Judith Shulevitz’s The SabbathWorld is possibly the best popular work on the Sabbath since Heschel’s immortal The Sabbath (1951). While Heschel writes in sublime poetry and nostalgic musing, Shulevitz writes elegant prose, and entwines her excellent discourse on the history, nature, and value of the Sabbath with her own story of struggle with Sabbath observance. While her declared intent to frame a valuation of the Sabbath independent of religious reasons seems perhaps oddly quixotic, she does display an amazing gift for translating into concise and clear language the fundamental ideas of Shabbat as community building, Shabbat as discipline to embrace peace and tranquility, and Shabbat as temporal construct to promote holy space. Her explanation of the agenda of the Rabbis of the Talmud in making our Shabbat into what it is, is a phenomenal piece of comprehension in a non-academic work. There is nobody who should not read this book. Those who do not have wide experience of keeping Shabbat or deep education in the history and nature of Shabbat will find this book infinitely educational, relatable, and thought-provoking. Those who do have such experience and education will find the book warm, thoughtful, and prone to making one pause in pleased surprise as one suddenly finds a new and fascinating way to think about our Shabbat.
Amitai Adler is a Conservative rabbi. He teaches and writes in Los Angeles, CA, and has been published in Sh’ma and Jewish Bible Quarterly.