbath. It was held in a small room adjacent to the main sanctuary; about 15 chairs formed a circle around the perimeter. I was one of the first to arrive and as I waited, I took out my day planner and set it in my lap. I was holding a pen. The rabbi approached. As he knelt in front of me, my mind raced with the possible admonishments I was about to receive. I was dressed modestly, but I was wearing pants. Was it the pants?

“We don’t write on the Sabbath,” he said, his eyes locked on mine.

I looked at my pen like it was a fork I hadn’t realized was so filthy. I let it drop into the gaping mouth of my bag. “Thank you,” I said as if he just saved me from contracting bubonic plague. I had been mulling over how to recognize the Sabbath given that I needed to drive myself to and from the synagogues I was visiting and, as a house guest, I was not in perfect control of my surroundings. The rabbi’s reprimand gave me my answer. I could do this: absolutely no writing. No notes, no computer, no writing utensils of any kind. If I wanted to record events or thoughts from Sabbath, I had to wait until after the sun set on Saturday night. It was a small thing, but it invited the spirit of the Sabbath into my life and, from there, I found it much easier to embrace other aspects of the day.

When I got home from synagogue on Saturday afternoons, I made a concerted effort to relax. At least until sunset, my job was to loll around. At first it was a challenge, but I got the hang of it.

One afternoon when I was engaged in this non-task, my stepmom came into my room. “What are you up to?” she asked. I opened my eyes, realizing I had nodded off while contemplating the row of trees outside the bedroom window. “Very important research,” I said, wiping the drool from my lips.

22 thoughts on “Important research

  1. So wait a minute: as a writer, wouldn’t conducting ‘important research’ for a story you planned to write later on the Sabbath experience constitute engaging in “creative work”? Wouldn’t your writing of the Sabbath experience on a non-Sabbath day retroactively make taking mental notes of the Sabbath experience a violation of the spirit of the Sabbath? 🙂


    A Very Confused Gentile

    • I have never in my life ever used the word “obfuscation” before, but it just popped into my head when I read this reply to Corinna’s post.

      • Explain, then, please. It doesn’t seem THAT hard to follow.

        As far as I understand it (based on what Corinna’s written), the “point” of the Sabbath is to refrain from creative activities for the entire day, which for an author would seemingly include the labor of conducting “important research” for writing an article on the topic of the Sabbath.

        Now obviously she didn’t actually WRITE the article on the Sabbath, but if she were even THINKING about what she’d later write (engaging in the creative thought process, which is the very definition of work, the act of creating something which didn’t exist before), or if she were focusing on the raw experiences that would later serve as the basis for the content for the article, then that would seem to violate the spirit of Sabbath. I’m obviously not a rabbi, but it would seem that a painter wouldn’t plan what their next painting would be, etc.

        Point being, breaking the Sabbath is much easier than one might think, esp if the person were a creative artist! For a writer, it would seem downright impossible to stop the “creative juices” from flowing, as observing it would demand a level of thought-control beyond the skills of a Hindu yogi!

        Fortunately though, Corinna’s not actually a Jew, and is thus under no obligation to observe Sabbath as a “real” Jew might be (and as we’ve said, Jews don’t stone Sabbath-breakers nowadays). I’d think Jews wouldn’t have the refuge of seeking Jesus’ comfort in the words, “man is not made for the Sabbath; rather, Sabbath is made for (the benefit) of man”.


        • Followed it perfectly. Just seemed that it was written more to confuse the issue than to clarify…..but that was just MY reaction and observation. Not necessarily your reality.

          • Hi Merrill,

            Followed it perfectly. Just seemed that it was written more to confuse the issue than to clarify…..but that was just MY reaction and observation. Not necessarily your reality.

            So if you “followed it perfectly”, then why would you accuse me of writing “to obfuscate”? You DO see your apparent contradiction, right? (And being that you admitted to never using the word ‘obfuscate’ before, I’m left to wonder if you REALLY meant that particular adjective? Do you really know what that word menas?)

            The question I raised over Corinna’s article is HERS to explain, not mine, so I can’t answer the question. I’m wondering what the rabbi’s response to this query might be? Knowing human nature, though, I suspect she’d likely get 5 different answers from asking four different rabbis (where one rabbi would disagree with himself, and offer two opinions). I suspect it’s more of a “make it up as you go, and think on your feet” type of question, where it strikes me as unlikely a rabbi would make the effort to search for guidance by reviewing prior midrashim to find prior discussions amongst rabbis on the issue of non-Jews who wanted to play the role of a Sabbath-observant Jew in order to write an article on the experience.

