Sabbath, the Day of Delight

By Abraham E. Millgram | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
THE SABBATH IN THE TALMUD AND THE MIDRASH

DURING the biblical period Sabbath observance was not yet a universal practice. The institution was still in the process of development. The Bible, therefore, in speaking of the Sabbath merely indicated the general principles of Sabbath observance through rest and joy. It also indicated the basic purposes of Sabbath observance, namely, the commemoration of the Creation and the redemption of Israel. The Bible also stressed the function of the Sabbath as a "sign" between God and Israel.

But in the post-biblical rabbinic literature, the Talmud and the Midrash, Sabbath observance is no longer a goal to be achieved. It is an established institution, universally observed and treasured. General principles no longer suffice. Merely to teach people to abstain from work, without defining what constitutes work, is to confuse the Sabbath observer. The Talmud, therefore, defines the general principles enunciated in the Bible and applies them to the actual situations in life. The Sabbath law as developed in the Talmud, despite or perhaps because of its minutiae, rendered the Jewish Sabbath not only a day of complete rest and relaxation but a day of genuine delight.

The joyous exaltation which the Jew derived from Sabbath observance constituted the main subject of the non-legal talmudic discussions dealing with the Sabbath. To the rabbis the Sabbath was a weekly experience which enriched and sanctified their lives. When they speak of the Sabbath

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