Why is the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday?

Dear Families,

“The Jewish Book of Why” by Alfred Kolach is a must for everyone’s bookshelf. However, although I hate to say it, when you have a question there are many places to go to get answers. When searching the web (or anywhere else you choose to search) know who is answering the question. Although today we tend to always be in a hurry and want the quick answer, that has never been the Jewish way. The Jewish way is to get many opinions and then agree or disagree or create your own answer — and tomorrow, you may be the one people are asking.

This week I was reading on www.reformjudaism.org and found the (or maybe just an) answer to a question I often have been asked. This answer was not only clear but short (another quality many of us are looking for as in “just the facts, please!”).

So here is the question: WHY IS THE JEWISH SABBATH OBSERVED ON SATURDAY? The answer comes from Rabbi Richard S. Sarason, Ph.D.

Genesis, Chapter 1 provides the basis for the Jewish week and the understanding of its days — God creates on days 1 to 6 and rests on day 7; hence Shabbat is day 7.

The names of the days, familiar from Latin and Teutonic cultures, developed separately and were named for various gods — Sunday (Helios, the sun), Monday (Luna, the moon), Tuesday (Tua, a Teutonic goddess), Wednesday (Wotan/Odin, the chief Teutonic/Norse god), Thursday (Thor, Teutonic god of thunder), Friday (Freia, Teutonic goddess of youth), Saturday (Saturn, Roman name for Kronos, chief of the Titans).

Suffice it to say, the two systems for designating the days developed independently of each other (except, likely, for the designation of seven days as a week = one-quarter of the lunar cycle).

To distinguish themselves from the Jews, Christians began to celebrate Sunday as the Lord’s Day (the day Christ arose from the dead) rather than celebrating the Jewish Sabbath (although some Christian groups persisted in observing the Sabbath).

There you have it — plus a little knowledge of Greek gods thrown in for good measure (for those of us who love Percy Jackson!). The question I always ask is, “Does it work for me/for you?” The answer works for me but I question the deeper messages in how we measure it.

Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family JCC.

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