The Shabbat given in the late 20th Century – the “universal shabbat”
It’s odd. I did a video about this years ago, but I didn’t write an article. I’ll write the article now, but I’ll still post the video.
Ok. So … man, I am surprised I didn’t write about this before. Anyway, may as well fill the void while I’m here.
So a convert to Judaism, a naturalised Jew, thought he’d give his two cents … wait, he is American but I’m in the UK … so should I say two pennies, or leave it in his currency? Why would it matter anyway? Hmmm … I’m rambling again. I’m gonna have to start again, aren’t I?
So this Jewish dude, ex-Gentile, thought he’d share (again) his opinion on the role of the shabbat in the life of a Gentile who acknowledges the authority of God and Torah. His name is now Hillel Penrod and his opinion can be found at https://genesissoul.wordpress.com/2017/10/16/a-tale-of-two-shabbats/
Now you may see in the URL, the weblink, or the article itself that he’s talking about two shabbats. He is focusing on the weekly shabbat here. And from the get-go, the facts kick away the foundation of the article.
In the Jewish Bible, there is only one weekly shabbat. I believe that even in Jewish tradition there is only one weekly shabbat. It’s the shabbat enjoined upon Jews and the nation of Israel, the seventh day of the week, part of what keeps the Jews separate from the nations, a day in which certain acts are forbidden. That is the explicit and clear shabbat of Torah. So already, there are warning signs about what Penrod is talking about? What’s this second weekly shabbat he’s talking about? I’ll let him tell you.
The Jewish person has two primary commandments concerning Shabbat; since we have already looked at the word “shamor,” let’s try to understand the command to “zachor” the Shabbat. The Jew is commanded to zachor or remembers the Shabbat. Remembering the Shabbat is accomplished by beginning Shabbat by reciting blessings that distinguish between the regular workday and the Shabbat, commemorating the creation of the world, and re-emphasizing Israel’s exodus from Egypt.
Shabbat is ended through the act of reciting blessings that mark the departure of the Shabbat and our re-engagement into the mundane world. The act of remembering Shabbat is open to anyone (Exodus 20:8) because there is no specific limitation on this commandment unlike guarding Shabbat.
A Noahide could go even further than the remembrance of Shabbat through celebrating the day of rest (Genesis 2:2 introduces us to Shabbat). The Noahide ought to celebrate the Shabbat. Remembering Shabbat and the general celebration of the day is often referred to as the Universal Shabbat. (emphasis mine)
Let me deal with a number of claims here.
Penrod rightly says that a Jew is commanded to remember shabbat and he refers to Exodus 20:8. But the text of Exodus 20:8 doesn’t just command the Jew to remember it. What does it say?
Remember the day of the Shabbat to keep it holy.
That’s what a Jew is commanded to do. The Jew.
Now according to Penrod, this is open to everyone and anyone. But is that true? If I were to simply read the books of Moshe and come to this point, would I think this law was open to anyone?
Here’s some counter-evidence to that claim. What does the Decalogue, the Ten Statements, start with?
I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Mitzrayim, from the house of slaves. (Exodus 20:2)
Hmmm … that beginning doesn’t sound so open to me. God didn’t take the other nations of the world out of Mitzrayim. No, he only took the nation of Israel out of Mitzrayim.
So the whole Decalogue was not open to just anyone.
Something that confirms this fact is that God was making a covenant exclusively with Israel, not any other nation (Psalm 147:19,20; Exodus 19:4-6; 31:13). And the words or terms of this exclusive pact?
And [Moshe] was there with God forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread, nor drank water. And he wrote upon the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten statements.
So when the Torah is talking about the Decalogue, it’s not talking about something open to all and sundry. It’s talking about an important element of an exclusive relationship.
Another piece of counter-evidence. The 7M (the seven laws) enjoined upon the world are not part of the 613 laws. They are not part of the Decalogue. The 7M is a separate body of law. It may have some superficial similarities with the Decalogue, but it is a separate body of law for a different audience.
Therefore a Gentile cannot look at the Decalogue and say, “well, just as I have a prohibition against murder as the Decalogue says, then surely I must have a link to Shabbat too.” Such a position is contextually unfounded and refuted by the facts.
So when Penrod says “remembering shabbat is open to all,” it’s not based on the command from the Decalogue. To remember to keep the seventh day holy was a command upon the Jew alone according to the Decalogue, not the other nations of the world.
Wow, that was only one point. How long is this gonna take?
Anyway, let me get back to this.
Penrod then makes the claim that Genesis 2:2 introduces us to the Shabbat.
Let me quote it.
And, on the seventh day, God finished the work that he’d done and, on the seventh day, he ceased from the work that he had done.