            Well, I COULD Google to see if it’s been discussed before, but frankly I don’t care enough about the issue to bother, since I really don’t see the POINT of observing the Sabbath in the first place: if for no other reason, I simply enjoy creating (music and writing) too much to place any artificial restrictions on when I can’t do it (I keep a musical notebook on the night-stand, and often awaken from a dream to jot down a melody I heard in the dream before it dissipates into the ether of my mind). Instead, I view the impulse to compose and create as a gift from the fairy-like muses of my mind, and it’s an insult to deny their creative gifts by bridling them and forcing them operate on MY timetable, not theirs (as if they are expected to act like delivery trucks, dropping off product at the receiving dock of the back of the grocery store who have to make a delivery within certain hours). To refuse their creative offerings is an insult to them, in my mind; the Sabbath seems to be an insult to ALL such creative muses, an attempt to squash the creative imaginations of artists (just like the prohibition against “no graven images” and the “no images of anything moving on the Earth or in Heaven” rules similarly serve as a direct effort designed to squelch sculptors and creative artists, likely intended to suppress the development of abstract thinking, per the theories of Julian Jayne’s “Origins of the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”).

            Oh, and a two-day weekend works well for me, twice as much as a one-day break from work. More time to create, which honest, is really not laborious. 🙂


            • Dave,
              I know perfectly well what obfuscation means…..looked it up in the American Heritage Dictionary just to be sure before I used it, in fact. It was exactly the word I wanted. Something that is clearly written is also capable of being utilized to complicate and confuse. I am not brilliant, nor do I believe I have all of the “right” answers, but I am very astute and confident in my writing and in my thinking. You push my tolerance to its limits with your often long-winded writing which is utilized to inform us to the errors of our ways. You have the right to your opinions and beliefs…..we all do here in the ranks of this Blog…..but I find your style of communication tiresome and insulting. Here is another word that I know which seems to be useful in this situation: insufferable.

              And I looked that one up in the AH Dictionary, too.

          • Hi Tim and Patti,

            I am back form Asia and your posts cracked me up. What a nice way to rejoin my friends in “None Land” Nice quips.

            When my kids were growing up, (they are still waiting for me to do the same) I use to play this funny Jewish storyteller’s tapes for my kids and the many cute “turn of phrases” became iconic retorts for us till today. Traveling back and forth over the date line, in less than a week has left me utterly confused. and reminded me of one of this storyteller’s quips. “oh I am soooo confused I don’t know if I was born yesterday or if I will be born tomorrow!”

    • Dave, It was really more of a joke–as sleeping and drooling are rarely thought of as research. It’s funny! But it’s true that for most people taking a break from creative work can actually help inspire more creative work…so completely halting such work may not really be possible. Even if the conscious mind is not actively engaged in the task, the subconscious might be working out issues and coming up with solutions, etc. We can’t lop off our heads, but I suppose we can do our best to rest and step away from the grind. I find making myself turn off my computer or taking a nap can really help me work better later.

      • Hi Corinna,

        Thanks for the reply.

        Dave, It was really more of a joke–as sleeping and drooling are rarely thought of as research. It’s funny!

        Oh, I see! Although being that sleeping and drooling ARE defined as not doing work, the distinction got lost: I’m still confused, and hence why I missed the joke (which also was likely influenced by my prior reading of Numbers 23, demanding stoning Sabbath violators to death for picking up sticks: that’s the problem when a group of people doesn’t “get the joke”, and takes “God’s” rules quite literally).

        You must admit that it’s all very confusing: God REALLY SHOULD find a way to avoid such ambiguity, perhaps setting apart the REALLY-IMPORTANT laws from all the others that aren’t AS important (the 613), maybe defining a “top 10 list” of commandments that are REALLY important to follow? 😉

        But it’s true that for most people taking a break from creative work can actually help inspire more creative work…so completely halting such work may not really be possible. Even if the conscious mind is not actively engaged in the task, the subconscious might be working out issues and coming up with solutions, etc. We can’t lop off our heads, but I suppose we can do our best to rest and step away from the grind. I find making myself turn off my computer or taking a nap can really help me work better later.

        Oh, no doubt a forced break from writing or creating can be helpful to overcome their writer’s block: absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that. I just doubt that’s the original INTENT of the Sabbath, but maybe more of making lemonade out of lemons (AKA a teleological argument, a post-hoc rationalization)?

        But just as long as no one ends up dead over a silly misunderstanding, it’s all OK by me.

        Oh, and just to clarify something I wrote eariler:

        The sabbath restriction is about as anti-intellectual and anti-creative as you can get, as once you learn to shut down the muses, it’s increasingly difficult to turn the valve back on (and likely the same reason Hebrew art is not renown for anything but it’s sheer absence).

        When I wrote that, I was thinking in the context of ANCIENT Judaism and the effect the 2nd commandment (“no graven images of anything on Earth or in Heaven”) and Sabbath restrictions had on artistic expression at the time.

