Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Resting on the Seventh Day

Essay One: Resting on the Seventh Day
After the Six Days of Creation, G-d completed the world by finally introducing a new concept, namely, rest[1]. On the Seventh Day, G-d rested from the labor of creating the world. In contrast to G-d, human beings are warned not to rest, as the Torah says, “Day and night, they shall not rest.[2]” The Talmud understands[3] based on this verse that Noahides are enjoined not to rest for even one “day and night” period. This means that while a Jew has a commandment to rest, or cease from work, on the Seventh Day of the week (Saturday, i.e. the Sabbath), a Noahide has not such a commandment. On the contrary, such respite is forbidden to a Noachide, whether on Saturday (like the Jews), Sunday (like the Christians), or Friday (like the Muslims). Accordingly, if the patriarchs of the Jewish Nation, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and their family, had the halachik status of Noachides and not Jews, then they were not allowed to observe the Sabbath laws. This is because such rest for a Noachite, according to the Talmud, is punishable by death. The various rabbinic commentaries explain the rationale for this law.

Rashi[4] merely explains that it is forbidden for a Noachide to rest and/or cease from his work[5]. Rashi specifically referred only to a male Noachide, implying that this prohibition of rest is only for a man. Perhaps the explanation of Rashi can be that when Adam sinned by eating the Forbidden Fruit, he was punished by all future males having to work, “with the sweat of his brow.[6]” This implies that HaShem expects man to work continuously without rest. However, two thousand four hundred and forty-eight years later, HaShem granted the Jews a special present, namely, the Holy Sabbath[7], with which they can rest, in contrast to the remainder of society. Therefore, world society is not allowed to rest because of the curse of Adam, while the Jews are allowed to rest because the Torah specifically calls for a Mitzvah of Shabbos, which was a unique gift granted to the Jewish Nation[8]. According to this explanation, however, it is difficult to understand how the Patriarchs were allowed to keep the Shabbos[9] if they lived before the giving of the commandment of Shabbos (at Marah[10], on the way to Mount Sinai), and should have been bound by the Noahidic prohibition of rest. Rabbi Meir ben Todros HaLevi Abulafia (1170-1244) explains[11] that the gift of Shabbos was given specifically to the Jews, and therefore if a Noahide keeps Shabbos, he is actually stealing from the Jews and is therefore liable for the prohibition of stealing (which is one of the Seven Noachide Laws).

The Maharsha explains[12] that the Sabbath is, metaphorically, a bride. Indeed, the Talmud refers[13] to the Sabbath as a bride and the Shabbos is greeted in the same way that a bride is greeted[14]. This imagery was immortalized by Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz (a 16th century poet and Kabbalist from Tzfas) in his classical liturgical song, Lecha Dodi, which is sung just before the reception of the Holy Shabbos. Rabbi Avraham Sperling writes[15], based on this allegorical comparison, that “Shabbos” is the female companion to the Israelite nation. The Jewish Nation is “married” to Shabbos. Therefore, when a non-Jew follows the rules of Shabbos, it is as if he is committing “adultery” with the married bride “Shabbos”, and so he is liable for the death penalty. However, before the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, Shabbos did not yet have any marital connection to the Jewish Nation, and therefore, the patriarchs of the Jewish Nation, even if they had the halachik status of Noachides, were allowed to observe the laws of Shabbos in its entirety[16].

Maimonides writes[17] that the prohibition of a gentile observing Shabbos is a part of the general prohibition for gentiles not to innovate novel laws[18]. Rabbi Dovid Ibn Zimra (1479-1573) explains[19] that according to Maimonides gentiles are not allowed to keep the Sabbath as if they were commanded to do so, rather they are only allowed to observe it as means of acquiring merits, but not as a means of fulfilling a commandment because they have no such commandment. In light of this, Rabbi Moshe Sofer[20] explains the words of an enigmatic Talmudic passage[21], which states that if a non-Jew rests on Shabbos, he has fulfilled the commandment of resting. A non-Jew is only not allowed to rest when doing so as part of a “religious service”, however, a non-Jew can rest and get the reward for fulfilling the commandment of Shabbos in doing so. This is true if the gentile personally accepts upon himself not to worship idols. Keeping Shabbos and abstaining from idols are really the same because Shabbos is testimony[22] to the fact that HaShem created the world, while idolatry denies this truism. Therefore, a gentile who specially avowed not to worship idols (ger toshav) is also obligated to keep Shabbos and thereby has no prohibition of resting[23]. Perhaps the patriarchs of the Jewish nation before the Sinaitic Revelation had the status of such Noachides, and were thus able to observe properly the Shabbos.

