Shabbostic: Maintaining Holy Ambience For The Sabbath

“It’s just not Shabbostic.”

Every Friday in my office, we’re allowed to wear our company t-shirts. Because of this, I was finding myself still wearing the shirt when Shabbat would roll in that if Shakhar and I were inviting the Sabbath at home. Suddenly, this extremely comfortable t-shirt started to feel weird to me. No, the t-shirt hadn’t suddenly changed in any physical way, but I had mentally. During Shabbat, Jews are to put off the things of the week (work, errands, deadlines, etc.) and treat the coming of the time period like the coming of a beloved guest. I had trouble doing this when I was a walking billboard for OakTree IT (shameless plug, I know, I know).

As I dug through my closet for something else to put on, it struck me — just because I’m not going out doesn’t mean Shabbat isn’t coming in. With that, I put on the nicest clothes in my closet. As I started gathering the kiddush cup, wine glasses and siddurim, I was waiting for Shakhar to ask me, “Who are you all dressed up for?” But she didn’t. She already knew. I wasn’t dressing up for someone, but rather a period of time. I was trying my best to be Shabbostic.

What is Shabbostic?

Yeah, I know it’s a weird-sounding term. I hadn’t actually heard the term before this year. I was listening to a Jewish podcast and the guests were discussing activities on the Jewish Sabbath. To my knowledge,”Shabbostic” is an adjective to describe an activity or item that jives with the vibe of Shabbat the Jewish Sabbath. The discussion amongst the slightly-observant (arguably Conservadox) speakers in the podcast was, “Should I let my kids participate in organized sports on Shabbat To be honest, there’s not really anything in Torah that explicitly says you can’t play games, including sports, during Shabbat. Then again, sports and games aren’t really mentioned on any level in the Torah. One of the speakers said, “Sure, what’s wrong with that?” Another speaker argued, “Eh…it’s just not Shabbostic.”Other examples can include someone talking about a task you need to do after Shabbat, looking at advertisements, and the like. While these things are not forbidden to do on Shabbat, they interrupt the holy (literally “set-apart”) ambience of the Sabbath Day.

When I began to further research the idea of being “Shabbostic” in Jewish writings, I was led to the Shulchan Arukh – a concise edition of Jewish law and custom according to the Rabbinic Judaism mostly frequently referenced by Sephardic Jews. In here is a discussion about things one should not say on Shabbat, the passage found in Shulchan Arukh – Orach Chayyim Siman 301:1

“…one should not speak words of Shabbat like the words of a weekday. The law is that it is forbidden for one to say”I will do this tomorrow,’ or ‘I will sell this or buy this tomorrow.’ And even with things not Shabbostic are forbidden to talk about. Gloss: If one says non Shabbostic things just to have a good time, it is permitted to say these things, but if it does not bring them joy, it is forbidden to talk about.”

The idea here is that one should not say or do things that do not simultaneously uplift the holiness of Shabbat and one’s joy. While it would not be Shabbostic to say, “Tomorrow, I need to fix the fence”, it would still be Shabbostic to say,”I can’t wait to build a treehouse with my grandson tomorrow.” The difference is the reasoning for saying something. One is recalling a task one needs to complete. The other is relishing in an activity one will enjoy, thus perpetuating the joy of the day.

Yefet’s Shabbostic Hat

A few years ago, my parents’ neighbors were moving out of their house. The man of the house was a very talented blues musician. In moving, they were getting rid of items they didn’t feel they’d use anymore. Among some of the items was a extremely nice fedora hat he used to wear that I believe was part of an outfit that matched the rest of his old band. They gave the hat in its box to my parents. Not having not much use for it, my parents offered it to me. When I first opened the box, I was stunned that the hat was in perfect condition. I was further stunned that the hat fit my head perfectly (no little feat because my head is much larger than most). Though I’ve had the hat for many years, I never really felt like there was a fancy enough occasion to wear it. I would only wear it for very special occasions, such as when I officiated a wedding between two of my best friends.

Officiant Dude.

A photo posted by Ken Lane (@kenlane) on Aug 23, 2014 at 12:08pm PDT

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As I was digging through my closest just before Shabbat evening, looking for the nicest clothes available, I saw the hat box in the top shelf of my closet. I happily took out the hat and put it on. Some might say, “You’ve attended weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, high holy days and now you’re putting on the fanciest hat you have for the weekly Sabbath?” Absolutely.

The idea makes me recall my earliest Jewish education when the teacher asked, “Now, class — what is the first Jewish holiday?” Some of the students yelled out, “Pesach!”, “Nope, sorry.”, “Shavuot!”, “Nope. Keep trying.” None of the students could figure it out. The teacher finally said, “Shabbat. Shabbat is just as holy as Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot — you name it. The only reason we don’t always realize that is because it’s the holiday that occurs every week! Because of that, it’s easy to take for granted…but we never should.”

The past several weeks, I’ve made a very special effort to not only keep Shabbat, but to keep Shabbat in a Shabbostic way. Before I go to make kiddush, I find its helpful to close my eyes, take a deep breath, and mentally shed the tasks of the week off of my psyche like snake sheds its skin. My wife always patiently waits through this process with a slight giggle — usually because I might make a few funny facial expressions along the way. There I am in a nice clean dress shirt tucked in, nice clean pants, and my Shabbat-designated hat — ready to greet Shabbat with a smile as though it was just about to knock on my door.

You may be laughing at how ridiculous this is. It seemed weird to me at first, too, but now I can’t wait to get out my Shabbat hat every week. Last week, it was so Shabbostic in my home that as the sun began to set on Saturday, my wife said that she started to almost feel depressed, almost shedding a tear.
As Shabbat started to leave, it’s as though a good friend visiting from out of town was getting ready to hit the road again. In past weeks, I almost forgot that they were here.