        I probably should’ve inserted the word “ancient” before “Hebrew art”, although it should be obvious that the 2nd commandment is widely ignored in modern times, anyway, since obviously Jewish and Christian artists cannot obey the 2nd commandment AND create image-based art depicting anything on Earth or in Heaven: by definition, those artistic subjects would be off-limits to them if they still followed the 2nd commandment (unless the artist creates images of emotions? That would seem to limit an artist to creating modern abstract art, where the artist would be forced to keep mum what their inspiration actually is).

        Obviously I was referring to the widely-accepted consensus of experts in the field of ancient archaeology (eg Israel Finkelstein, William Devers, etc) and ancient art historians/critics (eg Thomas McEvilley) where the characteristic hallmark of physical artifacts recovered from ancient Hebrew sites in Israel and Palestine is the characteristic LACK of artistic expression: in fact, that’s HOW experts discriminate whether the original occupants of the site were Hebrew vs Egyptian vs Hyskos vs Canaanite vs Philistine. ALL inhabitants had characteristic styles of living, and the determination is made by analyzing the architecture of the ruins, pottery, recovered artifacts, the presence/absence of art, etc. Archaeologists KNOW quite well what styles were associated with different Nationalities of occupants, and even how these characteristic unique styles changed over time (critical for accurate dating of digs, combined with carbon-14 dating; together, these make it possible to determine the age of the ruins, within a few decades, in some cases). The consensus of experts is a LACK of artistic expressionas the hallmark of Jewish sites.

        It doesn’t take a genius to put 2 and 2 together here, since the Bible’s 2nd commandment found in Exodus SPECIFICALLY PROHIBITED the making of images of any living being; that restriction essentially SQUELCHED ALL creative and artistic expression within Torah-observant communities (and the presence of numerous miniature idols (Asherahs) actually betrays the wide-spread disobedience amongst most inhabitants, esp in rural areas of Israel and Judea). This restriction is reflected in the recovered pottery, etc, hence why Hebrew digs are characterized by their unique undecorated plainness, DEVOID of the stylistic flairs and artistic expression found in OTHER recovered artifacts from other sites (eg Philistine digs reveal a very characteristic ornate style of design and art). Ancient Hebrew paintings (murals, frescoes) don’t exist, for precisely this same reason: there was no Jewish Michelangelo, since if there WERE such a talented sculptor, he’d likely be sent to become a ‘tecktion’ (stone mason) and sternly warned about making graven images, or if he DID, he was likely stoned for violating the 2nd commandment (where Michelangelo’s sculpture ‘David’ IS a violation of the 2nd commandment).

        Now if anyone disagrees, then fine: go tell all the experts and archaeologists working in the field that they have it ALL WRONG, since YOUR fantastic version of reality trumps their physical evidence (or the TOTAL lack of such evidence). Sure, tell them that they’re being un-PC, and clearly are anti-Semitic by discriminating against Jews.

        Unfortunately, we cannot redefine history as we’d WISH it to be, or make the historical record conform with our fantasies of what we’d like ancient Jerusalem to be (perhaps imagining it as an artist’s colony conducive to creative artists, etc).

        BTW, King Herod was a non-Jew architect who converted to Judaism and designed and reconstructed the Temple after having been appointed by the Romans to control Palestine (he really WAS “King of the Jews”), and he committing the great heretical sin of introducing foreign “pagan” artistic influences into the Temple design (he inserted such stylistic touches as Greek columns, etc). For that great sin of incorporating Greek influences into the design (architectural syncretism), he was condemned by orthodox Jews.

        Oh, BTW, from the Jewish Encyclopedia:

        The persistent fight of the Prophets against images was waged with such success that in the end not only was any representation of the Deity forbidden, but even the portraiture of living beings in general, man or beast. Such a command as that of the Decalogue (Ex. xx. 4; Deut. v. 8) would have been impossible to a nation possessed of such artistic gifts as the Greeks, and was carried to its ultimate consequences—as to-day in Islam—only because the people lacked artistic inclination, with its creative power and formative imagination.

        Wow, isn’t that a stunning claim? The Jews of “lacking artistic inclination, with its creative power and formative imagination”. Just goes to show that sometimes the targets of bigotry are often the most-bigoted people around.


