Friday, August 06, 2010

The Sabbath World Read

Yes, I expected a different book, which made reading this book less satisfying. 

Yes, I found some things irksome ("volunteer simplicity" instead of "voluntary simplicity" twice, but correct later; the Kierkegaard thing I mentioned June 17th; blithely referring to the Asidoi as a "suicide cult", which makes light of the tragedies of both; some unfortunate misreading of Christian theology, esp regarding the immanence of God; an unexamined claim that the Trinity isn't referred to in the Bible....).

No, Shulevitz's book didn't advance my understanding of Sabbath, or help me discern practice. But, for less than the price of four hours I did get a nice historical review of the social/political adherence to sabbath and why it looked like it did when it did. 

The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time might better have been called The World and Sabbath: Using Time to Order Difference.  What she has written is a secularist's view of a particularly peculiar political (in the broadest sense) institution, interspersed with memoirs of youthful longing. It seems as though Shulevitz has sought to satisfy her longings by indulging her intellect (substantial) and her heritage (Jewish). 

The problem is this: because she does not recognize the object of the longings as God, but instead interprets them as tradition/ritual/community, she winds up approaching a distinctly God-centered practice as an outsider. She knows this, comparing herself to Kierkegaard (an unfortunate if revealing comparison, given her anti-Semitic accusations), who falsely described himself as an observer of faith, and claiming his spectator's seat.

Since Sabbath, at least since Heschel, defines a cosmic world of its own, the "world" of sabbath Shulevitz describes is merely a parallel universe, more familiar than the cosmic one.  That parallel universe is the one we all see: the universe of ritual, battles, politics, exclusion, inclusion, as well as Derrida and de Mans.  That parallel universe is the world of "the flesh" -- precisely the world that the Sabbath both illuminates and escapes.  It would be as if someone described deep longlasting mature love to you by referring to heart-shaped candy boxes and Dorothy Parker throwaway lines.  You'd know what love might look like, but still have not a clue what it was or how to find it yourself. Much like her God.

All in all, a pleasant and interesting read, but I'm glad I waited for the library copy to arrive.

No comments: