Monday, April 11, 2011

Half Shabbos and the Dread of Pesach

About 7 months ago, Professor Alan Brill wrote a blog post that introduced many people to the term "half Shabbos" - which roughly refers to people, generally teenagers, who appear to be keeping Shabbat, yet have granted themselves an allowance to text on that day. Many reasons have been offered for how this phenomenon came about - is it the new form of teenage rebellion, are kids just too addicted to texting - but I would like to focus on what I consider to be a deeper cause of this occurrence, and in particular in light of the upcoming holiday of Pesach.

From my perspective, the issue with half-Shabbos is how it can be prevented. In a lecture that spoke to this issue, Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt of Riverdale spoke about the need to re-capture Shabbat for our children (and students). In a nutshell, if Shabbat is all about the don'ts and can'ts and shouldn'ts then we are conveying to our children that Shabbat is a day of restrictions, and of course that natural teenage need to somehow rebel will see Shabbat as an easy target. Religion is one of the prime areas in which kids express their individuality/rebelliousness, as there is not much that their parents can do to stop them short of punishment - and every parent and teacher knows that one has to be careful with a kid who is threatening to go "off the derech." Kids tend to know that parents are afraid that one infraction is just the first step to full-scale abandonment of religion, and thus for those who are so inclined, religion is quite a weapon in their struggles with parental or other authority.

However, if we can make Shabbat into a positive day, we may be able to get ahead of this problem. If we approach Shabbat, both at home in and the classroom, as a wonderful opportunity for rest, for coming together as a family (something that may be a rarity for many families during the week), for hanging out with friends, and so on, then we may be able to decrease the need to violate Shabbat as an act of rebellion - why would someone want to militate against something that is so positive?

[Obviously, if half-Shabbos is more a function of addiction to texting, then the journey may be a different one. I suppose that is for a different post.]

This comes to my mind as one and the same with how we approach Pesach. Full disclosure - I love Pesach. I love the seder, I love being with family and perpetuating long-standing traditions, I love the fact that it is a nice vacation during a beautiful time of year. Fuller disclosure - some years I make Pesach and some years I do not. When I do make Pesach, I am involved in every aspect of it, from cooking to cleaning, including lifting all sorts of pieces of furniture in search of Lord-only-knows-what.

That being said, few things grate on my ears more than hearing people complain in front of kids about the stress and labor involved of making Pesach. No question - there is much stress and much labor. We may very likely be cleaning more than we have to (consult your Local Orthodox Rabbi on that one), and keeping up with which products are and are not acceptable can be quite a challenge. Cooking for a cast of thousands with limited ingredients in the two days after the kitchen is kashered is a task that far exceeds making Yom Tov any other time during the year.

But what do our kids hear? Do they hear about the wonder of the holiday? Do they develop a sense of excitement and anticipation coming into it? When they are younger, they surely do, as they come to the seder armed with colorful projects and joyful songs and whatever else they learn in early childhood. But as our children and students grow up and become more sensitive to the subtle messages that we convey, are we aware of the messages that we are sending them? As with Shabbat, are we communicating that we are looking forward to all that this day has to offer, and we hope that they will as well, or are we presenting the holidays as days on which to rest from the burden of preparing for the holidays?


Jerry Karp said...

The idea of "half-Shabbos" reminds me of a common discussion when I was about 12: do you have a "minhag" to be "shomer," or not? I think, there, that this is a problem of education: most sixth-grade teachers would not likely inform their students that there is a prohibition to touch a member of the opposite sex, and so children assume it is a minhag - if they were observing negiah because they thought it was a problem, then they have a minhag not to be shomer, and if they were observing negiah, then they don't have such a minhag. It is very interesting to see the "halakhic" distinctions which 12-year-olds can come up with...

Tech Rav said...

Your posting reminds me of the famous saying by Rav Moshe that countless people were Moser Nefesh to keep Shabbos but they did it with a frown, complaining, Iz Shver Tzu Zein Ah Yid, it's hard to be a Jew. For this reason, Rav Moshe says, many of their children did not follow in their parents' footsteps of Shemirat Mitzvot. THey heard it's hard to be a Jew and decided that if it's so hard then why bother? We must always express to our children, Es Iz Gut Tzu Zein Ah Yid, it's good to be a Jew and express in our words and deeds how must Torah and Mitzvot gives us happiness and a sense of fulfillment in our lives.

Steven Penn said...

This a great post and as educator and parents we need to remember to emphasize the greatness of shabbat and yom tov. The greatness of sharing a seder together with family and friends. This post made me think of all the funny family times I had at our family seders and yom tov meals. Honestly , I need to think much harder to remember the hard times than the good times. As adults we have a chance to make new memories for our children.