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Reviewed by:
  • The Fourth Commandment—Remember the Sabbath Day
  • Shlomo Tucker (bio)
Francine Klagsbrun The Fourth Commandment—Remember the Sabbath Day New York: Harmony Books, 2002

Francine Klagsbrun's The Fourth Commandment is a gentle, informative, guided walk through many of the salient and hidden aspects of the Shabbat, informed by a combination of erudition with personal comment and reflection. Klagsbrun elucidates many hidden corners of the meanings of Shabbat and points to the specific joys of its celebration.

In the book's introduction, Klagsbrun declares that her aim is to

show the complexities of this sacred day, the ethical values that define it, and the beauty ... inherent in it. Above all, it aims to show how this ancient and hallowed tradition still has much to say to us today, and how it enriches people's lives at whatever level they wish to approach it.

(pp. xiv-xv)

A large task, and Klagsbrun delivers on her promises while providing a most enjoyable reading experience.

Klagsbrun's personal reflections on the Shabbat begin on the first page of the book with a delightful reminiscence of her Uncle Zalman, who was so enthralled with observing Shabbat and so caught up in its spirit even after its conclusion that he could not find time to work for a living! Whether Uncle Zalman really existed is beside the point; his literary existence propounds and demonstrates the power of the Shabbat as only a good agadah can. Klags_brun's recollections at the book's outset of her mother's "last sentient act on earth," lighting the Shabbat candles and watching her grandchildren's eyes as "they stare [at them] in awe and wonder," provide a wonderful multigenerational structure to the volume. The personal reflections continue throughout this well researched and footnoted book, lending it the pleasant ethos of a [End Page 271] parent or teacher talking directly to the reader "at eye level," as the Israeli expression goes. Where she has her doubts or her own preferences, she lets us know. Wonderfully, this does not detract from the book's scholarship; indeed, it makes it more accessible. She writes like a guide who has gone ahead of the main camp to scout the terrain and bring back a report.

Klagsbrun's comments on the many facets of the Shabbat experience and its impact on Jewish life and perspective are refreshing and insightful. Shabbat, she observes, is the only day of the week that has a name in Jewish tradition, the other days being described in terms of their proximity to it. God's tzimtzum at the time of creation was a model for Shabbat observance, a "contraction, a pulling back for a day from the infinite cacophony, competition, and commotion of the world around us." The separation ceremony of Havdalah at the conclusion of Shabbat helps to "establish boundaries in the universe and with them orderliness."

The chapter "Holiness in Space and Time" pays homage to the contribution of A.J. Heschel in appreciating the Shabbat as a building engineered in time. However, Klagsbrun suggests that many moderns misread Heschel as propounding a one-dimensional approach in which time is elevated at the expense of space. Here Klagsbrun brings examples from biblical religion, in which holiness is grounded in place, and reminds us that God is traditionally called Hamakom ("the Place," par excellence). Utilizing literary analysis of the basic biblical texts about Shabbat and citing the classic debate between Rashi and Ramban over the significance of the Tabernacle, she delineates a series of hidden clues to a deeper meaning that she finds purposely embedded in the text. Laws concerning Shabbat occur in the context of those about building the Tabernacle, leading her to conclude that there is a "connection between Shabbat, shrine and cosmos." She learns from the clues in this story that:

References to Shabbat interspersed with the building instructions do more than tell us that constructing the Tabernacle does not take priority over observing Shabbat. They tell us that the people must pause in the work of building their mini-world as God paused after the work of building the larger world.

(p. 85)

This is not a work of philosophy; it is...


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pp. 271-275
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