Rabbi Yitzchack Zev Soloveitchik writes[24] that the forefathers of Jewish Nation, while personally they lacked the status of Jews, they still had within their possession the item of Torah. This difficult concept can be explained that while they were not the gavra (lit. person) of Jews, they had the cheftza (lit. article) of Torah[25]. Accordingly, even though the forbearers to the Jews had the technical halachik status of Noachides in them, their Torah is the same Torah as accepted by the Jews at Mount Sinai. Therefore, when they observed Shabbos, they were not creating a new religious ritual, which— according to Maimonides—is forbidden for a Noachide to do, they were merely following the Torah. The way that a Jew can observe Shabbos even though a prohibition of resting exists on the rest of humanity is the same way that the pre-Sinaitic followers of the Abrahamic tradition were able to observe Shabbos (see below).

The Gemara initially thought[26] that gentiles are not aware of their Mitzvah of Shabbos. If they do not know about their prohibition of rest, then how can they ever be punished for resting from work? Based on the opinion of Maimonides that a Noachide is only forbidden to observe Shabbos as if he was commanded to do so, the Maharsha explains[27] that anyways a gentile needs certain intent to be held responsible for illicitly having a day of rest. Thus when the Talmud described that gentiles can be punished (by G-d, not people) for not upholding the Torah[28] this also includes even the commandment of Shabbos. However, Rabbi Meir Ben Yaakov Schiff (1608-1644) asks on the Maharsha[29] that nowadays gentiles do indeed know about the commandment of Shabbos, so they should all be punished if they rest, so why did the Gemara try to say they would be exempt from punishment[30]. Rather one must explain the Gemara like Rabbi Shlomo Luria (1510-1574), who said[31] that had the commandment of Shabbos been secretly given to the Jews, not in the presence of the entire world like all the other commandments, and then the gentiles would have a justification for not keeping their own laws. That is, they could claim that they are being maltreated because the Jews have a day of rest once a week, while they cannot rest because of “day and night they shall rest.[32]” According to Rabbi Luria, the reason why the Mitzvah of Shabbos was given publicly like the others was to counter this claim of the gentiles.

Several Rabbis offer technical answers as to how the forefathers of the Jewish Nation were able to observe Shabbos against the rule prohibiting a non-Jewish day of rest. All of the thirty-nine forbidden labors on Shabbos are only forbidden when they meet certain criteria, but when these criterions are not met, the forbidden labors are actually permitted[33]. Rabbi Yosef Babad answers[34] that in order for “carrying in a public domain” to be prohibited one must carry the size of a dried fig, so those Jews before Mount Sinai would keep Shabbos, but would carry in a public domain less than the amount proscribed in order to have not been “resting” for Shabbos. Similarly, Rabbi Moshe Sofer answers[35] that when one wears clothing, the prohibition of carrying does not apply to the clothing being worn, and therefore the pre-Sinai Jews wore Tzitzis on Shabbos. For a Jew, they were not carrying on Shabbos because Tzitzis is a garment that is worn, so they kept Shabbos. Yet as a Noachide, Tzitzis is not a piece of clothing[36] but is rather a burden, so they were considered carrying the Tzitzis and thus were not resting on Shabbos as is forbidden to a non-Jew. Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi ben Aryeh Leib Jolles answers[37] that the forefathers did labors which were unneeded for themselves and there were technically not forbidden. Others answer[38] that—assuming a non-Jew’s agency gives him the halachik status of an agent that can cause an action to be considered the sender’s action[39]—the forefathers used messengers on Shabbos to perform forbidden labors[40]. For a Jew, the messenger is not an agent for the sender if he is doing a sin[41]. While for a Noachide, there is no sin in performing labors on Shabbos so the agent’s actions are considered the sender’s, and as a result, it is as if they themselves performed the labors so they did not rest on Shabbos to have violated the injunction against doing so.