      • Corinna, this wasn’t addressed to me, but I do want to comment. I think that by now most of us have a good grasp on your use of humor…..I personally do some of my best work when I am half comatose and drooling. I can’t imagine turning one’s mind off for a full day once a week, but I can’t really imagine that this was the intention of the Sabbath. I will be glad when Aaron gets back and we can clarify this issue. It seems that there is a difference between having ideas……and having ideas and acting on them.
        I don’t meditate consistently, but I do have a couple of friends who do… seems to me that I do hear them reflecting on how it clears their minds of all the distracting commotion of daily life…..and puts them in the present. But those who meditate also seem to be able to tap into their sub-conscious more readily than the rest of us….and find much value in doing so. Sabbath seems to have some parallels with this, albeit they are very different in other ways. And I am like Shelley: I am a journal writer and have found much value in this self-reflective writing. It is one more way to unload the burdens of the busy-ness of our lives…..I think that your being willing to integrate a Sabbath-like day for yourself will, no doubt, be very rewarding. Particularly if you can get Phil to buy into the concept!

        • Hi Merrill,

          As usual, you have parsed the distinct element of the topic. Sabbath provides an mental environment that promotes a stream of thinking that I can rarely attain during the week. These streams, like any tool can be escapist,lacking substance, or they can be of an extraordinary value.

          For example, if a businessman, takes this mental space and uses this uncluttered time to think about how to better build his business it is a “misuse” and takes him away from his spirituality, and this is the fruit he will reap in the week to come. In a certain fashion he becomes more en-clothed in the secondary elements of the world. More pointedly, he is just like an animal, all of his deeds are just to feed himself.

          If a Sabbath stream of thinking is devoted to delve into the meaning of some aspect of Gdliness and character development then the following week’s daily grind becomes an aid and support to his spiritual quest.. The daily grind to make a living become’s a holy tool to sustain the spiritual quest.

          By refraining from some active forms of creativity on the Sabbath, such as writing, we free and cultivate a much deeper reservoir of creativity in the form of unobstructed thinking; a quality and tool that have been inundated by the Twittermania, Facebook and other superficial expressive mediums. Clearly this blog is excluded from the realm of superficial.

  2. The rabbi seemed to be saying, this is not perfunctory; something really happens in our worship here. We are meeting Someone who, no matter how small we may be or feel, is aware of us and loves us. So we gratefully respect that and enter in fully.

    Meeting him there doesn’t have only to do with the intellect, research, trying really hard, doing good, though all of that is a part of it. But it also has to do with being still, listening, praying, connecting, and receiving. God will come to you when you seek Him. He has provided the way and how wonderful to submit yourself to it and go with it. Even if it’s not done perfectly, God is very happy with our efforts. Your efforts, Corinna, inspire me.

  3. Coincidentally, today’s Mass readings were about the Sabbath. The OT reading was from Isaiah, the Epistle from Galatians about the new vs. old law, and the Gospel where Jesus healed a disabled woman on the Sabbath. I especially liked Jesus retort to the Pharisees: “You feed your animals on the Sabbath, but you would tell this woman go and come back another day?” Kind of related to His question: “is it a sin to do good on the Sabbath?”. It all about attitude and approach; you can adhere to all the rules, but unless you’re feeling it in your heart and spirit, its all for naught. Like Ginger said, you need to see why the rules are there, that this is a time set apart for a higher purpose than not writing or using appliances.

  4. A delightful little post….
    I, for one, would love to do more such research on the Sabbath….During church on most Sundays, I take quite a few notes on the sermon. I wonder what I would think if the pastor came down, looked me in the eye, and said, “We don’t write on Sunday.”
    I suppose that I would actually rejoice at the mental challenge of using my brain again to record important points….hmmmm, maybe I should just do that anyway….Although, I wonder if my renewed mental gymnastics would require more work than the original project with the pen…. 😐

  5. Frank’s video says it for me…the Sabbath should be a time when my heart, my soul, my love go deeper into my God. However that happens. I would be sad if I couldn’t write on Sunday because writing in my notebook is the way my heart goes deeper into God. The video sends a quiet message that there are many ways to pray, many ways to go deeper, and I think that is what’s most important on the Sabbath or any other day. We need to keep the spirit of the Sabbath alive, whether or not we follow all the rules perfectly.

  6. For me, it seems we are frequently talking of feelings while some others of us may be quoting statistics and English/Logic 101 to prove how ludicrous are my feelings. I’m trying to understand what “others” find valuable and viable in their beliefs; what works for them and maybe some implications of “why” things work for them. I find such activities personally satisfying and productive socially. My reactions to the various concepts of “Sabbath” have been welcome. Thank you, Corinna.

  7. Corinna….reading this made me think of how I tried very hard, Sunday, to not write. I found it abysmally easy to give in and get a pencil and take the notes that I had been thinking about. And I realized how quickly that turned me away from the peace I had been feeling from Mass Sunday morning.

    I am appreciating your blog very much and enjoying the newest steps your journey is taking, even if I don’t always understand or participate in them.

    Much fondness to you,
    Yours in Christ

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