South African Chief Rabbi aims to spread Shabbat across the world

Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein is looking to spread the weekly observance according to the orthodox rite.

South African Cheif Rabbi Warren Goldstein. (photo credit: Sam Sokol)
South African Cheif Rabbi Warren Goldstein.
(photo credit: Sam Sokol)
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 guidelines.
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 possible.
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 of accomplishment.”
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.
People were 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.