Rabbi Pinchas HaLevi Horowitz writes[42] that the forefathers did indeed completely observe the Sabbath, but they did so in a way that is was permissible for Noachides. According to Rabbi Horowitz, the Noachide prohibition of observing a day of rest applies specifically if that day is a day followed by a night, as he writes that for a non-Jew—and the entire civilization before the Revelation at Mount Sinai— the day precedes the night. The forefathers, therefore, observed the Sabbath as is prescribed by the Torah (and is presently practiced), with the night preceding the day, yet were not liable for the death penalty for observing a day of rest since it was not a day followed by a night. Rabbi Horowitz proves that the day came before the night in the pre-Sinaitic world by explaining that sometimes the Torah mentions the day and then the night, while sometimes it is vice versa, implying a switch.

However, Rabbi Ya’akov Ettlinger rejects[43] this proof and says that the Torah always writes the day before the night, save for four exceptions. Each of these four exceptions, Rabbi Ettlinger writes, has a specific reason why the night was written before the day. In Deuteronomy 28:66, the Torah refers to the night before the day because the night is the subject of the verse, which discusses fear because fear is more prevalent at night; the same is true with the guarding at night of Kings 1 8:29. In Esther 4:16 and Jeremiah 14:17 refer to the night before the day as times of crying and mourning based on another verse[44] which describes such weeping and lamenting at night. Furthermore, argues Rabbi Ettlinger, the Mishnah explicitly writes[45] that ever since the Six Days of Creation the night precedes the day, and not the converse. An additional question on Rabbi Horowitz is raised by Rabbi Akiva Eiger[46]: Tosafos[47] were bothered by the fact that if there was a prohibition of resting from work, then such a prohibition should apply to Jews also, despite the Jewish commandment of Shabbos. If Rabbi Horowitz’s assumption is correct and that the prohibition for Noachides to rest is only a day followed by a night, then Tosafos should have no question because Jews rest for a night then day on Shabbos, not vice versa. The only time Tosfos’ problem of resting would be present would be the rare instances when Yom Kippur occurs on either the day before or after Shabbos (i.e. Friday or Sunday) in which case Jews end up resting for a day followed by a night (plus more)[48].

Rabbi Ettlinger offers another explanation as to how the forefathers before the acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai were able to observe Shabbos properly despite the ban on non-Jew day of rest. He explains that for a Jew there are only thirty-nine categories of prohibited labors outlawed on Shabbos. However, a Noachide can fulfill his obligation to not rest from labor by performing any labor, which need not be of the thirty-nine categories of labor. Therefore, the forefathers would perform labors which are not part of the thirty-nine and are permissible to be done on Shabbos, yet they are still not considered resting because they performed some type of labor. The term used in the Torah for the outlawed labors is not ‘Avodah which means merely “work” but is rather melacha which means a specific type of work, that is, work which was performed in preparation and construction for the Tabernacle. Shabbos is a representation of the Holy Temple and the fact that even when the Messiah will finally arrive, Shabbos will supersede the construction of the Holy Temple because the commandment of Shabbos is so powerful[49]. However, the Messiah can only come to rebuild the Holy Temple once the entire Jewish nation properly follows two weeks of Sabbaths[50]. May it be HaShem’s will that that day shall come speedily and in our days: Amen.