Now stop! Reflect with me. What exactly is the shabbat? The shabbat is a special day enjoined upon the Jew when certain specific acts are forbidden.
Now how does Genesis 2:2 introduce me to the Shabbat? Let me make a bold claim. The first verses of Genesis 2 do not introduce us to the Shabbat! Please see my use as Shabbat as only and specifically referring what the Jewish Bible calls the Shabbat. Genesis 2 tells me (I can’t speak for “us” only myself) that God stopped working on the seventh day. That’s it! If you want, I can include verse 3 that says he blessed it and set it apart.
That’s not the Shabbat, which involves a lot more, such as a command and an obligation, a significant narrowing of terms, etc. The text of Genesis 2 doesn’t even call it “a shabbat.” God did set the seventh day apart at creation for a purpose, a purpose which is not touched again until what? Until it is given, with exclusivity, to Israel. There is no obligation, there’s not even an “ought,” for anyone else. Nothing universal is given to anyone else about it.
Now this leads to a question concerning the last part of my earlier quote. He talks about remembering and celebrating the shabbat, that this is called a universal shabbat.
Now once again, think about that!
Did you think about it? Or did you just read the dots? Lol! I’m just playing with you. Wait, am I supposed to stay serious? Errr … I’ll just be me.
So it’s been shown that remembering the Shabbat does not appear to be open to all. But where does this “celebrating the Shabbat” come from? I personally haven’t seen an easily accessible Torah source for this notion, especially in the widely available “Written Torah.” I’m not talking about an “end-time” prophecy about Gentiles going to Jerusalem every week (“from shabbat to shabbat”). I’m talking about some clear and easily seen statement about non-Jews having some encouragement to “celebrate Shabbat.” I mean, what exactly is “celebrating Shabbat?” I mean the article of Penrod spoke of candles to set apart the day, which makes sense for a Jew to do. There is a link to God there, namely, the commandment. But when a Gentile does that with no such link, they are simply lighting candles. That’s it; something that could be done any day of the week.
So the Jews actually keep and observe the Shabbat command to keep the day holy by following God’s prescription for them; and the people who are not Jewish … they do what?
And not only that. When did “celebrating Shabbat” all of a sudden become “a universal Shabbat?” I mean, the Jew ceases from the specified categories of work on that day because of God’s command to them while the average Gentile has no obligation and still can freely “work.” What is “shabbat” about that?
Again, remember the Jewish Bible’s absolute silence about this “universal shabbat!”
Penrod gave this pleasant picture:
When a Jew uses the phrase “keep Shabbat” they mean guarding Shabbat which means not transgressing one of the 39 categories of forbidden work on Shabbat. When a Noahide responds “Yes, I keep Shabbat it is very important to me;” they are claiming (in the ears of a Jew) to be saying that they keep a halachic Shabbat or that they are doing the mitzvah that is unique to Israel-shamor (guarding). A better way for the Noahide to answer the question “Do you keep Shabbat” is to say “No, I do not keep Shabbat, but I celebrate Shabbat and that is very important to me.”
Personally, I would still ask “what the hell is celebrating shabbat?” Again I ask, how did a Gentile doing essentially his or her own thing to make the day special, how did that become “a shabbat,” this “universal shabbat?” Is the logic that because they do it on the same day as the Jews keep the real commanded Shabbat, it becomes “shabbat” for the Gentile by osmosis? Is the logic that because the Gentile, who was given no obligation for that day, chooses to spend a bit more time learning Torah on that day that God made holy, enjoy creation that day, think about God’s truth more that day, that the seventh day becomes a shabbat for us, even though it was not called a shabbat until it was given to the Jew exclusively?
I know what happens now. Someone raises their hand and quotes stories in the Jewish tradition of Abraham keeping all the Torah before it was given to Moshe, or Adam doing something on that day. The main problem with such stories is that 1) it’s questionable how literally to take them; and 2) those stories are not law. They don’t change the history recorded in the books of Moshe or the relationship between the Gentile and Shabbat, especially once God makes it his special sign between him and his people, Israel.
Read this quote from Penrod.
The universal Shabbat is not a halachic requirement, nor a term that appears in rabbinic literature. The universal Shabbat is a handle or jargon that refers to the universal aspects of Shabbat that are open to everyone.
This should be particularly telling as it coincides with the title of this article. When it is said that this “universal Shabbat” is neither an divine obligation or God-given instruction, neither is it in rabbinic literature, I understand as saying that it is an innovation, something not in Torah! I can say that because it’s not even in the written Torah!!! (Penrod just confirmed it’s not in the oral Torah.)
So what we do have implied here is that this “universal Shabbat” is a modern invention. And since at least I haven’t heard of it before the late 20th century (or early 21st) then somehow a shabbat, a universal one, gets created without a command in Torah or from God.
