Sacred Time for a Family Sabbath

RICHARD LOUV

January 08, 1993|By RICHARD LOUV

SAN DIEGO. — San Diego -- Every family needs sacred time. Steven Baym believes that religious Jews and Christians should bring back the Sabbath and that all people, religious or not, can create a kind of personal Sabbath -- a family Sabbath.

By that, he means a day focused entirely on the family and the spirit, when work is stopped, the TV turned off and the heart turned inward.

Mr. Bayme is director of the Jewish Communal Affairs Department of the American Jewish Committee in New York, and director of the Institute on the Jewish Family. He describes himself as a person ''who strongly believes in the power of tradition.''

He says a growing number of Jews are rediscovering the rituals of the Sabbath as a way, in an increasingly hectic world, to spend concentrated time with their children.

For Jews, the Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. For most Christians, the Sabbath is Sunday.

Until the late 1950s, so-called blue laws required stores to be closed on Sunday in many states. While no lobby is rushing to bring back those laws, some mainstream Christian leaders are discussing how to revive the idea of a day of rest.

One friend, a Methodist, says, ''It's so easy to get caught up in the rush, even on Sunday, when I'm so busy teaching Sunday school, volunteering with a literacy program, going to district and regional church meetings, and coming into the office to put in a few hours of work. You almost need a formal ritual to break that pattern.'' This woman has decided that Saturday is her personal Sabbath.

Such sacred time doesn't need to be specifically religious. During the summer, my wife and I decided that we would take our kids to the beach one morning a week. We left the blankets and chairs in the car trunk. Every week, we jumped in the car and headed for the surf, and left deadlines, homework and TV behind. Going to the beach may not be your idea of a Sabbath, but for a while it was ours.

The key was the ritual. Without that, the summer would have disappeared while we waited for a convenient time to go to the beach.

''I am a father,'' says Mr. Bayme, ''with three traditional obligations: to teach my child a living; to teach him survival skills, and to transmit Jewish tradition.''

To an extent, he says, the state has taken over much of the first two obligations, but not the third. This is where the Sabbath comes in.

''The act of studying Jewish text together, which is part of the Sabbath ritual, accomplishes several objectives. First, it is a statement to children that the Jewish tradition is still relevant; second, it sends out the message that the family is the setting where spiritual values are passed on from one generation to the next; third, it's a bonding experience.''

Mr. Bayme quotes Abraham Joshua Heschel, a noted Jewish thinker, who called the Sabbath ''sacred time,'' a one-day retreat from worldly pressures and influences.

''In my work, I keep very late hours and travel frequently,'' says Mr. Bayme. ''My kids will often be in bed when I get home. The amount of time we spend during the week is unfortunately quite minimal. . . . But the Sabbath is a time to recharge our batteries.

He points out that Jewish tradition also describes the Sabbath as a time for sexual relations between husband and wife, also part of family life.

''My children look forward to the Sabbath as a time of joy. On Friday night, we have a dinner surrounded by Jewish rituals; this is a opportunity for extended conversation, with no pressure to meet any deadlines, a time when we have friends over. We ban television on the Sabbath. We allow no external intrusions. All entertainment must be self-generated. If the weather is nice, we go out for a walk. I really look forward to this time.

''On Saturday, we go to the synagogue. There, children are treated differently than in the past; children are no longer to be seen and not heard. Now the synagogue is a place of celebration for families.''

For Mr. Bayme, the Sabbath (or any ritualized, regular day of rest) must be a dramatically different texture of time than during the rest of the week.

''This is a time to focus on the internal quality of our lives. This is what Heschel meant by sacred time.''

Richard Louv is a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He is currently writing a book about fatherhood in America.

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