[1] See Beis HaLevi to Genesis 2:2
[2] Genesis 8:22
[3] Sanhedrin 58b
[4] To Sanhedrin 58b
[5] Indeed this is the foundation of what Shabbos is. The responsa of the Radbaz (Volume 2, §76) explains that the foundation of Shabbos is to work for six days and rest on the seventh, which is what one is supposed to do if he loses track of the days of the week and cannot find out which day is Saturday to observe Shabbos on (see Shabbos 69b).
[6] Genesis 3:19
[7] Beitzah 16a
[8] Maharsha to Shabbos 10b
[9] As is proven in the beginning of Parshas Derachim from Genesis Rabbah 79:6 and 92:4 concerning Jacob and Joseph, respectively
[10] Exodus 15:25
[11] Yad Ramah to Sanhedrin 58b
[12] To Sanhedrin 58b
[13] Bava Kama 32a
[14] Therefore, according to some halachik authorities, a quorum of ten Jewish men is required for the Kabbalas Shabbos (Accepting/Receiving the Shabbos) services on Friday night, just as a quorum of ten Jewish men is needed to recite the Seven Nuptial Blessings of a Jewish Wedding (see Chavatzeles HaSharon to Parshas Noach)
[15] Ta’amei HaMinhagim, pg. 502 (Eshkol Ed.)
[16] See footnote ** ibid.
[17] Maimonides, Laws of Kings 10:9
[18] Maimonides writes that although this prohibition is not punishable with death, only floggings, gentiles should be warned that they could be liable for the death penalty as a means of deterring them from sinning through rest.
[19] Radbaz ibid. 10:10
[20]Chasam Sofer to Chullin 33a
[21] Nedarim 31a
[22] This is why in halacha the recitation of Genesis 2:1-3 on Friday night is to be done with at least two men because in halacha witnesses in a legal setting can only come in pairs
[23] See Rashi to Yevamos 48b who says that a Ger Toshav is supposed to observe Shabbos; however, see Tosfos there
[24] Kuntres Moadim (stencil)
[25] Please excuse the inexplicable “Yinglish” rendering.
[26] Beitzah 16a
[27] To Beitzah 16a
[28] Avodah Zarah 2b
[29] Maharam Shiff to Beitzah 16a
[30] The Maharam Shiff also proves his point through Rashi to Sanhedrin 58b, cited above
[31] Maharshal, Chochmas Shlomo to Beitzah 16a
[32] Genesis 8:22
[33] At least some are permitted while others are only exempt from punishment, but are forbidden both technically and practically.
[34] Minchas Chinuch §32, Musach HaShabbos
[35] Chasam Sofer to Shabbos 139b in the name of an anonymous Rabbi, some explain that the source of this was the author of the responsa Cheshek Shlomo, Rabbi Shlomo Cohen of Vilna
[36] Because a Noachide has no commandment to wear fringes on a four-cornered garment
[37] Melo HaRoim
[38] Responsa Zayis Ra’anan, Volume 2
[39] Magen Avraham, Orach Chaim, §448:4 asserts such a rule, although it is highly disputed by others
[40] This is only Rabbinically forbidden nowadays for Jews. Rabbi Elya Svei (former Rosh HaYeshiva in Philadelphia and head of Agudas Yisrael of America) uses the Rabbinic status of the prohibition of telling a non-Jew to do work on Shabbos as a proof that the prohibition is not the actual deed that is done, but rather the outcome of the actions (Shiurim of Rabbi Elyah Svei, Yevamos 5a).
[41] There is no agency for sinning, see Kiddushin 42b, Bava Kama 51a, 79a, and Bava Metzia 10b
[42] Sefer HaMakneh to Kiddushin 37b and Panim Yafos to Parshas Noach
[43] Binyan Tzion §126
[44] Lamentations 1:2
[45] Chullin 83a
[46] Responsa, first volume, §121
[47] To Sanhedrin 58b
[48] This is because only the level of “resting” on Yom Kippur is equal to that of Shabbos concerning the abstinence from work.
[49] Yevamos 6a
[50] According to Shabbos 118b, the Messiah will arrive after the entire nation properly observes two Shabbosim (or Shabosos), however another passage in the Jerusalemic/Palestinian Talmud, Ta’anis 1:1, says that the Messiah will arrive after one such Shabbos. HaShem should allow that day to come soon.

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