And these “universal” aspects of the Shabbat … what are they? The knowledge that God made the earth in six days and rested on the seventh? But that knowledge isn’t tied to a day. I could remember that on a Wednesday. Why link that to “a universal shabbat” that, by “accident,” happens to fall on the same day as the real Shabbat which the Jews keep? As this knowledge isn’t linked to a keeping of any day, then that makes this “universal shabbat” idea redundant. So this universal aspect has nothing to do with making special a certain day.
Is there some other universal aspect that can be compellingly linked to making a certain day special? I can’t think of one.
Again the hand goes up: “OK, David, so what? Don’t call it “Shabbat” then! Call it a seventh day celebration! Call it whatever you like! The fact is that we recognise God’s creating everything and resting on the seventh day.”
If this is about knowledge, learning and knowing something, what does that have to do with literally making more effort to make the seventh day of the week any different for the non-Jew? As I’ve said before, there is no link, especially not a divine one.
Personally, I think the root of all this is a mix of a genuine desire to worship God and a personal selfish craving for ritual. The Gentile eager to express a feeling of devotion and praise to God sees no such act or ritual in his own obligation and cannot see sufficient “worship” in obeying God, taking care of others and being a good example, learning the 7M and the principles of decency and justice, only in ritual and symbolic acts. This sincere Gentile can then only see a viable option of expressing that urge in keeping days like the Jew, wearing special clothes like the Jew, using prayerbooks like the Jew, having a special diet like the Jew, putting up symbols on the door like the Jew, etc. The attraction to the symbolic rather than seeing the divinity in the “mundane” command or the mundane acts of goodness and decency, even at sharing a smile with a sad neighbour, a small act that could “rectify” someone’s “world,” means that the 7M is not enough, living up to the responsibility of being made with an element of the Judge (“image of God”), that is not enough.
Is this the bitter aftertaste of living in this mixed up world of religious plurality, where “closeness to God” is not seen in being a person of integrity but a person adorned with symbols and rituals? Where we aim to find books to talk to God but deprecate learning how to follow his rules, study them in-depth or imitate his ways?
Can I tell you something? I guess I’m gonna do it anyway. I’ve NEVER, never, heard a God-fearing Gentile say “prayer is not enough; sabbath days are irrelevant; how do I learn to perfect my conduct from day to day?” Isaiah 1 is dead, isn’t it?
I got off-track, didn’t I?
Main point? The universal shabbat is pure fiction catered for the Gentile eager to join with the Jew in worshipping God. There is a real Shabbat which was commanded to the Jew. He was both commanded to remember to keep it holy and to guard/observe it as part of his exclusive covenant. But, in reality, there is no other Torah-mandated or even Torah-encouraged weekly seventh day shabbat, no such seventh day celebrations.
When a Gentile reflects on creation, studies his Torah, cherishes family and social time, his doing it on a Saturday has no difference in quality than him doing it on a Thursday or a Tuesday. If he lights a candle, it doesn’t separate a day for himself in a divinely ordained sense, like a Jew. It just burns wax and lights an area, something it would do on any other day.
When Ursula the Gentile devotes herself to God in thought and action and it consumes her on a Wednesday so that she shouts out in ecstasy, overwhelmed with the thought of the greatness and awesomeness of the Uncreated, and then Brian the Gentile does the same thing on a Saturday, the fact Brian’s ecstacy fell upon the seventh day means nothing better in terms of quality.
And for a Gentile, remembering God’s creating on a Saturday doesn’t make it a shabbat any more than remembering it on a Monday makes Mondays a shabbat.
In this sense, I don’t condemn anyone, any fellow non-Jew, for remembering the creation days on the seventh day. Why not, after a blogpost like this? Because simply remembering (I mean that as “bringing to mind,” no rituals, no candles) that God created the universe in six days and rested the seventh is a good thing and can be done any day.
Now calling it any sort of shabbat is another thing and is erroneous.
Penrod attempted to make a difference between “must” and “ought” with regards to a person of the non-Jewish nations remembering or celebrating the Shabbat on his “universal shabbat.” He reveals that he’s not saying a Gentile must do it, but rather that a Gentile ought to do it for some benefit, because it is beneficial.
But with the fictional quality of the “universal shabbat,” the difference of ought and must is redundant. It’s just as redundant as asking whether we ought to or must eat a dodo or whether we should or must kill stones or whether I should or must visit the real Santa Claus.
It’s my hope that Penrod properly keeps the shabbat he’s now commanded to keep and remember, seeing as he is now a naturalised Jew. I also hope Gentiles who respect God’s seven laws and aim to live in integrity and decency see Penrod’s universal shabbat for what it is, a modern unfounded innovation, and treat it as such.