Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein is looking to spread the observance of Shabbat
according to the Orthodox rite around the world; if not weekly than at least
once a year. Goldstein recently ran a high-profile campaign, called the Shabbos
Project, in his native South Africa, which he said convinced over 20,000 people
to observe their first Shabbat according to strict Orthodox
Shabbat, the weekly Jewish day of rest commemorating God’s
creation of the world, is a day on which observant Jews do not use electricity,
drive cars or use the telephone. Instead, they pray, eat holiday meals together
and learn Torah, play with children or just take it easy. This disconnect from
the workaday world is the heritage of the entire Jewish people, Goldstein told
The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, and can serve as a unifying focus for an
increasingly fractured Jewish community.
Using the tagline “Keeping it
together,” and bringing several high profile South African celebrities –
including rocker Danny Kay – on board as spokespeople, Goldstein sought to
convince South Africa’s Jews that “Shabbat is the center that keeps the family,
the community and a person together.”
Having a day like Shabbat that
allows Jews to connect to a heritage of observance thousands of years old brings
them together and gives them a commonality, he said. “Shabbat has such a
compelling message for the modern times that people relate to it. It goes behind
religiosity, it’s saying firstly this is a compelling mitzva and its a part of
Jewish heritage, identity and history.”
“Like [Zionist ideologue] Ahad
Ha’am said, ‘more than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews,’”
Goldstein added. “It was a unity campaign.”
The purpose of asking people
to observe an entire Shabbat was to “challenge” and “empower” them, the rabbi
explained. However, for those new to any sort of observance, the rabbi
distributed a book and a set of cards explaining the meaning of the day of rest
and how to best observe the rites in as “user friendly” a manner as
We wanted “to make it manageable, doable for people,” he said.
“We don’t have to dilute this. You can actually do the full thing and do it
properly and [there] was a big sense of an experience that people never had and
Several secular Jews told him they couldn’t think of
one friend of theirs not keeping Shabbat, he added.
Addressing issues of
Jewish inter-communal tension, Goldstein said that a lot of the anger between
secular and ultra-Orthodox in Israel in a place like Beit Shemesh could be
dispelled if the residents would get together to bake hallot, the tradition
Shabbat bread, as they did in South Africa.
In Israel, for a rabbinic
conference held last week which brought together Jewish spiritual leaders from
around the globe, Goldstein has been looking for partners to branch out and
bring the project to new locales.
So far, he told the Post, the Israeli
Chief Rabbinate has expressed support and there have been inquiries from Europe,
the United States and Argentina, among other places.
While projects like
Shabbat Across America, run by the National Jewish Outreach Program in New York,
have been run in the past, the Shabbos Project is new in that it asks
participants to fully observe the laws of the day of rest.
packed into the synagogues in South Africa, he said, indicating that he would
like to see this happen once a year in many countries around the world.